One of the Great Paradoxes of Catholicism

The philosophical definition of truth is “the conformity of the mind to reality.”1 Truth is, therefore, a conformity. And as the etymology of that word suggests, it is the mind being “shaped,” — or bent into the shape of — reality as it is. That reality exists outside of us and is not the product of our intellect or imagination, which are knowing faculties that do not manufacture reality but receive it. The imagination and intellect are just as subject to the reality that exists outside of them as the eardrum is to the sound waves that strike it or the eye to the light that meets its retina.

No, we do not manufacture the reality that exists outside us, but we can know it. In so knowing we are “bound” to a thing that is not ourselves — bound and shaped, and made to conform.

That sounds the very antithesis of freedom, especially to the modern concept of a freedom which is radically autonomous.

Yet, we have this utterance of the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom Himself: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

And when we reject that truth in the name of personal autonomy or libertinism, we become the degraded slaves of error.

Conformity liberates, libertinism enslaves. And for us Christians, Truth with a capital T is Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (cf. John 14:6), Whom we serve in freedom or reject as slaves to sin (Rom. 6:20).

This is not a contradiction; it is a paradox, one of the great paradoxes of Christianity.

The chains of Saint Peter (Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome)

  1. This is the definition of “logical truth.” Ontological truth is defined as the conformity of the thing to its own universal concept, ultimately to what it is in the Mind of God. Moral truth is defined as the conformity of utterance with what is known in the mind. In any of its senses, therefore, truth is a conformity. The distinctions are best seen by contrasting their opposites: the opposite of logical truth is a falsehood; the opposite of ontological truth is a counterfeit; and the opposite of moral truth is a lie.