By Antonio Gaspari
ROME, FEB. 24, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A culture that has no space for prayer becomes a place of vulgarities and violence, says Cardinal Georges Cottier in the prologue to a new encyclopedia of prayer.
"Enciclopedia Della Preghiera," printed in Italian by the Vatican Publishing House, was presented Tuesday at Rome's Pontifical Lateran University.
Echoing the words of German poet Friedrich Novalis, the encyclopedia's authors, C. Rossini and Patricio Sciadini, say "prayer is in religion what thought is in philosophy. The religious sense prays as the organ of thought thinks."
The work follows along the lines of the "Dizionario di Mistica" (Dictionary of Mysticism) and the "Nuovo Dizionario di Spiritualità" (New Dictionary of Spirituality) that the Vatican publishing house released in 1998 and 2003, respectively.
Beginning with the Bible, continuing through the centuries and traveling through the history of diverse geographical areas, the work aims to interpret the conversation of men with God.
In the prologue, Cardinal Cottier, retired theologian of the pontifical household, recalled the radical criticism of prayer proposed by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who considered "useless and arrogant the pretension of obtaining from God the renouncing of his wise plan in favor of a passing benefit for us."
On the other hand, in the catechism of St. John Vianney, he sustains that "the task of man is beautiful: to pray and to love. If you pray and love, this is the happiness' of man on earth…"
According to Cardinal Cottier, "our idea of prayer depends on our knowledge of God. Moreover, and as a consequence, it reflects an anthropological concept."
"Prayer is the vital respiration of the soul, in which our human and Christian identity is expressed," he said.
Since "Novo Millennio Ineunte" through the apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis," the recent magisterium has insistently "highlighted the centrality of prayer in the life of the people of God," the cardinal wrote.
And Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical, "has confirmed the centrality of prayer in Christian life," he added. "The need for prayer flows from human nature itself, inasmuch as man, in a more or less clear and explicit way, is conscious of his condition as creature and his dependence on God as the fount of everything good.
"Moreover, prayer finds in beauty its natural environment. It is itself a fount of beauty. Between art and prayer, there exists a singular affinity.
"A culture in which there is no space for prayer converts itself into a spiritual desert, a place of vulgarity and violence."
Cardinal Cottier thus concluded, "Besides its specifically religious relevance, the 'Encyclopedia of Prayer' is a very valuable contribution to culture. It promises to come to be for many a companion for life."