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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP: A ‘post-truth’ world?

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Archbishop Fisher blesses the parents and students of Hartford College. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Archbishop Fisher blesses the parents and students of Hartford College. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

This is an edited text of the address given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP for the Blessing and Opening of Hartford College, Daceyville, on 3 February 2023.

In 2016 the Oxford family of dictionaries crowned “post-truth” as Word of the Year. The judges said the word had surged in popularity thanks to growing reliance upon the social media as people’s source of information and declining trust in traditional sources and even in the very idea of objectivity.

Post-truth is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” and refers people to the parallel entries for “truthiness” (“the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true”) and “fake news” (“news that conveys or incorporates false, fabricated, or deliberately misleading information” or is said to).

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In an age when people talk about “your truth” and “my truth” as if it’s all a matter of private interpretation or public opinion, and when many think truth is illusory and truth-claims manipulation, it might well seem we have entered the realm of post-truth.

Well, maybe. Of course, truth has been a bone of contention since the beginning of time. Philosophers, poets, oracles, artists, teachers, and other ‘ancient influencers’ argued passionately about truth and considered its pursuit among the most noble or most pointless projects we can undertake. In the New Testament when Jesus said it mattered enough to die for, the Roman governor mockingly asked: “Truth? What’s that?” (Jn 18:38).

Yet Christianity (like so much else) is premised on there being a physical, moral and spiritual reality, accessible to reason, and purified and elevated by faith. Grasping, articulating and living the truth is not always easy; it can be challenging and require of us a deep intellectual, moral and spiritual conversion. There is plenty of scope for investigation and debate, as no-one has all the truth and we are all learning till our last breath and beyond. But some readings of reality are plain false and some truer than others.

So much of the Church’s life only makes sense against that background: its doctrines and great teachers, its missionary and catechetical endeavours, its invention of universities and support for research institutions, its running the oldest and largest system of primary and secondary schools in the world.

In his great encyclicals Veritatis Splendor (1993) and Fides et Ratio (1998) St John Paul the Great expounded on why this is so important. His central idea was that our minds are made for truth and nothing less will ultimately satisfy them.

There is a reality to be grasped and a sense of recognition, liberation, even delight, when we grasp it; it has implications for our subsequent actions, and deep within us is an unrelenting yearning to find it. Being deceived is not a healthy situation for a human being (cf. 1Jn 1:6-8). Truth goes to the very core of what it is to be a human person.

Archbishop Fisher joined students, parents, teachers and politicians for the opening of Hartford College, Daceyville. The school’s motto ‘Dare to Think, Dare to Know’ captures the pursuit of truth with courage, passion and adventure. Photo: Giovanni Portelli.
Archbishop Fisher joined students, parents, teachers and politicians for the opening of Hartford College, Daceyville. The school’s motto ‘Dare to Think, Dare to Know’ captures the pursuit of truth with courage, passion and adventure. Photo: Giovanni Portelli.

But as Catholics we also don’t just believe in truth as a set of facts or concepts rendered into propositions, let alone that as a series of moods or hunches. Nor is it all the information collected in the British Library or on Google. Christians believe truth is also and first a person, God Himself, and our truths a participation in Him. In the New Testament, truth is associated especially with Christ and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the, Thought, Argument or Song of God, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:1-17); He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6; cf. Eph 4:21).

For this was He “came into the world: to testify to the truth; and all who are on the side of Truth listen to” Him (Jn 18:37; cf. 8:31-32). The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of Truth”, who leads the disciples “into all truth”. And by word and sacraments we are sanctified in and dedicated to the truth. Some truth at least comes to us from a place infinitely more trustworthy than Google, Wikipedia, Tik-Tok or even the Oxford English Dictionary—from God Himself.

What does all of this mean for the first teachers and students at Hartford College? Well, in addition to being pioneers in this institution, you are part of a long line of truth-seekers, of virtue-cultivators and faithful-disciples. With the guidance of your dedicated teachers, mentors and parents, you will share in the fruits of a liberal arts education, one informed by faith and reason and the best of our civilisation, and so be given the greatest chance to flourish as a human person.

Some people think schooling is just about attending, passing exams, being university- and job-ready at the end, and hopefully making a matzah afterwards. And, sure, jobs and incomes matter. But alone they don’t make you happy.

To flourish as human beings, we need sound purpose and good will, a grasp of reality and its opportunities, a subtle heart and critical intellect with which to assess all we perceive or are told, a broad and eternal perspective. We need to acquire facts and skills, but we also need a deeper wisdom to make sense of and apply those facts and skills.

So I hope this school will not just make you as intellectually and aesthetically brilliant as you have the potential to be, but make you all-rounders also, whose athletic, social, moral and spiritual potential are also developed. I look to the College to work with its students and families to make you heroes who serve and make a difference; who love and articulate the truth; who live by your principles, shunning evil and pursuing good; who protect the vulnerable and serve the common good; and who enjoy “the good life” in the classical and Christian conceptions.

In other words, I look to Hartford College to produce the saints Sydney needs in this 21st Century! As a school that seeks educational, moral and spiritual excellence, I believe it will fast gain a name for itself, grow in enrolments, and fill a long vacant niche. Dare to Think, Dare to Know—this fits in well with the idea of pursuing truth with courage, passion, a sense of adventure.

I ask the teachers, students, mentors and families to give yourselves to that great adventure, never truncating it by pursuing the easy or fashionable but untrue. And the One who is Truth itself will be by your side and in your heart, and the rewards far outweigh the struggles. May the Spirit of Truth be with you always. I now declare Hartford College officially open!

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