The Rights of Truth, the “non-rights” of Error
[The report of R. P. Philippe C. S. S. R. November 30, 1922 to the Congress of the Apostolic League of Nations, which took place in Paris, and appeared in “La Documentation Catholique” of 24 March, 1923: No. 191]
If there is such a thing as a fundamental truth, it is certainly that of the rights of Truth and the non-rights of error. It is astonishing that such a subject must even be dealt with, but the intellectual decadence of our times has reached the point that we no longer even wish to acknowledge Truth, but are willing to convince ourselves that Truth doesn’t even exist. What is said about Truth must also be said of the authority which is based on the truth of the existence of the Supreme Being upon Whom we all depend.
By banishing in one fell swoop Truth and the authority of this Truth, the enemies of Jesus Christ and His Holy Church overthrow, upturn and destroy from top to bottom, not only Christian Order, but all order, be it simply natural, civil, familial, religious or any other.
Order based on nothingness cannot be sustained. That is why we establish at one and the same time both the rights of Truth and the injustice of error.
We will not get involved here in overly speculative considerations. Rather, we will limit ourselves to reproducing the simple facts of philosophy and theology.
1. Truth is the conformity of the intellect with the object
St. Thomas Aquinas concisely states the following: Veritas invenitur in intellectu secundum quod apprehendit rem ut est, et in re, secundum quod habet esse conformabile intellectui (Summa Theologica, I, q. 16, art. 5) : truth is in the intellect insofar as it grasps the object as it is. Truth is in the object itself, insofar as being (that is, this object) can be intellectually reproduced. In other words, for the intellect to possess the truth of an object (or to be true) that object must first exist, then the intellect must have perceived it just as it is, and intellectually reproduce it thus. That is why St. Thomas says elsewhere : unumquodque inquantum habet de esse, tantum est cognoscibile (ibid. art. 3) for a thing to be known, it must exist, and can be known only insofar as it exists.
For Truth to exist in the intellect, it is therefore necessary for the intellect to reproduce intellectually (or by means of an intellectual image, if one prefers) objective reality in so far as it exists. The latter is itself insofar as it reproduces the eternal concept of God who created it. That is why St. Thomas defines Truth as follows: Adaequatio rei et intellectus (ibid. art. 1), meaning by this that, in order to be true, the created object must correspond to the concept of the Divine Intellect and that the human intellect which possesses the Truth only possesses it insofar as it is intellectually in conformity with the object itself.
2. The object has the right to be known by the intellect precisely as it [i.e. the object] is
To assert that Truth alone has rights is to declare that the intellect, which is made to possess Truth, has the right not to be led into error. It is to say, above all else, that the object which is known has the right not to be known other than as it actually is, as well as the right to be known just as it is.
The weakness of the human intellect can be such that it does not conceive the essence of a being in all of its perfection. It remains no less a fact that whatever the intellect does in fact conceive must be in conformity with what is.
3. In error, nothingness takes the place of the object
What happens in the contrary situation when the intellect conceives, not in conformity with that which is, but with that which is not? Its intellectual concept does not correspond to any existing reality, or, in the case of a partial error, it corresponds only partially to what that reality actually is. As for the other part, it corresponds to nothing which is.
Who does not see the conclusion which must be immediately drawn from this? An intellectual concept which does not correspond to any objective reality corresponds to nothing; that is to say, for it, nothingness has taken the place of the object.
4. Nothingness, therefore error, has no rights
Thus it is an obvious truth that nothingness (or non-being) cannot have rights, because it does not exist.
An intellectual concept which corresponds to no reality whatsoever cannot be the reproduction of a true reality. Therefore, corresponding to nothingness (which has no rights), it participates in the non-rights of nothingness.
Thus, if the man whose intellect created these fictions and errors wishes to attribute to them rights which they cannot have, then these rights are the most fundamentally unjust that can possibly be.
