The Fine Print about Truth

I recall Francis Schaeffer talking about “true truth” to make the point, if memory serves, that Christians do not endorse relativism. But among the apologists for Rome I don’t recall hearing so many appeals to abstract truth — that is, the idea that the church stands for the truth (but see if you can figure out what that truth is). It’s like Dwight Eisenhower’s old line about America’s faith: “In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

Here’s one apologist on the first leg of the truth-goodness-beauty-three-legged stool:

So, this Church that the Bible tells us was founded by Jesus Christ; this Church that the Bible tells us is the pillar and ground – the upholder and foundation – of the truth; this Church that the Bible tells us is the fullness of Jesus Christ – the fullness of the truth; this Church that the Bible tells us is guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Truth; this Church must teach us what? Error? No! This Church must teach us truth. It cannot teach us error. The Church founded by Jesus Christ must teach the truth he fullness of the truth. It cannot teach error!

Does God want everyone to be Catholic? According to the Bible, the Church founded by Jesus Christ contains the fullness of the truth that He has made known to us about Himself. What does the Catholic Church claim about itself? Well, it claims that it contains the fullness of the truth given to us by Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that the Church founded by Jesus Christ contains the fullness of the truth, and here is the Catholic Church claiming to contain the fullness of the truth, and claiming to have been founded directly by Jesus Christ. If whatever church you are in doesn’t at least claim these things for itself, then you have some thinking and praying to do.

Another appeal to truth that makes the church’s truth qualities more important that Scripture’s:

Truth is truth. It cannot be error, by its very essence and defi­nition. How can truth’s foundation or pillar or bulwark or ground be something less than total truth (since truth itself contains no falsehoods, untruths, lies, or errors)? It cannot. It’s impossible, as a straightforward matter of logic and plain observation. A stream cannot rise above its source.

What is built on a foundation cannot be greater than the foundation. If it were, the whole structure would collapse. If an elephant stood on the shoulders of a man as its foundation, that foundation would collapse. The base of a skyscraper has to hold the weight above it. It can’t be weaker than that which is built upon it. The foundations of a suspension bridge over a river have to be strong enough to hold up that bridge. They can’t possibly be weaker than the bridge, or the structure would collapse.

Therefore, we must conclude that if the Church is the founda­tion of truth, the Church must be infallible, since truth is infal­lible, and the foundation cannot be less great or strong than that which is built on it. Truth cannot be built on any degree of error whatever, because that would make the foundation weaker than the superstructure above it.

Accordingly, given the above biblical passages and many oth­ers, the Catholic “three-legged stool” rule of faith may be defined in the following way:

In the biblical (and historic Catholic) view the inspired, infallible Bible is interpreted by an infallible, divinely guided Church, which in turn infallibly interprets and formulates the true doctrinal (apostolic) tradition.

Here’s another who links truth to freedom (which is oh so American and modern):

The Catholic faith is about freedom because it is about the Truth, the deepest truth about God and about our existence. It appeals to the deepest sanctuary of the heart. If it promotes social institutions, it does so to make space for the voice of conscience in human affairs. Whether it concerns the sacredness of marriage, or of motherhood, or of family, or of life itself, the Church has a responsibility to speak the truth in love.

That sounds like Christianity is an IBM-like institution which supplies the workings that make a society run smoothly. Not sure what the truth is except for something deep.

But that kind of bland identification of Truth with Roman Catholicism, especially with the institutional church instead of with what the Word of God teaches, runs the danger of setting the church above the truth. Rod Dreher relayed the remarks of one of his friends about the dangers of so exalting an institution:

‘Institutionalism’ affects both traditional and progressive Catholics in equal measure. It is one might say – to borrow and misuse a term – the “structural sin” of Catholicism, living in its very bones, in seminaries, parish structures, canon law, etc. Institutionalism can be summarized as something like: ‘the excessive trust in institutional structures – including a complacent belief that the institution takes care of itself, an expectation that those vested with institutional authority can and will exercise sound if not perfect judgment, and finally, and most importantly, the conviction that all problems are institutional ones to be solved by ever-more refined rule-amending, making, or keeping’.

