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from issue no. 12 - 2003

Master of the word

A selection of the maxims of Paul VI from the book by Leonardo Sapienza

by Giulio Andreotti

The book by Leonardo Sapienza

The book by Leonardo Sapienza

I was suprized and full of admiration when I learned that the maxim book of the speeches and the notes of Paul VI (not of the Encyclicals, which can also be collective works) had been compiled by Father Leonardo Sapienza without the aid of the computer, which was instead the case with the Summae of Saint Thomas Aquinas edited by the work group under Father Busa.
It’s an extraordinary book. One finds in alphabetical order the most various entries on matters which caught the attention of Pope Montini, with an extraordinary depth and an incredible ability in synthesis.
Historically situated between two charismatic popes John XXIII and (with the interlude of Luciani) John Paul II, it is not easy to sketch an emblematic profile of Paul VI. As a result of the failure to rightly see his profound respect for every interlocutor, the delicacy of his ways, his attitude of listen and withdrawal from uncharitable opposition, he was even characterized as Hamlet-like.
Without any forcing, one can read his whole life according to the scheme on which he established the pattern of training of Catholic university students: reading of the Gospels, recital of the Hours, strict attention to professional training, especially in disciplines in which the others presided and dominated (Physics and Philosophy). But equal emphasis was placed on the social contact with the poor, following the model of the Conferences of Saint Vincent.
In the suburbs they called us the young gentlemen, even if we weren’t materially well-off at all and could only offer good words and help with homework. But in the Federation of Catholic University Students especially, the primacy of friendship was in force, starting with the splendid relation with the ecclesiastical assistants. In the tragedy of Aldo Moro emerged this deep solidarity of our old Master who, under another aspect, devoted several hours on 8 of September each year to Jean Guitton (as he had done with Maritain, even if less intensely).
Invited by Monsignor Fisichella to introduce Father Sapienza’s book at the Lateran University, together with Cardinal Sodano and Accattoli, the Vatican expert of Corriere della Sera, all I could do was extract the entries that had struck me most. I transcribe them:

The inauguration of the Gallery of modern sacred art in the Pontifical Museums on 23 June 1973

The inauguration of the Gallery of modern sacred art in the Pontifical Museums on 23 June 1973

Sacred art is a perceptible sign of hidden things and beauties.
(24 February 1965)

The Pope on the Capitoline. This is a return; we are not foreigners here. We no longer have any temporal sovereignty to affirm up here. We preserve the historic memory of it, as that of a centuries-long, legitimate and, in many ways, provident institution of past times; but we have no regret for it today, nor any nostalgia, and even less any secret yearning for revindication.
(16 April 1966)

We want Catholic Action to regain vigor and acquire new ability to attract generous souls, young and strong spirits, men and women of thought and action, Catholics who want to be listened to and valorized for the Christian impetus given to modern society.
(25 July 1963)

Christianity is not pessimist.
(24 February 1971)

The Church doesn’t ask for privileges, but it doesn’t dodge problems nor misrepresent the truth: it is called to serve man, and as such it enlightens him and calls him.
(21 May 1976)

Is the moral sense lost? No, let us hope! But we should, we Christians, we Catholics, correct the facile trend to the ideological and practical conformity of the surrounding culture, and to the faint-hearted suggestion that to be modern one must behave “like the others”.
(14 July 1971)

One cannot be progressives without being conservatives.
(27 June 1973)

The Council has not given us, for the moment, in many sectors, the desired calm; but rather has provoked disturbances and problems, certainly not pointless for the growth of the Kingdom of God in the Church and in individual souls; but it is well to remember; this is a testing moment. Those who are strong in faith and charity can enjoy this challenge.
(15 July 1970)

The “Counter-culture” is now the fashion, that is the satiety, disgust, rebellion for an imperfect society thinking only of itself, barren in transcendent ideals, that can round out, support and continually improve the aspirations of man, comfort his pain, feed his hopes.
(8 September 1968)

