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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: Benedict Speaks to Professors on Modernity; The Vatican Library; Isaac Newton 
27th-Jun-2007 08:28 pm
Modernity: Yearning For The Infinite
Here's a few interesting recent articles from CNS, particularly the address to European university professors on the nature and impact of Modernity, which is kind of an interesting segue from our own conference on that subject at Notre Dame this past fall. There's also an historical article on a display of Isaac Newton's theological work. Lots of people don't know – having got this more recent "science vs. religion" false dichotomy in their heads – that Newton actually wrote more theology than physics. He was, however, much better at the latter, having made some serious mistakes like his trying to re-work the Arian controversy and having concluded that Arius had been correct. Still, we have a great deal more sources about the trinitarian controversies now, so perhaps he ought not be blamed over-much for all that....

Pope urges professors to find solutions to 'crisis of modernity'
By Regina Linskey
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI urged university professors to create solutions for "the crisis of modernity" as well as investigate Christianity's contribution to the study of human nature.

"Europe is presently experiencing a certain social instability and diffidence in the face of traditional values," but its history and universities "have much to contribute to shaping a future of hope," he told participants in the first European meeting of university professors. The participants came to the Vatican to meet the pope June 23.

Representatives from around the world came to Rome for the June 21-24 meeting, "A New Humanism for Europe: the Role of Universities," sponsored by the Council of European Bishops' Conferences.

The current cultural shift "is often seen as a challenge to the culture of the university and Christianity itself rather than as a horizon against which creative solutions can and must be found," Pope Benedict said.

"A false dichotomy between theism and authentic humanism, taken to the extreme of positing an irreconcilable conflict between divine law and human freedom, has led to a situation in which humanity, for all its economic and technical advances, feels deeply threatened," said the pope.

The question of people and modernity "challenges the church to devise effective ways of proclaiming to contemporary culture" the realism of Christianity in the work of Jesus, said the pope.

"Christianity must not be relegated to the world of myth and emotion, but respected for its claim to shed light on the truth about man, to be able to transform men and women spiritually, and thus to enable them to carry out their vocation in history," Pope Benedict said.

The pope said that "knowledge can never be limited to the purely intellectual realm; it also includes a renewed ability to look at things in a way free of prejudices and preconceptions and to allow ourselves to be amazed by reality, whose truth can be discovered by uniting understanding with love."

Only God "can prevent us from truncating reality at the very moment when it demands ever new and more complex levels of understanding," he said.

The pope called on university lecturers to study modernity and to broaden the understanding of reason "to explore and embrace those aspects of reality which go beyond the purely empirical" for "a more fruitful, complementary approach to the relationship between faith and reason."

Society needs "the practical aspects of directing research and activity to the promotion of human dignity and to the daunting task of building the civilization of love," he said. "University professors in particular are called to embody the virtue of intellectual charity, recovering their primordial vocation to train future generations not only by imparting knowledge but by the prophetic witness of their own lives."

Pope Benedict also called for a "unity of knowledge" to counter "the tendency to fragmentation and lack of communicability that is all too often the case in our schools."

He said unity of knowledge "can encourage the growth of European unity."

"Only a Europe conscious of its own cultural identity can make a specific contribution to other cultures, while remaining open to the contribution of other peoples," the pope said.

Pope tells library, archive employees he had hoped to retire, study
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With a touch of envy, Pope Benedict XVI told employees of the Vatican Library and the Vatican Secret Archives that he had hoped to retire 10 years ago and spend the rest of his life studying, researching and writing.

"At the end of my 70th year of age, I would have liked it very much if the beloved John Paul II would have allowed me to dedicate myself to the study and research of the interesting documents and items you carefully safeguard," the pope told the employees June 25.

"The Lord had other plans for me and here I am among you, not as a passionate scholar of ancient texts, but as the pastor called to encourage all the faithful to cooperate for the salvation of the world, each one doing God's will where he places us to work," the 80-year-old pope said.

Surrounded by ancient stone carvings, manuscripts and coins, Pope Benedict addressed the employees as the Vatican Library was about to close its doors for three years of major reconstruction and remodeling.

He also used the June 25 visit to announce that Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who has headed the library and archives since 2003, will become president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue Sept. 1. Pope Benedict announced his replacements:

-- Italian Bishop Raffaele Farina, prefect of the library, was named an archbishop and "archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church," or head of the Secret Archives.

-- Italian Msgr. Cesare Pasini, head of Milan's famous Ambrosian Library, was named prefect of the Vatican Library.

Until the library opens again in September 2010, scholars will have access to its collections by ordering copies in digital, photographic, photocopied or microfilm formats.

Many of the books and manuscripts will be transferred to temporary warehouses while one wing of the library undergoes major work to reinforce the floors and walls.

The growing collection of ancient and modern volumes has put too much stress and strain on the 16th-century building, a library official told Catholic News Service in May.

Founded in 1475, the Vatican Library is home to almost 2 million books and manuscripts. About 100 scholars visit the library every day.

During his visit, Pope Benedict was treated to an exhibit that included the fourth-century Vatican Codex, a complete text of the Bible in Greek; an illustrated manuscript, created before 1403, featuring St. Augustine's Commentary on the Psalms; and handwritten letters and versions of Aesop's Fables written by Martin Luther.

Pope Benedict described the Vatican Library as "a welcoming house of science, culture and humanity, which opens its doors to scholars from every part of the world without distinction of nationality, religion or culture."

By assisting the scholars and making the documents available, he said, the library helps people come to appreciate the "synthesis of culture and faith" promoted by the Catholic Church.

The Secret Archives contain the papers and documents of the popes. In 1881 the Vatican adopted a procedure similar to that practiced by many national archives in opening successive collections to scholars.

In 2006, Pope Benedict ordered the opening of the papers related to the pontificate of Pope Pius XI, who died in 1939. The papers include material written by and referring to the future Pope Pius XII, who was Vatican secretary of state under his predecessor.

The materials requested by scholars, Pope Benedict said, demonstrate an interest not only in the popes of long ago, but also those of "times near to us, even very near."

Pope Benedict said he knew that research and publication sometimes give rise to polemics, apparently referring to ongoing questions about Pope Pius XII before and during World War II.

The pope praised the archives' employees for "keeping far away from sterile and also often weak partisan visions of history" by offering scholars access to all the material without trying to hide or screen anything.

Pope Benedict asked the employees to "always offer a welcoming image of the Apostolic See, aware that Gospel message also is transmitted through your coherent Christian witness."

New exhibit shows Isaac Newton's fascination with religious writings
By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- A new exhibit of never-displayed manuscripts written by Isaac Newton reveals the scientist's fascination with theology and apocalyptic and biblical writings.

Best known as the rational 17th-century mathematician and physicist who discovered the notion of gravity, Newton is considered one of the foremost scientific intellects of all time.

"During that period religion and science were often connected with each other," said Yemima Ben Menachem, curator of the exhibit and philosophy professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where the papers are on display. "Most of the great scientists of the 17th century were religious in different ways. Newton was also a very religious man."

In addition, she said, his writings reveal Newton as a very secretive man who believed in a personal, fatherlike God who sometimes intervenes in the world.

"His religious beliefs didn't change his science, and he still remains as one of the great examples of great science," said Ben Menachem.

Ben Menachem said Newton viewed both nature and Scriptures as holding hidden messages that could be unraveled. She said he believed the secrets of the holy writings could be decoded by studying not only the written word but also things like the dimensions of the ancient Jewish Temple and tabernacle as described in the Bible and Talmud, a Jewish holy book.

Other documents contain sketches of the Temple, a verse from a Jewish prayer written painstakingly in Hebrew letters and references to Newton's rejection of the Trinity. Newton felt there was only one God and although Jesus was the Son of God, he was not God himself, said Ben Menachem.

Newton did not make his views public for fear sanctions, including dismissal from his work, would be imposed against him, said Ben Menachem.

She said he approached his writings on Judeo-Christian prophecy with a religious fervor that showed he thought of himself and other scientists as prophets of sorts meant to unravel the secrets of nature.

"He thought the prophecies and biblical Scriptures were one way to know God, but there was ... a direct way to know him also, through nature," she said.

In one 1704 document Newton calculated the end of the world to be not earlier than 2060, based on a phrase from the Book of Daniel, Chapter 12, Verse 7, which reads: "and I heard him swear by him who lives forever that it should be for a year, two years, a half-year; and that, when the power of the destroyer of the holy people was brought to an end, all these things should end."

According to the exhibit Newton interpreted this phrase as meaning that 1,260 years would pass from the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne in 800 to the end of time.

"It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner," Newton wrote in his precise cramped script. "This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophecies into discredit as often as their predictions fail."

