“Piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.”
(Aristotle, “Nicomachean Ethics” (349 BC))
“The Heavenly City outshines Rome, beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity; instead of life, eternity.”
(St. Augustine of Hippo, “The City of God,” (early 5th century))
“The inclination to seek the truth is safer than the presumption which regards unknown things as known.”
(St. Augustine of Hippo, “De Trinitate,” (417))
The Cambridge dictionary says truth is “the quality of being true,” and “the actual fact or facts about a matter:” which is a bit more useful than the other definition.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church’s glossary doesn’t include that word, but the index has quite a few entries under “truth.” One of those says that truth is the virtue of being true in what I do and say. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2468)
That helps, a little.
That part quotes Philippians 4:8, then says that a virtue is an established habit and attitude that points me toward what is good. It helps me notice what is good, and choose to do what is right. (Catechism, 1803)
The question is hypothetical, since we embrace truth: all truth. We should, that is.
We’re also told that God created everything: this universe and the things of faith. Faith, the Catholic version, and reason, get along fine. So do science and religion. (Genesis 1:1; “Fides et Ratio;” “Gaudium et Spes,” 36; Catechism, 159)
Sometimes a newly-discovered fact doesn’t fit assumptions we’d made earlier. That upsets some folks, but doesn’t make God a liar.
It means we need to think about what we’re learning. Eventually, we’ll solve the puzzle. “Truth cannot contradict truth,” as Leo XIII said. (“Providentissimus Deus,” Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893))
Being curious, thinking, and studying the universe, is a good idea. It’s part of being human. It’s part of what we’re supposed to do. That, and developing new technology by using what we learn. (Catechism, 282–289, 1704, 2293–2296)
The first ‘Catholic’ document I studied was “Humanae Vitae.” I didn’t like what it said, not at the time. But I couldn’t argue with the logic.
Where was I? Truth, Aristotle, St. Augustine of Hippo. Right.
But I’d be about as likely to join folks who fear knowledge, as I’d be to sign up with a bunch who think they can rewrite the Decalogue if they get enough votes.
Asking questions, seeking truth in what we can see, is far from a new idea:
“Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air…. They all answer you, ‘Here we are, look; we’re beautiful.’…
“…So in this way they arrived at a knowledge of the god who made things, through the things which he made.”
(Sermon 241, St. Augustine of Hippo (ca. 411))
“‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate 8 to be with you always,
“the Spirit of truth, 9 which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.”
I could go nuts, trying to memorize the Ten Commandments and every rule of conduct that’s been written since. That might be interesting, but it’s not necessary.
Our Lord boiled the whole thing down to a few simple points.
I should love God, love my neighbor, and see everyone as my neighbor. That’s “the whole law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36–40, Mark 12:28–31; Matthew 5:43–44; Mark 12:28–31; Luke 10:25–30; Catechism, 1825)
Let’s say I notice my neighbor trying to commit suicide.
Saying ‘do whatever you want, I love you’ would be a bad idea. So would telling a suicide victim’s nearest and dearest that the recently deceased is roasting in Hell.
Suicide is a bad idea and we shouldn’t do it. But life is precious, hope is a virtue, and trusting God makes sense, even — particularly — when bad things happen. (Catechism, 1817–1821, 2258, 2280–2283)
Depression, death, and despair, aren’t cheerful topics. They’re unpleasant, unavoidable, and unacceptable, respectively. Dwelling on them doesn’t, I think, make sense; and that’s quite enough words starting with “d,” at least for the moment.
I’ve found that remembering the big picture helps lift my mood. Your experience may vary.
I can’t die: not permanently. That’s good news, or bad news, depending on what I decide at my final performance review. We call it the particular judgment. It comes right after my physical death. (Catechism, 1020–1037)
Nobody’s dragged, kicking and screaming, into Heaven.
It’s not just about me and eternity, though.
Part of my job is passing along the best news we’ve ever had.
If I take love seriously I’ll also do what I can to help build the “civilization of love” Pope St. John Paul II talked about. (May 7, 2017)
In the long term, my “citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20)
I can’t end world hunger, establish a lasting peace in the Middle East, or cure the common cold. I’m just one man living in central Minnesota.
But working at conforming my will to God’s, trying to act as if God matters: that, I can do.
I can also suggest that we all work with what we have: doing what we can, correcting what is unjust and supporting what is right.
And I can repeat what I think is true: that we are, each of us, made “in the divine image.” (Genesis 1:27)
Whoever we are, wherever we live, each of us has equal dignity. Part of our job is working with each other, correcting inequalities which do not reflect that dignity. (Catechism, 1897–1917, 1928–1942, 2334)
I think we can build a better world. I am sure that we must try.
More, mostly about love and making sense: