“What is Truth?”

Cathy asked me yesterday: “What’s your list?” “What?”, I replied. “It’s your birthday on Saturday, or had you forgotten?” “No, I remembered that it was my birthday, I’d just forgotten that you get gifts on your birthday.” Really. I had. It hadn’t even entered my conciousness.

One thing I would have put on my list if (a) I hadn’t already pre-ordered and paid for it at Ignatius Press (b) Cathy would have known where to get a copy (3) it would have had Buckley’s chance of arriving on time, would have been Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth: Volume II”.

But not to worry, there’s some pre-release stuff on the web. Zenit has published three extracts in full, “Christ’s Betrayal”, “Christ’s Accusers” and “What is Truth?”.

The Jewish Community have been excited by Pope Benedict’s personal reiteration in the new book of the Church’s doctrine that neither the Jewish people of today nor (as a whole) the Jewish people of of Jesus’ time were guilty of the death of Christ (well, no more than any other Christian or non-Christian sinner, anyway – see the Catechism p.597 & 598).

But I have found more exciting the passage where he considers the conversation between Pilate and Jesus on the nature of Kingship and Truth. I know that the book has no “magisterial” authority, but paradoxically it is in sections like this in “Jesus of Nazareth” that Joseph Ratzinger is reveal as a true “magister”, a teacher whose insights lead us into deeper knowledge and awareness of the Truth:

The classic definition from scholastic philosophy designates truth as “adaequatio intellectus et rei” (conformity between the intellect and reality; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, q. 21, a. 2c). If a man’s intellect reflects a thing as it is in itself, then he has found truth: but only a small fragment of reality—not truth in its grandeur and integrity. We come closer to what Jesus meant with another of Saint Thomas’ teachings: “Truth is in God’s intellect properly and firstly (proprie et primo); in human intellect it is present properly and derivatively (proprie quidem et secundario)” (De Verit., q. 1, a. 4c). And in conclusion we arrive at the succinct formula: God is “ipsa summa et prima veritas” (truth itself, the sovereign and first truth; Summa Theologiae I, q. 16, a. 5c).

This formula brings us close to what Jesus means when he speaks of the truth, when he says that his purpose in coming into the world was to “bear witness to the truth”. …The world is “true” to the extent that it reflects God: the creative logic, the eternal reason that brought it to birth. And it becomes more and more true the closer it draws to God. Man becomes true, he becomes himself, when he grows in God’s likeness. Then he attains to his proper nature. God is the reality that gives being and intelligibility.

“Bearing witness to the truth” means giving priority to God and to his will over against the interests of the world and its powers. God is the criterion of being. In this sense, truth is the real “king” that confers light and greatness upon all things. We may also say that bearing witness to the truth means making creation intelligible and its truth accessible from God’s perspective—the perspective of creative reason—in such a way that it can serve as a criterion and a signpost in this world of ours, in such a way that the great and the mighty are exposed to the power of truth, the common law, the law of truth.

Let us say plainly: the unredeemed state of the world consists precisely in the failure to understand the meaning of creation, in the failure to recognize truth; as a result, the rule of pragmatism is imposed, by which the strong arm of the powerful becomes the god of this world. At this point, modern man is tempted to say: Creation has become intelligible to us through science. Indeed, Francis S. Collins, for example, who led the Human Genome Project, says with joyful astonishment: “The language of God was revealed” (The Language of God, p. 122). Indeed, in the magnificent mathematics of creation, which today we can read in the human genetic code, we recognize the language of God. But unfortunately not the whole language. The functional truth about man has been discovered. But the truth about man himself—who he is, where he comes from, what he should do, what is right, what is wrong—this unfortunately cannot be read in the same way. Hand in hand with growing knowledge of functional truth there seems to be an increasing blindness toward “truth” itself—toward the question of our real identity and purpose.

What is truth? Pilate was not alone in dismissing this question as unanswerable and irrelevant for his purposes. Today too, in political argument and in discussion of the foundations of law, it is generally experienced as disturbing. Yet if man lives without truth, life passes him by; ultimately he surrenders the field to whoever is the stronger. “Redemption” in the fullest sense can only consist in the truth becoming recognizable. And it becomes recognizable when God becomes recognizable. He becomes recognizable in Jesus Christ. In Christ, God entered the world and set up the criterion of truth in the midst of history.

Truth is outwardly powerless in the world, just as Christ is powerless by the world’s standards: he has no legions; he is crucified. Yet in his very powerlessness, he is powerful: only thus, again and again, does truth become power. In the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, the subject matter is Jesus’ kingship and, hence, the kingship, the “kingdom”, of God. In the course of this same conversation it becomes abundantly clear that there is no discontinuity between Jesus’ Galilean teaching—the proclamation of the kingdom of God—and his Jerusalem teaching. The center of the message, all the way to the Cross—all the way to the inscription above the Cross—is the kingdom of God, the new kingship represented by Jesus. And this kingship is centered on truth. The kingship proclaimed by Jesus, at first in parables and then at the end quite openly before the earthly judge, is none other than the kingship of truth. The inauguration of this kingship is man’s true liberation.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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7 Responses to “What is Truth?”

  1. matthias says:

    Het Schutz my birthday as well on the 12th of March

  2. Louise says:

    Happy birthday, gents!

  3. Clara says:

    Happy birthday David. Eight days after mine and two days after Bp Fisher. March is such a good month for birthdays!

    • Peter says:

      Spot on Clara!
      My mother’s birthday was on the 23rd,my father’s the 25th and mine is on the
      29th.March is clearly the best month of the year.
      And more importantly,Happy Birthday David!

  4. Matthias says:

    Obviously the best month for all parents of March babies was the previous June

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