A Letter from the Pope about the Center for Josef Pieper Studies
July 4th, 2009
Very Reverend and Dear Archbishop!
Receiving the news about the establishment of a Center for Josef Pieper Studies at the Faculty of Theology in Paderborn gave me much pleasure. Josef Pieper’s works on the cardinal virtues were among my first philosophical readings when I started my university studies in 1946. They aroused my interest in philosophical thinking, a pleasure in a rational search for answers to the great questions of our time. Moreover, I learnt that the great thinkers of the past are still present owing to their struggle for truth and that philosophy does not become obsolete whenever it honestly and humbly remains on the path to truth.
From that time onwards I never skipped a book of Pieper’s, being more and more enriched and refreshed by reading them. During my years in Münster (1963-1966) I was lucky to build up a personal friendship with the master himself, which accompanied me until his death – a friendship for which I can be nothing but grateful. I am aware of the fact that nowadays there are certain people claiming that Pieper was not a philosopher in the true sense of the word, but rather a philosophical author who possessed the ability to introduce people to philosophy. To my mind, these people are mistaken. It is true that Pieper did not attach great importance to philosophizing in a strictly “academic” way as is done in the current academic discipline philosophy. In his central contribution on interpretation, he showed in the tradition of C.S. Lewis that such a solicitous scholarliness turns into a kind of anaesthesia against the question on truth: “Scholarliness” forces a restriction to what can be proven, thus narrowing the view and ultimately excluding the truth question, which cannot remain within the range of that which can be proven in a merely positive way. Undoubtably, Pieper also knew how to write strictly academic works, as can be easily seen in the collection of his opera omnia. However, he relentlessly sticked to the fact that philosophy transcends regional questions and represents a search for the whole, which cannot be squeezed into the methodological canon created by the natural sciences. Rather, it demands an openness and scope of reason beyond this canon. In my eyes, Josef Pieper is an exemplary, highly up-to-date and authentic philosopher exactly because he did not feel intimidated by the greatness of a question and the dangers on the way. He insisted upon the necessary existence of a rational search for the whole, for truth itself, and claimed that only this is true philosophy. He knew that we can stand up to these questions solely by listening to the great thinkers of all times and that, owing to the greatness of its task, philosophy must also always be willing to listen to those answers, and to reflect upon them, which arise from faith and its special manner of listening. The fact that he was capable of presenting his questions and answers in a linguistically appealing and understandable way, without the inhibited style of an overstrained academic language, is to me another indication that he was a true philosopher. For all these reasons, Pieper is up-to-date and important today. Therefore I whish the new Center God’s blessing for the task that it has undertaken.
In God your
Pieper, Wojtyla and Ratzinger
In his book God’s Choice. Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church (New York 2006, p.178), George Weigel reports how Joseph Ratzinger’s attention was drawn to the Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla by his friend Josef Pieper. A short extract from the book:
“Josef Pieper, the German philosopher whom Ratzinger had admired during his student days and who had become a friend, wrote Ratzinger after a 1974 philosophical congress in Italy, urging him to get in touch with Wojtyla, who had made a deep impression on Pieper. Ratzinger and Wojtyla began exchanging books; the Polish cardinal made use of Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity in preparing the Lenten retreat he preached for Paul VI and the Curia in 1976, and they met briefly at the Synod of Bishops in 1977. The August 1978 conclave was, however, their first opportunity to speak at length. There was, Ratzinger later recalled, ‘this spontaneous sympathy between us, and we spoke . . . about what we should do, about the situation of the Church.’”
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