Ben Menachem said Newton's preoccupation with apocalyptic prophecies grew from the great interest in the topic in his time.

"On one hand he thought the end of days would come according to God's plan and there was nothing humans could do about it, and they should not prophesy about it, but because there were people of the time saying the apocalypse was soon going to be upon them" he felt he had to speak out, she said.

In another document Newton interpreted biblical passages as indicating the Jews would return to the Holy Land before the end of time.

"The ends of days will see the ruin of the wicked nations, the end of weeping and of all troubles, the return of the Jews' captivity and their setting up a flourishing and everlasting kingdom," he wrote.

The exhibit was to be open to the public at Hebrew University's Jewish National & University Library, June 18-July 19. A digital version of the manuscripts can be seen online at: www.jnul.huji.ac.il/dl/mss/newton/.

Newton's papers were first auctioned in 1936 and eventually ended up with British economist John Maynard Keynes, whose collection went to King's College in Cambridge, England, and with Middle Eastern scholar Abraham Shalom Yahud, who bequeathed his collection to Israel upon his death in 1951.

Since 1969 the collection has been stored at the Jewish National & University Library, which serves as Israel's national library, and although details of the manuscripts were made known in 2003 they were available only to a small number of scholars until now.
28th-Jun-2007 04:27 am (UTC)
It just occurred to me that I will finish my dissertation before the Vatican Library reopens (assuming it even reopens on schedule). For the last month or so (it was announced, what, at the beginning of May?), I've been trying to imagine what I would feel like if I was told that say, the BL was closing next month until 2010. It's a kind of a visceral sucker-punch, still. Copies are SO not the same to a textual scholar.
28th-Jun-2007 10:02 am (UTC)
You would certainly think actually going there to use the library would now be pointless. Couldn't they mail you – electronically or physically – any such copies? I can't handle the Lord of the Rings manuscripts normally in our archives (scholars are allowed access to microfilm copies of the pages) but I can get a certain access to the real thing in particular circumstances, and there's no substitute, scholastically and aesthetically.
28th-Jun-2007 02:33 pm (UTC)
Well, my point was that copies are, at a certain level of inquiry, unhelpful. If all we needed was copies, then every scholar could go to SLU and use the Vatican Film Library there -- and that's exactly what's SLU's hoping will happen.

In my case, if the British Library shut down tomorrow, I could get by for a while using their digitized collection ECCO and the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), but the holdings of both are still not 100% complete. (For example, see my most recent post, where I'm sending off a friend to read the only copy of a novel -- it's not on ECCO)

But, if I continue down this particular line of inquiry, I need to handle the books, if I can -- my argument is rooted in what the book as a whole looks like. More and more scholars are trained to consider the form of a text as an integral part of its content.

Even for those who CAN work with fuzzy digital/microform copies, there's the problem of access. I'll bet you anything that there's a lot of stuff that hasn't yet been photographed/copied and stuff too delicate/too oddly formatted to properly copy. Only 80% of the manuscript collection is currently on microfilm -- that's tens of thousands of texts made inaccessible. Compare that, incidentally, to the mere 40% or so of the collection which will be available through SLU.

And even if the text a scholar needs has none of the above problems, there's still the problem of financial access -- it is an unholy (so to speak) sum to have a library copy a text for you. At the Vatican Library, to use our current example, it's 8 Euro for a single page of a tome (.26 for each page after), and 50 Euro for a microfilm or CD-ROM. That adds up quite quickly, and it is not at all uncommon.

And on top of all that, scholars go to archives as much for the things they don't know about yet as they do for the things they know are there.

It's less about the closing -- these things happen -- as the haste in which this all became public. While I understand that now repairs cannot wait, but at least to my knowledge, I have never seen a closure of a major research library that was so hasty. I've seen a year or more go between announcement and actual closure, precisely to accommodate the rush of scholars. That was clearly not possible in this case, but I hope that physical access to manuscripts is reinstated in some form before 2010.

Thus endeth the prattle.
29th-Jun-2007 04:11 am (UTC)
But it was a damned fine academic prattle! You spelled out so much more clearly than I've ever heard exactly what makes the difference between this kind of access and any copies!
29th-Jun-2007 04:15 am (UTC)
Aw, shucks. I'm surprised it doesn't matter so much in your neck of the woods...

Also: nice to see you're using your new icon allotment.
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