Love and the Quest for Truth

Source: District of Asia

"Sanctify them in the Truth" (John 17:17). This prayer by Our Lord to His Father, as recorded by the apostle Saint John, could summarize the entire intellectual and theological work of Saint Thomas Aquinas. His passion for Truth blazed within him, and this is unmistakably evident. But as he explains in the Summa Theologica: "It is better to illuminate than merely to shine; likewise, it is better to pass on to others what one has contemplated than merely to contemplate." In this way, he sanctified souls in the truth, following the example of his divine Master who came to illuminate hearts and lead them out of the darkness of error, ignorance, and consequently, sin.

As Pope Pius XI expressed admirably in 1923 in his Encyclical "Studiorum ducem," "Just as it was once said to the Egyptians during an extreme famine: Go to Joseph (Gen. 41:55), this Joseph who was to provide the necessary wheat to feed their bodies; likewise, to everyone without exception seeking truth today, We say: Go to Thomas, ask him for the nourishment of sound doctrine, which he is so rich in and which nourishes souls for eternal life."

Seeking truth?

Unfortunately, those who are seeking truth are becoming increasingly rare in our world. As the priest Victor-Alain Berto wrote as early as 1961 (Letter to the Diocesan Priestly Fraternity of Vannes, October 7, 1961): "It is said often, and there is, alas, reason to say, that the people of this time are uninterested in Truth, that presenting Christianity as true is a waste of time, and that to have a chance of reaching them, it must be presented as beneficial [...]. Yes, there is reason to talk this way. There is an indifference, not universal, but quite widespread, to truth as such. People care little about being in the right or the wrong [...]. It is the effect of an anti-intellectual pedagogy, which can be too easily observed even in our schools, and which prevails in others, which impedes the normal function of conceptualization and judgment, preventing homo sapiens from forming in the child, resulting in not so much a transition from childhood as an extension of infantilism. Our contemporaries lack a sense of truth because, deep down, they have not become adults; they are intellectual dwarfs. We cannot ignore the causes that act after school on these pseudo-adults. [...] Saint John received from God the name Bestia, the Beast, the monstrous power ruthlessly, fiercely determined to reduce humanity to bestiality, so that they find happiness in their state when, without pride, without freedom, without even thought, their masters have provided them with plenty of bread and circus, sustenance and obscene circus games."

False Freedom

From this perspective of intelligence and truth, there's been a drive to establish a principle that's the opposite of what Our Lord taught. He said, "The truth will set you free" (John 8:32). But today, people don't want a truth that imposes itself on the intellect, neither by reality nor by the One who is the Creator and Master of that reality. According to modern educators, freedom should make us true: freedom to drink from all sources of knowledge, even the most pernicious and poisoned, so that everyone can choose what is true for themselves. Thus, truth would be defined as the necessity for reality to conform to the thoughts of each individual. All this, however, is sheer fantasy.

Love for the Truth

As Father Berto again pointed out in an outline for intervention at the Vatican Council intended for Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre, for whom he served as theologian during that same council: “The dignity of the human person does not primarily consist in freedom, understood as the absence of constraint, either external or internal. In God's Paradise, the freedom to deny that God is One and Triune does not exist. Is the dignity of angels and saints diminished because of this? On the contrary, truth is the foundation and the primary condition for freedom, according to the Lord; indeed, He Himself did not say: 'Freedom will make you true,' but precisely the opposite: 'The Truth will set you free, the Truth will deliver you.' This very beautiful and profound saying of the Lord is easy to understand. Indeed, error in the intellect engenders sin by itself; and the same Lord further says: 'Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin' (John 8:34). Truth, on the other hand, by itself proposes good ends to the will and inherently frees one from the bondage of sin.”

At the school of Saint Thomas Aquinas, we must love the truth and, because of this, seek at all costs to align our intellect with reality, the reality of things, and the reality of God who has revealed Himself to us, especially through His Son.

And for us?

For us, it will likely not involve claiming to be theologians, but to nourish our intellect and faith with the truths of the Catholic faith through works whose authors are profoundly Thomistic; our piety should also be nurtured by works with a sound doctrine. Ask your priests for advice on this.

Next, as Father Calmel reminded us: “We must imitate Saint Thomas in his contempt, for God's sake, of the pomp and conveniences of the ecclesiastical world or the secular world. We must also imitate him in the persistent prayer that allowed him to remain faithful to God's choice, exhibiting a fierce energy to prevent compromising the great resolutions dictated by the love of the Lord.”

Finally, always just as relevant, Father Calmel writes that “the Church still prays (in the liturgical prayer of the feast of Saint Thomas) to grasp what he has taught. Would the Church ask the Heavenly Father, in a liturgical prayer, that each of her children becomes an assiduous reader of the Summa Theologica? The question is too paradoxical to be taken seriously. The Church knows that most of her children do not have the time or the intellectual training needed to usefully engage with the study of the Summa. But the Church also knows that one must see in the Summa, not only the technical construction but also the guiding principle that inspired it. In this respect, by the spirit that animates it, the Summa is accessible to every Christian. Indeed, every Christian is capable, with the grace of God, of guiding their mind as follows: to reflect on the mysteries of the faith based on the submission of the intellect; to pursue this reflection in order to deepen our adoring submission and grow in charity; never to reduce the supernatural mysteries to rational knowledge; and especially never to align them with modern errors, no matter the aspect under which they are presented: critical or philological, political or psychological. In this sense, the Church asks for grace for each of her children, no matter their position or state, to grasp the teaching of her common Doctor.” (R.P. Calmel O.P. Nous sommes fils de Saints, Ed. N.E.L., p.70-71)

Abbé Thierry Legrand FSSPX