The most obvious manner in which institutionalism manifests itself is in attitudes toward the papacy and ‘creeping infallibility’ (in which the pope is assumed to be infallible even in his ordinary teaching). However, one can also see it among progressive Catholics and their attitude toward Vatican II as well as their oft- vocalized belief that we need a Vatican III to ‘address contemporary problems’ or that this or that rule needs to change. It is this obsession about the institution that makes mincemeat of both the tradition of faith (we need to adapt to the contemporary worldview or else no one will go to church anymore!), cover up evil (we cannot let anyone know about this or else no one will come to church anymore!), or place sole responsibility on Church institutions for failure (if it weren’t for those progressives at Vatican II, everyone would still be coming to church!).

When you look for defenses of or references to truth in the Shorter or Heidelberg catechisms, you don’t find much. The Shorter Catechism refers to truth as one of God’s attributes and defends telling the truth — ahem — in its explanation of the ninth commandment. Heidelberg goes a little farther in equating truth with the gospel:

Question 21. What is true faith?
Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits. . . .

Question 40. Why was it necessary for Christ to humble himself even “unto death”?
Answer: Because with respect to the justice and truth of God, satisfaction for our sins could be made no otherwise, than by the death of the Son of God.

That may explain why some Protestants don’t convert, because the truth about salvation is more important than the truth abstracted:

. . . when my friend asked how I could remain theologically conservative in spite of my great learning (not as great as he gave me credit for, by the way), I replied somewhat glibly,”I kept reading the Bible and it kept talking about me.” Although I certainly simplified the matter, the truth was that as I read more, learned more, and thought more, the evangelical understanding of the biblical narrative of creation–fall–judgment–redemption impressed itself upon me, continuing to recount the story of my own life while making sense of the world in a way that nothing else that I studied did. I knew that my own life was peppered by self-deception and sin and needed the grace of God offered in Christ. Further, I saw a world populated with human beings who regularly and vigorously sinned against one another. They too needed the grace of God offered in Christ. Finally, as my more progressive colleagues helped me to discern, there were (and are) sinful structures of oppression the permeated the world. Those caught in them–as either oppressed or oppressor–need the grace of God offered in Christ, while the structures themselves need the perfect king to come in righteous judgment and tear them down. In the end, all other explanations regarding the troubles of this world seemed insufficient, while all other solutions regarding how to address them seemed utterly inadequate. And thus I remained (and remain) evangelical.

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16 thoughts on “The Fine Print about Truth

  1. “Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

    Eisenhower seemed to lose some of his faith in the power of sin to restrain sin. But if thinking that the substitionary sacrifice of Japanese Roman Catholics in Hiroshima is something a person “deeply feel”, then I guess that person is entitled to feel that. Because justification is by faith alone, and I don’t care what the object of that faith is. Even if the object of that faith is that Jesus died for everybody, so that the faith is in that person’s faith.

    Eisenhower–“In July 1945, Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. …the Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent.

    “During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude…”

    – Dwight Eisenhower, Mandate For Change, pg. 380

    In a Newsweek interview (11/11/63), Eisenhower again recalled the meeting with Stimson:

    “…the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

    http://www.doug-long.com/quotes.htm

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  2. I doubt that many in the general public know this, but the name for the 1999/2000 merger between two major telecommunications corporations (one of which I used to work for up to that point in time) that ultimately came to be known as “Verizon,” was derived from a concatenation the Greek “veritas,” or “truth,” and “horizon.” We used to joke that we’d all find out what the truth really was on the distant (or maybe not so distant) horizon. As it turned out, the “truth” was a series of massive cut-backs, layoffs, and outright sales of local exchange properties (except, of course, for those in cities with major populations) in favor of retaining the soon-to-become lucrative cell phone market. You gotta be careful how you define “truth” nowadays.

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  3. Your last link is to a particularly ” read the whole thing” worthy piece, part of which is personally poignant Thanks, I would have missed it otherwise.

