In a message addressed to the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding, Pope John Paul II underscored that the Gospels are a reference point that help to better understand mankind’s history.
As he emphasized the importance which the Church gives to the promotion of culture in general and to history in particular, the Holy Father underscored the importance of “cultivating a serious historical knowledge of the diverse fields in which the life of individuals and communities is articulated.” “There is nothing more inconsistent than people or groups without a history. Ignorance of one’s own past leads fatally to a crisis and to the loss of identity for individuals and communities,” he added.
The Pope said that the believer historian knows he possesses in Sacred Scripture a key to understanding mankind and the world. “It is in the biblical message, in effect, that the human adventure is known in its most hidden aspects: the creation, the tragedy of sin, the redemption.” The people, places and events of history are thus better understood.
John Paul II emphasized that renewed historical studies can lead to more peaceful coexistence among peoples, and that “historical research free of prejudices and based solely on scientific documentation has an irreplaceable role in breaking down the walls that exist between peoples.”
The Pope recalled that “the Church herself is an historical phenomenon and therefore, an eminent object of historical science.” Therefore, “the history of the Church is an appropriate place for getting to know the truth of the faith itself.”
Lastly, referring to the study of Church history, the Pope underscored: history teaches that each time in the past new knowledge of the sources is acquired, the groundwork is laid for a new flourishing of ecclesial life. If history is the teacher of life, as an ancient Latin expression goes, the history of the Church can well be called ‘teacher of the Christian life’.”