Thursday, May 04, 2006

Trust in the Lord

On an earlier post, I discussed a bit of one the most vexing present-day philosophical problems: whether or not we can know truth. It might surprise you to read this, but I am rather sympathetic with those philosophers who cast serious doubt on the 'truth project' as it is usually envisioned. That is to say, I don't believe that we can arrive at universal foundations of truth by analyzing concepts or experience. Another way to put this is to say that I cannot prove to you that what I believe is true, if 'proof' is understood to be a philosophical deduction or induction...The best I can do is give witness and then try to persuade, possibly including the persuasiveness of my way of life.

On the other hand, I do believe that we can know truth, just not through unaided philosophy. Let me quickly add that I am not a fideist, one who believes that truth can only be known through faith in revealed truths.

In Fides et Ratio, Pope John Paul II observed that we rely on others for much of what we know. Few of us would have the time to work out all the experimental data needed to prove that our light switch will work. Another way of putting this comes from my college art prof. She said something to this effect: "if we all had to learn by experience, none of us would make it past the poison mushrooms."

Hegel famously (and in my opinion miserably) attempted to demonstrate that the truths of Christianity (such as the existence of the Holy Trinity) could be 'proven'. If this were so, would that the martyrs had known it! How they could had spared themselves ignoble tortures and violent departures from this earth!

One will often hear today of the 'hermeneutic of suspicion', associated with such names as Marx, Freud and Nietzsche. The idea is this: any appeal to 'truth' is really a power play to force other people to do what I want. So kings appeal to eternal truths about nobility to justify oppressing serfs (again, I paraphrase the argument without endorsing it). In such a world, the watchword is "Trust no one!" Even those under 30!

May I, with the endorsement of JP the Great, propose that we Christians adopt a 'hermeneutic of trust'? St. John Chyrsostom once remarked that he understood St. Paul because he loved him. Herein, I believe, lies the great potential for religious community. By our Benedictine vow of stability, we throw in our lots with each other for life. We learn to trust God by trusting in the efficacy of the Rule, in the sacraments, in Canon Law, etc. As I mentioned in the previous post, we trust in the rubrics given us by the Church and in this way we come to know the truth.

Truth cannot be proven because Truth is a Person. But if Truth is a Person, then Truth can be known by Love.

1 comment:

Thom Stark said...


Your conclusion I think is exactly right, not that you need my approval. I have often said that truth is not "objective" because God is truth, and God is not the kind of object about which we can be "objective." A hermeneutic of trust might also find some resources in Gadamer's Truth and Method. Burrell's Friendship and Ways to Truth, I think, narrates a way of "knowing truth" much like your account here.



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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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