“For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice. Pilate saith to him: What is truth? (Quid est veritas?)” (John 18:37-38). That iconic question of Pontius Pilate rings out through the voices of many today, and the correct answer to that question is the same—and equally as important—today as it was then.
During research for his presentation in morality class, one of my high school junior students searched for a definition of truth. The Google world gave him this one: “a fact or belief that is accepted as true.” Wow. There are two glaring problems with this apparently popular definition.
Perhaps the first thing we should glean from this definition is the fact that—of itself—it doesn’t define anything at all. Any definition in which the same concept is used in its very definition is pure nonsense, such as “goodness is something good.” Thanks for nothing.
The second major error found in this Google wisdom is the self-destructive subjectivism that such a definition expresses. If “accepting” or “agreeing upon” something makes it true, then truth, in fact, does not exist. If I am convinced (i.e., accept), or even convince everyone in the room or in the country (i.e., there is an agreeing upon) that I am God, does that make it true? If it does, then what does truth mean? Nothing. If everyone in California agrees that defunding Planned Parenthood takes mammograms away from women in need (when they in fact perform zero), because they said so on the Clinton News Network, is that suddenly the truth? If so, then there is no real truth.
This may seem like no big deal, but it is; the inevitable logical and subconscious conclusion of such madness is pure nihilism: the total meaninglessness and dark futility of life. If there were no such thing as objective good and evil, or if I were incapable of knowing anything for certain, then Hitler’s defined truth would be just as valid as that of Jesus Christ. It would mean that we have no right to say that the Holocaust was wrong. It would mean that human rights are a social construct which can be made up or taken away at the whim of the powerful. It would mean that I could never know who I am, value my being, or have a true friend; it would mean that there is nothing in which I could believe that would be worth suffering and fighting for, not even my own life. Do you see where this is going?
Now, before you grab that noose, please open the window and take a deep breath. Life is not meaningless. Truth exists. God exists, and he is Reality itself. The important answers to this fork-tongued serpent are as glorious as they are simple.
Though not of primary importance, the first definition of truth that we must keep in mind and teach to the young minds in our care is that taught by the greatest minds that the world has ever seen: the definition used by the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, and Bl. John Duns Scotus, for example, as they stood on the shoulders of the great Plato, Aristotle, and St. Augustine. Quid est veritas? The simple answer is this: adaequatio rei et intellectus [the sameness of the real thing and the concept in the intellect]. Bananas exist and do so perfectly independently of your knowledge or opinion of them. The extent to which your idea of a banana matches the reality of a banana is the extent to which you know the truth about bananas. If you know that Planned Parenthood in fact performs no mammograms at all, then you know the truth about that, because it corresponds to reality, which exists. For the honest and the sane, it is as simple as that. Our minds presume this naturally whenever we ask a question or seek to know anything. It is what our intellect naturally does.
Even when we try to twist our intellects into self-destruction by denying the existence of truth, we still rely on the reality of truth in order to make those assertions. Just look at the Google definition: though trying to destroy objective truth by defining it in terms of pure subjectivity, it claims to give you a definition which is objectively true! God created us to seek and to know the truth, and this knowledge has been verified and facilitated by common sense for as long as humans have existed. To deny this is a blasphemy against our benevolent Creator by denying the gifts that he has given to us in his image and likeness, as well as his goodness in giving our lives a reason and purpose. Furthermore, to pretend—under the pretext of mercy or humility—that someone’s misinformed concept is an equally viable truth is a sin against our neighbor who has been created for truth, and against all of those effected by that misinformation. (Think of the Planned Parenthood example.) This is anything but true charity or humility! Now is not a time for cowardice in the guise of open-mindedness or mercy; the charitable path set before us is certainly to pray for our neighbor, but also to inform them of the truth, for charity is only in the truth, and the truth in charity (caritas in veritate, et veritas in caritate).
Though those concepts are of critical importance, there is one more step: there is truth and there is Truth. The most important answer to the question “Quid est veritas?” was given by the most brilliant Mind ever to exist, and who ever could exist, for he is Infinite Being himself: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). The most perfect answer to the search for Truth will always be Christ: he is our greatest Reality and the Reason, the Cause, and the End for our existence. He—the Word—intentionally spoke us into being with a purpose: to know and to love him—the Truth—and to be blissfully happy in him forever. He has, according to St. Augustine, “made us for [him]self, and our hearts are restless until they rest in [him].”
Without Christ, we “walk in darkness” (John 12:35), in what C.S. Lewis cleverly pointed out (in The Great Divorce) to be our own hell: the “shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind” in obstinate refusal of God’s Reality (i.e., Heaven). He has promised us that those who seek him will find him (cf. Luke 11:9). The more we seek him, the Truth, and the sooner we conform ourselves and our charity to Him, the sooner we will find the happiness and the holiness for which we have been created. Slaves to sin and ignorance no more, we will journey together to the very Heart of God. We “shall know the truth, and the truth shall make [us] free” (John 8:32).
Editor’s note: Pictured above is “Christ Before Pilate” painted by Mihaly Munkacsy in 1881.