Romano Guardini (17 February 1885, Verona – 1 October 1968, Munich) was a Catholic priest, author, and academic. He was one of the most important figures in Catholic intellectual life in the 20th century. In 1923 he was appointed to a chair in Philosophy of Religion at the University of Berlin. In the 1935 essay “Der Heiland” (The Saviour) he criticized Nazi mythologizing of the person of Jesus and emphasized the Jewishness of Jesus. The Nazis forced him to resign from his Berlin position in 1939. From 1943 to 1945 he retired to Mooshausen, where his friend Josef Weiger had been parish priest since 1917. In 1945 Guardini was appointed professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Tübingen and resumed lecturing on the Philosophy of Religion. In 1948, he became professor at the University of Munich, where he remained until retiring for health reasons in 1962.
As a philosopher he founded no “school”, but his intellectual disciples could in some sense be said to include Josef Pieper, Luigi Giussani, Felix Messerschmid, Heinrich Getzeny, Rudolf Schwarz, Jean Gebser, Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), and Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis). In the 1980s Pope Francis began work on a doctoral dissertation on Guardini, though the decision to take a doctorate was later abandoned for other reasons. Even Hannah Arendt and Iring Fetscher were favorably impressed by his work.
He had a strong influence in Central Europe; in Slovenia, for example, an influential group of Christian socialists, among whom Edvard Kocbek, Pino Mlakar, Vekoslav Grmič and Boris Pahor, incorporated Guardini’s views in their agenda. Slovak philosopher and theologian Ladislav Hanus was strongly influenced in his works by Guardini, whom he met personally, and promoted his ideas in Slovakia.
A virtue which has suffered great damage in our day is truthfulness, which, taken in its widest interpretation, includes also the love of truth, and the will that truth should be recognized and accepted.
First, truthfulness means that the speaker should say what is so, as he sees and understands it, and that he should express what is in his mind. Under certain circumstances, this may be difficult, and may even cause annoyance, harm, and danger.
But our conscience reminds us that truth is an obligation, that it is something absolute and sublime. It is not something of which we may say, “You may tell it if it is convenient for you or serves some purpose,” but, “When you speak, you must tell the truth, not abbreviate it or change it. You must tell it absolutely, simply — unless the situation urges you to be silent or you can evade a question in a decent and proper way.”
But apart from this, our whole existence depends upon truth. We shall say more about this later. The relations of people to each other, social institutions, and government — all that we call civilization and man’s work in its countless forms — depend on a respect for truth.
Truthfulness means, then, that man has the instinctive feeling that the truth must be told, absolutely. Of course — we must emphasize this point again — this obligation is based upon the assumption that the questioner has the right to be informed. If he does not, then it becomes the task of experience and prudence to find the proper way of avoiding an answer. [Think of the Nazi SS asking “Are you harboring a Jew?]
We must also note that in regard to truthfulness in daily life, it makes a difference if one possesses interior certainty in regard to the various situations, and also if one is a master of the language and quick to define and distinguish. This is a matter of ethical culture with which education should deal. Many a lie arises from shyness and embarrassment, and also from insufficient mastery of the language.
Special problems arise from circumstances such as we have known in the past and still meet today, when a totalitarian tyranny places all under compulsion and permits no personal convictions. Then man is perpetually on the defensive. Those who exercise violence have no right to demand the truth, and they know that they cannot expect it.
Violence causes speech to lose its meaning. It becomes a means of self-protection for the one who is violated, unless the situation is such that it demands a testimony by which the speaker risks property and life. To determine this is the affair of conscience, and he who lives in secure freedom may well consider whether he has a right to pass judgment in such a case.
At any rate, truthfulness means that one tells the truth, not only once but again and again, so that it becomes a habit. It brings to the whole man, his being and his action, something clear and firm.
And one should not only speak the truth but should do it, for one can lie also through actions, attitudes, and gestures, if these seem to express something which is not so.
But truthfulness is something more. We have already spoken of the fact that virtue is never isolated. Surely we have already observed that nature does not know the absolutely “pure” tone, that there are always overtones and undertones forming a chord. A pure color also does not occur, but only a mixture of colors. Similarly, “bare” truthfulness cannot exist. It would be hard and unjust. What exists is living truthfulness, which other elements of the good penetrate and affect.
There are persons who are truthful by nature. They are too orderly to be able to lie, too much in harmony with themselves — sometimes we may even say too proud to lie. This is a splendid thing in itself. But such a person is often in danger of saying things at the wrong time, of offending or hurting others. A truth that is spoken at the wrong moment or in a wrong way may so confuse a person that he has difficulty in getting his bearings again. That would not be a living truthfulness but a one-sided one, damaging and destructive.
Of course, there are moments when one must not look to the right or left, but state the plain truth. But, as a rule, it holds good that we are in the context of existence, and here consideration for the other person is as important as truth-telling. Therefore truth-telling, in order to attain its full human value, must be accompanied by tact and kindness.
Truth is not spoken into a vacuum but to another person; therefore the speaker must try to understand what its effect will be. St. Paul makes a statement whose full meaning is untranslatable: he says that those whom he is addressing, the Christians of Ephesus, should aletheuein en agape. Here the noun aletheia is turned into a verb: “to speak, to do, to be truth,” but “in love.” [Ephesians 4:15] In order that truth may come to life, love must accompany it.
On the other hand, there are persons in whom this feeling for others is very strongly developed. They perceive immediately how they feel; understand their nature and situation; are aware of their needs, apprehensions, and troubles; and consequently are in danger of giving in to the influence of these conditions. Then they not only show consideration, but adapt themselves; they weaken the truth or overemphasize it, indicate a parity of opinion or meaning where it really does not exist. Indeed, the influence can predispose their own way of thinking, so that not only external independence of speech and action is lost, but even the interior independence of judgment.
Here, too, the living quality of truth is endangered, for it includes the liberty of spirit to see what is true, the determination of responsibility which upholds its judgment even in the face of sympathy and helpfulness, and the strength of personality which understands that its own dignity stands or falls with its loyalty to truth.
So we have two elements which must accompany the desire for truth if the complete virtue is to develop: consideration for the person addressed and courage when truth-telling becomes difficult.
Other things are also necessary. For instance, one needs experience of life and an understanding of its ways. He who sees life too simply thinks that he is telling the truth when he may actually be doing violence to it. He may say of another, “He is a coward!” Actually, the other man does not have the forthrightness of one who is sure of himself; he is timid and uncertain and does not dare to act. The judgment seems correct, but the one who pronounces it lacks knowledge of life, or he would have understood the signs of inhibition in the other person.
Again, one may judge that another is bold, whereas he is really shy and is trying to overcome his interior inhibitions.
We might add many other examples. They would lead us to see that living truth claims and requires the whole man. A friend of mine once remarked in conversation, “Truthfulness is the most subtle of all virtues. But there are persons who handle it like a club.”