November 16, 2007

St. Justin on Truth

I really like St. Justin Martyr.

He's not in the top twenty popular saints. Maybe not in the top fifty. All I can offer in the way of statistical evidence is that anytime I find a display of patron saint merchandise - statues, medals, prayer cards, you name it - if there are fewer than, say, fifty saints available, I know Justin will not be among them. That's going to really bug my son. I named him Justin after the great early saint, and while perhaps there's a little underdog empathy there, my main reason is a love of how Justin spoke. He's unabashedly supportive of the Church. (In fact, he died for it.)
"All truth wherever it is found belongs to us as Christians." - Saint Justin Martyr

I really like St. Justin Martyr. That's not a timid, wishy-washy sentence; its got some grit. (And, of course, the problem with grit is that it sometimes rubs the wrong way.)

At first glance, this may seem pigheaded of Justin. Can't other people be right too? Of course. Justin is not saying that no one else has any truth at all; in other words, he's not saying that other religions have only lies. This is easy to prove. Consider three points:
  1. Islamic law holds that abortion is wrong.
  2. Only Christians have truth; all other religions have only lies.
  3. This must be a lie, so Christian's believe that abortion is acceptable.

Clearly, something is wrong here. Point 1 is correct, so if the conclusion is false, there must be a fault with point 2. "The truth belongs to Christians" is not the same as saying "only Christians have the truth"; similarly, saying "I own the house" is not the same as saying "only I live in the house". That might be the right analogy, in fact: truth is a house where many people can live, many more can stop in to visit, but on which only one person pays the mortgage.

What does it mean to say that truth belongs to Christians? Clearly, not that we have it and no one else can (nyah, nyah!). Its ours to share and ours to spread. That's not just our priveledge, its our mandate.

But the rest of the religous world is not without truth. Jesus says that "every one who is of the truth hears my voice." (John 18:37) A muslim that hears truth from Islam, hears Jesus. A hindu that hears truth, hears Jesus. A pagan that hears the truth, hears Jesus. They just don't recognize the voice.

What is truth? What is this thing we claim to have in its fullest form? Pilate asked that question of Christ, and Jesus stood in silence. To many, it seemed like He didn't answer, but He did. He presented His answer without speaking - "I am". Truth was standing right before Pilate, a living answer to the question.

Thomas asked Jesus a similar question - how can we know the way? Christ's answer is well known: "I am the way, the truth, and the life..." (John 14:5) If it's not too great a pun, you could call the Catholic Church "the house that Truth built".

All truth, wherever it is found, belongs to Christians because all truth is Christ. Christ founded one Church, one way through Him. Anyone that seeks eternal life, that seeks the truth of this world and the next, seeks Christ. Many just don't know that it is Him they seek. Anyone that hears truth, that has truth, has Christ. Many just don't recognize what they have. Jesus is that Truth that each person has, however little or however much they possess. He is that truth calling to them: "You have something, now seek more. Seek truth. Find Me."

Cavalier, R. & Ess, C. (1997) Abortion: Islamic Views. Academic Dialogue on Applied Ethics. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved online from http://caae.phil.cmu.edu/Cavalier/Forum/abortion/background/islam1.html

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