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Katie van Schaijik

Truth as inter-personal breathing space

Jul. 7, 2009, at 12:58pm

I think I could spend the day posting the new encyclical paragraph by paragraph.  Number three raises a point that came up in the Personalist Project’s recent discussions on forgiveness.  In my experience, conventional Christian “forgiveness thinking” downplays truth in the name of charity.  But more on this later.  (Hint: The idea that to insist on truth is “harsh,” together with demands that it be set aside in the name of peace and “unity” are, I claim, prime characteristics of dysfunctional relationships—relationships where selves are suffocated for lack of due breathing space.)

Meanwhile, here’s the paragraph.

3. Through this close link with truth, charity can be recognized as an authentic expression of humanity and as an element of fundamental importance in human relations, including those of a public nature. Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space. In the truth, charity reflects the personal yet public dimension of faith in the God of the Bible, who is both Agápe and Lógos: Charity and Truth, Love and Word.


Teresa Manidis • Jul 7, 2009 - 11:55 pm

Katie, I totally agree with you, and can’t wait for that ‘later’ time to arrive (which you allude to), in which you will be able to delve more deeply into this topic.  I love the quote that, ‘Without Truth, Love degenerates into sentimentality’ - how succinct and (not to be redundant)‘true.’  And I agree that there is a disturbing movement (which I have come up against, time after time) in which the Truth is discredited as uncomfortably ‘harsh,’ and somehow ‘at odds’ with a saccharinly sweet ‘charity;’ a movement in which rightness is set aside in favor of a blind obsession for ‘unity,’ small c ‘charity,’ and ‘peace,’ at all costs.  I agree that this leads to dysfunctionality; or, at the very least, a great confusion and division within the individual person, who comes to feel he is being ‘uncharitable’ when he is only responding to his innate desire for justice.  But, the Truth is the Truth; and Love has nothing to fear from it.

Scott J • Jul 16, 2009 - 3:40 pm

Greetings. I agree with Katie and Teresa both. This is a very significant problem for American society at large that we need to try to rectify as best we can; at least to do our small part. The triumph of “niceness” over authentic charity does great harm to the respect for truth that any free society must have.

I suggest the following is also a contributing factor to this: preferring to be “nice” over being truthful can be yet one more of the myriad ways that we squirm away from the cross. This is because striving to always be respectful of truth in our human relationships can often extract a cost of personal pain and suffering. In the short term, simply affirming a superficial unity rather than trying to find unity in a deeper truth, is much easer, and less painful.

We flee from the cross that the union of truth and charity sometimes require, and then we hide this reality from ourselves by convincing ourselves and others that we are just being peaceful promoters of social harmony.

[It should be noted that there are people who use the excuse of truth-telling to bludgeon others over the head with it in a manner that is genuinely uncharitable.]

Bill Drennen • Aug 3, 2009 - 6:34 pm

True Scott (your last comment) and I was going to add this qualification that truth pursued with grace and sensitive to persons as opposed to truth pursued in the flesh at the expense of persons which is not truth at all.

In reality there is probably rarely in this life a completely pure pursuit of truth unclouded by limitations of human weaknesses. Therefore some of what we encounter in conflicts is due to a clash of values from persons emphasizing their aspects of truth over an other. For example, unity in worship vs. purity in worship or unity in a family vs. freedom of expression.

The “forgiveness thinking” that downplays truth is the same as the false ecumenism which does the same. We need to be authentic to the truth that is in us and then share that with as much unity as possible.

I think the hardest thing for many mature Christians to do is to live with that level of unity that is possible. Each following the dictates of our conscious, if we can not be as good a friends as we hoped then we should learn to be content with the friendship we are able to have, otherwise we get nothing from each other.

Iron sharpens iron if we are open to it. I believe in the diversity of truth as it is found in every human being and also in the unity of truth which has its source in the one God.

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