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  4. “This Church must teach us truth. It cannot teach us error. The Church founded by Jesus Christ must teach the truth he fullness of the truth. It cannot teach error!”

    Too late, like really too late. True truth? Far from it. In Rome, scripture bows to the church’s tradition. Armstrong, Martignoni, Akin, Staples, Steve Ray aka Jerusalem Jones, et al, love it this way and God is lucky he has them.

    “Contrary to the experience of many, Schleiermacher, Kant, Hegel, Harnack, Schweitzer, Newman, De Lubac, Bultmann, Barth, Moltmann and others strengthened my evangelical commitment.”

    Wow! I guess if he means their liberalism strengthened his orthodoxy then great but I’m not sure that’s what he means.

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  5. @Rubin, maybe start with the sentence after what you quoted and you might have a better idea of what he means: “Schleiermacher helped me acknowledge the unmediated nature of our encounter with Christ, Kant pressed me to think more clearly about the limits of knowledge, Newman challenged me to think historically about doctrine in light of my Protestant commitment to sola scriptura, Moltmann pressed me to think about oppressive political structures as a manifestation of fallen-ness–and the list could go on. Through struggling with these authors, my own thinking was sharpened and my own evangelical faith deepened.”.

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  6. Mark,

    It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude…” – Dwight Eisenhower, Mandate For Change, pg. 380 […] In a Newsweek interview (11/11/63), Eisenhower again recalled the meeting with Stimson: “…the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

    Thank you for the link you posted. We’re still not ready as a culture to deal with this.

    Admiral Leahy knew very well and presented to FDR that Japan’s strategy was Pacific domination – they had neither interest in nor ability to invade Los Angeles or SF. Hence FDR’s dismissal of him.

    The Anglo-American Capitalist clique in DC (i.e., the power) demanded an unconditional surrender of Japan including deposition of the Emperor, which is not something a country has the moral right to ask for. Every culture has the right to its particular ethnic self-expression, which can include governance by their traditional royal house.

    Japan only began to countenance it once Stalin declared war on them (i.e., our gov was willing to risk potential Communist influence in Eastern Europe in exchange for the ability to remake Japan) and following our demonstration we would continue to flatten their cities and kill non-combatants by the tens and hundreds of thousands.

    One of the first such moves, proving we were on the right track, came when the Emperor of Japan asked the Holy See to intervene with us on his behalf and seek out our terms in preparation for formal peace negotiations with Pope Pius XII himself acting as intermediary.

    Involved in this move, besides the Pope, were Pietro Cardinal Fumasoni-Biondi, head of the Congregazione de Propaganda Fide, the Vatican’s own “intelligence service”; His Excellency, Petro Tatsuo Doi, Archbishop of Tokyo; two of the Cardinal’s representatives in Tokyo and members of a special mission of the Office of Strategic Services working in Italy on contacts developed through the Vatican.

    If we still needed evidence that Tokyo was actually suing for peace, the appeal to the Vatican provided it for us. Unfortunately, nobody outside the Navy Department and the O.S.S. seemed to take the opportunity seriously.

    In fact the State Department discouraged it altogether and told the O.S.S. to discontinue its efforts, since American public opinion “might never approve of a peace negotiated with the help of the Roman Catholic Church.”

    -Rear Admiral Ellis M. Zacharias, Look Magazine, June 6, 1950

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  7. (American public opinion “might never approve of a peace negotiated with the help of the Roman Catholic Church.” I think that was just an excuse to dismiss peace with the Japanese, though.)

    Tying it into the article’s subject, the RCC has frequently been critical of US gov action – the handmade crown of thorns Pius IX sent to Jefferson Davis is a poignant symbol.

    At the same time, post-WWII it has been less forthright in doing so as a result of endorsing the pax americana – similar to prior dependence on the French monarchy or the Spanish Empire. Now it’s the American Empire, and Americanist ideas (e.g., it doesn’t matter what you believe has long as you are a nice person) are to be taken seriously (given sympathetic analyses) rather than firmly rejected.

