What Is the Truth?

judgement

In the Gospel record of Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate, we are told that Christ said He had come to bear witness to the Truth. Pilate, in what he must have thought was a clever response, says, “And what is Truth?” We know from elsewhere in the Gospel that Christ explained, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” It is a statement that is easily tossed about – to settle an argument by saying that Christ is the Truth – but Pilate’s question still remains: “What is Truth?”

Christ’s statement that He Himself is the Truth is a description of the nature of Truth, as well as its content. In saying this, we must accept that Christ’s claim is that Truth is not at all the sort of thing we generally consider when we ask for “the truth.” It is not a syllogism, nor a philosophical formula, or even a precisely stated account of history. If Christ is the Truth, then Truth must be understood as Person and not as concept.

And in saying that Christ is the Truth, and that the Truth is thus understood as Person, is not to say that Truth is a category – or merely an event within history. For the Christ who reveals Himself as Truth, also reveals Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End (Rev. 1:8). He is both the “Lamb slain from the Foundation of the Earth” (Rev. 12:8) and “He Who is, and was, and is to come” (Rev. 1:8).

In speaking of the Truth with regard to others St. Paul offers this same eschatological understanding:

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts (1 Cor. 4:5).

Both St. Ambrose (in the West) and St. Maximos (in the East) maintained that the Old Testament was shadow; the New Testament, icon; and the age to come, the Truth. This is to say that the meaning of all things is found in the End of all things. The Old Testament (in Christian terms) receives its meaning from what it points towards and which lies hidden within it as though it were a shadow. The New Testament makes the Truth known, but in the form of Icon, an Image in which we see more clearly. But we do not yet see as we shall see.

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

This understanding does not negate the knowledge we have of the world in which we live. But it sets parameters on that knowledge and reveals its temporary and relative character. When we describe the world with the knowledge of science, we describe as best we can what we see and understand. This is not the same thing as saying we know the Truth of things. There is, even in the created order, an opaqueness that does not yield to us the full mystery of the things we see and know. In the words of St. Paul:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Cor. 13:12).

There is no conflict between what we know and what we shall know. Conflict on arises when we claim to know what we do not know. We cannot assume certain fixed principles from which we may deduce the Truth of things – for such principles and deduction cannot pierce the veil that lies over all we see nor the cloud that darkens our heart. We do not therefore reject knowledge that has not reached its fullness – but we do not call the knowledge we have the fullness of the Truth. That fullness awaits us.

For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph. 1:9-10).

On the level of our daily lives, this understanding asks us not to look to the past for our meaning: we are not defined by our history but by our end. To know what we are, it is necessary to know what we shall be. Christ is, for us, both the icon of the Truth and the Truth of which He is the icon. To answer the question of what we shall be, the truth will only be found in Christ – who is both the revelation of God – but also the revelation of what it is to be human. Fully God and fully man, He is our definition.

Indeed, He is the Truth of all things.

12 Responses to “What Is the Truth?”

  1. Margaret Says:

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen! This is such a blessing! Especially this paragraph toward the end reached through my tired mind to my heart:

    On the level of our daily lives, this understanding asks us not to look to the past for our meaning: we are not defined by our history but by our end. To know what we are, it is necessary to know what we shall be. Christ is, for us, both the icon of the Truth and the Truth of which He is the icon. To answer the question of what we shall be, the truth will only be found in Christ – who is both the revelation of God – but also the revelation of what it is to be human. Fully God and fully man, He is our definition.

  2. Theodotus Says:

    Father bless;
    I find your description of Truth compelling and yet difficult to get my head about.
    Prior to my becoming Orthodox, I was convinced that Christianity was becoming “relative” like most of the views of truth in today’s Universities (I work at one and see this almost daily). All “T”ruth was essentially relative, dependent on your point of view. Books abound about this in the Protestant world, with names such as Art Lindsley’s book “True Truth”, Nancy Pearcey’s book “Total Truth”, both of which tie truth to a “World View” and how to form a “Christian” world view. You might find Nancy Pearcey’s book interesting as she uses something like your One Story Universe (life changing, this !). I was tempted to hold Christianity as a collection of truths but not as THE Truth… Until Orthodoxy. This article is wonderfully written and will give me much food for thought this day and many days in the future..
    “Christ is, for us, both the icon of the Truth and the Truth of which He is the icon. To answer the question of what we shall be, the truth will only be found in Christ – who is both the revelation of God – but also the revelation of what it is to be human. Fully God and fully man, He is our definition.”

    In His Mercy
    -a sinner
    Theodotus

  3. Stones Cry Out - If they keep silent… » Things Heard: e40v5 Says:

    […] That little thing called truth. […]

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    […] That little thing called truth. […]

  5. Pastor Chad Says:

    “To know what we are, it is necessary to know what we shall be.”

    That is so liberating it is hard to comprehend. Too often we think we know someone because of what they have done in their past. We forget that God is calling them to something greater. I have been assigned a certain identity because of things I have done, but thanks be to God I did not remain in that identity. I still have a long way to go, but I know God is pulling me home.

    God bless.

  6. Justin Richter Says:

    Eschatology changes everything. This is great. Oh, and I never thanked for that previous dialogue on Cathlocity. It was much appreciated. Grace and Peace.

  7. luciasclay Says:

    The answer to what is truth being Christ brings the next question, Who is Christ. And finding the answer to that is, as I understand it, the lifelong quest of a Christian.

  8. zoe Says:

    Praise be to God for your work, Father Stephen. Your posts are so illuminating and helpful to my very soul. I feel since becoming an Orthodox Christian that I’m finally coming out of the shadows of confusing theology and stepping into the sunlight of the Truth that is Jesus Christ himself. May God grant you many, many years of blogging. I thank God for you and His Everlasting Mercy and Grace that He lead us to Orthodoxy.

  9. Bruce Says:

    The Beatitude “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall know/see God” has something to teach me about Truth. Perhaps, our spiritual lives are not limited by time and space, and thus our celebration with the Saints and communion with Christ and His Body is NOW in all its cumulative glory…not in the future or past. Maybe the journey toward Truth is less about time and more about the purity of my heart….how well have I cleaned my mirror and exposed myself to His Light. Matins and our daily veneration of the Saints reminds me of how much those who came before me have to teach me and that progress is often in looking back not forward….being reminded that what limits my walk and communion with Christ is me and my level of cooperation to Him and His Timeless Charity. One of my foundational belief fallacies was the idea that we are “evolving” in time spirtually in the same way we are “evolving” in our ability to understand and use science to maninpulate the material world. In so many ways, Orthodoxy reveals a Timeless spiritual maturity and wisdom in our Church Fathers which continues to illumine and fuel the fullness I experience in the current Body of Christ which, by God’s grace, has been shining brightly thousands of years before electriciy.

  10. agm Says:

    Well, I am searching for the Truth. So, how do I know that Christ is the truth? Just because He said so? What about other men who have made the same or similar claims as Christ? I am VERY confused these days and am not finding much truth. I need more than this. I need to know that I know the truth. How do I get there? I don’t know what I’m looking for, so how will I know when I find it?

    agm

  11. fatherstephen Says:

    I don’t think you necessarily start out with an abstract idea as Truth. Because we tend to think the answer is abstract, when it may not be.

    My suggestion is, start with God. Seek God. If you are honest, and seek God, in time you will find Him or be found by Him. And in finding Him, you’ll find the Truth.

    It’s where I would start.

  12. Micah Says:

    Great post thank you for this Father Stephen!

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