Is Christianity a religion of truth

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The traditional conception of faith as a vital, but also intellectual, adherence to revealed truth was based on the more general model of human knowledge as an apprehension of objective truths about the world, about man, and God. As such, it was able to encounter philosophy and give rise to a presentation and a deepening (classical theology), of which Saint Thomas Aquinas was for a long time the herald, recognized as such by the Catholic magisterium.

The past century has seen an erosion of Thomism in the Church, and the teaching of philosophy in the training of future priests, for example, has diversified to the point that philosophies incompatible with each other and with scholastic philosophy, now have the right to be cited, or have even supplanted the classic model. The question therefore arises of knowing, if not to which saint, at least to which philosopher or philosophy to devote ourselves. We could thus speak of a “crisis” of the teaching of philosophy in the Church, in the sense of a moment that calls for judgment and decision so as not to let perplexity and doubt invade minds.

A crisis of truth

But the question of truth for Christianity, and even more so that of the truth of Christianity, far exceeds that of the philosophy that should be taught in seminaries. It is due in particular to a “crisis of truth” one source of which is certainly the relativism that has been renewed by the appearance of the human sciences, the sense of historicity, and the relativity of cultures, civilizations, and religions (Dilthey ). This crisis of truth tends to put Christianity into perspective as one conception among others of transcendent reality, but only able to provide partial knowledge of it (the side of God’s face turned towards Europe, according to Troeltsch).

The theory of evolution blurs the idea of ​​the Creator, and the progress of historical methods calls into question our image of the emerging Church and Jesus Christ himself. The truth is not only distanced, it is also to some extent devalued. If it can remain the object, more or less approximate, of science, it is not the essential of Christianity. Dostoyevsky makes his character say that if he had to choose between Christ and the truth, he would choose Christ. Since the 18th century, there have been numerous claims of a reduction of religion to ethics and of Christianity to evangelical morality. This reduction would promote the reunion of religions, and protect us from fanaticism. The conception of an objective truth, revealed to a few and guarded by the institution, is thus denounced as dangerous, and as a distortion of the Christian message. The novelty of the Gospel would thus be to have thought of truth as friendship (Vattimo), and to have affirmed the primacy of charity, to the point of calling into question the idea of ​​faith as knowledge and rejecting a doctrine that would not be purely practical.

The challenge posed by relativism

In the conference “Truth of Christianity?”, which he delivered at the Sorbonne, in a conference on the eve of the year 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger sought to give some elements of response to the challenge launched by relativism to the pretension Christians to reach and teach the truth. He particularly insisted on the primitive conception of Christianity as being religio vera, and of siding with philosophy and not with the various religions. Following Varro’s typology, Saint Augustine distinguished mythical theology, that of poets who recount the lives of the gods in books of fables, civil theology which organizes worship in cities and happens to be the work of peoples, and the physical theology, discourse of philosophers on divine reality based on knowledge of nature. While the first two are considered relative to their authors, and ultimately do not claim so much to knowledge as to certain social practices (theatre and sacrifices), the last strives to develop a true discourse on the ultimate reality, the point of being able to be accused of impious because it criticizes religion. And he makes Christianity a physical theology, a discourse on God which claims truth and joins philosophy in the criticism of gods and pagan cults.

The development of dogma

As part of the conference cycle of the Thomist Institute “Truth of Christianity”, I took up several analyses of this conference, and in particular the idea that early Christianity thought of the unity of theory and practice, the translation into morals of his message of love, and that he brought together the natural or cosmic revelation of the God of philosophy and the historical revelation reported in the Bible and which culminates with the Incarnation of the divine Logos. I also tried to show that an intellectualist tradition was able to place an exaggerated emphasis on faith as knowledge and on theoretical adherence to Christian revelation as a condition of salvation (“Outside the Church, there is no Salvation”).

The late appearance of history as a discipline and of the sense of the historicity of practices and beliefs partly explains why the traditional presentation of the Catholic faith has long made little room for this historical dimension. This did not prevent the Church, in the recent past, from accepting the very idea of ​​the development of dogma (Newman) or the use of the historical method in the reading of the Scriptures (Lagrange), after gradually admitting a spiritual reading of the texts of Scripture whose letter is incompatible with the data of science ( Galileo ). In doing so, it has not relativized the entire Christian message but gradually makes a distinction between conceptions and practices relating to a state of culture and those whose scope transcends historical limits. This progression itself is an illustration of such sharing.

A religion that tells the truth

This lesson, which has not yet been completely learned, must also be able to be applied to the relationship that the Christian faith has with philosophy, or with a particular philosophy. Before going into the detail of the comparisons, the evaluation of the respective merits, the limited historical character, or on the contrary the timeless metaphysical scope of such philosophical and theological thought, it is first important to highlight that Christianity deserves the title of religio vera (both as a religion which is truly religion, and as a religion which tells the truth). Reflection on the implications of such a qualification leads to a better appreciation of the particularity of the Christian faith and its relationship to philosophy.

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