The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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Intellectual charity

Malta Independent Sunday, 20 October 2013, 08:00 Last update: about 11 years ago

Now that the new academic year has started it is appropriate to reflect on the role of education in the ambit of contemporary European society.

How can we show God’s love for others in the educational field?

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI suggested ‘intellectual charity’, but what does this mean? In order to fully comprehend the term, it is important to see it within the spectrum of the traditional spiritual works of mercy – precisely, that of instructing the ignorant. The ignorance about which we are talking has nothing to do with stupidity. A person can be ignorant simply because s/he is in utter confusion due to a lack of knowledge concerning certain fundamental ontological and/or ethical issues in which s/he is involved. Daily experience shows that many people today are at a loss because they do not understand the underlying meaning of their earthly lives.

Undoubtedly, matters can get complicated if there are serious doubts as to whether there is another life after death.

In his address to the Catholic Educators of the Catholic University of America during his 2008 pastoral visit, Pope Benedict explained what he meant by ‘intellectual charity’. “This aspect of charity calls the educator to recognise that the profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love. The dignity of education lies in fostering the true perfection and happiness of those to be educated. ‘Intellectual charity’ upholds the essential unity of knowledge against the fragmentation which ensues when reason is detached from the pursuit of truth. It guides the young towards the deep satisfaction of exercising freedom in relation to truth, and it strives to articulate the relationship between faith and all aspects of family and civic life.

“Once their passion for the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, young people will surely relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of what they ought to do. Here they will experience ‘in what’ and ‘in whom’ it is possible to hope, and be inspired to contribute to society in a way that engenders hope in others.”

Thus, for Benedict XVI, intellectual charity resists any academic attempts at weakening the traditional values that historically and culturally have shaped the modern European continent. Intellectual charity, which is tantamount to genuine academic exercise, goes hand in hand with academic freedom. In his book entitled The Nature and Mission of Theology, the then Cardinal Ratzinger referred to academic freedom as that “freedom for the truth, and its justification is simply to exist for the sake of the truth, without having to look back toward the objectives it has reached”.

Moreover academic freedom lies at a crossroads: it either has the freedom of simply producing knowledge or using its freedom to get closer to the truth. Benedict XVI continued: “But the freedom to produce, unchecked by truth, means the dictatorship of ends in a world devoid of truth and thus enslaves man while appearing to set him free.

“Only when truth has value in itself and a glimpse of it outweighs every success, only then are we free; and this is why the only authentic freedom is the freedom of the truth.”

In his 2007 address to the participants in the European Meeting of University Professors in Rome, Pope Benedict offered concrete proposals as to how tertiary education can be entirely transformed by intellectual charity.

Firstly, he suggested a thorough study of the modernity crisis. Man cannot keep building a worldly ‘regnum hominis’ while persisting in detaching himself completely from his transcendental vocation of opening himself up to God. Secondly, human rationality must be broadened. In other words: “the concept of reason needs instead to be ‘broadened’ in order to be able to explore and embrace those aspects of reality which go beyond the purely empirical”. In this way, faith and reason are harmonised. Finally, Christianity’s contribution to humanity’s future is crucial. As Pope Benedict warned: “Unless we do know God in and with Christ, all of reality becomes an indecipherable enigma”.

Do we believe that intellectual charity can help us become more spiritual, more conscious of our own human dignity and, consequently, more responsible when it comes to attending to each other’s needs?


Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

San Gwann

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