For Augustine’s Thoughts On Truth, And How They Relate To Present Controversies

"Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne" by Philippe de Champaigne - Los Angeles County Museum of Art: online database: entry 171584. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

“Saint Augustine” by Philippe de Champaigne – Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Licensed under Public Domain.

What follows is from one paragraph of St. Augustine’s Confessions . I was just reading these thoughts this morning, having just made it into Book X of the good Doctor’s well known, but never read by me, memoir. I share them now because they sound a clarion call on, and serve as a jarring reminder of, what matters when it comes to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

In particular, these thoughts of Augustine’s help me to make sense of the controversy stirred up by the discussions following the recently concluded Synod On The Family. Discussions that have made the papers, the magazines, and stirred the hearts of many in the blogosphere, and on social media.

I have taken the liberty of breaking up St. Augustine’s paragraph into bite-size pieces. Italics, and links from the translator’s notes (much thanks for the brilliant work of Sr. Maria Boulding, OSB),  are mine. Read away.

Why, though, does “truth engender hatred,” why does a servant of yours who preaches the truth make himself an enemy to his hearers (John 8:40; Galatians 4:16), if the life of happiness, which consists in rejoicing over the truth, is what they love? It must be because people love truth in such a way that those who love something else wish to regard what they love as truth and, since they would not want to be deceived, are unwilling to be convinced that they are wrong. They are thus led into hatred of truth for the sake of that very thing which they love under the guise of truth.

They love truth when it enlightens them, but hate it when it accuses them (John 3:20; John 5:35). In this attitude of reluctance to be deceived and intent to deceive others they love truth when it reveals itself but hate it when it reveals them. Truth will therefore take its revenge: when people refuse to be shown up by it, truth will show them up willy-nilly and yet elude them.

Yes, this is our condition, this is the lot of the human soul, this is its case, as blind and feeble, disreputable and shabby, it attempts to hide, while at the same time not wishing anything to be hidden from it. It is paid back in a coin which is the opposite to what it desires, for while the soul cannot hide from truth, truth hides from the soul. Nevertheless, even while in this miserable state it would rather rejoice in truth than in a sham; and so it will be happy when it comes to rejoice without interruption or hindrance in the very truth, upon which depends whatever else is true.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad the Vandals weren’t as successful in destroying Augustine’s library as they were in sacking Hippo in general. For if Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, then the wrangling over (to borrow a phrase from Pontius Pilate) “what is truth” matters. Indeed, how the Catholic Church, Christ’s spouse, defines truth, and understands truth, as it has been revealed by the Holy Spirit, is all important.

Keep that in mind as this conflict, er “sausage making,” plays out. In the meantime, I’ll keep happily breezing through the pages of The Confessions , and praying that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


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