“transcendent truths that are always true in spite of relativism, political correctness, or a misplaced sense of politeness.”
In William Shakespeare's play, “Measure for Measure,” there is a scene in which Isabella, the virtuous protagonist, is pleading her case before the Duke of Vienna. Isabella has brought charges against Lord Angelo, whom the Duke had temporarily placed in charge of enforcing the city's laws. Isabella claims that Angelo, despite his high office and noble bearing, is actually a liar, a murderer, a hypocrite, and an adulterous thief who rapes virgins.
“Is it not strange and strange?” ask Isabella.
“Nay,” replies the Duke “It is ten times strange.”
“This all true as it is strange,” continues Isabella, “for truth is truth, to the end of reckoning.”
The point is that there are indeed absolute and no amount of logic, argument, or reason can make them otherwise. Despite what our age of relativism would have us believe, there are transcendent truths. In a world of grays there are still things that are black and white.
Much of our faith is like that, transcendent truths that are always true in spite of relativism, political correctness, or a misplaced sense of politeness.
During the Babylonian exile, the prophet Jeremiah was one of those left behind in Jerusalem to tend the land. But even this remnant fell away from following the laws of God, the divine truths imparted by God to his people.
Jeremiah was sent to warn the Judeans that the city of Jerusalem would again be destroyed and the remaining people sent into exile. Their only hope to avoid this fate was to change the way they lived, to reject their immoral lifestyle and once again embrace God. As you can imagine this was not a popular message. Jeremiah was arrested and imprisoned. Even when he was released from prison, Jeremiah persisted because God made him “a wall of brass,” undaunted by those who sought to tear him down. God had preordained the prophet for this purpose. Even before his birth, God had consecrated Jeremiah as a prophet to the nations.
The truth can be unpopular. Jeremiah learned that “truth draws hatred upon itself.” But we should not shy away from proclaiming it. That is precisely why we are here. God has willed the existence of every person. To each individual has been given an explicit call to holiness and salvation. At the same time God has a plan for every individual. Each of us has been given a unique set of tools to further the renewal of the world.
Christianity is sometimes attacked because its tenants often seem to be based on earlier non-Christian myths and beliefs. But from the Christian point of view, the birth of Christ, the incarnation of God, was such a significant event in human history that, like a large rock thrown into a slow moving stream, its repercussions rippled in all directions, forward and backwards through our perception of time.
G.K. Chesterton put it this way.
“If the Christian God really made the human race, would not the human race tend to rumors and perversions of the Christian God? If the center of our life is a certain fact, would not people far from the center have a muddled version of that fact?… When learned skeptics come to me and say, ‘Are you aware that the Kaffirs have a story of Incarnation?’ I should reply: ‘Speaking as an unlearned person, I don’t know. But speaking as a Christian, I should be very much astonished if they hadn’t.” (Christianity and Rationalism, G.K. Chesterton)
The birth of Christ and the advent of Christianity is a “fixed point in time,” if you will. The truth of it transcends every attempt to minimize its importance.
This is why artists in their role as “creative servants,” can draw upon pagan myths and legends in order to reveal these absolute, transcendent truths.
The “Lord of the Rings,” by J.R. R. Tolkien has become immensely popular, more so in the wake of the trilogy of films headed by Peter Jackson. But even before the films, it enjoyed somewhat of a cult following among the “spiritual but not religious” crowd. Perhaps this was due to the fact that there is almost no reference in the books to any form of organized religion. But this was intentional as Tolkien himself explained in a letter to a friend of his, a Jesuit priest by the name of Robert Murray.
“The Lord of the Rings' is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out practically all references to anything like 'religion,' to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and symbolism.”
There are times when we must disguise the truth in order to reach people, to “sneak up on them” as author Flannery O'Connor would say. For the Truth will always shine forth even under the guise of of an epic journey involving men, hobbits, dwarves and elves.
But that approach only goes so far. We may come to a time when we must proclaim the Word of God openly, even at the risk of provoking the anger of our listeners. To hesitate from this mission, because we fear what people may think of us, is simply vanity.
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org and can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com