After receiving an honorary doctorate from both the Pontifical John Paul II University of Krakow and the Krakow Academy of Music, retired Pope Benedict XVI credited the saintly example of his predecessor for his spiritual and theological achievements.
Benedict said he received a “special joy” in receiving the doctorates, because “in this way my bond with Poland, with Krakow, with the home of our great St. John Paul II, has become even deeper.”
“Without him my spiritual and theological journey would not be imaginable.”
The retired pontiff – who now goes by “Father Benedict” – made his comments at the July 4 conferral of his two honorary doctorates in Sacred Music, one from the Pontifical John Paul II University of Krakow and one from the Krakow Academy of Music.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow and former secretary of St. John Paul II, conferred the degrees. The ceremony took place in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, where Benedict was staying.
The doctorates were conferred due to the great contributions Benedict has made to both knowledge and culture, specifically his attention to truth, beauty, faith and the presence of sacred music in the liturgy.
John Paul II was a “living example” of how “the joy of sacred music and the task of common participation in the sacred liturgy, the solemn joy and the simplicity of the humble celebration of the faith” can go hand in hand, Benedict said.
He noted how even though it might not be felt that strongly, “little by little” a certain tension has developed between active participation in the liturgy and solemn, sacred music.
Benedict pointed to how the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, mentions both.
It says that “the treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care,” while at the same time emphasizing that the active participation of the faithful is “a fundamental liturgical category,” he noted.
“Those two things, which in the text of the Constitution remain together and at peace with each other, were in the implementation of the Council, often in a relationship of dramatic tension,” the former pontiff observed.
Asking how the two can be reconciled and how the council can be implemented in its entirety, Fr. Benedict said that a deeper and more fundamental question is “what is music really? Where does it come from and toward what does it tend?”
Benedict then pointed the origins of music itself, saying that it first of all stems from one’s personal experience of love, sadness and death, and a true encounter with God.
One of music’s first expressions “is the experience of love,” he said. “When men were seized by love, another dimension of being burst within them, another greatness and another breadth of reality. And it also led them to express themselves in new ways.”
Poetry, song and music in general were all born “from this being affected, from this unfolding of a new dimension of life,” he said.
Another origin he pointed to was the experience of sadness, death, pain and “the abyss of existence,” which the former Pope said also opens up, in the opposite way, “new dimensions of reality” which can “no longer find an answer in mere speeches.”
The third origin Benedict indicated was “the encounter with the divine, which from the beginning is part of what defines man.”
A major reason for this, he said, “is that it is here where the totally-other and totally-great arouses in man new ways of expressing himself. Perhaps we can say that actually in the other two areas – love and death – the mystery of the divine touches us and, in this sense, it is being touched by God which together constitutes the origin of music.”
He said that the quality of music depends on “the purity and greatness” of one’s encounter with the divine, with their experience of love and of pain.
“The more pure and true that experience is, the more pure and great will be the music from which it was born and developed.”
Benedict then turned to the types of music found in different cultures, saying that music from the West in particular has the ability to go beyond the religious and ecclesial domain, mentioning Bach as an example of where for him, the glory of God is represented.
Whenever music is developed based on an encounter with God, he said, “you encounter the truth, with the true creator of the world.”
“Because of this the great sacred music is a reality of theological rank and of permanent significance for the faith of all Christianity, even if it is not at all necessary that it be done always and everywhere,” he noted.