“I am the Truth”: Brief Catholic Ponderings on Truth

In a well-known passage, Jesus proclaims, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (Jn 14:6a) As with all the seven “I am” sayings recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus here is making a claim regarding His divinity. Indeed, three individual claims are expressed: namely, Jesus is declaring that He is the way, that He is the truth, and that He is the life.

At first glance, each of these three claims may appear simple. To be sure, the terms “way,” “truth,” and “life” seem reasonably straightforward. However, on further contemplation, each claim is profound. For instance, in saying that He is the way, Jesus asserts that He is the only way.1 He emphasizes this by plainly stating in the next sentence, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6b) Consequently, the implication is clear: every other path is ultimately a dead end. Similarly, in stating that He is the life, Jesus claims that He is life itself — to wit, its very source and aim. Hence, Jesus is not only Lord of eternal life (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 679), but as life itself offers it to the fullest (Jn 10:10). For Christians, this could perhaps explain why life is such a complex phenomenon and evades standard definition.2

Of course, this article is interested in the middle claim, that Jesus is the truth. Arguably, there cannot be any more critical or fundamental concept than truth, since “without the Truth, there is no knowing.”3 Indeed, without truth there is quite simply nothing — not even falsehood — only impenetrable darkness (cf. Jn 1:5). In what follows, this article provides certain brief insights on the concept of truth and its critical importance, and in turn, hopes to encourage deeper contemplation on Jesus as the Truth.

What is Truth?

During Jesus’ trial, Pilate notoriously asks, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38) For centuries, philosophers have been asking this same question. The importance of this question cannot be understated. As Plato remarks: “Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both to gods and men; and he who would be blessed and happy, should be from the first a partaker of the truth.”4

Philosophy offers various theories in an attempt to understand truth. Two of the best-known theories are the coherence theory and the correspondence theory. According to the coherence theory, truth consists in or is found via coherence with other ideas. That is, something (e.g., a statement) is considered true if it coheres with fellow notions within a conceptual framework — and false if it does not cohere.5 Hence, truth is not self-contained, as it were, but rather consists in its congruency with other concepts.6 This is akin to a jigsaw puzzle, where the truth of a piece is determined by seeing if it fits properly among the other pieces to form the intended bigger picture.

The coherence theory has its appeal, particularly when large and established conceptual frameworks are considered. For instance, within mathematics, physics, chemistry, and other modern sciences, ideas ought to cohere with each other. Indeed, the principle of non-contradiction suggests that this would be the case. However, the coherence theory also offers support to relativism since the framework could be any belief system. Thus, even a child’s make-believe world could be a potential framework, such that any fictional idea that is internally consistent within the fantasy realm would be considered true. This ultimately dilutes the whole concept of truth, to the point where there is no truth at all — the only “truth” being whatever one wishes to believe and is coherent with one’s relativistic worldview.

On the other hand, the correspondence theory provides a more objective approach. According to this theory, truth has a direct correspondence with the real world. In other words, truth entails a precise relationship with reality.7 A simple illustration of this theory is a map, where every indicated landmark accurately corresponds with an actual geographic landmark. Arguably, this approach to understanding truth is intuitive since truth surely ought to relate to the facts of how really things are.8

St. Thomas Aquinas espouses the correspondence theory when discussing truth. Indeed, he defines truth as “the conformity of intellect and thing.”9 In other words, truth is the accord of the intellect or mind with thing — i.e., reality or fact.10 It is noteworthy to observe that for Aquinas — following Aristotle11 — truth primarily resides in the intellect.12 So, to perceive the world accurately, as it really is, is to apprehend truth.

Moreover, since truth resides in the intellect, it resides par excellence in the intellect of God.13 This establishes a two-way street, so to speak, because “God created the world according to his wisdom.” (CCC 295) Consequently, things in creation — animate and inanimate — express truth inasmuch as they conform with God’s intellect. As Aquinas writes, “natural things are said to be true in so far as they express the likeness of the species that are in the divine mind.”14 Hence, the closer something conforms to the divine intellect, the more truth it expresses.15

The Need for Truth

Since without truth there is only impassable darkness, a profound need for truth exists. Therefore, it is only logical that human nature tends towards truth. (CCC 2467) The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, teaches that this tendency toward truth “is in accordance with [our human] dignity as persons — that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility.”16 For this reason, “all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth.”17 Simply put, people are required to seek truth and to live truthfully.

