"A Journey of Discovery. . ."
(Pope John Paul II)
Journeying in Search of Truth:
"All human beings desire to know",* and truth is the proper object of this desire. Everyday life
shows how concerned each of us is to discover for ourselves, beyond mere opinions, how things really are. Within visible creation, man is the only creature who not only is capable of knowing but who knows that he knows, and is therefore interested in the real truth of what he perceives. People cannot be genuinely indifferent to the question of whether what they know is true or not. If they discover that it is false, they reject it; but if they can establish its truth, they feel themselves rewarded. It is this that Saint Augustine teaches when he writes: "I have met many who wanted to deceive, but none who wanted to be deceived"**. . .
There exists a moral obligation to seek the truth and to adhere to it once it is known. . .
The truth comes initially to the human being as a question: Does life have a meaning? Where is it
going? At first sight, personal existence may seem completely meaningless. It is not necessary to turn
to the philosophers of the absurd or to the provocative questioning found in the Book of Job in order to
have doubts about life's meaning. The daily experience of suffering-in one's own life and in the lives of
others-and the array of facts which seem inexplicable to reason are enough to ensure that a question
as dramatic as the question of meaning cannot be evaded. Moreover, the first absolutely certain
truth of our life, beyond the fact that we exist, is the inevitability of our death. Given this unsettling fact,
the search for a full answer is inescapable. Each of us has both the desire and the duty to know the
truth of our own destiny. We want to know if death will be the definitive end of our life or if there is
something beyond-if it is possible to hope for an after-life or not. . . .
No one can avoid this questioning, neither the philosopher nor the ordinary person. The answer we
give will determine whether or not we think it possible to attain universal and absolute truth; and this is a decisive moment of the search. Every truth-if it really is truth-presents itself as universal, even if it is
not the whole truth. If something is true, then it must be true for all people and at all times. Beyond this
universality, however, people seek an absolute which might give to all their searching a meaning and an answer-something ultimate, which might serve as the ground of all things. In other words, they seek a final explanation, a supreme value, which refers to nothing beyond itself and which puts an end to all questioning. Hypotheses may fascinate, but they do not satisfy. Whether we admit it or not, there comes for everyone the moment when personal existence must be anchored to a truth recognized as final, a truth which confers a certitude no longer open to doubt.
Through the centuries, philosophers have sought to discover and articulate such a truth, giving rise to
various systems and schools of thought. But beyond philosophical systems, people seek in different
ways to shape a "philosophy" of their own-in personal convictions and experiences, in traditions of
family and culture, or in journeys in search of life's meaning under the guidance of a master. What
inspires all of these is the desire to reach the certitude of truth and the certitude of its absolute value.
The search for truth, of course, is not always so transparent nor does it always produce such
results. The natural limitation of reason and the inconstancy of the heart often obscure and distort a
person's search. Truth can also drown in a welter of other concerns. People can even run from the
truth as soon as they glimpse it because they are afraid of its demands. Yet, for all that they may evade
it, the truth still influences life. Life in fact can never be grounded upon doubt, uncertainty or deceit;
such an existence would be threatened constantly by fear and anxiety. One may define the human
being, therefore, as the one who seeks the truth.
It is unthinkable that a search so deeply rooted in human nature would be completely vain and
useless. The capacity to search for truth and to pose questions itself implies the rudiments of a
response. Human beings would not even begin to search for something of which they knew nothing or
for something which they thought was wholly beyond them. Only the sense that they can arrive at an
answer leads them to take the first step. . .
The thirst for truth is so rooted in the human heart that to be obliged to ignore it would cast our existence into jeopardy. Everyday life shows well enough how each one of us is preoccupied by the pressure of a few fundamental questions and how in the soul of each of us there is at least an outline of the answers. . .
It may help, then, to turn briefly to the different modes of truth. Most of them depend upon
immediate evidence or are confirmed by experimentation. This is the mode of truth proper to everyday
life and to scientific research. At another level we find philosophical truth, attained by means of the
speculative powers of the human intellect. Finally, there are religious truths which are to some degree
grounded in philosophy, and which we find in the answers which the different religious traditions offer to the ultimate questions.
The truths of philosophy, it should be said, are not restricted only to the sometimes ephemeral teachings of professional philosophers. All men and women, as I have noted, are in some sense philosophers and have their own philosophical conceptions with which they direct their lives. In one way or other, they shape a comprehensive vision and an answer to the question of life's meaning; and in the light of this they interpret their own life's course and regulate their behaviour. . .
Human beings are not made to live alone. They are born into a family and in a family they grow,
eventually entering society through their activity. From birth, therefore, they are immersed in traditions
which give them not only a language and a cultural formation but also a range of truths in which they
believe almost instinctively. Yet personal growth and maturity imply that these same truths can be cast
into doubt and evaluated through a process of critical enquiry. It may be that, after this time of
transition, these truths are "recovered" as a result of the experience of life or by dint of further
reasoning. . .
It is the nature of the human being to seek the truth. This search looks not only to the attainment of truths which are partial, empirical or scientific; nor is it only in individual acts of decision-making that people seek the true good. Their search looks towards an ulterior truth which would explain the meaning of life. And it is therefore a search which can reach its end only in reaching the absolute. Thanks to the inherent capacities of thought, man is able to encounter and recognize a truth of this kind. . .
Men and women are on a journey of discovery which is humanly unstoppable-a search for the truth and a search for a person to whom they might entrust themselves. . . In Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, faith recognizes the ultimate appeal to humanity, an appeal made in order that what we experience as desire and nostalgia may come to its fulfilment.
This truth, which God reveals to us in Jesus Christ, is not opposed to the truths which philosophy
perceives. On the contrary, the two modes of knowledge lead to truth in all its fullness. The unity of
truth is a fundamental premise of human reasoning, as the principle of non-contradiction makes clear.
Revelation renders this unity certain, showing that the God of creation is also the God of salvation
history. It is the one and the same God who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and
reasonableness of the natural order of things upon which scientists confidently depend, and who
reveals himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This unity of truth, natural and revealed, is
embodied in a living and personal way in Christ, as the Apostle reminds us: "Truth is in Jesus" (cf. Eph
4:21; Col 1:15-20). He is the eternal Word in whom all things were created, and he is the incarnate
Word who in his entire person (30) reveals the Father (cf. Jn 1:14, 18). What human reason seeks
"without knowing it" (cf. Acts 17:23) can be found only through Christ: what is revealed in him is "the
full truth" (cf. Jn 1:14-16) of everything which was created in him and through him and which therefore
in him finds its fulfilment (cf. Col 1:17).
** Confessions, X,23,33
From the Encylical Letter of Pope John Paul II
FIDES ET RATIO,
On the Relationship between Faith and Reason