Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Goddess Veritas

The statue of Veritas outside the Supreme Court of Canada

A couple of days ago, a Dominican sister asked our community (a Blackberry Messenger-based group consisting of sisters, friars, and lay people) about any possible origin of the slogan "Veritas", besides its obvious meaning as "truth". Intrigued by her question, I browsed the web and found some interesting stories about the goddess Veritas based on Greco-Roman mythology.

Roman mythology holds that Veritas was the daughter of Saturn (Time) and the mother of Virtue. She was by nature elusive. In art, Veritas is portrayed as a young virgin dressed in white. It is said that she likes to hide in the bottom of a holy well where she could not be found without considerable expense in time and purpose for those bent on discovering her whereabouts and character.

The Greek counterpart of Veritas is Aletheia (Αλεθεια), also means "truth". The Greeks—bless them!—offer a deeper reflection of the word: "aletheia" is constructed from the prefix "a-" that signifies negation, added to "letheia" which alludes to "that being hidden or forgotten". So "aletheia" literally means the unhidden, the remembered, the unveiled. However, the concept of truth in the Greek mind is largely subjective, that is, truth is a matter of perception by the one who sees. This is clearly an incomplete understanding because we as Christians know that objective truth does exist. We of course cannot blame the Greeks since supernatural, objective, divine Truth must first be revealed.

The great philosopher Aristotle defined Αλεθεια in this wise: "To say of what is that it is, and of what is not, that it is not, is true." Therefore, truth does not only concern knowledge and facts, but also harmony and, by extension, purity and beauty (maybe it's not a coincidence after all the goddess wears white!). The Catechism defines the pure of heart as referring to "those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God's holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith." We see here that in purity, there is harmony between oneself and God, between one's intellect and will to those of God. The pure of heart can clearly see—and is not afraid to proclaim—truths such as others being his neighbours, sins and human concupiscence, and the signs of the times. Truth, then, is also related to the small harmonies of life: between prayer life and active life, and between speech, thoughts, and deeds. It is no wonder that the Pharisaic man can be said as lying to others and to himself! Additionally, Thomistic beauty consists of integritas (integrity, wholeness), consonantia (harmony), and claritas (clarity); more on this later.

Also interesting to note that "aletheia" can also mean "the remembered". So truth connects to memory. This concept is obvious in terms of, say, witnessing to a criminal case. But can we also say that Original Sin distorts or clouds our "memory" of divine truths, of infused knowledge? Perhaps we can say that—to a certain extent—the man living in sin is a man who has forgotten; the man living in the state of grace is a man who is starting to remember; and finally, the saints are the ones who have fully remembered. If this could be so, then divine revelation—the truth—is like a reminder of that ancient infused knowledge that man used to possess, and will possess again, if he accepts the revealed truth and live accordingly.

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