Bookmark and Share

Witnessing to God the Father: the Christian response to atheism

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the History of Salvation
General Audience, Wednesday 14 April 1999 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. Man's religious orientation stems from his nature as a creature, which spurs him to long for God who created him in his own image and likeness (cf. Gn 1:26). The Second Vatican Council has taught that "the dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. The invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists, it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his Creator" (Gaudium et spes, n. 19).

The way that leads human beings to knowledge of God the Father is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who comes to us in the power of the Holy Spirit. As I emphasized in our previous catecheses, this knowledge is authentic and complete if it is not reduced to a mere intellectual achievement but vitally involves the whole human person. The latter must give a response of faith and love to the Father, in the awareness that before knowing him, we were already known and loved by him (cf. Gal 4:9; 1 Cor 13:12; 1 Jn 4:19).

Unfortunately, this intimate and vital relationship with God, weakened by the sin of our first parents from the beginning of history, is lived by man in a fragile and contradictory way, beset by doubt and often broken by sin. The contemporary era has known particularly devastating forms of "theoretical" and "practical" atheism (cf. Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio, nn. 46-47). Secularism proves particularly ruinous with its indifference to ultimate questions and to faith: it in fact expresses a model of man lacking all reference to the transcendent. "Practical" atheism is thus a bitter and concrete reality. While it is true that it primarily appears in economically and technologically more advanced civilizations, its effects also extend to those situations and cultures which are in the process of development.

2. We must be guided by the Word of God in order to interpret this situation in the contemporary world and to answer the serious questions it raises.

Starting with Sacred Scripture, we immediately note that there is no mention of "theoretical" atheism, while there is a concern to reject "practical" atheism. The psalmist calls foolish anyone who says in his heart: "There is no God" (Ps 14:1), and behaves accordingly: "They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good" (ibid.). Another psalm condemns the wicked man who "boasts, 'He will not avenge it'; 'There is no God'" (Ps 10:4).

Rather than atheism, the Bible speaks of wickedness and idolatry. Whoever prefers a series of human products, falsely considered divine, living and active, to the true God is wicked and idolatrous. Lengthy prophetic reproaches are devoted to the impotence of idols and likewise of those who make them. With dialectical vehemence, the emptiness and worthlessness of man-made idols is countered with the power of God, the Creator and Wonderworker (cf. Is 44:9-20; Jer 10:1-16).

This doctrine is most fully developed in the Book of Wisdom (cf. Wis 13-15) which presents the way, to be recalled later by St Paul (cf. Rom 1:18-23), to the knowledge of God based on created things. Being an "atheist", then, means not knowing the true nature of created reality but absolutizing it, and therefore "idolizing" it, instead of considering it a mark of the Creator and the path that leads to him.

3. Atheism can even become a kind of intolerant ideology, as history shows. The last two centuries have known currents of theoretical atheism which denied God in order to assert the absolute autonomy of man, nature or science. This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes: "Atheism is often based on a false conception of human autonomy, exaggerated to the point of refusing any dependence on God" (n. 2126).

This systematic atheism has been widespread for decades, giving the illusion that by eliminating God, man would be freer, both psychologically and socially. The principal objections raised, especially about God the Father, are based on the idea that religion has a compensatory value for people. Having repressed the image of the earthly father, adults are said to project onto God the need for a greater father from whom they must free themselves because he hinders the growth process of human beings.

What is the Church's attitude to these forms of atheism and their ideological justifications? The Church does not scorn serious study of the psychological and sociological elements of the religious phenomenon, but firmly rejects the interpretation of religiosity as a projection of the human psyche or the result of sociological conditioning. In fact, authentic religious experience is not an expression of immaturity but a mature and noble attitude of acceptance of God, which in turn gives meaning to life and implies a responsibility to work for a better world.

4. The Council recognized that, by not always showing the true face of God, believers may have contributed to the rise of atheism (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 19; CCC, n. 2125).

In this regard, it is bearing witness to the real face of God that gives the most convincing response to atheism. This obviously does not exclude, but rather demands a correct presentation of the rational reasons that lead to the recognition of God. Unfortunately, these reasons are often obscured by the influence of sin and of many cultural circumstances. The Gospel message, confirmed by the witness of a sensible charity (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 21), is thus the most effective way for people to understand something of God's goodness and gradually to recognize his merciful face.

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

Je salue les pèlerins francophones présents à cette audience, en particulier des représentants de l’union internationale des chemins de fer, des séminaristes de Nantes, la délégation des Scouts d’Europe du Midi, la mission catholique italienne d’Avignon et de Nîmes, le jeune orchestre d’Avignon, des jeunes du Collège de Contes et de l’aumônerie de Montbrison. J’accorde à tous de grand cœur la Bénédiction apostolique.

I extend a special welcome to Cardinal William Keeler and to the American Catholic and Jewish leaders involved in the Interreligious Information Center in Baltimore. Upon all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, especially those from England, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour.

Mit diesen Gedanken grüße ich die Pilger und Besucher, die aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache nach Rom gekommen sind. Besonders heiße ich die Gruppe der Studentenmusik aus Einsiedeln willkommen. Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim und allen, die mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen.

Me es grato saludar a los peregrinos de España y de algunos Países de América Latina. De modo especial saludo a los sacerdotes que realizan un curso de renovación en el Pontificio Colegio Español de Roma. Saludo también a los grupos parroquiales y escolares. Que Dios Padre, al mostrarnos su misericordia, haga sentirnos hermanos unos de otros, buscando siempre la paz y rechazando el odio y las divisiones que pueden llevar a cualquier forma de guerra.

Amados peregrinos do Brasil e de Portugal e outros mais que aqui se encontrem de língua portuguesa, sede benvindos! A ressurreição de Cristo abriu a estrada para além da morte; temos a estrada desimpedida até ao Céu. Que nada vos impeça de viver e crescer na amizade do Pai celeste, e testemunhar a todos a sua bondade e misericórdia! Sobre vós e vossas famílias, desça a sua Bênção generosa.

Pozdrawiam pielgrzymów Z Polski: bpa Wiktora Skworca z Tarnowa, kapłanów z archidiecezji krakowskiej i wrocławskiej z okazji 20. i 25. rocznicy święceń, z Krakowa Akademię Ekonomiczną, z Wadowic - parafię Ofiarowania Matki Bożej. Pozdrawiam grupy parafialne: z Myślenic, Bielska-Białej, Cieszyna, Cybinki, Kwiatkowic, Krasnego Stawu, Krupego, Mińska Mazowieckiego, Oławy, Piastowa, Poznania, Warszawy i Wrocławia oraz chór katedralny « Pueri Cantores » z Tarnowa; grupy młodzieżowe: z Krakowa, Jeleniej Góry, Kartuz, Ostrowca Świętokrzyskiego, Staszowa, Świdnicy i Tenczyna; grupy polonijne: Jana Lewana ze Stanów Zjednoczonych, z Misji Katolickiej w Hanau w Niemczech i z Kanady oraz Chór św. Cecylii z Kościerzyny.

Wszystkie katechezy obecne odnoszą, się do przygotowania trzeciego millennium. W tym ostatnim roku przygotowania nasza uwaga jest szczególnie skierowana ku Ojcu. « Przez Syna w Duchu Świętym do Ojca » - taki jest kierunek, który Chrystus nam nadał. « Wyszedłem od Ojca, przyszedłem na świat, teraz opuszczam świat i idę do Ojca ».

Nasza chrzescijańska wiara, nasza pobożność,życie duchowe, jest zwrócone do żywego Boga, do Ojca, do którego prowadzi nas Chrystus.

Przeżyliśmy okres, w którym starano się nas oderwać od religii, okres ateizmu teoretycznego i praktycznego marksizmu. Dzisiaj może pod inną postacią ten sam ateizm powraca na ziemię polską, i do polskich umysłów i serc. Starajmy się, ażeby millennium, drugie tysiąclecie narodzin Chrystusa, przywróciło nam pewność tej drogi, którą. On nas prowadzi: « w Duchu Świętym do Ojca ». Chrystus ukrzyżowany i zmartwychwstały! Togo życzę wszystkim moim rodakom zarówno tu zgromadzonym, jak też żyjącym w Ojczyźnie i na emigracji.

Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua neerlandese

Un cordiale saluto a tutti i pellegrini neerlandesi e belgi!

Carissimi fratelli e sorelle, auguro che possiate sperimentare l’amore e la grazia del Cristo Risorto in questo tempo pasquale, e riscoprire la vostra vocazione cristiana.

Di cuore imparto la Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua croata

Cari fratelli e sorelle, la Chiesa, mossa dallo Spirito Santo e fedele al suo Fondatore divino, Gesù Cristo, è in costante cammino verso il “Padre che è nei cieli” (cfr Mt 5, 45). Egli ci ama immensamente e vuole che ci salviamo, raggiungendo la vita eterna preparata per ogni uomo. L’attuale, terzo e ultimo, anno preparatorio al Grande Giubileo, vuole essere per ogni cristiano un tempo particolare per conoscere ancor di più tale amore e per rendergli testimonianza davanti al mondo.

Saluto cordialmente tutti i pellegrini croati e su ciascuno di essi e sulle loro famiglie invoco la benedizione di Dio.

Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua ceca

Un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini della parrocchia di Praha-Michle-Krc!

Carissimi, prego Dio onnipotente perché infonda in voi la vera gioia della Risurrezione e vi accompagni sempre con i suoi numerosi doni. Con questi voti vi benedico di cuore!

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua slovacca

Saluto cordialmente il gruppo di pellegrini slovacchi provenienti da Banská Bystrica, Bratislava, Malacky e Nitra.

Cari pellegrini, auspico che possiate vivere la gioia della Pasqua nelle vostre famiglie e nelle vostre comunità, accogliendo lo Spirito che il Cristo risorto dona continuamente per purificarci dal peccato e santificarci con l’abbondanza della divina grazia.

Con questo augurio, vi imparto la Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua lituana

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini provenienti dalla Lituania.

Carissimi, voglio augurarvi che l’odierno incontro sia per tutti un momento particolare di grazia per riscoprire Cristo, luce e speranza del mondo ed annunciarlo con le generose opere della carità fraterna.

Con tali auspici, imparto a ciascuno di voi e ai vostri familiari la Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

* * *

Saluto con affetto i pellegrini di lingua italiana. Rivolgo anzitutto un particolare pensiero ai membri della Consulta Nazionale Fondazioni Antiusura e alle delegazioni delle varie Fondazioni Regionali, venuti per richiamare l'attenzione della pubblica opinione sul preoccupante e, purtroppo, diffuso fenomeno dell'usura, che comporta risvolti sociali talora drammatici. Mi sono ben note, carissimi, le difficoltà che incontrate, ma so che siete determinati e uniti nel combattere questa grave piaga sociale. Continuate a lottare contro l'usura, dando speranza alle persone ed alle famiglie che ne sono vittime. Il Papa vi incoraggia a proseguire la vostra generosa opera per costruire una società più giusta e solidale, più attenta alle esigenze dei bisognosi.

Saluto, poi, i pellegrini della Diocesi di Tursi-Lagonegro che, accompagnati dal loro Pastore, il caro Monsignor Rocco Talucci, sono venuti a rinnovare la fede sulle tombe degli Apostoli, nel contesto del loro Sinodo diocesano. Vi esorto, carissimi, a porre ogni impegno nell'attuare le conclusioni dell'Assemblea sinodale, che coinvolgono l'intera Diocesi ed assicuro la mia preghiera, perché essa contribuisca a farvi camminare tutti con accresciuta generosità sulle vie del Vangelo.

Saluto anche i fedeli delle Parrocchie di Besana Brianza e di Santa Maria Assunta, in Lecce dei Marsi (L'Aquila), il Comitato Provinciale della Croce Rossa Italiana Sezione Femminile di Avellino e i membri del Lions Club di Valenza Po, che ricordano il loro venticinquesimo anniversario di fondazione. Auspico di cuore che la vostra gradita visita valga a rafforzare in ciascuno l'impegno di generosa e fedele adesione al Signore, in preparazione al Grande Giubileo dell'Anno Duemila.

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana