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Posted January 20, 2006

Taken From John Allen Reporting From Rome
in the National Catholic Reporter

Pope Benedict XVI on truth as our best means
for achieving peace and justice

For more on the topic of truth, see Romano Guardini's book Virtues and his treatise on truth. Here Guardini says “Truthfulness means the speaker should say what is so, as he sees and understands it, and that he should express what is in his mind. Under certain circumstances this may be difficult, and may even cause annoyance, harm and danger. But our conscience reminds us truth is an obligation; that it is something absolute and sublime. It is not something of which we may say: ‘You may tell it if it is convenient for you or serves your purpose,’ but “when you speak you must tell the truth, not abbreviate it or change it. You must tell it absolutely, simply. . .”

In his book De Officiis [On Duty] Cicero counsels his son Marcus on the well-being truth generates: “The thing most peculiar to the human race is its search and inquiry after truth. For, as soon as we are free from the cares of necessary business, we are eager to see, hear, and learn new things and we believe that a knowledge of the secret wonders of the world is essential to our well-being. Hence we see that the simple and unperverted truth appeals strongly to man’s nature. To this craving for a sight of truth is added a desire for leadership.” and take a look at the Hebrew meaning of truth that is based on our Amen.

Truth in the Hebrew sense means promise and fulfillment --- God's promise to us and His fulfilling it.

Hopefully these three descriptions of truth will help better explain why Pope Benedict XVI puts so much emphasis on truth as a way to peace and justice.

The Article of John Allen

In his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI offered the formula "development is the new name for peace."

An assertion with no specifically religious content, it became one of the slogans of the style of social engagement that dominated the post-Vatican II church. Catholic social activists, in an attempt to build broad coalitions and to work should-to-shoulder with people of all faiths, and of none, focused largely on "development," avoiding specifically religious "evangelization" and sometimes playing down contentious elements of Catholic doctrine that might alienate potential allies. (Catholics involved in HIV/AIDS relief in Africa, for example, often say very little about official teaching on contraception).

It's an approach that has put the church on the front lines of struggles for social progress in the secular world, and has allowed Catholic charities to penetrate parts of the globe that would have been inaccessible if the perception had been that their presence was a "front" for proselytism.

It will not, however, be the style of social engagement of Benedict XVI.

For the pope who declared a "dictatorship of relativism" to be the most urgent challenge facing humanity, the path to peace runs not primarily through development, but through truth. Only by embracing objective truths about the meaning and purpose of human life, he believes, can a stable social order be built.

This was the core of Benedict XVI's message for his first World Day of Peace, an annual observance instituted by Paul VI. In a telling shift of emphasis, Benedict chose as his theme: "In truth, peace."

That slogan was also the heart of the pope's address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See on Monday, widely seen as his most important political and diplomatic speech of the year. Well before his election as pope, Joseph Ratzinger was concerned about the collapse of confidence in objective truth in post-modern culture, leading to a philosophical and moral relativism with geopolitical consequences, such as the claim that "human rights" are a Western construct lacking universal validity. Nonsense, Benedict insists; the vocabulary of human rights may be Western, but the content expresses universal truths about human dignity.

This concern is one of the reasons that the International Theological Commission, the chief advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is currently working on a document on natural law and its relationship to moral law.

"Commitment to truth is the soul of justice," Benedict said in his speech to the diplomats on Monday.

"Man's unique grandeur is ultimately based on his capacity to know the truth. And human beings desire to know the truth. Yet truth can only be attained in freedom … truths of the spirit, the truths about good and evil, about the great goals and horizons of life, about our relationship with God. These truths cannot be attained without profound consequences for the way we live our lives."

Given that premise, Benedict drew some specific conclusions, such as a strong condemnation of terrorism.

"Terrorism does not hesitate to strike defenseless people, without discrimination, or to impose inhuman blackmail, causing panic among entire populations, in order to force political leaders to support the designs of the terrorists," he said.

"On the basis of available statistical data, it can be said that less than half of the immense sums spent worldwide on armaments would be more than sufficient to liberate the immense masses of the poor from destitution. This challenges humanity's conscience," he said.

In the end, however, the pope's thought transcended specific issues to focus on what he sees as the core matter.

"By seeking the truth one can identify the most subtle nuances of diversity, and the demands to which they give rise, and therefore also the limits to be respected and not overstepped," he said. "Then problems can be resolved and disagreements settled according to justice, and profound and lasting understandings are possible."

This is social action, Benedict-style -- not in the first place "no peace without justice," but "no peace without truth."