[re-posting from 2017]
Truth happens in the course of dialogue. There is always a temptation to allow our answers to bring to an end the process of searching, as if the topic of the conversation was a problem that has now been solved. But when a fresh question arrives, the unexhausted depths of mystery show through once more. — Tomáš Halík
My philosophy professor of 25+ years ago, who was a Catholic, used to invite students to his home once a month for a debate experience. He wanted those of us interested to learn the art of the “disputation” in real time. He would bait us with a loaded question, usually a morally dicey situation, and let us go. At the end, he would critique each of us and offer insights.
One of those evenings, he said something to us that really rocked my narrow world. A student told him how hard it was to get into arguments with people who rejected Catholic teaching. He said that because we Catholics claim to have the fullness of Truth, he began with the assumption that they are wrong and so lost all patience with them. I recorded in my notes that the professor, among many other things, said these things in response. Of course, all of this is in Nealese, but hopefully caught the essence of his wisdom.
…at the end of a good argument, no one should ever say, ‘I won’ or ‘You win.’ Each should say, ‘Let us rejoice, truth has more fully appeared!’ … even if Catholics say the Church holds the fullness of Truth, no one person in that Church ever possesses or embodies or understands that fullness entirely. This is what Augustine was after when he said, Si comprehendis, non est Deus, “If you comprehend, it’s not God.” Christ alone is the fullness of Truth, the Church is forever unfolding that fullness; and each member more or less retains a fragment of that whole.
… Truth isn’t a possession or a weapon, it’s the goal of a common quest. Truth confronts us, seizes us, encounters us, calls us, judges us. Truth always eludes full possession, is always partial, tending toward more, is always beyond. And more perfect reception of truth always demands dialogue, disagreement, debate and discussion to be discovered. The debates in Acts 15 are the Church at her finest, achieving unity in truth through a holy brawl.
… even God, when He came down to reason with us in a fully human form, as a man only came to the full articulation of truth after years and years of questioning, debating, discussing, disagreeing, arguing. Truth Himself, when He became flesh, had to grow in wisdom through these human methods, and only came to truth with us. With Mary and Joseph, with his local rabbi, the scholars of the law, disciples, regular people who asked him questions, argued with him or gave Him ideas for His teaching. Jesus never hid in an ideological ghetto, He set out into every Jewish or Gentile sect — even debating Satan. So the Church must follow His lead to receive His truth.
… if you can first agree with your conversationalist, in humility, that you’re both seeking truth in the matter at hand, you can bridge the distance between you; let go of defensiveness; see the other as a necessary partner on this quest. Not simply, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong.’ Then you get nowhere. It seems God has set the whole pursuit of truth up to force us to draw together closer. We just can’t get to it without relating to each other, or to God. And especially relating to people we find disagreeable. Dialogue, which means ‘to think through’ someone else, is the only path to Reality. Truth and love need each other.
… and every debate, disagreement, argument that ends is always a perfect beginning for a new quest. No one really seeking truth says, “I’ve got it!’ They say, ‘A little closer!’ Every good idea begins as a heresy seeking orthodoxy, as a partial seeing, as a new departure from a portion toward the whole. Learn to love to learn, to debate, to disagree, to confess new insights with others, and to harbor no ill feelings. If you follow the fair-play rules, you’ll never leave such an exchange bitter or defensive or angry. Truth seeking requires loads of virtue, like patience, humility, magnanimity, charity, courage. And good humor.
… and be sure to love throughout it all. Truth without love is crushing tyranny, and love without truth is alienating anarchy.
This profoundly shaped my worldview.