“Truth? What is truth?” Pontius Pilate’s simple, straightforward question has reverberated in the hearts and minds of millions of Christians for 2000 years. Why does the question grab us?
I’ve always wondered whether Pilate asked from a place of anguish, arrogance, ignorance or some combination of the above. Without the tone of his words to hear we are left with only the written Word and the interpretation of others.
More importantly, I wonder if the question has relevance for us today. Assuming its relevance, is the answer even knowable? In short, my belief is yes the question is relevant and yes the answer is knowable. That does not imply that many will not seek to undermine its relevance or that the answer is easy to find. The question and answer are far too important for Satan to ignore.
So, what is truth? St Thomas Aquinas recognized two basic forms of truth, Divine truth and human truth. Divine truth, explained Aquinas, is one, eternal and unchangeable, like that which it describes. Human truth is just the opposite many, finite and changeable, again, like that which it describes.
Aquinas further distinguishes the two, by the object of their comparison or connection. If the object of comparison is human, then the truth is a human truth. If the object of comparison is God, than the truth is Divine.
God as the “uncreated Creator” only makes sense with God as the object of comparison. It is therefore a Divine Truth. We cannot connect the concept of “uncreated Creator” with a mere creature. It wouldn't be logical.
Likewise, if I say that grass is green and the object I use to compare that to is the accepted human convention that grass is green then grass being green is a human truth.
Aquinas’ belief in human truth lends itself to the relativism. That is, if enough of us believe a human truth, it becomes true for us. For example, if enough of us decide that what we called green grass will now be called blue, then blue it is. Remember, human truth is many, finite and changeable.
Again there is no problem in this – admitting that there is both Divine and human truth and that human truth is relative. That is its essence. The problem occurs when the attributes for one are applied to the other.
Specifically, the attribute of relativism, necessarily inherent in human truth is destructive when applied to Divine truth.
When it is “decided” that life begins, not at conception but at the point of viability, relativism has been applied to Divine law.
When it is “decided” that homosexuality is a legitimate lifestyle and not an intrinsic disorder, relativism has been applied to Divine law.
When it is “decided” that the doctrine and dogma of the Church are subject to cultural mores and not immutable, relativism has been applied to Divine law.
When it is “decided” that truth must be the servant of tolerance, and not the other way around, relativism has been applied to Divine law.
When it is “decided” that the focal point of the liturgy needs to be horizontal and not vertical, relativism has been applied to Divine law.
We have erred when we have applied attributes of human truth to Divine truth and in doing so caused untold disasters.
It would do us well to remember the words of William Shakespeare: “Truth is truth, to the end of reckoning.”
Lord we pray that we, and all of your Church, might adhere to your Divine truth and put our human truth in the service of your most holy and perfect will.