Pontifical Academies

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Pontifical academies are loose networks of scholars and representatives of various professions organized by the Holy See for the advancement of the arts, science, and culture. Each has its own by-laws and, in most cases, the members are appointed by the Roman pontiff. The Annuario Pontificio for the year 2000 lists the following pontifical academies: (1) the Pontifical Academy of Sciences;(2) the Pontifical Academy of Social Science; (3) the Pontifical Academy for Life; (4) the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas (formerly the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas and Catholic Doctrine, founded in October, 1879); (5) the Pontifical Academy of Theology; (6) the Pontifical Academy of Our Lady Immaculate, founded in 1835; (7) the Pontifical International Marian Academy, founded in 1946; (8) the Distinguished Pontifical Academy of Arts and Letters of the Pantheon Virtuosi, founded in 1543; (9) the Pontifical Roman Academy of Archaeology, founded in 1810; and (10) the Pontifical Academy of the "Cult of the Martyrs," founded in 1879. There have been other pontifical academies in the course of the centuries. Those listed here represent true pontifical academies. Additionally, institutions such as the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, formerly known as the Academy of Noble Ecclesiastics, founded in 1701, enjoy the prerogatives of a pontifical academy, but are entrusted with special duties in service to the Church's diplomatic corps.

The most prominent pontifical academy is the Pontifical Academy of Science, the senatus scientificus, according to Pope Pius XI, dedicated to the mathematical, physical, and natural sciences. It attempts "to pay honor to pure science, wherever it is found, and to assure its freedom and to promote its research, which constitute the indispensable basis for progress in science." At its full complement the membership stands at 80, a number established by Pope John Paul II in 1986. This academy is directly responsible to the Holy Father, who appoints the members, and its expenses are met through the Patrimony of the Holy See. Members, regardless of religious confession, are drawn from different countries, and they are appointed for life. By reason of their office, the directors of the Vatican Observatory and its Astrophysical Laboratory and the prefects of the Vatican Library and the Secret Archives of the Vatican are appointed "Academicians pro tempore. "

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences has its roots in the Academy of the Lincei (Academia Linceorum, from its emblem, a lynx) which was founded in Rome in 1603 by Federico Cesi, Giovanni Heck, Francesco Stelluti, and Anastasio de Filiis, all contemporaries and sometime rivals of Galileo. In 1847 Pope Pius IX reestablished the Academy as the Pontifical Academy of the New Lincei. Pope Pius XI renewed and reconstituted the academy in 1936, and bestowed upon it its present name. The academy's activities range from a traditional interest in pure research to a concern with the ethical and environmental responsibility of the scientific community. The premises of the academy are in the Casina Pio IV, built in 1561, and it is there that members gather in plenary session.

The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences was founded by Pope John Paul II on Jan. 1, 1994, with the motu proprio called Socialum scientiarum. Its statutes indicate that its objective to promote "the study and progress of the social, economic, political and juridical sciences, and of thus offering the Church the elements which she can use in the study and development of her social doctrine." The academy is autonomous and at the same time, maintains a very close relationship with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, with which it coordinates the planning of various initiatives. Its academicians are named by the pope and their number cannot be fewer than 20 nor more than 40. They are chosen because of their high level of competence without distinction to religious denomination. In its early years, the academy centered its plenary sessions and workshops on three themes: work and employment, in 1996, 1997, and 1999; democracy in 1996, 1998, and 2000; and social dimensions of globalization in 2000 and 2001. The headquarters of the academy are in the Casina Pio IV, in the Vatican Gardens. The Pontifical Academy for the Social Sciences has its own foundation to provide for its financial needs.

With the motu proprio titled Vitae mysterium of Feb. 11, 1994, John Paul II instituted the Pontifical Academy for Life. Its primary objective is to study problems of biomedicine and law, especially as they relate to the promotion and defense of life, in accord with Christian morality and the directives of the Church's magisterium. The Vitae Mysterium Foundation, instituted in October 1994, finances this academy which is linked to the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers and various other dicasteries of the Roman Curia committed to the service of life. Seventy members are named by the pope and represent different branches of the biomedical sciences. The academy's activities focus on issues related to the human genome Project and specifically on the identity, localization, heterogeneity, and the mutability of those genes which constitute the hereditary patrimony of humanity. Further, because of the substantial unity of the body with the spiritcorpore et anima unus: una summa the human genome has not only a biological significance, but is the bearer of an anthropological dignity, which has its foundation in the spiritual soul which pervades it and vivifies it (cf. Discourse of His Holiness John Paul II to Members of the Academy, Feb. 24, 1998).

The Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas took on renewed significance in view of Pope John Paul's encyclical fides et ratio (1999), in which the pontiff made a sustained plea for the value of the Angelic Doctor's work among moderns (see especially no. 57). Similarly, Fides et Ratio (nos. 9299) would have the Pontifical Academy of Theology assist in the promotion of the sacred sciences, but always in dialogue with and in light of contemporary culture.

The Pontifical Academy of Our Lady Immaculate grew out of a small circle of students at the Gregorian University in Rome and became recognized by the Sacred Congregation for Studies, as it was then called, in 1847. One of its traditions has been presenting a "floral homage" before the statue of Mary Immaculate in the Piazza di Spagna on December 8. Pope John Paul II approved the new statutes for the academy in 1988 and 1995. Another Marian academy, the Pontifical International Marian Academy, founded by Carlo Balić, OFM, in 1946, promotes historical studies related to the Virgin Mary. In this connection (and largely through Balić's own scholarship), the academy has helped sponsor the herculean effort to develop a critical edition of the works of John Duns Scotus. It was also charged with the organization of various Marian congresses throughout the world. Raised to the status of a pontifical academy by Pope John XXIII in 1959 through the motu proprio called Maiora in dies, the academy enjoys a continued working relationship with the Friars Minor at the Antonianum in Rome.

Of the three remaining pontifical academies, the Academy of the Arts is the oldest, with a history stretching back to Pope Paul III in 1542. Its statutes were revised and approved by Pope John Paul II in 1995. The academy seeks to support sculptors, writers, architects, film makers, musicians, poets, and painters. The academy works cooperatively with the pontifical council for culture, and its virtuosi are nominated by the Holy Father. The Pontifical Academy of Roman Archaeology (formerly the Academy of Roman Antiquities) was founded in 1810, becoming a pontifical academy in 1829 under PiusVIII. It seeks to promote the study of archaeology and the history of ancient and medieval art. The Cardinal Secretary of State is its protector. Finally, the Pontifical Academy of the Cult of the Martyrs was founded as the Collegium Cultorum Martyrum in 1879 and collaborates with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments. Its work involves liturgical studies, archeology, and hagiography. Its statutes were revised and approved in 1995. The academy is historically based at the German College in Rome.

Bibliography: Annuario Pontificio per l'Anno 2000 (Vatican City 2000), 18761893, 20182024. r. ladous, Des Nobel au Vatican: La fondation de l'académie pontificale des sciences (Paris 1994). marini-bettelo and g. batista, Activity of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 19361986 (Vatican City 1987); Historical Aspects of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Oct. 28, 1986 (Vatican City 1986). "Inter Munera Academiarum," Acta Apostolicae Sedis 91:9 (Sept. 1999): 849853.

[p. j. hayes]