Pope Francis explains "The monks of the most ancient Christian tradition had precisely identified this illness of the soul, which suddenly discovers the vanity of knowledge without faith..."



St Peter's Square
Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In our reflection on old age – we are continuing to reflect on old age – today we are dealing with the Book of Qoheleth, or Ecclesiastes, another jewel set in the Bible. On a first reading, this short book is striking and leaves one bewildered by its famous refrain: “Everything is vanity”, everything is vanity: the refrain that goes on and on, everything is vanity, everything is “fog”, everything is “smoke”, everything is “emptiness”. It is surprising to find in Holy Scripture these expressions that question the meaning of existence in. In reality, Qoheleth’s continuous vacillation between sense and non-sense is the ironic representation of an awareness of life that is detached from the passion for justice, of which God’s judgement is the guarantor. And the Book’s conclusion points the way out of the trial: “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13).  

 This is the advice to resolve this problem.

Faced with a reality that at certain times seems to us to accommodate every opposite, attributing the same destiny to all of them – which is to end up in nothingness – the path of indifference may also appear to us as the only remedy to a painful disillusionment. Questions like these arise in us: Have our efforts changed the world? Is anyone capable of validating the difference between the just and the unjust? It seems that all this is useless… Why make so much effort?

There is a kind of negative intuition that can manifest itself in any season of life, but there is no doubt that old age makes this encounter with disenchantment almost inevitable. Disenchantment comes in old age. And so the resistance of old age to the demoralising effects of this disenchantment is decisive: if the elderly, who have seen it all by that time, keep intact their passion for justice, then there is hope for love, and also for faith. And for the contemporary world, the passage through this crisis, a healthy crisis, has become crucial. Why? Because a culture that presumes to measure everything and manipulate everything also ends up producing a collective demoralisation of meaning, a demoralization of love, a demoralization of goodness.

This demoralisation takes away our will to act. A supposed “truth” that limits itself to observes the world, also notes its indifference to opposites and consigns them, without redemption, to the flow of time and the fate of nothingness. In this form – cloaked in the trappings of science, but also very insensitive and very amoral – the modern quest for truth has been tempted to take leave of its passion for justice altogether. It no longer believes in its destiny, its promise, its redemption.

For our modern culture, which would like, in practice, to consign everything to the exact knowledge of things, the appearance of this new cynical reason – that combines knowledge and irresponsibility – is a harsh repercussion. Indeed, the knowledge that exempts us from morality seems at first to be a source of freedom, of energy, but soon turns into a paralysis of the soul.

With its irony, Qoheleth has already unmasked this deadly temptation of an omnipotence of knowledge – a “delirium of omniscience” – that generates an impotence of the will. The monks of the most ancient Christian tradition had precisely identified this illness of the soul, which suddenly discovers the vanity of knowledge without faith and without morality, the illusion of truth without justice. They called it “acedia”. And this is a temptation for everyone, even the elderly… But it is [a temptation] for everyone. It is not simply laziness; no, it’s more than that. It is not simply depression. No. Rather, acedia it is the surrender to knowledge of the world devoid of any passion for justice and consequent action.

The emptiness of meaning and lack of strength opened up by this knowledge, which rejects any ethical responsibility and any affection for the real good, is not harmless. It not only takes away the strength for the desire for the good: by counterreaction, it opens the door to the aggressiveness of the forces of evil. These are the forces of reason gone mad, made cynical by an excess of ideology. In fact, with all our progress, with all our prosperity, we have really become a “society of weariness”. Think about it: we are the society of weariness. We were supposed to have produced widespread well-being and we tolerate a market that is scientifically selective with regard to health. We were supposed to have put an insuperable threshold for peace, and we see more and more ruthless wars against defenceless people. Science advances, of course, and that is good. But the wisdom of life is something else entirely, and it seems to be stalled.

Finally, this an-affective and ir-responsible reason also takes away meaning and energy from the knowledge of truth. It is no coincidence that ours is the age of fake news, collective superstitions, and pseudo-scientific truths. It’s curious: in this culture of knowledge, of knowing everything, even of the precision of knowledge, a lot of witchcraft has spread, but cultured witchcraft. It is witchcraft with a certain culture but that leads you to a life of superstition: on the one hand, to go forward with intelligence in knowing things down to the roots; on the other hand, the soul that needs something else and takes the path of superstitions, and ends up in witchcraft. From the wry wisdom of Qoheleth, old age can learn the art of bringing to light the deception hidden in the delirium of a truth of the mind devoid of affection for justice. Elderly people rich in wisdom and humour do so much good for the young! They save them from the temptation of a knowledge of the world that is dreary and devoid of the wisdom of life. And these elderly people also bring the young back to Jesus’ promise: "“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt 5:6). They will be the ones to sow the hunger and thirst for justice in the young. Take courage, all of us older people! Take courage and go forward! We have a very great mission in the world. But, please, we must not seek refuge in this somewhat non-concrete, unreal, rootless idealism – let us speak clearly – in the witchcraft of life.



My heart is broken by the Texas elementary school killing. I pray for the children, for the adults killed and for their families. It is time to stop indiscriminate arms trafficking. Let us all work hard, so that such tragedies can no longer happen.

