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The Universality of Truth

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Mar 22, 2007

Truth, of course, is the mind’s conformity with reality. It is hard to see why our age has difficulty with such an elementary concept. All falsehoods, including all forms of relativism, are simply mental deviations from reality.

Within this proper understanding, there are still many aspects of truth to explore. For example, in an address on March 20th to a gathering of youth interested in journalism, Archbishop John Foley stressed that the media has an obligation to deal in truth because people have the right to truth. (The Vatican itself could take a cue from Foley, the head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, when it decides whether to be frank the next time a pope is ill, but never mind.) In what sense is truth a right?

In his Confessions, St. Augustine gives us part of the answer when he says that truth is the common property of all. Moreover, he who “speaks of his own”, says Augustine, “speaks a lie.” There are two interesting concepts here: first, that reality, the object of knowledge, is the heritage of all; second, that those who are most intent on advancing their own peculiar theories—like all those who attempt to mask reality for their own ends—are liars. The nature of a lie, perhaps, is that it steals truth by obscuring reality.

Apparently, Benedict XVI is similarly interested in this subject. In his last Wednesday audience (March 21), he argued that reason is the antidote to both myths and relativism. Citing Justin Martyr, the pope pointed out that it is through Christ, the Divine Word, “that is, the eternal Word, eternal Reason, creative Reason,” that everything comes to be. Therefore, all of us participate in this “logos” by the use of our reason.

We begin to see what Augustine might have meant when he said that truth is the common property of all, and what Archbishop Foley meant when he said we had a right to the truth. Again, there are many aspects to consider. For example, you aren’t morally bound to shout all your darkest secrets to the world. But in the midst of these many considerations, focusing on the sheer universality of truth makes a good start.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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