The virtue of truth has suffered great damage in our day. Truthfulness, which includes also the love of truth, has taken a beating (see “Learning the Virtues that lead you to God,” by Romano Guardini, for some excellent ideas on truth). St. Paul, in his First Letter to the people of Corinth writes that love rejoices in the truth (13:6).
What is truth? According to the Dictionary, truth is that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality. The three main types of truth are:
Objective: what exists and can be proved;
Normative: what we as a group agree is true; and
Subjective: how an individual sees or experiences the world.
Guardini notes that truth gives us firmness and stability. As individuals, being truthful means that we can grow and mature, learning from our mistakes. For society, truthfulness makes social bonds while lying and hypocrisy break them.
Truth is the means by which individuals attain character. Again, according to Guardini, this is determined by the fact that human nature takes on a kind of nobility which is expressed by these statements: “What is, is. What is right, must be done.” I would add, “What has been proven to be accurate must be held to be true.”
The meaning of truth is not clear to everyone. Recall the scene in Jesus Christ’s life and his encounter with Pilate after Jesus is arrested. When Pilate asks him if he is a king, Jesus responds, “The reason I was born, the reason why I came into the world, is to testify to the truth.” To which, Pilate responds: “Truth!”
“What does that mean?” (John 18:37-38).
In another scene, Jesus tells his followers: “If you live according to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
How might truth set us free? I would like to suggest two fundamental ways: First, humility is truth – if someone affirms a talent or quality of personality in you, accept the observation gratefully and own it. Secondly, being truthful leads others to trust you, and in interpersonal relationships trust is everything.
“Let us profess the truth in love.”
Father Max Oliva, S.J.
August 2, 2021