Ecce, Res & Objective Truth


-“Ecce homo”, Andrea Mantegna, 1500, tempera on canvas, 72 cm × 54 cm (28 in × 21 in), Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris. In the painting, two messages can be seen in Latin script: Crvcifige evm[.] tolle evm[.] crvcifige crvc[…] (“crucify him, trap him, crucify [in the cross]”) to the left and to the right the similar Crvcifige evm crvcifige tolle eṽ crvcifige (“crucify him, crucify, trap him, crucify”). The text on the left pretends to be pseudo-Hebrew in cursive script.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Br Ephrem Maria Reese, OP

“One thing that frustrates some, and fascinates others, about philosophical study, is that it takes ordinary things and makes them very, very complicated…

One feature of Catholic thinking that now fascinates people goes under the name “objective truth.” For many people, secular and religious alike, our world has been affected by “the turn to the subject,” or the tendency to say that truth mostly lies in the eye of the beholder, or depends on who the person thinking is. For truth to be objective, on the other hand, means that who the thinker is is not as important as what the thing they are thinking about is. The who needs to conform himself or herself to the what, not the other way around.

It is popular nowadays in Catholic theology to point out that Truth, in Jesus, became a person. In other words, Truth became a Subject. Indeed, He did. But a further twist to the story is that Jesus, Who is a Subject, also chose to become, for us and for our salvation, an Object. He became, among other things, a piece of food—a mere Thing. In the Eucharist, God so humbled Himself as to become, mysteriously, both thing and person—in theological language, we might say that He is both res et persona.

The Truth is a Person, a Subject, and is thus in perpetual conversation with us. He speaks interiorly. He comes to us as Word, speaking in our hearts, and even in other persons. But the Truth is also Thing, and as such, comes to us in Objects, called the Sacraments. One complaint that the early Protestant Reformers in England had with the Catholics is that our treatment of God is so thing-like. Their early charter, the 39 Articles, says: “The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about.” Well, yes and no. These most sacred Things are not to be merely thrown around, or treated superstitiously. But God did intend them to be mysterious realities. A “reality” is another word for “thing,” from the Latin res. In the Eucharist, and in the other sacraments (though in different ways), God makes His presence Real, in things. And that is something to be gazed upon, with reverent silence and song and humble prayer.

Before the person Who so humbled Himself as to be gazed upon in His torment, carried about in His death, worshiped and eaten in mystery, a true Christian will say: “yes, truth is objective.” He is more interior than my most interior self; He is more real than the realest exterior object. Ecce, Res.”

He lives,
Matthew

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