[This is an excerpt from an email I sent to a friend in response to a question. It led to a long exchange over a few months. Thought I’d post it today, mostly so you can feel sorry for my friends]
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Don’t try to convince anyone of anything. — Fr. Tom Hopko
Convince: prefix com-, + vincere “to conquer.”
Over the years, I’ve become more and more convinced of the wisdom of Fr. Tom. When he has spoken of this, he sometimes adds: “Just put out there your view of things as persuasively as you can, and then see what the other person makes of it. You need to always assume you may be wrong in some way. Maybe you have a good point, but you need to let go of your idea and see if it survives scrutiny.” Truth always proposes, never imposes itself.
Far from being a denial of ‘truth,’ this approach is a recognition that seeing things aright is first of all a common quest. Truth is meant to be shared burden. And, important to add, only when love motivates us is freedom reverenced; and only when humility is present can we make ‘truth’ more than a personal or tribal victory.
What is truth? Nearly limitless ways to get at that question! When Pilate asked Jesus this question, note that Jesus didn’t answer. He didn’t need to, He is Truth in the flesh. Not an abstract idea, not an argument, but a Way of Life; a Way of being-in-the-world that is congruent with, might we say, the grain of Divine Wood. Which is etched in the Cross.
And think of Jesus the moment Pilate poses this question: the Logos, tortured, blood-dripping, thorn-crowned, engaging in a dialogue this ruthless power-hungry pagan Procurator about why He came into the world. Be astonished! Jesus demonstrated in that moment the cost of seeking Truth with others. Especially others in your face.
…One philosophical way of defining truth is called the ‘correspondence theory,’ which essentially means when the mind corresponds to given reality. Corresponds to what is. Such a massive claim! Reality is certainly a VAST field of inquiry, admitting of an irreducible variety of vantage points. Just choose any topic, any discipline of inquiry, the history of its exploration. Realize how immense truth claims are, how diverse the perspectives and methodologies are. And how open-ended is the search.
We say theology is “faith questing after understanding” — note the verb is progressive, in motion. And we seek not just for the truth, but for the whole truth. Whoa. BIG. And sought by a mind possessed by what Plato sees as an intellectual eros, a longing and pining that innately hungers to know more and more of the whole truth, is never satisfied with where they are at. This is wonder.
For the person who succumbs to wonder, life is never ever boring! New perspectives, even contraran ones, are oh so welcome! Ask, seek, knock and life endlessly reveals new riches! Seek anyone open to a common quest!
And if this is the case with inquiry into our finite cosmos, again imagine how that it is the case with an infinite God! Absolute mystery! Ever-revealing, totally unfathomable. St. Augustine rightly said: si enim comprehendis, non est Deus “if you comprehend, it isn’t God.” Let that sink in. Sit down, be humble. Only a crucified God, riddled with paradox, shocks us into the realization.
There’s another feature of Hopko’s point that is crucial to get. Truth is communal. By design, it is always a shared project. Love for truth demands love of neighbor, whether that neighbor be in the form of a book, an article, a song, a conversation, a debate, a teacher, a friend, a strange. And above all for Jesus, an enemy. As Vatican II put it (GS 44):
Indeed, the Church admits that she has greatly profited and still profits from the antagonism of those who oppose or who persecute her.
Yup. Truth is never to be discovered alone, but only “through” others. Devious Providence.
That’s the meaning of the word dialogue: dia-logos to “think through” another’s mind, another’s vantage point. You need to go through someone else to know anything — all knowing is relational. Too often we think “at” each other, or ping-pong back and forth without succumbing to another’s vantage. That’s REALLY risky, vulnerable, humbling, requiring agape love. It’s easy to stay in our bubble of like-minded, but the definition of both ‘human’ and ‘Christian’ preclude such a thing by God’s design and our well-being. But we are impoverished by keeping ourselves at a distance, and need to pray always for the grace to set aside fear and risk encounter in love.
Risk the Cross and Resurrection.
But…friendship is the highest expression of this “thinking through.” A person with whom you are really fully vulnerable enough to risk allowing their perspective enter deeply “into” you, and then putting yourself out there for them to receive you and then respond in freedom. Super risky, when you are seeking truths that touch your core. But it’s what it means to be in the image of a threefold Dialogical God.
In God, there are Three Persons eternally thinking-through each other. Truth in God is always a relational treasure. Never a solitary possession. The Trinity is even willing to open up to us vulnerably to this exchange, as Jesus makes clear with poetic beauty at the Last Supper:
As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us
God risks letting us in, and risks entering us. Again, the Cross shows us how this exchange looks in action when God lets us in. Terrifying, majestic.
…To get into another in dialogue, you must be permitted to pass-over into the other. Which is very Eucharistic: Eat, drink — consume. God the Father created and repaired all things “through” his Logos, through his eternal Son and Word, Jesus Christ. In Mary, God took on a human mind. Think this: God dialogues with us through a divine-human mind — Jesus — so we can be equals with Him in this Truth-quest. Madness. Because of the Incarnation, the Father now eternally thinks all things through a human mind, through the humanity of His Son. And the divine Son thinks all things humanly forever through the Father. And then they. let. each. of. us. in.
To draw ever-nearer, not just to the truth, but to the whole truth, requires patiently seeking it with others. God is tricky, ordering things so we can never get what we want without each other. Which is terribly arduous, even sometimes heroic. Conversations, debates, prayer, reading or writing — there is no other way God has opened than this team sport of sweaty truth-seeking. Hardest of all: he has made it so we need ALL others, not just our self-selected group. We need friends and enemies to come to the liberating truth, which is why He also commanded us to love both as if they were the same. Frenemies.
Love ensures that truth is never wielded as a weapon, but is utilized as a ploughshare to cultivate the earth so the seeds of Christ will find receptive soil. Loveless truth can be used to destroy another, to manipulate, coerce or shame. Hence, St. Paul commands us, always “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
Then there’s humility. It allows us to see our grasp of anything is always incomplete, in constant need of being expanded, refined, corrected, nuanced, perfected. Truth can be known — and any greater vision truth must be in continuity with lesser truths — but truth has limitless horizons. God alone knows all truth, God alone is Truth. As Pope Benedict once said:
To be sure, we do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us: Christ, who is the truth, has taken us by the hand, and we know that his hand is holding us securely on the path of our quest for knowledge. Being inwardly held by the hand of Christ makes us free and keeps us safe: free – because if we are held by him, we can enter openly and fearlessly into any dialogue; safe – because he does not let go of us, unless we cut ourselves off from him. At one with him, we stand in the light of truth.
“We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).
This all makes life so much more interesting! It allows the word ‘truth’ to never kill a good conversation. Always more. Every day, I learn more. Hopefully every day I will grow, never stagnate. Please God.
That’s a start. There are plenty of books on this out there if you want to dive deeper…