The four stumbling blocks to truth:
- The influence of fragile or unworthy authority
- The imperfection of undisciplined senses
- Concealment of ignorance by ostentation of seeming wisdom.
For more years than I can count, these beautifully calligraphed four stumbling blocks to truth have been displayed prominently in a simple bronze frame, protected by glass. My friend Kathy and I memorized this list, making use of one or more during our frequent philosophic discussions. Laughing at the one who nailed the problem and pointed out the flaw in reasoning. Stunned at the universality with which one or more of the stumbling blocks nailed an error in our logic.
We were hungry for knowledge, not just knowledge, we wanted wisdom, impossibly young, considered ourselves atheists and were studying at Dominican College in Houston while working in the cardiac surgical ICU at St. Luke’s Hospital in Houston. Our friendship happened by default. She was from New York, I from Boston. Our accents, personalities, and ambition were jarring when compared with those of the native Texas nurses we worked with- we stood out.
Kathy had been brought up as a Catholic, I as an Episcopalian.
We’d each rejected our religions for similar reasons. The irony of our attraction to the education offered at the orthodox Dominican College was not lost on us. In fact, looking back through the blurry lens of so many years, I suspect that this shared yearning for wisdom was the beginning of our return to the God we had walked away from.
In an English class, we both took, Carl Sandburg’s only novel, Remembrance Rock was assigned. Kathy and I loved it. Mostly because of those four stumbling blocks to truth. I cried when she presented me with her graduation gift. She was a talented artist so gifted that the college wanted to send her to Florence to study. But she refused the scholarship. Afraid, I believe, that the carefully assembled walls of her unbelief would topple.
I have lost touch with Kathy. Despite countless attempts to find her, I have been unable to. But her gift, those fervent conversations, shared passion for truth are among my most precious memories.
- I wonder if her search brought her back to God as it did me.
- I wonder if the wisdom- the sheer utility of those four stumbling blocks to truth still astound her.
- And I wonder if her smile is rueful -even sorrowful- as she ponders these words written close to one thousand years ago by another seeker of truth.
- If, like me, she is dumbstruck at the power of Franciscan monk Roger Bacon’s timeless precepts:
The Four Stumbling Blocks to Truth
The influence of fragile or unworthy authority
The imperfection of undisciplined senses
Concealment of ignorance by ostentation of seeming wisdom.