“As Catholic Christians, we believe the Bible to be the ‘Word of God, the Word of the Lord’ and, therefore, the truth, ” Bishop O’Connell says. Stock photo
“As Catholic Christians, we believe the Bible to be the ‘Word of God, the Word of the Lord’ and, therefore, the truth, ” Bishop O’Connell says. Stock photo
" As Catholic Christians, we believe the Bible to be the Word of God.  "
We are all familiar with the tense moment of confrontation between Pontius Pilate and the Lord Jesus when Pilate demands “what is truth?” in response to the Lord Jesus’ revelation “I have come into this world to testify to the truth (John 18: 37-38).” 

Pilate was not the first to ask such a question, and the Lord Jesus was not the first to be on the receiving end. “Truth” has been the subject of study, inquiry and debate throughout most of recorded history.  Philosophers, theologians, scholars, students, people of faith, people of no faith have questioned and argued its meaning down through the ages.  Sooner or later, we simply have to settle on an idea or definition of truth and go with it.

When I studied scholastic (medieval) philosophy in the seminary many years ago, I remember reading various philosophical definitions of truth.  The one that made the most sense to me was that of St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae (ST): “truth is the conformity of the mind to that which exists in reality (ST I.16.1).”  Notice that there are two parts to his definition: (1) that which exists in reality – in other words, that which is; and, (2) the conformity of the mind, the intellect, to it.  I will spare you a breakdown of philosophers’ reactions over the centuries, both “pro and con,” to Aquinas’ idea because it seems so obviously accurate to me.

Testifying to the Truth

Back to the Lord Jesus. “I have come into this world to testify to the truth,” I quoted earlier from the Lord Jesus’ dialogue with Pontius Pilate.  Elsewhere in the Gospels, the Lord Jesus reveals himself as “truth” when he says to Thomas, the Doubting Apostle, later in John’s Gospel: “I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14: 6).”  Truth is, as we acknowledge, that which is, and our ability to see, comprehend, understand and conform our minds to it as it actually is.  The Lord Jesus certainly fits that description.

There is a definite connection between the Lord Jesus’ self-identifying declaration in the Gospel of John – “I am the truth” – and the long-standing Old Testament concept of God. In the Book of Exodus, we read the familiar story of “Moses at the Burning Bush (Exodus 3: 1-15).” When God first appeared and spoke to him, Moses asked God for his name so that he could tell the Israelites. “I am” was God’s response (Exodus 3: 14). The fact that God revealed and identified himself in a way that Moses and the Israelites could understand in order to know him, makes it possible that their minds could correspond to his reality and find “truth,” the same truth revealed by the Lord Jesus centuries later when he identified himself as “truth.”

As Catholic Christians, we believe the Bible to be the “Word of God, the Word of the Lord” and, therefore, the truth. Scholars refer to this truth as the “inerrancy of Scripture.” There are all kinds of literature and literary forms employed by the inspired authors of biblical texts, some which even differ from one another, but the truth of their revelation, despite the differences, is not contradictory. They point to the same reality. That is what we believe as Catholic Christians. Different literary forms or genres are used to make truth accessible and known to the human mind and intellect. Truth, therefore, has a claim on our human minds and intellects, which results in human behaviors and conduct that conform to it.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8: 31-32).”

In the Lord Jesus, we walk in truth.  That has been and is the long journey of the Church, unparalleled anywhere else in human history.

As Catholic Christians, we believe that not only the Holy Scriptures but also the Church’s teaching and tradition are fonts of God’s revealed truth.  Knowing truth, trusting truth should make a genuine difference in our lives.

The Church and the Truth

The Catholic Church has hit some rough spots over the centuries, for sure. But there have also been many more positive developments and external changes over the ages, including the ways we express the truth(s) of our faith. Truth itself has not changed. The Lord Jesus Christ “is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13: 8)!” The Lord Jesus has not changed his mind about the Catholic Church he established either.  It is still responsible for revealing truth, presenting truth, teaching truth and witnessing truth, day in and day out, every day.  

We read in the Second Letter to Timothy:

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4: 1-4).”

St. Paul has hit the nail on the head here, so to speak. People have been “tickling the ears” of Christians sincerely seeking truth from the earliest days of the Church, setting themselves up as “teachers in accordance with their own desires,” working for their own ends trying to turn faithful “ears from the truth” in favor of “myths” they propose instead.  But, as Jesus cautions in the Gospel of Matthew, “the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7: 14).”

The Catechism reminds us:

In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest. “Full of grace and truth,” he came as the “light of the world,” he is the Truth. … To follow Jesus is to live in “the Spirit of truth,” whom the Father sends in his name and who leads “into all the truth.”  To his disciples Jesus teaches the unconditional love of truth … Man tends by nature toward the truth. He is obliged to honor and bear witness to it: “It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons . . . are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth (CCC 2466- 2467).”

This is why the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” believes what it does, professes what it does, teaches what it does, practices what it does; this the “deposit of faith” as it is known. This “deposit of faith” in the Catholic Church includes a comprehensive creedal statement of truth(s) as well as a set of valid moral teachings and expectations based upon it for a reason: to lead faithful Catholic Christians through that “small gate and narrow way that leads to life,” away from “myths” and the “tickling of ears.” 

Truth is not true because we believe it. Truth is true whether we believe it or not. 

Truth is not true today and false tomorrow. Truth is not the object of whims; it is not the subject of opinion polls or majority votes; it is not the “stuff” of arbitrary decisions based upon what is easiest or most convenient to follow or what “feels good” at any particular point in time. Truth is the Lord Jesus dwelling among us in the Church he established. Truth is what the Church teaches based upon his revelation, unfolding in tradition from generation to generation. Truth is “Peter” upon whom the Lord Jesus built his Church so that, as he said, “what is bound on earth is so bound in heaven (Matthew 18: 18).”  

On the night before he died for us, the Lord Jesus gathered his Apostles together and prayed to his Father for them, “Consecrate them in the truth.  Your Word is Truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world ... I pray not only for them but also for those who will believe in me through their word (John 17:17-20).”  

We live in confusing times, in times of doubt, in times of bitter division in virtually every sphere of human endeavor.  I believe that every once in a while it is important to remind ourselves that there is a truth that is greater than the opinions and agendas that seem to drive the divide that separates us from one another. The truth is the Lord Jesus and his Gospel. The mission of our Church is to share that truth with the world.