Special Greetings:

Je salue cordialment les personnes de langue française, venues de France, du Luxembourg et de Suisse, en particulier les séminaristes de Strasbourg, ainsi que les pèlerins de l'archidiocèse de Bordeaux. Modern culture a réduit la vérité aux sciences exactes et à la technique créant un monde sans espérance et sans amour. Demandons au Seigneur d’éclairer nos intelligences par la foi pour que nous cherchions toujours la justice de Dieu et que nous donnions du sens à la vie. Que Dieu vous bénisse.

[I cordially greet the French-speaking people from France, Luxembourg and Switzerland, in particular the seminarians from Strasbourg and the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Bordeaux. Modern culture has reduced truth to exact science and technology, creating a world without hope and without love. We ask the Lord to enlighten our minds through faith, to always seek God's justice and give meaning to life. God bless you.]

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, especially those from Nigeria, Lebanon and the United States of America. In the joy of the Risen Christ, I invoke upon you and your families the loving mercy of God our Father. May the Lord bless you!

[I greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience, especially those from Nigeria, Lebanon and the United States of America. In the joy of the Risen Christ, I invoke on each of you, and on your families, the merciful love of God our Father. The Lord bless you!]

Bald feiern wir das Hochfest Christi Himmelfahrt. Jesus Christus ist heimgekehrt zum Vater, aber er hat uns nicht allein gelassen. Vom Himmel aus ist er uns auf eine neue Weise nahe, denn durch den Heiligen Geist lebt er in unseren Herzen. Ich wünsche euch die beständige Erfahrung seiner Gegenwart of him!

[The solemnity of the Ascension, now near, reminds us that Jesus Christ has returned to the right hand of the Father, but he has not left us alone. From Heaven he is close to us in a new way, because through the Holy Spirit he lives in our hearts. I wish you to experience his presence in every moment of your life!]

I cordially greet los peregrinos de lengua española. Pidamos al Señor que nos preserve del desencanto y nos conceda la sabiduría y el buen humor de los ancianos para no dejar nunca de trabajar por la justicia. Y también que hay a good grupo de argentinos y en este día de la fiesta nacional de nuestra patria les envío a cordial saludo a ustedes y a todo el pueblo argentino. Dios los bendiga. Muchas gracias.

Queridos fiéis de língua portuguesa, saúdo-vos a todos e de modo particular aos paroquianos de São Camilo de Lélis, cidade de Natal, and aos membros da associação Regina fidei de São Paulo. When o Filho de Deus veio entre nós, he encontrou disponível or coração da Virgem Imaculada. Ela vivia como todas as mulheres do seu time of her, mas, na vida simples de cada dia, lei estava à disposição do Senhor. Peçamos ao Espírito Santo or dom da docilidade à vontade de Deus. Sobre todos desça a bênção do Senhor!

[Dear Portuguese-speaking faithful, I greet you all, in particular the parishioners of San Camilo de Lélis, city of Natal, and the members of the Regina fidei association of San Paolo. When the Son of God came among us, he found the open heart of the Immaculate Virgin. She lived like all the women of her time but, in the simple everyday life, she was available to the Lord. Let us ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of docility to God's will. May the blessing of the Lord descend upon everyone!]

أُحَيِّي المؤمِنينَ الناطِقينَ باللغَةِ العربِيَّة. كِبارُ السِّنِّ المَليئونَ بالحِكمَةِ وَروحِ الفُكاهَةِ يَصنَعُونَ خيرًا كثيرًا لِلشَّباب! إنَّهم يُنقِذُونَهُم مِن تجرِبَةِ مَعرِفَةِ العالمِ الحزينَةِ والمُجَرَّدَةِ مِن حِكمَةِ الحياة. وَيُعيدُونَهم إلى وَعدِ يسوعَ القائِل: "طوبَى لِلْجِياعِ والعِطاشِ إِلى البِرّ ، فإِنَّهم يُشبَعون". باركَكُم الرّبُّ جَميعًا وحَماكُم دائِمًا مِن كُلِّ شَرّ!

[I greet the Arabic-speaking faithful. Seniors full of wisdom and humor do the young so much good! They save them from the temptation of a sad and wisdomless knowledge of the world. And they bring them back to the promise of Jesus: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied". The Lord bless you all and always protect you from all evil!]

Serdecznie pozdrawiam Polaków. Wczoraj obchodziliśmy wspomnienie Najświętszej Maryi Panny Wspomożycielki Wiernych. W naszych modlitwach zawierzajmy Jej szczególnie sprawę pokoju na Ukrainie i na świecie. Niech Matka Boża uczy nas solidarności z ludźmi doświadczonymi tragedią wojny i wyjedna pojednanie narodów. Wszystkim wam z serca błogosławię.

[I cordially greet the Poles. Yesterday we celebrated the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians. In our prayers we entrust to her in a particular way the desire for peace of Ukraine and of the whole world. May the Mother of God teach us solidarity with those who are tried by the tragedy of war and obtain the reconciliation of the Nations. I cordially bless you all.]

* * *

I extend a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the Missionary Sisters of Charity, the Italian Center for Women in Caserta, the Napoli 3 Sud health authority, the San Giuseppe al Trionfale School in Rome.

Finally, as usual, my thoughts go to the elderly, the sick, the young and the newlyweds.

The feast, now approaching, of the Ascension of the Lord offers me the starting point for a greeting to all of you. Jesus Christ, ascending to heaven, leaves a message and a program for the whole Church: "Go therefore and make disciples of all peoples ... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28: 19-20). Let the word of Christ be known and bear witness to it with joy be the ideal and commitment of each in their respective condition of life.

My blessing to all.