Search Out and Know the Truth


By LORD HALIFAX, British Ambassador to the United States

Delivered at Laval University, Quebec, Canada, on the occasion of his receiving an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, May 29, 1943,Broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 549-552.

EVERYONE who has imagination or loves history will always be happy if kindly fortune brings him to Quebec. For here, more than 300 years ago, by the side of this great river, much that was finest and best in France was planted. Here it took root and flowered; and here it still lives as one of the glories of this great Dominion.

But much as I have welcomed other occasions whichhave brought me to Quebec, I particularly value this visitfor the honor I have today received at the hands of theRector of this University. I appreciate highly the privilege of being enrolled as a member of your Society; I recognize that the distinction so accorded is a tribute to the British people, for whom in the capacity of His Majesty's representative I am proud to speak in the United States; and as Chancellor of Oxford, I thank you for the token of friendship that this degree will signify between your University and my own. I am glad to think that only a few months ago Oxford did honor to itself by bestowing a similar degree upon His Eminence, the late Cardinal Hinsley, who gave to his fellow countrymen so notable an example of the highest leadership.

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Such bonds are indeed the outward expression of that essential unity of purpose which must govern and inspire the work of every true university. That work may be carried on by means of many and diverse instruments, but the purpose never changes, and can never be less than the training of the human mind to search out and to know the truth.

No service is more necessary; there is none that demands greater devotion from its servants. They must have patience, perseverance, and, above all, integrity, proof against all temptations which might distract them from their pledged task. For those who serve truth serve a mistress who will brook no rival. Truth must always be a goal in itself, and he who seeks truth must follow wherever the search may lead.

In theology, in science, in history, in sociology, in every department of learning, he must pursue truth with single-minded and intense resolve, and guard with jealous care any fraction of the whole that he may apprehend. And all this, because he believes truth to be the ultimate foundation of all life.

Yes: the pursuit of truth makes tremendous demands upon human capacity and thought. Because the demands are high, those who accept them must be prepared for a hard pilgrimage. Nor may they hope that honesty of purpose will secure them from misconception and attack. Opposition will come not merely from those who dislike truth because it is inconvenient to their interests, but also from those who dislike it, because it is inconvenient to their ideas.

History has shown repeatedly how easily men assume not only that their particular approach to the basic problems of life is the best, but that there is no other. They are not content to have a key; they must have the world acknowledge it as the only key. And the world, which longs to see the door of life's mysteries unlocked, turns to them for a time in hope, and then away from them in disappointment.

In the 18th century the French encyclopaedists taught that reason, pure and untrammelled, was the sure solvent of all human ills. By reason, and by reason alone, they argued, would men reach the truth. And so for a while in France the Revolution worshipped reason, enthroning that cold deity on its empty altars.

Similarly, the 19th century saw the attempt to restrict truth within the limits of what was susceptible to scientific proof. Once more it was not enough merely to make a claim: it was necessary also to exclude. Thus many men of science found themselves perforce in controversy withthose who felt that human approach to truth could not beso confined.Yet, as we now see, the conflict between science and religion lacked reality, since it was waged between a conception of science which modern scientists would not acknowledge and a religious attitude which was not based on truetheological interpretation. For it is one of the first principles of religion to welcome careful search for truth, and a cardinal rule of science to despise or neglect no facts, however difficult or inconvenient.

If, therefore, that conflict has been happily resolved, it is partly because the assertions of Christian theology are better understood, and partly because, matter having acquired a new significance, science has ceased in the old sense to be materialist. The physicist's study of the nature of the universe in terms of higher mathematics has at least discouraged him from making dogmatic pronouncements about its origin. He may not accept all the reasoning and the conclusions of theology, but at least he admits that there is such a science and that it is entitled to be heard.

The effects of this change in attitude have been only gradually apparent. The arguments and discoveries of learning take time to penetrate the crust of accepted thought and to become part of the common stock of knowledge; but once there they are not easily dislodged. "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge."

Moreover, slow as such processes may be, we realize more readily today that religion and science are concerned to answer different questions. Religion answers "why" and science answers "how"; and these questions are complementary, and not in opposition, to each other.

There is also increasing appreciation of the fact that intellectual reactions, important though they be, are not the sole or the ultimate determinants of spiritual truth—in other words, that reason and science are not the only avenues by which truth may be approached. Men reach many of their most profound perceptions through the vehicle of poetry, art or music.

We may explore the mechanics of the instrument employed without thereby arriving at any explanation of the secret. A man may master the technique of Shakespeare or Milton, but will still be totally incapable of writing "Hamlet" or "Paradise Lost." He may be able to analyze all the pigments of a painting, but is no nearer for that to explaining why one picture is a masterpiece and the other remains a daub. Robert Browning, in his great poem, "Abt Vogler," develops the same idea when he describes how the musician is enabled "out of three sounds to frame, not a fourth sound, but a star."

