John Paul II, and the entire Catholic Tradition, believed in Absolute Truth.
The marvelous encyclical of JPII, Veritatis splendor begins with this joyful remark of a philosopher:
“In the depths of his heart there always remains a yearning for absolute truth and a thirst to attain full knowledge of it.”
Now, that seems so true. Children want the truth, the real truth. This is part of what is good and right about children. It is that aspect of them we are called to imitate – lest we be told by the terrifying words, “Get away from me, you evil-doers, I (Truth) do not know you.” If “knowledge” is intimacy and if Jesus is Absolute Truth, I suppose we all are called to be fundamentalists of a sort.
Why would anyone be worried about claims to absolute truth? 1. If the claims are false (e.g. false religions, false despotisms). 2. If the claims are true but they are made with arrogance: We are the ones who own the truth.
Our response. 1. Catholic dogmas are absolutely true. 2. True conclusions of philosophy are absolutely true. What is true is absolutely true. 2. It is not that we “have” the truth as though we were its Masters, its Creators. That would in fact make truth a product of will! We know that it is Truth whom we embrace, for whom we die, before whom we kneel, whom we serve, for whose sake we serve our neighbor, to whom we come for real forgiveness, having accepted his gift of repentance that leads us to hate and leave the sin.
The encyclical continues:
“Today, however, it seems necessary to reflect on the whole of the Church’s moral teaching, with the precise goal of recalling certain fundamental truths of Catholic doctrine which, in the present circumstances, risk being distorted or denied” (art. 4).
There are certain “fundamental truths”? Really? Absolute certainties? And why was the pope recalling them? Because these were at risk today of being distorted.
The text continues:
In fact, a new situation has come about within the Christian community itself, which has experienced the spread of numerous doubts and objections of a human and psychological, social and cultural, religious and even properly theological nature, with regard to the Church’s moral teachings. It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine, on the basis of certain anthropological and ethical presuppositions. At the root of these presuppositions is the more or less obvious influence of currents of thought which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth. Thus the traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the universality and the permanent validity of its precepts, is rejected; certain of the Church’s moral teachings are found simply unacceptable; and the Magisterium itself is considered capable of intervening in matters of morality only in order to “exhort consciences” and to “propose values”, in the light of which each individual will independently make his or her decisions and life choices. (art 4)
Values without truth. That is relativism, and relativism is heresy (or vegetation of the mind).
Let’s pivot from these initial remarks to some clear indications that we can and are bound to attain absolute certainty in certain matters of truth.
Doesn’t St. Paul teach us also that God wants to answer that “fundamental thirst” for “absolute truth”? I think he does:
“God wills that all be saved, and come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).
Doesn’t HOLY MOTHER CHURCH teach dogmatically, the following:
“Therefore we define that every assertion contrary to the truth of enlightened faith is totally false.” (Vatican I, Dei Filius.)
And aren’t we all as Catholics – every single one who is Catholic, without exception, have to give absolute and irrevocable assent to that declaration?
Doesn’t the same HOLY MOTHER CHURCH, who genuinely loves us in her dogmas, teach:
“9. Hence all faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them to be errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth.”
Absolute. Bound. Errors. Strong words. Are they from mean old grumpy Catholics? No. They are from loving pastors who want to shepherd souls away from the absolute destruction of Satan’s plan, to lead people along the high and narrow way, the way that is hard but rewarding, to defend them from wolves.
And then, in Pastor Aeternus, does not the same Holy Mother Church teach:
“4. This is the teaching of the Catholic truth, and no one can depart from it without endangering his faith and salvation”?
In Fides et Ratio, JPII consoles us that our thirst for knowledge has an absolute answer: Revelation!
“The truth communicated in Christ’s Revelation is therefore no longer confined to a particular place or culture, but is offered to every man and woman who would welcome it as the word which is the absolutely valid source of meaning for human life” (art. 12). A little later, in art. 15, he writes, “The truth of Christian Revelation, found in Jesus of Nazareth, enables all men and women to embrace the “mystery” of their own life. As absolute truth, it summons human beings to be open to the transcendent, whilst respecting both their autonomy as creatures and their freedom.”
But I think the best refutation of the false idea that a “fundamentalist” is one “who thinks he has absolute truth” is the words a little later in that very good encyclical Fides et Ratio, art. 27. The context: Man’s search for truth.
27. 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.
JPII promotes absolute truth.
We should do the same.