One of the problems with modern Western culture is the tendency to prioritize feelings and emotions over truth and reason. This has infected the Church as well; not offending often takes precedence over the unambiguous teaching of doctrine and the truth of the faith.
In his recent book, Christus Vincit, Bishop Athanasius Schneider writes,
The crisis in the Church today is due to a neglect of the truth and specifically a reversal of the order of truth and love. Today a new principle of pastoral life is being propagated in the Church, which says: love and mercy are the highest criteria and truth has to be subordinated to them. According to this new theory, if there is a conflict between love and truth, truth must be sacrificed. This is a reversal and a perversion in the literal sense of the word (p. 166).
This makes an important point about the order of truth and love. As the Bishop reminds us, truth precedes love. It also serves as the foundation of true and perfect love.
Bishop Schneider roots this insight not just in the nature of things but in the action of God. God first sends forth his truth in the Law, through the prophets, and, perfectly, through His Son, the Word made flesh. Then, having rooted and established us in the truth, He sends forth the Holy Spirit, the Person of the Holy Trinity most associated with love. God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us(Rom 5:5). Thus, truth precedes love and frames its demands and blessings.
The precedence of truth is important for another reason: today, love is often reduced to kindness. While kindness is one aspect of love, so are correction and rebuke. In our culture, if we do not kindly approve of anything others want to do, we risk being called hateful. Love is often equated with approval, with being “nice.”
This attitude that has infected the Church holds that upsetting people, hurting their feelings, or making them feel “excluded,” is almost the worst thing we can do. Never mind that the biblical Jesus upset more than a few people; he “excluded” those who “[could not] be [His] disciples” because they would not carry their cross and would not love Him above all others. In the Church today, we walk on eggshells to avoid giving offense and talk endlessly about being a “welcoming community.” In order to achieve this, too many clergy and leaders of every rank in the Church seem willing to deform the truth of our doctrine through selective teaching, silence, or even outright misrepresentation of what the Lord and Scriptures teach. Mercy is frequently taught without any reference to repentance—but repentance is the very key that unlocks the door to mercy! The Lord links the summons to repentance with the good news of salvation (e.g., Mark 1:5).
Of course, it is not our goal to offend, but the Gospel has a strange way of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted; each of us is a little of both. We cannot forget that we serve a Lord who was killed for what He said even though no one ever loved His enemies more than He.
We need to summon clergy, parents, and all leaders in the Church to beware of the problem so accurately described by Bishop Schneider.We must not ignore the proper order: truth precedes love and is its foundation. Things in the wider Church are often disordered, for by reversing the order, things become—by definition—disordered.
All of us must be more courageous in speaking the truth. When I am preaching on a difficult or controversial issue, I often prepare my listeners by saying, “I love you too much to lie to you.” I then go on to speak the truth of God’s teachings even if they are “out of season.” I do this not only to prepare them but to illustrate that the truth of the Gospel precedes and frames my love for them. I cannot really say I love them apart from the truth of the Gospel. To lie or to be silent as the wolf of deception devours them is not love; it is hate, or even worse, indifference. It is neither loving nor merciful to deprive people of the truth that can set them free.
Love and mercy are beautiful, but they must be preceded by the truth. I am grateful to Bishop Schneider for this reminder.
14 Replies to “Truth Precedes Love and Mercy”
I see what you are saying conceptually but I have a difficulty so here’s a different take. Truth and Love are inseparable, as in the Holy Trinity, and the Truth is that God loves us. He gives us the Decalogue to show us proper order, that the greatest Commandment is to first Love God, the second to love neighbor and Jesus says ‘the Law and the Prophets hang on these’ because if the first isn’t in order, neither can the second be, and the rest of the Decalogue is how we keep the first two together. This is why St. James says that to break one means to be guilty in respect to all.
It’s not a question of whether God loves us, but do we love God? If a parent tells a child “God loves you” but the child doesn’t see their love for God, how will they believe what the parent is saying is true? This is what I mean by inseparable.
Truth cannot precede love and mercy for they are all one. God is love, God is truth and God is mercy. For God so loved the world that he gave… Jesus, who said I am the way, the Truth, and the light… If there is a sequence it would seem that love gives birth to truth and results in mercy. Perhaps it is not about the order or sequence but about integration of all three into a way of living, seeing and interacting with the world.
