What Is Truth?

Areopagitica
John Milton

For who knows not that Truth is strong, next to the Almighty? She needs no policies, nor stratagems, nor licensings to make her victorious; those are the shifts and the defences that error uses against her power. Give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps . . . And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength.

Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing.


In His trail before Pilate, Jesus said “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”  Pilate famously answered “What is truth?”  It’s a good question.

For better or worse, our upbringing is a process of indoctrination. We are taught by our parents, our teachers, our friends and our preachers.  If we are lucky, we also learn from the greatest minds of the ages  – at least the ones who wrote their thoughts into books.  We absorb information and spend a lifetime sorting the true from the false.  The truth is fine with this of course, because it is never threatened by investigation.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

Today the word promiscuous is usually associated with sexual behavior, but this is a more recent usage, one that comes from the word’s actual meaning—indiscriminate mixing. It’s easy to see the sexual application of the word from this definition but instructive to think about in the context of reading. It’s surprising, I think, to realize that pious and scholarly Milton is actually arguing for indiscriminate, disorderly reading. And lots of it. In Milton’s day people had more fears surrounding promiscuous reading than promiscuous sex (the latter being rarer), so Milton had quite the challenge ahead of him.

In making his argument, as a churchman speaking to fellow churchmen, Milton cites the biblical examples of Moses, Daniel, and Paul, who were all steeped in the writings of their surrounding pagan cultures. Milton also invokes a leader of the third-century church who asserted that God commanded him in a vision, “Read any books whatever come into your hands, for you are sufficient both to judge aright and to examine each matter.” Such advice mirrors the Pauline suggestion to “test all things and hold fast to that which is good.”

Do you agree with Milton’s view about the strength of truth to overcome falsehood, or should some ideas be censored?

 

John 18:37

Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

 


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


 

 

Kate Thomsen Gremillion

Truth above all is available. The most tangible expression of its availability is, of course, the Incarnation. But what on this earth connects us to that reality? After all, as Dallas Willard said, God is Spirit, or “unbodily personal power.” One of my favorite CS Lewis essays is a letter Lewis wrote to Owen Barfield in which he brilliantly unpacks how this creative process works.

Truth is best communicated with “imaginative skill and imaginative intent.” In fact, Lewis goes on in another of my favorite essays, Bluspels and Flalansferes, to say that imagination is the “organ of meaning.” (Imagination, mind you, is not to be confused or conflated with Imaginary). But how? In The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best, a brilliantly laid out essay into Lewis’s idea of the imagination as the organ of meaning, Dr. Michael Ward writes that “to employ the imagination is to graduate from sight to insight … things must rise up out of the swamp of nonsense into the realm of meaning if the imagination is to get any handle on them.” After meaning is discerned and distilled, “we can judge whether their meanings are true or false.” Music then, in my experience, is a transport mechanism of the imagination gaining access to roads otherwise impassable. When I cannot feel, I turn to music. When I cannot think, I turn to music. When I cannot cry, I turn to music. When I cannot see beauty, I turn to music.

Duke Divinity School professor, Jeremy Begbie says Music shapes us as it can “scoop into the darker depths of life without losing its sense of direction and purpose.”

We will talk more about Begbie in this Wednesday’s segment on arts in childhood. Presently, it serves to reiterate Lewis’ belief that imagination is the organ of meaning and the additional reality that meaning transported by music gives a temporal continuity and insight between now and eternity.

Listen to this piece by composer Frank La Rocca three times. On the first listening, just listen and be transported.

 

Before listening again, meditate on the translation:

O great mystery,
and wondrous sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord
lying in their manger!

Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ.
Alleluia!

As the music will have taken you to a place where the text can be easily delivered and digested, follow along with the text in an effort to absorb more of its meaning.

Before the third listening, click on the lecture the composer himself gave at Notre Dame and see what imaginative skill looks like from the ground up.   It can be found HERE.

The third listening will astound you.

Truth is available, music is a means of transport which teaches us as we travel along with it or even better, as we travel along in it.

 

John Milton and Areopagitica

John Milton

(1608–74), poet and controversialist. The son of a scrivener, he was educated at St Paul’s School, London, and at Christ’s College, Cambridge (1625–32), where he won a high reputation for his scholarship and literary gifts; his famous Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity (1629) belongs to this period. From 1632 to 1638 he lived on his father’s estate at Horton in Buckinghamshire. Having abandoned his original intention of taking orders because of the ‘tyranny’ that had invaded the Church under Abp. W. *Laud, he devoted himself entirely to scholarship and literature. Among his finest poems of this period are L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, which are sometimes taken as expressing the two sides of his nature, torn between the desire for pleasure and the love of meditation and silence. In ‘A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634’ [Comus] (pr. 1637), he sings the praises of chastity in a dramatic poem. In 1637 he wrote the monody Lycidas on the death of a friend, containing a sharp satiric allusion to the clergy, one of his main themes in later years. Next year he travelled in Italy, and after his return moved to London, where he spent many years in political and religious controversy. In 1641 he joined the *Presbyterians and took part in the famous ‘*Smectymnuus’ affair, and about the same time wrote The Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelacy, a fierce attack on episcopacy in which he saw only an instrument of tyranny. In 1643 he married Mary Powell, a member of a strongly royalist family. She left him shortly afterwards, and he returned once more to the question of the reform of the divorce laws, writing The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), in which he made a passionate appeal for the solubility of marriage on the grounds of incompatibility of character and declared the sanctity and sacramental character of marriage to be a clerical invention. The treatise, which roused a heated discussion, caused his break with the Presbyterians. Its publication without a licence from the censor led the case to be submitted to Parliament and drew from Milton his celebrated Areopagitica (1644) in defence of the freedom of the press.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1095–1096.
 

Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parliament of England, pamphlet by John Milton, published in 1644 to protest an order issued by Parliament the previous year requiring government approval and licensing of all published books. Four earlier pamphlets by the author concerning divorce had met with official disfavour and suppressive measures.

The title of the work derives from “Areopagus” (“Hill of Ares”), the name of the site from which the high court of Athens administered its jurisdiction and imposed a general censorship. In a prose style that draws heavily on Greek models, Milton argues that to mandate licensing is to follow the example of the detested papacy. He defends the free circulation of ideas as essential to moral and intellectual development. Furthermore, he asserts, to attempt to preclude falsehood is to underestimate the power of truth. While the immediate objective of the Areopagitica—repeal of licensing—was not obtained for another 50 years, the tract has earned a permanent place in the literature of human rights.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

 

Karen Swallow Prior

 

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

 

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

 

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.