In the Gospel record of Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate, we are told that Christ said He had come to bear witness to the Truth. Pilate, in what he must have thought was a clever response, says, “And what is Truth?” We know from elsewhere in the Gospel that Christ explained, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” It is a statement that is easily tossed about – to settle an argument by saying that Christ is the Truth – but Pilate’s question still remains: “What is Truth?”
Christ’s statement that He Himself is the Truth is a description of the nature of Truth, as well as its content. In saying this, we must accept that Christ’s claim is that Truth is not at all the sort of thing we generally consider when we ask for “the truth.” It is not a syllogism, nor a philosophical formula, or even a precisely stated account of history. If Christ is the Truth, then Truth must be understood as Person and not as concept.
And in saying that Christ is the Truth, and that the Truth is thus understood as Person, is not to say that Truth is a category – or merely an event within history. For the Christ who reveals Himself as Truth, also reveals Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginningand the End (Rev. 1:8). He is both the “Lamb slain from the Foundation of the Earth” (Rev. 12:8) and “He Who is, and was, and is to come” (Rev. 1:8).
In speaking of the Truth with regard to others St. Paul offers this same eschatological understanding:
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts (1 Cor. 4:5).
Both St. Ambrose (in the West) and St. Maximos (in the East) maintained that the Old Testament was shadow; the New Testament, icon; and the age to come, the Truth. This is to say that the meaning of all things is found in the End of all things. The Old Testament (in Christian terms) receives its meaning from what it points towards and which lies hidden within it as though it were a shadow. The New Testament makes the Truth known, but in the form of Icon, an Image in which we see more clearly. But we do not yet see as we shall see.
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).
This understanding does not negate the knowledge we have of the world in which we live. But it sets parameters on that knowledge and reveals its temporary and relative character. When we describe the world with the knowledge of science, we describe as best we can what we see and understand. This is not the same thing as saying we know the Truth of things. There is, even in the created order, an opaqueness that does not yield to us the full mystery of the things we see and know. In the words of St. Paul:
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Cor. 13:12).
There is no conflict between what we know and what we shall know. Conflict only arises when we claim to know what we do not know. We cannot assume certain fixed principles from which we may deduce the Truth of things – for such principles and deduction cannot pierce the veil that lies over all we see nor the cloud that darkens our heart. We do not therefore reject knowledge that has not reached its fullness – but we do not call the knowledge we have the fullness of the Truth. That fullness awaits us.
For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph. 1:9-10).
On the level of our daily lives, this understanding asks us not to look to the past for our meaning: we are not defined by our history but by our end. To know what we are, it is necessary to know what we shall be. Christ is, for us, both the icon of the Truth and the Truth of which He is the icon. To answer the question of what we shall be, the truth will only be found in Christ – who is both the revelation of God – but also the revelation of what it is to be human. Fully God and fully man, He is our definition.
Indeed, He is the Truth of all things.
For many years, I have thought that Pontius Pilate gave an honest response from his tired cynical heart. Too much time spent in the Imperial bureaucracy, where there is no truth, only the ebb and flow of money, power, and personality would be enough to make a coward of the bravest man.
A little bit from Mikhail Bulgakov and a little bit from me.
And blessings to all.
Fr. Stephen, thank you so very much for this post.
And a “for what it’s worth – not much” comment on the scene from the movie: The Passion of the Christ, whether or not it “really happened” I totally felt the love of God when Christ spoke to Pontius Pilate in obviously very good Latin while this conversation was carried out. I never thought about it before I saw that sequence.
God is good all the time and sometimes I recognize it. Many times here at your blog, Fr. Stephen, you point me to the love of God, thank you!
Henry – at that point – certainly Pilate could have been saved and the conversation could have gone further – but “tired, cynical heart” is a good description. His wife did eventually become a Christian.
Thank you Father. Tell me why you identify Truth as person rather than Spirit, especially when you refer to Christ as Alpha and Omega? I don’t mean to be impertinent.
Your’s is a good question. One surmises that by referring to Truth as Person, the Orthodox in no way deny that Truth is also Spirit.
However, we cannot really claim to know God personally unless He first makes Himself known to us as person.
Forgive me if I speak out of turn here Father.
I so identify it because Christ said, “I am the Truth.” Of course, the Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of Truth.” But I identify truth as person, because it is Christ in the fullness of His person that is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the End of All things. Of course, I do not mean to say this in any way that excludes the Trinity. But Christ is the Logos, the Word, the Meaning (and all the things that Logos means). If you want to know the Truth of the Father, look at the Son (the Spirit will show Him to us).
But to establish Truth as something separate from Christ would be to have erected yet another secularism. This would not apply to Truth as Holy Spirit, of course. That the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth, I assume is because it is the Holy Spirit that will reveal to us the things concerning Christ.
I find interesting the differences between the Hebrew and Greek words for truth. Greek αλήθεια gives us a sense of what is uncovered, what the Scripture passages you mentioned seem to point to about what will be revealed in full at the Second Coming. Hebrew אמת – the root is ‘strength’ – to me this drives home your point about truth as person not concept. Christ is Truth because I can trust him. His word is strong. His promises unwavering. And at the dread Second Coming He is able to save us from the eternal torments.
Thank you so much for this. It was helpful for me in ways I didn’t expect. It caused a humble appreciation in me. Humility, because because I realized just how much I don’t know or understand yet; appreciation because I’m glad to know the Truth being what satisfies ultimately if I just endure.
Knowing Truth is personal is comforting both to my heart and mind. Yet again, God is God, beyond ultimate, yet simultaneously right here for us. I have no words to properly describe how wonderful this is.
You said, “There is no conflict between what we know and what we shall know. Conflict only arises when we claim to know what we do not know.”
While I concur with the latter statement, I’m not quite sure if I can do so with the first. If our understanding is erroneous, or even worse, if a person’s mind and heart are blind to the truth of Christ and instead they are overcome by their passions, then there is indeed a conflict between what is known and what shall be known.
Perhaps I am misunderstanding the context here. In speaking of “we,” are you referring to those who are “in Christ?” In this case, the first statement makes sense. For even though we are desperately lacking in our knowledge even as children of God, nonetheless what He has revealed of Himself to His own through and in the Spirit, that truth is not in conflict with what shall be revealed in time.
The phtos above, it looks like very peaceful place. My wife and I would love to visit your place. How to get there? Thanks and God bless.