Science and logic are of course indispensable, but they have little share in determining many of the most important of men's actions. No test-tube or retort can teach a man how and with whom to fall in love. No laborious mental process brings him to the rescue of a companion on the point of drowning. It is from no syllogism that he draws the inspiration to self-sacrifice on the field of battle.

Here are mysteries which we must acknowledge, but cannot explain. They are mysteries which will always baffle human attempts to claim for science or logic a monopoly of truth, as they baffled the encyclopaedists of the 18th century and the scientists of the 19th.

And, which is the greatest thing of all, it remains true that beyond the explorations of science or the speculations of philosophy, the human instinct still humbly or blindly gropes its way towards a God, and is unsatisfied when it cannot find him.

There has never yet been a movement to destroy Christianity, which, sooner or later, has not found itself obliged to face the necessity of trying to find something to replace it. Just as the revolutionaries in 1789 tried to install the Goddess of Reason in the place of God, the advocates of Communism have attempted to meet the needs of men by an unsatisfying abstraction of "social collectivity."

That longer, if less violent, and less visible, attrition of Christian belief during the last 100 years has been attended by similar results. The destroyers themselves are puzzled. They have taken something away, but they then realize that they have to fill its place, and that they have nothing with which to fill it. The more thoughtful of them begin to view their handiwork with anxiety, if not as yet with complete understanding. It is as though a child had removed the mainspring from a watch and wondered why the watch no longer goes.

No Christian indeed can contemplate the present disorders of the world without feeling how largely they are the outcome of the continuous erosion to which the Christian traditions of society—in art, culture, laws, literature, and family life—have been subjected. This is not the place to analyze the symptoms or the stages of this change; but the cumulative effect of this mass movement of thought away from old anchorages has been very great.

Not least upon man's conception of himself; for truly has it been said that wherever we find a false idea about men, its origin lies in a false idea of God.

That is certainly the case with the Nazi philosophy, the culmination of this destructive process. Nazism asserts, in the words of Hitler himself, "the saving doctrine of the nothingness and insignificance of the individual human being." But this doctrine, with all its catastrophic implications, is only the corollary of the Nazi deification of the State. For where the State is everything, the individual is and can be nothing. In this latest and most formidable challenge to Christian philosophy, the State becomes the final repository of truth and moral law; a usurpation that no Christian may accept.

With rare courage the Bishop of Berlin reviewed those grave matters last Christmas in a pastoral letter to the faithful of his diocese. "The moment mankind," he wrote, "—whether as individuals, as larger communities, or as nations—no longer feels bound by an immutable, eternal law, the results can only be strife and discord, hatred and disunion, disorder and chaos." Conversely, he added, "The acknowledgment of the sovereign rights of God vouchsafes to the individual, to the family and to the State the right to which each is entitled."

The whole of this argument, which I have ventured briefly to develop, seems relevant to the work of a university such as this. The year 1852 when your Royal Charter was signed by Queen Victoria, was that in which John Henry Newman published his essay on "The Idea of a University." He discussed his subject of course in terms of his own time; yet so deep did he penetrate beneath the surface of things that, writing in 1852, he seems alive today; a redoubtable champion of Christian principles against contemporary evils.

Today we see in retrospect what 100 years ago was only a foreboding—the disastrous consequences in many countries of education unsupported by, and even forcibly divorced from, religion. Newman was at pains to convince his generation that such a system was not only futile but fraught with grave danger to society. Acutely aware of mat peril to western civilization which accompanied the rapid increase and consequent specialization of knowledge, he foresaw that the human mind would be plunged in chaos if it were unhappily deprived of some general principle of interpretation.

This, he insisted, theology alone could give. And he argued that theology, so far from restricting knowledge or limiting our horizon, was the true inspiration of all our learning. Now, with slow and halting steps, the world returns to the wisdom of Newman—that "religious truthis not only a presentation, but a condition of general knowledge."

There is ground for hope that the importance of religion in education is now winning a greater measure of recognition. In a recent article on "Religion in National Life" which aroused widespread interest, the London Times said: "The truth is, that religion must form the very basis of any education worth the name, and that education with religion omitted is not real education at all . . . For many years we have been living on spiritual capital, on traditions inherited from the past, instead of providing for the future. Christianity cannot be imbibed from the air. It is not a philosophy, but a historic religion which must dwindle unless the facts upon which it is founded are taught, and such teaching made the center of our educational system. . ."

For if Christianity be true at all, it is the most vital and important thing in the whole world, and its dominion for those who accept it, must be universal. They must work to make their own lives, however dimly, a reflection of the life and teaching of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, and they must constantly seek to fashion the kingdom of this world more and more in the likeness of the Kingdom of God.