    It fails to exercise its teaching authority to the extent it compromises with the americanist/subjectivist zeitgeist – which redounds on the institutional office-holders. No, the RCC officially doesn’t proclaim outright falsehood in a way that suggests the pope is an antipope (not an impossible situation). Yes, there are numerous small betrayals which indicate problems.

    US power brokers throughout history (party donors, newspaper owners) have played up a negative popular attitude toward the RCC in order to manipulate the American populace to accept unjust actions condemned by the RCC (sometimes vocally, sometimes quietly behind the scenes) – I am thinking of wars against Mexico and Spain, 3 invasions of Canada, seizure of the Philippines, the Iraq wars, support for Israel, the current proposed bombing of Iran and possible preemptive strike against Russia.

    It goes back in a major way to at least Queen Elizabeth I. A state-sponsored church existing in order to substitute the useful for the true in a very concrete sense, under the guise of religion. Perhaps Luther’s northern German princes took advantage of his sincere criticisms with a similar purpose in mind.

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  8. At least one of the posters on this thread linked a site that offers differing opinions to the use of nuclear weapons against Japan near the end of WWII (Germany having already surrendered). It’s all fine, but what seems to be forgotten is the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor (intended to disable to the U.S. Naval fleet) that would allow the empire of Japan, just emerging into the industrial era, but poor on natural resources, to do whatever it felt like in the South Pacific. But also the horrible atrocities that the Japanese soldiers inflicted upon Allied troops (and civilians in the Philippines) in their attempt to push the Japanese back – e.g., the cutting off of genitals of killed American soldiers and stuffing them into their dead bodies’ mouths, etc. These actions so infuriated the American populace at that time against the Japanese that they urged the maximum distraction against the empire. So, taking into consideration the mood of the times and regardless of the sentiments of those in the military/political complex, the American populace wanted blood both in the European theater [in a similar manner illustrated when Allied bombers dropped incendiary bombs over Dresden and then high explosives to fan the flames, literally burning the city to the ground when there was no logical reason to do so] and in the Pacific, so those in power in the U.S. gave it to them in the form of atomic weapons. Was it necessary strategically? Probably not, according to those listed in the no-bomb link. Was it necessary in the minds of the Americans who had not only lost loved ones and relatives in the war effort and who had been whipped into high sentiment by the news reels of that era? Probably so. You all decide.

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  9. Cletus,

    “In Protestantism, Scripture bows to man’s traditions. Are you swayed?”

    Um I just said the opposite and everyone here knows the statement is true. What are you talking about? You are deluded. Rome is the king of (man-made) traditions.

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  10. George, let’s not forget that the Japanese were throwing their weight around in Asia for at least a half-a-century. Ask the Koreans how they feel about the Japanese. Not saying that justifies nuclear bombs or the interment of Japanese-Americans. But the Japanese were not then the people they are today.

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  11. DGH – I believe I said that: “… It’s all fine, but what seems to be forgotten is the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor (intended to disable to the U.S. Naval fleet) that would allow the empire of Japan, just emerging into the industrial era, but poor on natural resources, to do whatever it felt like in the South Pacific…”

    The point I was trying to make is that the atrocities of the war in the Pacific against the Allied Forces coupled with the Pearl Harbor bombing (i.e., get your fleet out of our way, we’re going to do whatever we want to do in the Pacific rim in the name of industrial advancement) were used by the media as it existed in those days (e.g., newsreels) to fan the flames of American sentiment against the empire of Japan, leading to popular support of the atomic bombing, logistics not withstanding. Sure, it was propaganda, and the Japanese were probably close to surrendering, but how was the frenzy into which American newsreel viewing public was cajoled any different than the post-911 fervor that supported the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq? Except that now, almost 15 years later, every reflective memorial event that takes place never mentions anything about radical Islam’s involvement, but merely reflects on those who died, either in the twin tower’s collapse as citizens or as rescue services attempting to rescue them.

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