This is my final day talking about Pope Francis’ letter to the editor of La Repubblica, which has stirred a bit of controversy this past week. The final section of the letter concerns the question of absolute truth versus relativism, and whether it is a sin to question the existence of absolute truth.
I must say in passing that I find the thought processes of modern people a bit amusing sometimes. After all, the reporter who wrote the article is the one bringing up all these questions about sin and God’s favor or disfavor. Odd, isn’t it, that even though he professes disbelief, he still has some concern about whether or not God is OK with his disbelief, and whether it is absolutely wrong (i.e., a sin) to question the existence of absolutes! Sometimes I am not so much agnostic about the existence of God as I am agnostic about the existence of agnostics…
Anyhow, the Pope meets him where he is. He clarifies that for Christians, ‘truth’ only exists absolutely in the context of love: ‘truth, according to the Christian faith, is the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, truth is a relationship!’ And this relational truth is so true that it penetrates us and becomes, not some alien structure of meaning imposed on us from outside of us (which I think is the bogeyman haunting the mind of the committed relativist), but something that is truly ours, truly expressed from the heart and personal being of each person in his or her individuality. The last section of his letter is worth quoting in full:
This doesn’t mean that truth is variable or subjective, quite the opposite. But is means that it is given to us always and only as a way and a life. Did not Jesus himself say: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”?’ In other words, truth being altogether one with love, requires humility and openness to be sought, received and expressed…
In the last question you ask me if, with the disappearance of man on earth, the thought will also disappear that is able to think of God. Certainly, man’s greatness lies in his being able to think of God. And that is in being able to live a conscious and responsible relationship with Him. However, the relationship is between two realities. God… is not an idea, even though very lofty, fruit of man’s thought. God is reality with a capital “R.” Jesus reveals it – and lives the relationship with him – as a Father of goodness and infinite mercy.
Hence, God doesn’t depend on our thought. Moreover, even when the life of man on earth should finish – and for the Christian faith, in any case, this world as we know it is destined to fail --, man won’t stop existing and, in a way that we don’t know, also the universe created with him. Scripture speaks of “new heavens and a new earth” and affirms that, in the end, in the where and when that is beyond us, but towards which, in faith, we tend with desire and expectation, God will be “all in all.”
Dear Doctor Scalfari, I thus conclude my reflections, aroused by what you wished to communicate to me and ask me. Receive it as the tentative and provisional but sincere and confident answer to the invitation to escort you in a segment of the road together. Believe me, the Church despite all the slowness, the infidelities, the errors and sins she could have committed and can still commit in those that accompany her, has no other sense or end but that of living and witnessing Jesus: He who was sent by Abba “to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).
So, this is the great controversial letter from the Pope which has either had people dancing for joy in the streets because the Pope declared faith irrelevant and says we’re all going to heaven, or has had people publicly hoping for the Pope’s death (I’m not exaggerating, alas) for the same reason. To recap, the Pope, responding to sincere questions from a well-meaning unbeliever seeking insight into questions of faith and truth, began by professing his own personal faith in Jesus Christ, lived out in the communion of the Church. He stressed the limitless mercy of God for all people. He counseled the man, an unbeliever, to follow his conscience, which means to seek the good and the true with a sincere humble spirit.
He then asserts that truth, in Christian terms, in lived in a relationship of love with God in Jesus Christ, and that this truth is not simply an idea in our heads but a living reality. Finally, this living reality is so powerful and loving that we can have a secure hope that it is stronger than death and time and carries those who will be carried into the eternal kingdom.
All of this was said in dialogue with an unbeliever, was said as a proclamation of the Gospel to one currently living outside of faith in Jesus. So… can someone remind me again what the heck the controversy was about? I mean, some really stupid reporters took one or two phrases out of context and distorted the whole letter, but really folks? Are we not able to read for ourselves? The Pope’s letter is not that complicated, nor is the actual meaning of the actual words he actually used so mysterious or obscure.
What I read there is a sound, solid proclamation of the Gospel of Christ in simple, beautiful terms, with a practical counsel given to those who cannot get there yet as to how they can live their lives well. That’s all. If that’s controversial, then all I can say is, ‘Controversy, sign me up!’