On 14 March 1997 the Pope addressed the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture as follows (the address may be found in full in the English weekly edition of L'Osservatore Romano for 26 March):
'Faith in Christ who became incarnate in history does not only transform individuals outwardly, but also regenerates peoples and their cultures. Thus at the end of antiquity, Christians, who lived in a culture to which they were greatly indebted, transformed it from within and instilled a new spirit in it. When this culture was threatened, the Church with Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory the Great and many others, passed on the heritage of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome to give birth to an authentic Christian civilization. Despite the imperfections inherent in all human work, this was the occasion for a successful synthesis between faith and culture.
In our day, this synthesis is often lacking and the rupture between the Gospel and culture is 'without a doubt the drama of our time' (Paul VI). This is a tragedy for the faith, because in a society where Christianity seems absent from social life and the faith relegated to the private sphere, access to religious values becomes more difficult, especially for the poor and the young, that is to say, for the vast majority of people who are unconsciously becoming secularized under pressure from the models of thought and action spread by the prevailing culture. The absence of a culture to support them prevents the young from having contact with the faith and from living it to the full.
This situation is also a tragedy for culture, which is undergoing a deep crisis because of the rupture with the faith. The symptom of this crisis is primarily the feeling of anguish which comes from the awareness of finitude in a world without God, where one makes the ego an absolute, and earthly affairs the only values of life. In a culture without transcendence, man succumbs to the lure of money and power, pleasure and success. He also encounters the dissatisfaction caused by materialism, the loss of the meaning of moral values and restlessness about the future.
But at the heart of this disillusionment there remains a thirst for the absolute, a desire for goodness, a hunger for truth, the need for personal fulfilment. This shows the breadth of the Pontifical Council for Culture's task: to help the Church achieve a new synthesis of faith and culture for the greatest benefit of all.
At the end of this century, it is essential to reaffirm the fruitfulness of faith for the development of a culture. Only a faith that is the source of radical spiritual decisions can have an effect on an era's culture. Thus the attitude of St Benedict, the Roman patrician who left an ageing society and withdrew in solitude, asceticism and prayer, was decisive for the growth of Christian civilization.
In its approach to cultures, Christianity presents the message of salvation received by the Apostles and the first disciples, reflected on and deepened by the Fathers of the Church and theologians, lived by Christian people, especially the saints, and expressed by its great theological, philosophical, literary and artistic geniuses. We must proclaim this message to our contemporaries in all its richness and beauty....
Faith in Christ gives cultures a new dimension, that of hope in God's kingdom. It is the vocation of Christians to instil in the heart of cultures this hope of a new earth and a new heaven. For when hope fades, cultures die. Far from threatening or impoverishing them, the Gospel increases their joy and beauty, freedom and meaning, truth and goodness.'