However, given that truth is the conformity of the intellect with thing, to live such a life of seeking and abiding by truth requires people to perceive the world as accurately as possible. Hence, people ought to be free to assimilate reality without duress or obfuscation from false ideology. As Dignitatis Humanae emphasizes, “men cannot discharge these obligations [. . .] unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion.”18 This is because “truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.”19

Truth is also needed so that people may live in harmony and according to justice. (CCC 2469) Indeed, truth is a prerequisite for love and trust among individuals. To cite St. Aquinas, “it would be impossible for men to live together, unless they believed one another, as declaring the truth one to another.”20 Similarly, since justice consists in rendering another their due (CCC 1807), it cannot function without truth prevailing. Thus, Aquinas states that “truth is a part of justice.”21

For these reasons, a guide to truth is necessary. To be sure, not only a guide that might suffer corruption or loss, but a person as a steadfast and perpetual exemplar of truth, someone to teach humanity the fullness of truth and demonstrate how to live in adherence to it. This is vital because of weakened human nature resultant from original sin which leads people to exchange “the truth about God for a lie.” (Rom 1:25) Subsequently, as Pope St. John Paul II points out in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, “Man’s capacity to know the truth is also darkened [. . .] Thus, giving himself over to relativism and scepticism.”22 Hence, someone — a person — is needed to teach mankind the truth. In this sense, the words of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:31 can be applied, “How can I find the truth, unless someone guides me?”

Jesus as the Truth

Of course, God would not leave mankind orphaned. (Jn 14:18) Instead, as John’s Gospel teaches, God sent in His light — “The true light, which enlightens everyone” (1:9) — to overcome the darkness. (1:5) This light of truth is Jesus Christ, for indeed He is “full of grace and truth” (1:14) such that both grace and truth come through Him. (1:17) As the Catechism expresses, “In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest.” (CCC 2466)

Biblically, the concept of truth is connected to how things really are, and thereby is often associated with the tenets of Jewish or Christian faith.23 Accordingly, Holy Scripture attests that God’s words (Prov 8:7) and laws (Ps 119:142) are true. Indeed, the whole of Scripture proclaims how God is the source of all truth. (CCC 2465) Hence, from a Christian perspective, truth can be understood as a correct apprehension of reality, either by an accurate perception of the world or made known by divine revelation.24

God as the source of all truth is, arguably, most powerfully demonstrated through the creation narrative. God created everything ex nihilo via His word. As Genesis states, God pronounced “Let there be” and it was. For instance, “God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) These pronouncements can be described as performative utterances. According to speech-act theory, a performative utterance is a statement that, rather than describing something, occasions it.25 That is, such statements perform actions, thereby altering reality (e.g., saying “I do” to accepting a spouse during a marriage ceremony). However, this is only possible if the person making the utterance has the appropriate power to effect the change.26 God, being the source of all truth, certainly has the power. Moreover, since truth is the conformity of the intellect and thing, creation conforms to God’s intellect and will. In this manner, reality and truth intersect.

Therefore, it is indicative that John’s Gospel begins with an echo of Genesis’ creation narrative. Indeed, Jesus Christ is the divine creative Word, through Whom “All things came into being.” (Jn 1:3) It is because He is truth that He has the power to create, thus conforming reality to His intellect and will. This is also evident throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry. Whenever He speaks, things happen — that is, His words are performative utterances.27 When He heals, He truly heals. (CCC 1503) When He forgives, He truly forgives. (CCC 1441) And when He says, “This is my body [. . .] this is my blood,” (Mt 26:26, 28; Mk 14:22, 24; Lk 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:24-25) the Eucharistic elements are truly transubstantiated into His body and blood. (CCC 1376) Jesus’ words and actions transform reality — indeed, restore reality and elevate it in accord with the truth.

To be sure, Jesus is not merely someone who teaches truth, but the truth itself. In Him, the Truth became flesh and dwelt among us. (cf. Jn 1:14) He affirms this by proclaiming “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (Jn 14:6) Thus, Jesus is the ultimate truthmaker. In philosophy, a truthmaker is that which makes something true. To wit, according to the truthmaker theory, things are not simply true but are made true by a fact or state of affairs.28 Specifically, since this theory emphasizes the relationship between truth and reality, a truthmaker, therefore, must have existence in reality.29

Hence, it is deeply significant that Jesus declares Himself as the Truth by means of an “I am” saying. In echoing Exodus 3:14 and ascribing the mystery contained in the divine name to Himself, Jesus is explicitly asserting His eternal and unchanging self-existence.30 He is the beginning and the end, (Rev 21:6, 22:13) and through Him all things are sustained by His powerful word (Heb 1:3) which is truth. Indeed, Jesus is Truth itself which upholds all of reality in existence. As such, He promises that all who believe in Him shall not remain in darkness. (Jn 12:46)


In an often-quoted passage, Jesus tells His disciples, “The truth will make you free.” (Jn 8:32) Therefore, given that the truth is the means to freedom, it is vitally important to know the Truth — that is, Jesus Christ and His church, the “the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (1 Tim 3:15) Accordingly, Christians are called to live in the Truth. (CCC 2470) By dispelling darkness, the truth sanctifies. (Jn 17:17) Indeed, only through imitating Christ, who is the Truth, can reality be seen as it truly is. Since truth is the conformity of the mind and thing, the mind of the Christian ought to be Christ-like. As St. Paul implores, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:5)

