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When faith generates culture

· The Pope's newspaper in one hundred editorials ·

The following is a translation of the Italian text of the speech given by Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan, on Friday afternoon, 13 April, in the Sala Buzzati, Milan, at a meeting sponsored by the Fondazione Corriere della Sera — with the support of the Fondazione Cariplo — for the presentation of the book, written in Italian, “Uno sguardo cattolico. Cento editoriali dell’Osservatore Romano (Milano, Via e Penisiero, 2011, pp. XVI + 270, € 16). Also participating were Piergaetano Marchetti, President of the Fondazione Corriere della Sera, Lorenzo Ornaghi, Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities of the Italian Government, Ferruccio de Bortoli, Editor-in-Chief of Corriere della Sera, and Giovanni Maria Vian, Editor-in-Chief of “L’Osservatore Romano”.

In reflecting on the publication being launched today — and even before it on the book “ Singolarissimo giornale. I 150 anni dell’Osservatore Romano” which forms a valuable framework for understanding better the wealth of this selection of 100 editorials published in the Vatican newspaper “in the past four years, in other words since the current renewal of the paper which began with the issue of 28 October 2007”, one historic fact in particular has roused my curiosity. It is the special bond that bound first Giovanni Battista Montini/then Paul VI with L’Osservatore Romano. Nor could it have been otherwise by virtue of the fine cultural sensitivity and truly Catholic outlook which distinguished the young monsignor from Brescia, from the very beginning of his life as a priest. It would be worth returning to the text, mentioned by Giovanni Maria Vian, Editor-in-Chief today, in his introduction to the book. I am referring to the article by the then Archbishop of Milan, The difficulties of “L’Osservatore Romano”, published on 1 July 1961 in the special issue which came out for the paper’s centenary. I warmly recommending reading this well known piece that is remarkably perceptive, with a broad scope and very up to date.

However, I would like to refer to another text by Montini, which, from a different point of view, in my opinion suggests a satisfactory perspective for understanding the unusualness of the contribution that L’Osservatore Romano offers, especially to our contemporary pluralistic society.

It is a brief text, published in 1946 at the end of the Second World War as an introduction to a voluminous work that presents Vatican City State. (1) Although those in charge of the Bulletin of the Istituto Paolo VI wanted it to come out in the same format and straight away — before the above-mentioned article — no explicit reference to L’Osservatore Romano appears in the text in question; describing the peculiarities of the Vatican, it helps us to grasp the specific contribution to the journal, as can also be evinced later from reading the lead articles published.

In an elegant and refined prose, Montini begins by addressing readers and visitors to the Papal State directly. From the outset he seeks to confront them with the unusual character of what they are looking at: “Whoever you may be... in approaching St Peter’s Basilica with Michelangelo’s dome and the solemn surrounding buildings, you cannot avoid the imperious question: of what interest to us is the Vatican today?”, (2) to realize from this that it is impossible to remain indifferent to the Vatican, concluding: “Observing and defining: here perhaps lies the psychological difference of a visit to Vatican City from a visit to any other important monument of antiquity, the Roman Forum, the Pyramids, the Parthenon, the ruins of Niniveh or of the civilization of the Incas. For the latter observation is enough; here, it is also necessary to define. Here there is something that survives, that lives on, that is present, that deserves an opinion, that demands an encounter, that requires reflection, an inner effort, a spiritual synthesis”. (3)

Mightn’t L’Osservatore Romano be pressing the reader for this “definition”, for this need to “form an opinion”, for this “encounter” and this “reflection”, for what, in the language proper to his time, Montini calls “an inner effort” and “a spiritual synthesis”? It seems to me that the cultural proposal — meant in the proper sense of the term, that is, as an expression of the humanum — offered daily by L’Osservatore Romano , stimulates everyone to such an endeavour.

With the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger, we could say that L’Osservatore and obviously, in an emblematic manner, its editorials and leads, are an expression of what “faith generates culture” actually means. In fact, the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in a famous Lectio to the Asian Bishops Conferences: “There is no such thing as naked faith or mere religion. Simply stated, insofar as faith tells man who he is and how he should begin being human, faith creates culture; faith is itself culture”. (4)

In this regard it is right to add an important consideration on the connection between faith and culture or cultures. From the very moment that faith becomes culture, it is inevitably exposed to another unusual process characterized, in a certain sense, by a movement opposed to the former. If the faith-culture movement is centrifugal it gives rise, on the basis of how de facto cultures interpret faith that is deployed in its full public dimension, to a centripetal movement. Cultures — for we must speak of cultures in a pluralistic society like our own — “interpret” faith, thereby expressing its historical importance. They do so in various ways, albeit not always respecting its true nature, indeed quite often reducing, if not actually exploiting it, as happens in a regrettably vociferous way in the integralist forms of fundamentalism that are often violent.

Between faith and culture a sort of hermeneutic circle is created: unbroken from faith to culture(s) and from culture(s) to faith. This circle is enclosed in the broader one but is characterized by the same dual, centrifugal-centripetal movement, expressed by the two words evangelization/inculturation that were first highlighted by Evangelii Nuntiandi (cf. n. 20).

It seems to me that the merit of editorials and, more generally, of the new phase of L’Osservatore Romano is to situate them appropriately within this great challenge posed by the faith-culture(s) circle so as to help readers, who — let us not forget it — are scattered across the world, to have an authentic ecclesial experience. Internationality, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, the great themes of bioethics and science, of the economy, and likewise recourse to curious collaborators in the world, exponents of other denominations and religions or lay people, giving special importance to women, determine the features which, in no way diminish L’Osservatore Romano’s profile, well defined, moreover, by formality and by authoritativeness, make it a valuable instrument for the necessary telling and letting people tell that a pluralist society inevitably needs if it is to strive for the greatest possible reciprocal recognition.

In the first text by Montini cited above, the future Archbishop of Milan and Pope was speaking, among other things, “of the rights of God and of the human conscience”. (5) The formula “rights of God and of the human conscience” refers to the two mottos in the masthead of L’Osservatore Romano : one religious ( non praevalebunt) [“To each his own”]) and the other “secular” ( unicuique suum) [“They – the gates of hell – will not prevail], with reference to the unity between God and man in the proposal of the truth and the goodness of the human community. Montini’s words, in which he has chosen to describe the pastoral task of the Successor of Peter, prophetically anticipate, as events proved, the teaching of the conciliar Declaration Dignitatis Humanae, with which the Second Vatican Council taught that God’s rights and the rights of the human conscience are in no way contradictory.

Leafing through the 100 leads in the book Uno sguardo cattolico provides yet another proof of this truth.


1) From Vaticano, edited by Giovanni Fallani e Mario Escobar, G.C. Sansoni, Florence 1946, VII-XIII. Published in Istituto Paolo VI. Notiziario n. 17, 11-16.

2) Ibid., 11.

3) Ibid.

4) J. Ratzinger, Christ, Faith and the Challenge of Cultures

5) Vaticano, 13.




St. Peter’s Square

Jan. 20, 2020