While God is simple, we are not. We are not God. For us, Truth, love, mercy etc are related but distinct and they have to relate properly and contextually. That’s why we have different words for them
I think I understand and agree with the gist of this but I do have one thought/quibble…that is that truth cannot in reality conflict with love. I’m thinking that because God is author of all truth and God is love there can be no essential conflict here. What might be perceived as a conflict is likely a result of our “disordered ” ways?
I point this out in the article by stating that what many mean by love is a reductionist notion of mere kindness.
I agree with the commenter ‘Friend'(↑), that they’re inseparable. Because according to the Sacred Scriptures – if we are to believe everything of what is written in them – it’s not a matter of the Truth either succeeding or preceding the Love (especially Agape). For Jesus has said, that He is “the Way and the Truth and the Life.” And St John the Apostle has said of Jesus, that He is the incarnate Godly Word (Logos), and of God, that He is Love. It thus logically follows, that the Truth is the Love, and the Love is the Truth.
But I understand very well what Bishop A. Schneider has written about, since I’ve seen it myself: for example, a Catholic priest who is teaching something similar to the eclectic Bahā’ī faith, and implies that those who disagree with him are bigots. Yet what can the average laic do about that, what can the average laic do to stop him from teaching heresy? Except for to report him to his bishop (usually by mail because of the distance), who then might or might not do something about the situation, there’s nothing else that we can (nonviolently) do. Write a blog? Go to an online forum? That sort of vigilantism can be, and usually is, damaging to one’s own soul.
This battle is really only between clergymen, and perhaps also laic theologians (I mean those who actually have a university degree in theology) and some other intellectuals. But it’s not for the average laic.
Interestingly, someone today was discussing the address that Benedict XVI gave on the 50th anniversary (Oct 22, 2019) of the establishment of the International Theological Commission The last line of his address is:
Solo l’umiltà può trovare la Verità e la Verità a sua volta è il fondamento dell’Amore, dal quale ultimamente tutto dipende.
Only humility can find the Truth, and the Truth in turn is the foundation of Love, on which everything ultimately depends.
God ultimately connects everything.
Good evening. It appears as though my last comment was deemed to be unacceptable for the blog post. I tried to share my thoughts appropriately. Would it be possible to get some message back as to why it was not accepted? Thanks.
We often write what God is telling us individually, but without embracing His wisdom.
Here’s what Jesus said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mark 7:20-23).
So if we want to be truthful we must include those words in any version of the Gospel we preach. To ignore them is not to tell the whole truth. Moreover, it is loving to our neighbours to alert them to the words which Jesus spoke. It is not loving to our neighbours to hide some of the things which Jesus said, for whatever motives. Now, God, in his mercy, will forgive us these sins if we commit them and repent of them. Mercy can only be granted to the repentant. So to obtain God’s mercy we must know what Jesus said and, if we have contravened what Jesus said we must be repentant. Now God’s mercy is far more important than any mercy we might show. But we also must be merciful towards those who ‘trespass against’ us.
The correct application of the article is this example…
If you see a woman entering the abortion clinic you should say the TRUTH “Your baby is alive and God commands you not to kill. Then say God LOVES your baby and has given you a new life to LOVE. Then say come over here and I will (MERCIFULLY) provide you with whatever you need for your baby to be born.
In the catechism, the paragraph starting with “God is Truth” precedes the paragraph starting with “God is Love”.
There is a right order that needs to be followed in terms of relationship as well. I like Bishop Sheen’s comments on this with Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. Jesus found the one thing he had in common with her, the love of a cool drink of water, and proceeded from there. He could not just open the conversation with the truth of her sins; he had to work up to it with the truth of what they had in common, that he understood her on a deeper level first, to gain her trust. We must approach evangelization this way; we must begin with what we have in common and move from there.
Thank you Msgr. for introducing to the discussion the concept of God being simple. I’ve only recently been introduced to the concept through study of Thomism. Indeed, although made in his image; we are not God. Humility, fitting to the limitations of rational physical creatures, accepts that truth precedes all distinctions.
I am mindful of the words of Hebrew 11:6
“For he that cometh to God must believe that he is;”
The ascent of faith to this proposition, this one overarching Truth that God is, becomes the basis for all that follows.
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