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The idea conceived by man being relative as regards other ideas, is determined by the point at which the mind is situated, in the same manner as the position of the body on the globe determines the zenith; complete verity therefore to man will consist in the synthesis of all relations, that is to say, in the simultaneous admission of all ideas, conciliating thus all intellectual antipodes. Every idea seeing naturally an inverse idea—head downwards—must rectify its ocular mistake by considering the ideal of universal gravitation, whence all are visible in their totality, all in their true directions, and none as negations and errors.
Lactantius approached this sublime truth, as may be judged from the following passage. “It is,” says he; “ because the philosophers have not been able to establish this body of doctrine, that they have misunderstood the Truth. It is not that they did not see and develop the majority of those things of which this body of doctrine is composed”— he refers to the Catholic faith ;"but that each of them enunciated and established them in a different manner. None of them bound them together, bringing together causes and effects, principles and consequences. All gave themselves up to a blind and insensate passion for contradiction. . . . If among them there had arisen a man wise enough to gather up into one all the scattered verities, and to shape them into one body, his doctrine would have been entirely conformable to ours; but that could only be done by him who possessed the true science; and the true science belongs alone to those whom God Himself has designed to instruct.” 1
Four men stand gazing at a statue; one is before it, another behind it, the other two occupy opposite sides. The first observes two eyes, a nose and a mouth. The second sees neither eyes nor nose nor mouth, but the back parts. The other two see each a different eye and ear and half a mouth.
* De Vitâ Beatâ, lib. vii. 7.
If we collect the observations of all four men, we obtain a pretty complete idea of the whole statue ; but the view of each, by himself, is partial, true in itself, but false if that which is partial be assumed to be the entire truth. So is it with absolute verity. Every one of us contemplates it from a different standpoint and with different perspective. No man is able to embrace at once and in all its aspects that truth or perfection which is infinite, because he himself is a finite being, and he sees only a corner, an angle corresponding to his moral, intellectual or æsthetical predispositions. For him that is truth, and that alone; and as every man differs from every one else in his predispositions, whether native or acquired, every one beholds a different phase, and pretends that his own visual angle is the entire plan, and that one detail is the totality of the statue.
What then is Error? It is nothing per se. It is the opposition of one relative truth against another to the exclusion of the latter.
Man has no knowledge of things except by the thoughts present to his mind; that is, he can only know what is thinkable.
The only knowledge man has of his thoughts is by their expression, consequently, every material being that can be conceived by the mind exists or can exist. He may imagine what is incongruous, as the sphinx. But his imagination is a piecing together of realities, not a creation out of nothing.
Every intellectual idea, therefore, which is or may be named, either is or may be; and all the philosophers the
world has produced may be defied to figure or name an impossible idea; for, how can that which is not nor can be, how, I ask, can it be represented or rendered present by name or figure ?
Therefore, all the thoughts of men are true, or representatives of things that are.
As Bossuet well observes : “Everything which can be understood is true. When one is deceived, it is that one does not understand. The false, which, in itself, is nothing, is neither understood nor is it intelligible. Truth is that which is the false is that which is not. One can easily understand that which is, but it is impossible to understand that which is not. We believe at times that we do understand it, and this it is precisely which constitutes error; but, in fact, we do not understand it, for it has no existence.” 1
Three men, A, B, and C, find a rose. A is colour-blind, B has no sense of smell, and C has lost all feeling in his hands. A affirms of the flower that it is fragrant, softpetalled, and has a rough, thorny stem. B asserts that the rose has a rich crimson colour, but contradicts the statement of A that it has a scent. C declares that it has neither softness nor roughness, and A interposes to deny the assertion of B that the rose has colour.
A bystander, who is blind, or does not happen to see the object of discussion, concludes that as three men mutually contradict each other in every particular, the rose has no existence.
Now the idea conceived by A was true as far as it went, but it did not extend to the perception of those several verities which were asserted by B and C. And so of the other two. Consequently each was true in what he as
* De la Connaissance de Dieu et de Soi-même, c. i. sec. 16.