  1. Nicholas Thomas Wright, John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11–21 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 59.
  2. It should be noted that most attempts at defining “life” solely consider life from a biological perspective. Even so, no standard scientific definition of life can be agreed upon. From a theological viewpoint, the realm of life extends beyond the biological and thereby what science can observe. Hence, any truly comprehensive definition of life should ideally also encompass non-biological life (e.g., angels and God). For a detailed discussion on why “life” is challenging to define and on the ongoing scientific debate, please see: Carl Zimmer, Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive (New York: Dutton, 2021); for a short article, please see: JV Chamary, “What Is Life? And Why Is There Still No Definition?” in Forbes, 29 March 2021, www.forbes.com/sites/jvchamary/2021/03/29/what-is-life-definition.
  3. Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, trans. Aloysius Croft and Harold Bolton (Milwaukee, WI: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1940), III.56, 1.
  4. Plato, Laws, trans. Benjamin Jowett (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1892), V.730c. Emphasis added.
  5. Sybil Wolfram, “Coherence Theory of Truth,” in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 2nd ed., ed. Ted Honderich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 148.
  6. James O. Young, “The Coherence Theory of Truth,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, last modified 26 June 2018, accessed 6 July 2022, plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-coherence/.
  7. Marian David, “The Correspondence Theory of Truth,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, last modified 28 May 2015, accessed 6 July 2022, plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-correspondence/.
  8. Bede Rundle, “Correspondence Theory of Truth,” in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 2nd ed., ed. Ted Honderich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 178.
  9. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1921), Ia, q. 16, a. 2, co.
  10. John Young, The Scope of Philosophy (Leominster, UK: Gracewing, 2010), 232.
  11. See Aristotle, Metaphysics, VI.1027b.
  12. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, q. 16, a. 1, co.
  13. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, q. 16, a. 5, co.
  14. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, q. 16, a. 1, co.
  15. Edward Feser, Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide (London: Oneworld Publications, 2015), 33–34.
  16. Vatican Council II, Dignitatis Humanae, Declaration on Religious Freedom (7 December 1965), n. 2.
  17. Vatican Council II, Dignitatis Humanae, n. 2.
  18. Vatican Council II, Dignitatis Humanae, n. 2.
  19. Vatican Council II, Dignitatis Humanae, n. 1.
  20. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, IIa–IIæ, q. 109, a. 3, ad. 1.
  21. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, IIa–IIæ, q. 109, a. 3, co.
  22. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, Encyclical Letter (1993), n. 1.
  23. Scott Hahn, ed., Catholic Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 2009), s.v. “Truth.”
  24. Hahn, ed., Catholic Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Truth.”
  25. Jennifer Hornsby, “Linguistic Acts,” in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 2nd ed., ed. Ted Honderich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 521.
  26. Douglas Mangum and Wendy Widder, “Speech-Act Theory,” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), n.p.
  27. Raquel S. Lettsome, “Mark,” in Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The New Testament, ed. Margaret Aymer, Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, and David A. Sánchez (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2014), 177.
  28. Simon Blackburn, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), s.v. “Truthmaker Principle.”
  29. Edward Jonathan Lowe, “Truth,” in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 2nd ed., ed. Ted Honderich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 927.
  30. Jeffery E. Miller, “I Am Sayings,” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), n.p.
Eric Manuel Torres About Eric Manuel Torres

Eric Manuel Torres is a Catholic moral theologian and bioethicist with a background in health care. Based in Melbourne, Australia, he is currently completing a doctorate (PhD) from Catholic Theological College/University of Divinity. He holds a Bachelor of Health Sciences and a Master of Orthoptics from La Trobe University, a Master of Nursing Science from the University of Melbourne, a Graduate Diploma of Theology and a Master of Theological Studies from Catholic Theological College/University of Divinity, and a Graduate Certificate of Specialist Inclusive Education from Deakin University. He also holds a Certificate III in Business Administration.


  1. Avatar Tom Showerman says:

    Dear Eric,

    By the grace of God and your cooperation, you are a gifted writer. I pray that this article and God willing, more to come are widely published.

    Sincerely in Christ,
    Tom Showerman

    • Avatar Eric Manuel Torres says:

      Dear Tom Showerman,
      Thank your for your blessing and your encouraging words.
      God bless you!
      Eric Manuel Torres

  2. So, does the Roman Catholic Church possess the truth or not? Is it the guardian of the truth or not?

All comments posted at Homiletic and Pastoral Review are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative and inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.

Speak Your Mind