instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, April 07, 2012

What is truth?

I can imagine Jesus' speech reminding a practical-minded procurator of the tiresome philosophers who tried to educate him in the ways of Socratic dialogue. Still, it's a shame Pilate wasn't interested in the answer to his own question, because truth is kind of a big deal, and the better we understand what truth is the better we can understand He Who was born and came into the world to give testimony to the truth.

Truth can be spoken of in several different contexts. There's propositional truth, in which what is is asserted to be, and what is not is asserted to not be. There's the truth that is opposed to deception or lying. There is the truth that is a quality of a thing, that makes it proper or correct or right (e.g., "true north," "the true heir to the throne").

St. Thomas's concept of truth is one of correspondence:
Truth is found in the intellect according as it apprehends a thing as it is; and in things according as they have being conformable to an intellect.
This idea poses problems for the philosopher that the theologian believes are resolved by God, to Whose intellect all things conform. As for the truth of God Himself, He is infinitely intelligible, and therefore can be identified with Truth. As St. Thomas puts it,
His being is not only conformed to His intellect, but it is the very act of His intellect; and His act of understanding is the measure and cause of every other being and of every other intellect, and He Himself is His own existence and act of understanding. Whence it follows not only that truth is in Him, but that He is truth itself, and the sovereign and first truth.
Along these lines, we can [somewhat] understand Jesus' teaching, "I am the truth," as implying that He fully apprehends the Father and fully conforms to Him. For Jesus to give testimony to the truth, then, would be to make His apprehension of the Father known to man. And that, we believe, is precisely what He did most perfectly on the cross.

When we look at a crucifix, we might think, "This is a sign of God's love for us." But we might go even further and think, "This is a sign of God Himself."

How can an image of a human corpse be a sign of the Living and True God? By being a sign to those who live in death. The Cross is the truth of God translated into fallen mankind's language. Since fallen mankind will not have the last word, we know by faith that the Cross is not the final sign of the Living and True God. Death on a cross tells us the truth about God, but the full truth cannot be told without the Resurrection.