It is this which gives importance to the joint letter signed by the late Cardinal Hinsley, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Moderator of the Free Church Council at the end of 1940, enumerating the principles on which a lasting peace could be established and emphasizing afresh the necessity for all countries of a just foundation for their social life.

It would seem to follow that in the domestic field of a country, which wishes to keep its civilization Christian, there is no more urgent task in these days than to restore Christian education to the place it ought never to have lost. So only can it hope to make its contribution to the securing of the application of what are essentially Christian principles both at home and in the larger world without.

To a greater extent than is commonly remembered, the social order of Great Britain, like that of other Western nations, is the child of Christian thought and of a desire to make that thought effective. It carries many marks of its Christian origin. The story of social progress that my people experienced in the last century is one of wide change, which it is easy enough to take for granted, forgetting the forces that produced it.

Yet it was plainly Christianity which inspired the work of such a man as Lord Shaftesbury, who spent his long life fighting some of the more cruel results of the industrial revolution, translating the spirit of social justice into legislative form. And it was the violation of Christian principles which stirred the soul of Charles Dickens into writing hooks that burnt the shame of social evils into men's hearts as the reports of a hundred Royal Commissions could never have done.

All this has meant, and still means, much. But no nation, any more than any individual, can live indefinitely upon capital of which he has been fortunate enough to be the heir. That is what most of us have been trying to do, and in mating the attempt have been denying ourselves and others access to the essential source of strength and health. The world today is full of tragedy. But perhaps one of its greatest tragedies often goes unnoticed and unmarked.

This is the unconscious hunger and thirst of millions for something which they could be totally incapable of putting into words, but which they passionately need. Or, if they could give words to their hunger, as Mr. Alfred Noyes has reminded us, they might indeed say with the women atthe sepulchre: "They have taken away Our Lord . . . and we know not where they have laid Him." If man's awareness of his own insufficiency were thus made articulate, he would understand that his real need was a knowledge how to open his heart to God in prayer.

Prayer, through which at all times and in all places men may speak to God, with complete assurance of perfect understanding. Prayer, by which men may feel their own weakness made strong by the support of God's sovereign power.

Prayer, by which all human fears, failures, anxieties, sorrows can be brought to the foot of the Cross, and made one with the great redemptive act that the Cross commemorates. Prayer, by which man's fondest hopes for the future of a tormented world may be joined to God's perfect wisdom. Prayer by which those at home may feel near to those far away, with whom they know they are knit close in the all-embracing love of God. Prayer, in which day by day we commend the souls of brave men who have died for their country—into the hands of an all-knowing and merciful God.

Small wonder if men and women everywhere are unsatisfied and ill at ease, since in their hour of greatest need they have lost that which was indeed their birthright—the knowledge of how to pray.

Yet, amid all the sorrow and darkness of these times there is consolation. The example alone of heroism, not merely as an abstract idea, but as it appears in thousands of lives, brings with it the certainty that man has renounced the philosophy which paralysed so much literature and art in the pre-war world. Truly, as day by day we see acts of willing self-sacrifice and self-surrender, we can make new application of those jesting words: "He saved others, himself he cannot save."

Our minds it is true, are now fixed upon the disastrous results of an evil choice. None the less it is the freedom of man's will which is being vindicated, and the manifold sufferings that we endure to prevent the domination of evilare a dramatic repudiation of ignoble creeds. We can, therefore, turn with firm confidence from the temporary triumphs of the evil-doer to the unshaken faith and hope with which the saints have enriched our world.

Just as the stars seem brightest in the blackest night, so in the darkest periods of history the examples of the saints stand out more plainly for our guidance.

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In contrast to those who have brought such misery upon the world, we rightly revere such a man as he in whose honor this University was founded. Abandoning no mean worldly position at the most magnificent period of French history, he held fast to his vocation, and from 1655-58 prepared himself for his life's work in solitude at the Hermitage of Caen. Appointed Vicar Apostolic of New France in 1658, he spent his long life in work, boundless charity to the poor, and personal mortification and penance

Certainly the venerable Francois de Montmorency Laval, First Bishop of Quebec, is worthy to be called the Apostle of French Canada. He, and such as he, are not creatures of chance. They are indeed set in this world by the hand of God for the enlightening of His people. By their light we discern in true perspective the littleness of those who now bend all their efforts to blot out Christian civilization, and can see how transitory are those triumphs, that might seem to human judgment so tremendous.

And in that light, through all perils and perplexities, if we humbly consecrate all we have to give and try to do to the service of God's will, we may feel complete assurance that those men, who have so sorely scourged the world shall pass like an evil dream.

"I myself have seen the ungodly in great power: . . . I went by, and lo, he was gone: I sought him, but his placecould nowhere be found. Keep innocency, and take heed unto the thing that is right: For that shall bring a man peace at the last."