If there is a crisis today in the world, it is that of hope, that of ignorance of the goals for which it is worth employing the enormous wealth of means, with which modern civilization has enriched, but also burdened, human life.
(22 February 1968)

To the shame of unilateral and partial interpretations, that wanted to turn Dante into the precursor of a misty secularism, rebellious ante litteram, the supreme poet is honor of the Church; is son of the Church.
(31 January 1966)

Dialogue cannot be a tactical snare.
(19 March 1965)

We are as if smothered by doubt; a systematic and negative doubt, almost never a real quest, but rather lack of commitment and demolition, of reduction to the minimum of the certainties of faith.
(7 July 1971)

Death is always great, deep and dark, like a nocturnal ocean.
(2 November 1966)

Death is always a grave and mysterious business.
(28 August 1972)

Paul VI embraces the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras during the historic visit to Turkey 25 and 26 July 1967

Paul VI embraces the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras during the historic visit to Turkey 25 and 26 July 1967

Not constituting a frontier, but opening a door; not closing a dialogue, but keeping it open; not blaming for errors, but seeking virtue; not waiting for those who have not come for four centuries, but going to look for them in a brotherly way.
(8 March 1964)

We all see that the big problem of Europe is that of its effective and organic unification, in respect, indeed in the interest of the individual nations, that they have their ethnic and cultural individuality by now clear and defined.
(23 February 1969)
Good-bye! See you again, by the mercy of God, in heaven!
(2 August 1969)

It is not religion that suffocates freedom; rather the want of freedom that suffocates religion.
(22 March 1972)

The Church only needs and desires just freedom.
(21 June 1976)

This time we find ourselves in agreement with the genius of our century, which is an operative genius; sometimes the Church stimulates it and precedes it.
(9 October 1974)

It is a fine thing, it is a duty to listen to the voice of the centuries, when it is message that is passed faithfully from one generation to another.
(15 May 1966)
Paul VI in discussion with his friend, the philosopher Jean Guitton at Castel Gandolfo

Paul VI in discussion with his friend, the philosopher Jean Guitton at Castel Gandolfo

Our humanism becomes Christianity, and our Christianity becomes theocentric; so much so that we can also proclaim: to know God you need to know man.
(7 December 1965)

We do not hesitate to renew, adapting it, the appeal that we launched from the platform of the United Nations: No war ever, ever again, we said then, and we say now: No hunger ever, ever again!
(9 November 1974)

Christ, let us remember, is joy.
(19 April 1972)

You are not hermits withdrawn from the world the better to devote yourselves to God. It is in the world, in action itself that you must sanctify yourselves.
(15 October 1967)

You have to know how to listen. Nobody should be amazed by this insistent invitation. We are very poor listeners. The so-called civilization of the image is more accepted than the communication of thought and word.
(26 February 1967)

Earlier it was enough to be there, now one needs to participate; presence was enough earlier, now attention and action are needed; some could doze and maybe chat earlier; now not, one must listen and pray.
(17 March 1965)

Reply to murderous and destructive violence with the hard-working and universal love, combat emergent desperation with your life anchored in the Gospel of Jesus Christ “our hope”.
(4 June 1978)

Once upon a time, we know, on the evening of All Saints, families would gather round the fire, they tasted the new wine and peeled boiled chestnuts, they said the Rosary together; and then they chatted; they chatted softly, in mild good voices: Do you remember? Do you remember?
(1 November 1965)
Be men of your word; of sincere, loyal, steadfast, unmistakeable word, to give your conscience a precious memory. Be reasonable and moderate in the quest for profit for your services and avoid imprudent speculation!
(10 April 1965)

The goodness of your pastoral methods, the effectiveness of your ministry, the need of your function as shapers of souls, as teachers, as guides, as friends, as confidants, called to perform a mission quintessentially priestly, in the particular surrounding in which you find yourselves.
(12 April 1972)

One has to observe, one has to know modern life; it’s a new duty, that gets us out of our habits (we don’t mean to say out of tradition!), out of empiricism, out of our customary formalism. We must become better knowers of souls, of the spirits of our time.
(19 June 1971)

