Acton President Rev. Robert Sirico presents the 2012 Novak Award to Prof. Giovanni Patriarca

An overflow crowd, which included two current and one former rector of Rome’s pontifical universities, enthusiastically turned out on November 29 to support the winner of the Acton Institute’s Novak Award.  Students, professors, journalists, entrepreneurs and politicians alike packed the Aula delle Tesi auditorium at the Pontifical University of Thomas Aquinas to hear Prof. Giovanni Patriarca deliver his lecture  “Against Apathy: Reconstruction of a Cultural Identity”.

The Novak Award, a $10,000 prize named after the American theologian and social philosopher Michael Novak, is given annually to a young international professor whose distinguished research advances a deeper understanding of theology’s connection to human dignity, the importance of limited government, religious liberty, and economic freedom. The recipient delivers a formal presentation at the award ceremony known as the Calihan Lecture.

An enthusiastic crowd filled the Aula della Tesi at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas

During a Zenit interview with Ann Schneible, Dr. Patriarca summarized the key points of his Calihan Lecture (go here for a full copy of the lecture) and assessed the sociological and spiritual origins of the current economic crisis.

Although the contemporary crisis has some specific technical origins certain behavioral changes in social and interpersonal relations gave revealing warning signs of impending instability. The symptoms, which are still present today, can be found in a deep disaffection with personal responsibility and civic engagement, exemplified by a growing disconnection between individuals’ values and their course of action.

Throughout human history, there have been ages of instability and transition which have anticipated paradigm shifts or changes of perception in economic and geopolitical relations. These times are coupled with a physiological sense of helplessness or decadence.

Patriarca, currently a professor in Nuremberg, Germany, completed his doctorate in philosophy at Rome’s Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum. His doctoral research, which concentrated on areas of pre-classical economic thought, was guided by the moral and social philosopher Fr. Michael Ryan, LC.

During an interview with the Acton Institute,  Fr. Michael Ryan, LC, said that today’s economic crisis is a sure tell sign that the traditional Judeo-Christian “vocational paradigm”, or the vision of professional work and entrepreneurship, is at risk of disappearing from Western culture.

“It is a crisis of vocational values, a crisis of how we are engaged in deep relationship with God’s will in our daily enterprise,” Fr. Ryan said.

“Business is in vocational crisis because we have lost our sense of Godly service to humanity through our basic everyday interpersonal relationships and the use of our gifts and talents, especially in the context of free market exchanges and the management of risks and investments on which entire communities and even nations depend for their well being.”