Integral truth

Gerrigou-Lagrange lays out his fundamental objection to contemporary theology:

Father Henri Boulliard writes, “Since spirit evolves, an unchanging truth can only maintain itself by virtue of a simultaneous and co-relative evolution of all ideas, each proportionate to the other. A theology which is not current [does not keep changing — SMR] will be a false theology.…“By renouncing the Aristotelian system, modern thought abandoned the ideas, design and dialectical opposites which only made sense as functions of that system. Thus modern thought abandoned the notion of form”

How then can the reader evade the conclusion, namely that, since it is no longer current, the theology of St. Thomas is a false theology?

In response to the claim that one changes theology by using equivalent ideas Gerrigou responds:

Here one is satisfied by mere words (by insisting first on another and then on an equivalent), especially since it is not verbal equivalence, rather, it is another idea. What happens even to the idea of truth?Thus the very serious question continues to resurface: Does the conciliar proposition hold as true: through conformity with the object outside the mind, and with its immutable laws, or rather through conformity with the requirements of human life which is always changing?

Someone may have resolved this dilemma that Gerrigou italicizes as his conclusion, but if they ever did their solution was not broadly accepted. In Post-Conciliar theology, each side of the dispute assumes the other is refuted without argument. This is unfortunate, since Gerrigou’s articulation of the dilemma is exactly right, and it shows that the dilemma is a false opposition. To put the compatibility in Gerrigougian terms: truth is a good of the intellect, but goodness is integral and whole, and this frequently (and even as a rule) involves having to measure up to more than one standard. We should therefore  expect the intellect’s good to have to measure up to more than one standard. There is a close (if imperfect) parallel between the good of the intellect and good food or good shelter. Good food is not just healthy, it has to be palatable too; and good shelter is not simply what keeps us alive – it needs some humanizing elements. A perfectly nutritious but unpalatable meal would not be a good one; and a watertight bunker-box with exact climate control and nothing more would not be a good house. One can certainly put orders of priority among the various goals and divide them up with distinctions, but goods as we actually experience them need to meet more than one standard in order to be called good. What Gerrigou calls the “conformity to immutable laws” is comparable to whether a meal is nutritious or a shelter could keep us alive; and what he calls “the demands of an ever-changing life” is comparable to the palatability or savor of what we’re eating. The attempt to reduce truth to merely its immutability or certitude or finality destroys it even as truth.

But the necessity that truth be integral also would refute someone who thought theology could dispense with the immutable and final – providing the mind the junk food of mere palatability. No one would want to be up to date if this was all he was. The savor we take in our own times can only come from thinking that our unique time puts us in a position to see something unchangeable and immutable that has never been seen before.

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