"Big Four" Highlights



Letter #3 to my son during winter break

By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor

Dear Stephen,

So we’ve covered Time and The Good. Today we will look at Truth and how we can know it.

“What is truth?”

Sounds familiar – the question Pilate cynically spat out at the trial of Jesus, when Truth Incarnate (in the flesh) was standing right in front of him. Pilate was not asking how he could find the truth, or how to tell truth from error. Rather, he was casting doubt on the possibility that there was any truth at all to find. He was the epitome of a skeptic who holds that truth is a fiction, no more than a function of a human need for certainty, when there is no certainty. Yet since he is a political figure with earthly authority and he must judge and act, he plays with the notion of truth as he makes decisions that bind the lives of those over whom he rules.

Jesus says to Pilate that He is the Truth, and everyone who seeks the Truth will hear his voice and follow Him. Pilate scoffs: Bah! Truth! These seers from heaven and dreamers of earth, we must we be rid of them at all costs lest they lead the masses astray. Truth is what I say, the ruling I make, the decree I hand down from Caesar. We are no more than men among men, and someone must rule the mob and make it obey. The law is what I say because, well, I am the lawgiver! (Today, we would call him a legal positivist and maybe appoint him to a federal court!)

Pilate thinks he is being the practical man, the efficient steward of the state, the one who keeps Rome civilized. Yet there is a doubt, deep in his heart, that what Jesus says is true. Even as he denies the truth, he cannot escape its pull. But for the sake of law and order, he cannot admit it publicly, so he steps off his judgment seat for a moment, washes his hands, and declares that he is innocent of this man’s blood. By refusing to judge according to the higher truth that Jesus declares, and abandoning his authority before the people, he condemns the man nonetheless. There are situations in life when not to decide is to decide, and not to act is to allow evil to reign.

Pilate wants to decide for himself what is right or wrong, true or false, much like Adam and Eve in the garden. They were tempted to reject God’s authority, to decide for themselves what is good and evil. It is amazing that mankind keeps making this same mistake again and again – and we can see that temptation in our own hearts each day. Indeed, it is the Original Sin.

What about us? What is my attitude toward the Truth? We know that there is such thing as Truth because Jesus told us so. But we also can come to that conclusion by a using our intellect. There are people who say there is no truth, that no one can claim to know the truth, that everyone must come up with their own version of what is true (or what works) for them, but there is no truth that applies to everyone, and certainly no truth that can be imposed, one upon another. This situation is what Pope Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism.”

The simple answer to someone who says there is no truth is to ask, “How do you know what you say is true?” If he can’t answer, then ask why anyone should listen to him. The fact is, our minds, our speech, our thoughts, our assumptions, the way we live and organize our actions are geared toward an understanding (tacit or explicit) that there is truth. Not just “my truth” or “your truth” but The Truth, that applies to all people at all times.

The next question is – How do we come to know the Truth?

Some truths we can find by observation and definition – such as 2+2=4. That is mathematical truth, which is very much tied to the structure of the universe, how things literally “add up” and hold together.

There are logical truths. If I can choose only one candy and I choose this one, then I cannot choose that one or any other candies at the same time. That is the Principle of Non-Contradiction.

There is truth of the natural world – the sun comes up in the East; objects fall toward the earth. Truth of the senses – I saw him do it. Then there are revealed truths. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth …” Many of these truths can be verified by other methods of finding the truth.

Yet sometimes truth is difficult to find. Sometimes my own person and behavior seem like a mystery even to me. Sometimes I think something is true and later find out that it is not. Sometimes my intellect is weak or deceived, or my senses faulty.

But these shortcomings do not negate the fact of the truth or the possibility of finding the truth. The only reason I care about “getting it right,” “doing my best,” is because I sense that there is Truth to gauge the world by. Man is a truth-imbued being who even in denying the truth gives witness to its rule. How do I know this is true? Let’s review.

Dear Stephen …


(Read Letter 1: Time; Letter 2: The Good.)