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The Obligatory Nature of Truth

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Mar 28, 2007

Here comes that “truth” business again. I’ve been using Proverbs for spiritual reading lately, with the assistance of the excellent pastoral commentary available in the Navarre Bible. Chapter 19 verse 9 says: “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who utters lies will perish.”

The commentary immediately shows what lies behind this proverb, quoting Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom:

It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons, that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore bearing personal responsibility, are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. (No. 2)

This passage could well have been written twenty years after the Council by John Paul II; perhaps it shows the early influence of Karol Wojtyla. In any case, it incorporates a profound philosophical insight: By our very nature as persons we are ordered toward truth and have a moral obligation to seek it.

It is in the nature of persons to know, and to will to act in accordance with what they know. As the Council stated, this implies a responsibility to know and will rightly, that is, according to the truth of things. Only persons are capable of this responsibility. It belongs neither to animals, nor to plants nor to inanimate matter.

But why do we have an obligation to seek religious truth above all? Because religion itself is an obligation. Every person reflects, sooner or later, on the question of whether he is a created being and, if so, whether he can know the God who created him. If, in fact, we are created, we have a two-fold obligation: first, to thank and glorify the Being who gave us life; and second, to see what that Being has to tell us about all the other realities our nature is designed to know and will.

Truth, especially religious truth, makes demands upon us precisely because of who we are. To proclaim glibly that everything is relative so that we can do whatever we want is a serious abdication of our essential responsibility as persons. Some readers will recall that I said in an earlier reflection that “there are still many aspects of truth to explore.” Truth's obligatory nature is one of them.

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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