What is Truth?

Pontius Pilate (in)famously asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18.38)

Truth is one of the Quaker testimonies, and in his book Being a Quaker, Geoffrey Durham reminds us (p. 74) that the 17th century Quakers “called themselves Friends of Truth. Truth for them meant more than authenticity, integrity, or an absence of lying. It went deeper, to the very core of things: Truth with a capital ‘T’ acquired new meaning, expressing not only the word of God, but the Godliness in each of us.”

It seems to me that any truth we can tell depends upon another – there is a chain of dependency, and if you trace the real seaweed back to its holdfast, there is the rock. The rock rests on a beach… But at the least, truth is what actually is. As Thomas Aquinas said, “A judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality.” Anything less, like William James’ pragmatic theory of truth, would have received short shrift from George Fox and Margaret Fell, I think.

But suppose we were able to trace truth back, all the way down the chain of dependencies, holdfast to rock, rock to beach, to a final placeless place where its absolute existence depended upon nothing else. Wouldn’t that be Truth, worthy of its capital ‘T’? And if it were dependent upon nothing else, would it not be itself istigkeit, isness in itself existing beyond cause or condition? And what could we call it but God?

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