Just a few days ago Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to understanding the past as a means of confirming faith. On December 20th His Holiness met with the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology, greeting their most senior official, grand chancellor Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, with remarkable cordiality. The Holy Father remarked upon the, “precious and fruitful cultural, literary, and academic work that the Institute carries out in the service of the Church and of culture in general.”
The Institute was created by Pius IX on January 6, 1852. Thestated goal of this organization is “to take care of the ancient sacred cemeteries, look after their preventive preservation, further explorations, research and study, and also safeguard the oldest mementos of the early Christian centuries, the outstanding monuments and venerable Basilicas in Rome, in the Roman suburbs and soil, and in the other Dioceses in agreement with the respective Ordinaries.”
This uniquely Catholic organization accepts post-graduate students from all over the world, but particularly from the Vatican. Their work in Christian antiquity is, of course, highly respected. The tremendous scholarship and academic excellence of this institution has greatly furthered knowledge of Catholic history.
The Pope echoed this sentiment. “Knowing the heritage of past Christian generations allows those following to remain faithful to the ‘depositum fidei’ (roughly ‘the deposit/kernel of faith’) of the first Christian community and, following along the same path, continues to make the immutable Gospel of Christ resound in every age and place,” commented Benedict XVI.
All Christians should join with the Pope in celebrating the achievements of the Pontifical Institute. It is through them, and other commissions and agencies like them, that we have a fuller comprehension of ancient Christianity. Understanding the role of this all pervasive religion has in the world, both today and yesterday, gives us a greater appreciation of the history of humanity.