Sense and Nonsense: Truth as Reality

On February 10, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI received his old Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith colleagues. The pope here broached the noblest issues of our kind. Many things were suc­cinctly put together that are not often put together, succinctly or otherwise. “Faith has a fundamental importance in the life of the Church, because the gift that God makes of Himself in Revela­tion is fundamental and God’s gift of himself is accepted through faith.” To know fully what we are, faith is need­ed. Faith comes through the Church, affirming that God has given Himself to us.

What happens when this central­ity of the Catholic Faith weakens? Eric Voegelin wrote that the major cause of ideology was the weakening of faith in Christian men who, as a re­sult, try to relocate transcendent ends of Christian life in movements in this world. The last things become “im­manentized,” a memorable but dense word. Similarly, Benedict observes: “Whenever the perception of this cen­trality weakens, the fabric of ecclesial life loses its original brightness…. It degenerates into static activism or is reduced to political expediency with a worldly flavor.” This reduction has happened. “Faith” becomes “justice.” Justice becomes ideology. Ideology, exclusively with the human mind, explains the world solely from within the world.

But charity leads to and from faith. Benedict explains in Deus Caritas Est: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Aristotle affirmed that we cannot find truth if our moral life is disordered. What Christianity adds is that we will not have our moral life ordered without a gift from out­side of ourselves, something that Plato himself intimated. The difference is that we, following Aquinas, can give a description of what this gift is like because it has been first given to us.

Truth is not an abstraction. “Jesus Christ is the Personified Truth who attracts the world to himself…. Every other truth is a fragment of the Truth that he is, and refers to him.” We first encounter a person. We do not think up an idea. But from the Person en­countered flow all the truths that we naturally and passionately seek more fully to know. “Truth [is] offered as a real­ity that restores the human being and at the same time surpasses him and towers above him, as a Mystery that embraces and at the same time ex­ceeds the impulse of his intelligence.” What happens to philosophy and hu­man knowledge here? Neither is de­nied or denigrated; they are accepted for what each is. We see an openness to a truth sought, but not yet known.

“Truth alone can take possession of the mind and make it rejoice to the full.” Joy is the possession of what we love. “This joy…moves and attracts the hu­man person to free adoration, not to servile prostration but to bow with heartfelt respect before the Truth he has encountered.”

Service follows as a grace from this love and adoration, not vice ver­sa. And science? “The great progress of scientific knowledge…has helped us to understand the mystery of creation better and has profoundly marked the awareness of all peoples.” Christ is the “center of the cosmos and of history.” The dialogue of faith and reason shows men of our time the “reasonableness of faith in God.” It “demonstrates [that] the definitive fulfillment of every au­thentic human aspiration rests in Jesus Christ.” Faith is not against reason;therefore we can talk of such demon­stration. “The desire for the truth is part of human nature itself. The whole of creation is an immense invitation to seek those responses that open human reason to the great response that it has always sought and awaited.” As I say, when he welcomes his old friends, the pope talks of the highest things.

  • Fr. James V. Schall

    The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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