Saturday, December 03, 2005

His Holiness on Truth

The following ruminations on the subject of "truth" come from Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millenium (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997), a book produced through an interview by Peter Seewald with His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith:
In the course of my intellectual life I experienced very acutely the problem of whether it isn't actually presumptious to say that we can know the truth -- in the face of all our limitations. I also asked myself to what extent it might not be better to suppress this category. In pursuing this question, however, I was able to observe and also to grasp that relinquishing the truth doesn't solve anythin but, on the contrary, leads to the tyranny of caprice. In that case, the only thing that can remain is really what we decide on and can replace at will. Man is degraded if he can't know truth, if everything, in the final analysis, is just the product of an individual or collective decision.

In this way it became clear to me how important it is that we don't lose the concept of truth, in spite of the menaces and perils that it doubtless carries with it. It has to remain as a central category. As a demand on us that doesn't give us rights but requires, on the contrary, our humility and obedience and can lead us to the common path. Out of a rather long struggle with the intellectual situation in which we find ourselves, the primacy of truth became evident ... as a primacy that can't be grasped in a purely abstract way but naturally demands integration into wisdom.
I was going to say, "Buy this book for your favorite relativist this Christmas." But I'm afraid it would be a bit too much for your garden variety relativist to handle. However, if you haven't read it, by all means get it for yourself. For your favorite relativist, get Peter Kreeft's A Refutation of Moral Relativism, which is a lot more accessible. At the very least, it will put a burr under his saddle, which usually gets a person focused.

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