“You will Know the Truth, and the Truth will set You Free”
St. Bonaventure, one of the most learned and joyful men in history, was born in 1218 near Viterbo, Italy. As a youth, Bonaventure was cured of a severe illness as St. Francis of Assisi prayed over him, a miraculous event that Bonaventure himself wrote about. Later, Bonaventure was ordained a priest.
An essential aspect of St. Bonaventure’s life was his strong emphasis on learning and understanding, to the greatest degree possible, the sublime truths of what God has revealed to us. These truths have been recorded in sacred Scripture and handed on in sacred Tradition, as recorded in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Above everything, St. Bonaventure loved God’s truth, and he loved reason, for both originate in God—the Author of Life. St. Bonaventure believed the primary purpose of our intellect—our God-given ability to think—is to strive after the truth about God. As a result of the fruits of diligence and perseverance in this endeavor, we come to know and love God all the more and experience His peace and joy.
The life of St. Bonaventure helps us to see the incredible importance of knowing and living according to the truth. We must understand the proper meaning of “truth” because, as Pope Saint John XXIII wisely stated, “All the evils which poison men and nations and trouble so many hearts have a single cause and a single source: ignorance of the truth.”
What is Truth?
Telling the truth means a person “tells it like it really is”—in accordance with fact. To say that Catholicism is the truth means that what the Church teaches has been revealed by God Himself. God is the source of all that is, and He knows His creation perfectly. Therefore, we can rightly say that He is the Author and fullness of all truth. Consequently, it is correct to say that the Church teaches the truth accurately and is in accord with reality.
Two thousand years of history confirm what we know to be true. God exists, and He creates each of us to be united with Him in a relationship of love. Our first parents believed a lie. This loss of trust—this disobedience—in our Heavenly Father caused them to be separated from Him. Our Father sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the Cross for our sins so that we could be reunited with the Father. This re-union takes place through the one Church that Jesus established and contains all the teachings that He gave to the Church as well as the graces dispensed through the seven sacraments that He instituted. Jesus gave us these gifts to bring us into union with Himself, He who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (Jn 14:6) Jesus gave St. Peter special apostolic authority to lead the Catholic Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and this authority from Christ has been passed on to successors.
To say that Catholicism is true is to say that the events recounted in the previous paragraph really did happen and that the teachings of Christ were indeed given. When an individual suggests that the truths taught by the Catholic Faith are “not true for me even though they may be true for you,” they have melded together two different kinds of truth claims: subjective truth and objective truth.
Statements about the existence of God, the teachings of the Catholic Church, and the authority of the Church are objective truths. They describe facts about the world, and so they are true regardless of how we feel about those facts.
The term “subjective truth” refers to an individual’s personal feelings and perceptions about the world. The truth behind such statements varies depending on the speaker. For instance, if I say, “I think pepperoni pizza tastes great,” this statement is true for me because I genuinely enjoy the taste of pepperoni pizza. However, someone else might not like the taste of pepperoni pizza at all, and in that case, it would be true for them (but not for me) that “pepperoni pizza tastes terrible.”
We can both be right, even if our preferences for pepperoni pizza contradict each other. That is because we are actually not making statements about the nature of pizza. Instead, we are making subjective statements about our feelings about pepperoni pizza. There’s no contradiction in different people having different feelings about the same thing.
Unlike subjective truth, which relates to feelings about the world, objective truth relates to the world itself. Objective truths describe the world as it really is, and the truth of those statements does not depend on who is speaking.
It is important to acknowledge that certain facts about nature and the world we live in are objective truths that cannot be denied. The statement “Earth’s gravity pulls downward” is an objective truth that remains unchanged regardless of who states it, as it is the way God has created it. Although we may have personal opinions about gravity, the fact of gravity remains objective truth. Ignoring the reality of objective truths can lead to treacherous pitfalls and serious consequences.
Statements about the existence of God, the teachings of the Catholic Church, and the authority of the Church are objective truths. They describe facts about the world, and so they are true regardless of how we feel about those facts. When someone says Catholicism “is true for you, but not for me,” what he really means is that you think the Faith is true, and he does not. To have this erroneous mindset is to a person’s immense detriment. The reason is that “God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know Himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” (Fides et Ratio) In other words, without a proper understanding of objective truth, we cannot know the truth about God, our good Father who loves each of us unconditionally, nor the truth about ourselves, including:
• Where we came from—God created us in His image, giving us our immortal soul that will live forever.
- Who we are—We have infinite worth as sons and daughters of God.
- What is our purpose—We seek to encounter and develop a friendship with the Person of Jesus Christ through the Church, which is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tm3:15), become His committed follower, and help others to encounter Him also.
- Where we are going—God desires that each of us spend eternal life with Him in heaven.
When we are pursuing and grounded in the truth of Catholic teaching, which includes the truth about ourselves, we experience profound security and peace, as well as freedom. This is why Catholic formation in a family and education in a Catholic School, in a parish Religious Education Program, and in adult Bible and Faith Studies is so important. Ongoing, life-long formation in the Faith becomes exciting, life-giving and a genuinely joyful endeavor when education serves to quench the thirst for truth that is profoundly inscribed in the heart of each human person. We will come to understand fully Jesus’ words when He said, “If you continue in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free!” (Jn 8:31-32)
Director of the Office for Catechesis and Evangelization
Published in the January/February 2024 issue of Catholic Life Magazine