5. To build on nothingness or error is disorder
What folly, then, to construct a life on nothingness! For this is what necessarily happens when, instead of taking Truth as the principle of this life, we choose error. With nothingness as a guiding principle for all our acts, for all our feelings, for all our thoughts, what can there be that is true, just or well-founded in our lives? Nothing.
Furthermore, if error is at the basis of social order, nothingness is the guiding principle of society, of governments, of the constitutions of peoples, of legislation and of everything else. Let us say it again : what can be built on this? What can be built on nothingness? In a social order thus conceived, there can be neither Truth nor Justice nor Order.
Disorder is the inevitable result.
6. This is proven by experience
To better understand this phenomenon, let us see what practically remains as a guiding principle in both individual and social life wherever objective truth has disappeared :
* In the individual order, there remains only individual thought, captive to all of its fantasies.
* In the social order, there remains only collective thought, subject to every whim of the majority.
And when we have swept Truth aside, we have suppressed the Supreme Being who is the great guiding Truth of peoples and individuals. When God has disappeared from the council of consciences and nations, when there are no more sanctions or responsibilities before the Eternal One, what is left to collective and individual human thought? Logically, nothing. In reality, though, in spite of everything, in spite of human fantasies and whims, there remain Eternal Truth and Eternal Justice which crush beneath all their weight those who, turning toward them, say: “You do not exist.”
7. Divine Truth always takes back its Rights
God proclaims these Rights and causes them to be respected by His Justice.
Oh Divine Truth! It takes back its Rights – Rights which are marked with the seal of Infinity, with the seal of Eternity. This God Whom man (in his folly) has desired to consign to nothingness in order to have nothingness as the principle of his life, is Creator. Everything has been made by Him in the infinite splendour of His Beauty. He reiterates all the conditions of Truth. Furthermore, to the rights which He Himself has given to all Truth, He adds those with which He alone can be endowed because He alone is infinite, He alone is Creator.
How, then, can those who depend essentially upon Him rise up against Him and His Rights? It is not astonishing that Eternal Truth which has been dumped on the scrap heap of nothingness surrounds itself with all the rigours of Justice in order to strike back. Justice is the avenger of its Sister, Truth.
8. Divine Truth manifests itself in Christ
The Infinite goes even farther, so to speak. God destines this creature for whom He has created Truth (in a word, this human being) to eternal happiness. In order to lead him to this supreme end, He will become incarnate in the Person of His Word. He will appear in this world, and, there again, He will manifest Himself as the Truth: Ego sum Veritas! Veritas et gratia per Jesum Christum factum est. It is Truth which is tasked to lead man to his destiny, and see, therefore, what was required for this Truth to be realized in these conditions by Christ: nothing less than the Passion and Death of Christ. This all-loving Master paid a great price for It, but after all It belongs to Him, It is identified with Him. Behold this Truth, which is Christ and which has all the Rights of Christ, is launched into the world, bolstered by God’s own Authority. It must enlighten consciences. It must guide the social order. Society must be impregnated with Christ because man, both as a citizen and as an individual, is a creature of God whose final end must be God and infinite beatitude.
9. God strikes those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ and His Church
What homage does man render, what homage does the citizen render, what homage do governments render to the Rights of Truth, to the Supreme Rights of God, to the Rights of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate?
Let us repeat it again: in order to establish nothingness (and consequently disorder in society and confusion among peoples) all the more securely as the guiding principle of peoples, they consign to this nothingness, with all the power their thought can muster, God and His Christ and the institution which continues Christ on earth: the Church.
Is it surprising then that God, seeing Himself despised in the very Truth which He has created, despised in Himself and in His Christ, is it surprising that He chastises peoples with the most dreadful scourges? War and famine are minor things. Confusion, upheavals in the political and economic order are a mild manifestation of the terrors which Divine Justice reserves for those who trample His Truth underfoot.
Let us endeavour to understand all this. Especially let those to whom God has given the responsibility of governing society endeavour to penetrate themselves with these profound teachings and introduce them into the practical working-out of the social order for the good of humanity. If this is done, both peoples and humanity will be saved.