Quid est Veritas?

More from Sertillanges:

Is it not natural…that the man of vocation should put away and deliberately forget his everyday man; that he should throw off everything of him: his frivolity, his irresponsibility, his shrinking from work, his material ambitions, his proud or sensual desires, the instability of his will or the disordered impatience of his longings, his over-readiness to please and his antipathies, his acrimonious moods and his acceptance of current standards, the whole complicated entanglement of impediments which block the road to the True and hinder its victorious conquest?

I was going to continue on from the previous post’s conclusion, but it struck me as I transcribed Sertillanges’ text that he capitalised ‘True’, and yet of course he was writing in French and would have used vérité.

Why does this matter?

Well the etymology of ‘true’ implies ‘steadfast, solid, firm’, whereas the etymology of vérité appears to imply instead a compact or a bond, a relational basis of trust.  This might be splitting hairs, but the Greek term used in philosophy and apparently in the Gospel is alethea, which has in turn a third implication of being ‘unhidden’ or disclosed.

I have a tentative theory that these kinds of etymological peculiarities are significant even if we do not fully understand them explicitly or in everyday language.

That is: there are subtle differences between truth, vérité, and alethea, which alter how we conceive of the object behind the word.

What is truth like? Is it like a solid, firm, steadfast object, or a deep and trustworthy bond, or is it a disclosure, a remembering, something entirely unhidden?

When Christ says “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” I think it does make a difference to understand truth as alethea.

These different etymologies all point to the same thing, and the differences are minor. Still, I think the weight of English leaves us with a sense of ‘the truth’ as something solid, untarnished, but very much an object out there in the world, waiting to be discovered.

For me alethea denotes something more immanent, a state of knowing and of recognition yet to be attained. It is, after all, a supposedly a negative, with the prefix a- making it not concealed, not hidden. Truth is something we dis-cover, and it therefore implies also an element of subjectivity…not relativity, but the existence of a knowing subject to whom the reality is no longer concealed.




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