On Friday, the Holy Father spoke with members of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences whose work he said is of “great interest for the life of the Church,” in a time when history is often ignored.
The Holy Father began by noting how during the pontificate of Leo XIII, "historiography was guided by the spirit of the times and hostile to the Church". Pope Leo "opened the archives of the Holy See to researchers ... in the conviction that the study and description of the true history of the Church could not but be favorable to her.”
In contemporary society, the Church is still challenged with an unfavorable view of its history as well, the Pope explained.
"It is no longer just a question of tackling a historiography hostile to Christianity and to the Church", he said. "Today it is historiography itself that is going through a serious crisis, having to fight for its very existence in a society ruled by positivism and materialism. These two ideologies have led to a boundless enthusiasm for progress which ... influences the view of life of large sectors of society. The past thus appears as a dark backdrop against which the present and future glitter with misleading promise."
"Typical of this mentality is a lack of interest in history", said Benedict XVI, "which translates into the marginalization of the historical sciences". This in turn leads to "a society which, heedless of its own past and hence lacking criteria acquired through experience, is no longer capable of harmonious coexistence or joint commitment in realizing future aims. Such a society is particularly vulnerable to ideological manipulation.
The Pope stressed that "this danger is becoming ever greater because of an excessive emphasis given to modern history, especially when research in this field is conditioned by a methodology which draws inspiration from positivism and sociology", ignoring "other important aspects of historical reality, even entire epochs.”
"Even when its does not specifically concern ecclesiastical history, historical analysis nonetheless contributes to describing the life context in which the Church has carried out and continues to carry out her mission,” he noted.
“There can be no doubt that Church life and activity have always been determined (facilitated or made more difficult) by the various historical contexts. The Church is not of this world, but she lives in it and for it,” the Pontiff concluded.