This past weekend a fellow convert asked me why I became Catholic. I quickly answered, “Because it is true.” Of course that didn’t really answer his question, as he wanted to know the specific things that drew me to Catholicism. So I gave him an abbreviated form of my conversion story.
But the answer “because it is true” is the fundamental reason why I became Catholic. And there is no better patron saint for this reason for conversion than today’s saint, St. Justin Martyr. Justin was a pagan philosopher who jumped from one philosophy to another in pursuit of the truth. This fundamental longing for truth is something that has been missing from much of modern philosophical studies, and in modern society in general. At the beginning of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, the senior demon Screwtape writes,
MY DEAR WORMWOOD,
I note what you say about guiding our patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naïf? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” of “false”, but as “academic” or “practical”, “outworn” or “contemporary”, “conventional” or “ruthless”. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.
The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real”.
It seems like the work of Hell has been largely successful today: the pursuit of objective truth has become unfashionable in most circles, as whatever someone believes is “true for them” and not really relevant to daily life anyway.
Yet St. Justin lived in a different era, and he was a passionate about pursuing the truth, wherever it might lead him. When he eventually encountered the “philosophy” of Christianity, he recognized that the truth was not a concept or philosophy, but a person: Jesus Christ. And although he was a philosopher, he was not drawn to Christianity merely by intellectual arguments, but also by the witness of the martyrs, whose love of the Truth led to their heroic deaths. St. Justin himself ended up following their witness, which is why he is remembered as St. Justin Martyr.
St. Justin Martyr, pray for us!