There is so much good possible in the modern world, and there is so much evil possible that the lot of mankind seems inexorably compromised. We are still optimists.
(21 June 1978)

We live in a permissive society, that seems no longer to know any bounds. The result is before everyone’s eyes: the spread of vice on behalf of a misunderstood freedom, that, ignoring the indignant cry of righteous consciences, derides and conculcates the values of honesty, of modesty, of dignity, of the rights of others, those values, that is, on which every ordered society stands.
(3 October 1976)

The Church has need of renewal.
(8 November 1972)

Secularism, that is the intention to do without God, is the formula in fashion today. The arrogant ambition of the world to resolve its problems by itself, to give itself its own equilibrium, its own morality, is asserted today in ways so confident and peremptory as to make paradoxical, not to say futile and anachronistic, the presence of the Church in the process of modern life.
(22 May 1968)
The Pope among the poor of the Tondo area of Manila, at the end of his journey to the Philippines in November 1967

The Pope among the poor of the Tondo area of Manila, at the end of his journey to the Philippines in November 1967

What is time, if not a race towards death?
(12 February 1964)

Everywhere you stop, you are considered importunate and foreign; and it makes you timid and apprehensive; here no; here you are welcome, you here are expected, greeted, fêted.
(26 September 1965)

You recognize yourselves and distinguish one from the other so as to put together the one with the other. You are a bridge between peoples. May nobody, as member of your union, be superior to the others. Not one above the other. You are not equal, but you make yourselves equal here. Not the one against the other, no more, not ever! Against the war, for peace! One works thus in brotherhood to make the states capable of working one for the other.
(4 October 1965)

Paul VI greets a group of young people at the end of an audience

Paul VI greets a group of young people at the end of an audience

The university is the high school of brains, it is the workshop of ideas, it is the superior laboratory of knowledge both in its rational and spiritual expression, and in its formative teaching of the governing class. Hence the university is an institution of supreme importance and of general and nation-wide interest.
(16 January 1977)

One could liken this center of the Catholic world, that we call the Vatican, to one of those instruments that record the tremors, the quakes, the collapse of a given territorial or mechanical complex, placed under observation. How many sad signals reach the central dial every hour!
(29 January 1964)

War doesn’t solve problems, but creates some new and more complicated one. Safety lies in frank, honest, fair negotiation.
(24 June 1965)

Oh! water, terrible when hostile; provident and blessed when friendly!
(4 July 1976)

Christianity is not easy, especially in our day.
(8 August 1973)
With the workers on the building site of the Rome-Florence express under Mount Soracte, during Christmas night 1972

With the workers on the building site of the Rome-Florence express under Mount Soracte, during Christmas night 1972

Very often the contrary view is widespread in the workplace: the Church has no liking for people who work, who so often are the people of the lower classes, poor people. The Church, it’s said, doesn’t know us, the Church is for the rich, for the powerful. The Church is conservative, the Church preaches the duties of the weak and the rights of the strong. The Church is concerned with moral and religious values, and takes no interest in economic and temporal values. The Church looks after its own business, its privileges; it’s tight-fisted, selfish, doesn’t think of us, subordinate, exploited, abandoned Workers.
(1 May 1972)

Greetings to you, young people of the new time, young people of your time.
(23 July 1972)

Youth, ave et salve!
Youth, are you happy? We listened to the response: yes, because I am on a path that climbs. Courage then, forward! The body is in full working order, but tamed by the energy and the virtue of the spirit.
(27 August 1972)

It was no easy task for me to pick out the maxims just transcribed, from the six hundred and eighty three Father Sapienza has extracted from the sixteen volumes (21,781 pp.) of the Teachings of Paul VI. None of them contains generic, superficial, repetitive notions. The title could not be more apt: Paul VI, Master of the Word.
It is an inexhaustible source of contemplation, proposals, perhaps even of regrets.

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