Truth — Superiority and Receptivity

Pope John Paul II says that a university, any university, should be characterized by the “joy of searching for, discovering and communicating truth in every field of knowledge.” This exultation of truth — “joy in truth” (gaudium de veritate) — leads us to St. Augustine. Blessed John Paul II cites Augustine in the second footnote of Ex corde, specifically he refers to Confessions X.23: “In fact, the blessed life consists in the joy that comes from the truth, since this joy comes from you who are Truth, God my light, salvation of my face, my God.”
The chapter in the Confessions is a very rich account of the meaning of joy in truth with many felicitous expressions of the same.  Augustine continues by saying “This is the happiness that all desire. All desire this, the only true state of happiness. All desire to rejoice in truth.”
The truth in which we rejoice as scholars and teachers is far more abundant than the specialized truth of a discipline, or the arcane truth of the brilliant scholar. It is the truth of creation, or the truth of God. We can rejoice in the search for and discovery of truth because any truth is a sign of the divine presence. That is the nub of the Augustinian way to God. As we turn from the exterior world to the interior world of mind, we must also trace our way from the inferior level of sense and imagination to the superior realm of truth. Truth is superior to our mind — it is unchanging and illuminating compared to our shifting and darkened imagination. So Truth is the first name of God in the Augustinian way of discovery.
For some readers the idea of a realm of truth above the mind, or a claim of truth to measure our judgment, sounds either dry or otiose. It is hard to fight the dictatorship of relativism on the flat ground of epistemology. We may need to look at our own disposition and method. Pope Benedict sheds a new light on the Augustinian way when he emphasizes the aspect of the gratuity of truth, that is the gift like character of truth. We must develop a receptive attitude and be ready to embrace what is given with joy. Here is Pope Benedict:

As the absolutely
gratuitous gift of God, hope bursts into our lives as something not due
to us,
something that transcends every law of justice. Gift by its nature goes
beyond
merit, its rule is that of superabundance. It takes first place in our
souls as
a sign of God’s presence in us, a sign of what he expects from us. Truth
— which
is itself gift, in the same way as charity — is greater than we are, as
Saint
Augustine teaches. Likewise the truth of ourselves, of our
personal
conscience, is first of all given to us. In every cognitive
process,
truth is not something that we produce, it is always found, or better,
received.
Truth, like love, “is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes
itself
upon human beings”. Caritas in veritate §34

The joy of discovery itself should highlight the objectivity of truth. We are surprised by joy insofar as we are surprised by truth.
Here is the footnote Pope Benedict provides, note that we are returned to Confessions X:

Saint Augustine expounds this teaching in detail in his dialogue
on free will (De libero arbitrio, II, 3, 8ff.). He indicates the
existence within the human soul of an “internal sense”. This sense
consists in
an act that is fulfilled outside the normal functions of reason, an act
that is
not the result of reflection, but is almost instinctive, through which
reason,
realizing its transient and fallible nature, admits the existence of
something
eternal, higher than itself, something absolutely true and certain. The
name
that Saint Augustine gives to this interior truth is at times the name
of God (Confessions
X, 24, 35
; XII, 25, 35; De libero arbitrio II, 3, 8), more
often that
of Christ (De magistro 11:38; Confessions VII, 18, 24; XI,
2, 4). footnote §88

So if we turn to Confessions X.35 Augustine says: “For I found my God, who is truth itself, where I found truth.” This is “my holy joy” he says.  Why is the quotidian truth so boring to us? Why is the scholar’s truth so dry for them? Why is education so utilitarian? Why is liberal education not ardently championed as our first and highest love, as Augustine burned for wisdom when he first read Cicero as a young man (“My heart began to throb with a bewildering passion for the wisdom of eternal truth” III.4)
It must be for the reason pointed out by Pope Benedict — we are activists and makers and we know not how to receive the gift. We must produce, consume, make, and earn. We do not look for the gift, we do not accept the gift, we do not acknowledge the gift. We are not receptive. To lack receptivity: “What a world of power unreported,” Rilke wrote.
After we went over this section of the Confessions, a student shared with me a poem from Rilke. He startled me into this deeper recognition of the need for receptivity — indeed, receptivity is the reverse side of superiority. Truth is superior to our mind, said Augustine. Receptivity unlocks a glorious world, Rilke echoes.

What a world of power unreported!
We, with our shows of violence, deceive.
Our lives are longer, but on, O, what plane
shall we at last grow open and receive?

(Sonnets To Orpheus Second Part, 5 (R. M. Rilke 1923) Translated J.B. Leishman. Here is the entire Sonnet:
Ever-opening anemone,
does that meadow-morning lap of yours
mean to catch the whole polyphony
that the singing light of heaven pours
on your starry flower, so distended
to receive as much as heaven gives,
that sometimes (such a fullness has descended),
sunset, with its mild imperatives,
almost fails to bend the too-retorted
edges of your petals back again?
What a world of power unreported!
We, with our shows of violence, deceive.
Our lives are longer, but on, O, what plane
shall we at last grow open and receive?

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