Arts and Culture

Every Truth Has a Price Tag

by Father Robert Lauder

Ninth in a series

In several sections of his book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011, pp. 362), Pope Benedict reveals his expertise as both a scriptural scholar and a dogmatic theologian. There are also sections in which the Holy Father reveals his grasp of philosophy.

One of those sections is the one in which he discusses Pilate’s question to Jesus: “What is truth?” Pope Benedict stresses the importance of the question and suggests that the answer is bound up with the fate of the human race. He suggests that the reader consider questions about whether truth can be recognized and whether truth can serve as a criterion for our minds and wills, both in our individual choices and in the choices made by a community.

In some of the philosophy courses that I teach at St. John’s University, I spend a considerable amount of time discussing the nature of truth with students. So the fact that the Holy Father chose to highlight the importance of truth immediately caught my attention and provoked my interest.

Importance of Truth

I believe that truth can be recognized and can serve as a criterion for our minds and wills. At the university, I do everything I can think of to impress upon the students the importance of truth. In our society, it is easy to fall into the error of relativism, the error that teaches that completely opposite meanings can both be true and that there is no such reality as absolute truth.

Pilate’s question followed Jesus’ statement that He was a king and that He entered this world to bear witness to the truth. Pope Benedict mentions St. Thomas Aquinas’ definition of truth and then points out that God is the truth itself, the sovereign and first truth. Believing that this gets us close to what Jesus meant when He said that He had come to be a witness to the truth, the Holy Father writes the following:

“Again and again in the world, truth and error, truth and untruth, are almost inseparably mixed together. The truth in all its grandeur and purity does not appear. 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.” (pp.192-193)

I agree completely with the Holy Father’s view of truth. Except for love, I don’t think there is anything more important than truth. In philosophy classes, I stress that every truth, in order to be reached, involves a commitment. A simpler way of saying this is that every truth has a price tag. If a person is not ready to make the commitment or to pay the price, then the person must live without that truth. It is as simple as that. For example, if some truths are presented in a classroom, a student must make the commitment to attend the class. If there are truths presented in a book, a person must read the book. The more important the truth, the greater the required commitment or the higher the price tag.

A Life Commitment

The truth of which the Holy Father writes requires a life commitment. For a person to become true, to become himself by growing in God’s likeness, takes a lifetime. The Holy Father believes that the world becomes true the closer that it draws to God. This is also true of human beings. I suspect that for many of us to “become true” in the way that the Holy Father suggests is a lifelong journey. It means that we are becoming more and more like Christ. This would be an impossible goal except that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth and love, is present to us, helping us to change.

I really believe that it is impossible to overemphasize the importance of truth. The more important a truth is, the more power it has to free us and help us grow as persons and as images of God. It is true that the truth will make us free. No other truth has the power to liberate us that Christian truth has. God’s Revelation through God’s Son is a liberating message. It is the truth that frees us to be sons and daughters of God.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.