Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

12/4/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

As a nation, it seems that we need to re-think freedom.

In the public square, our country speaks of freedom to the point where it is hackneyed.  But the "freedom" touted on the television, taught in our public schools, claimed by all manner of activists, and heard in every political stump speech is a far cry from Servais Pinckaer's "freedom for excellence" or Blessed John Paul II's "authentic freedom" or "perfect freedom."

Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

12/4/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: freedom, Veritatis splendor, authentic freedom, freedom for excellence, freedom of indifference, Andrew M. Greenwell


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - What is freedom?  Careful how you answer the question, because the first step makes all the difference in the world, and a large number of Americans have taken a false first step.

The medieval theologian Peter Lombard defined "free choice" (liberum arbitrium) as "that faculty of reason and will by which we either choose the good with the assistance of grace, or choose evil without such assistance." (Sent. b.2, dist. 24, c. 3)

But there is an ambiguity in the definition which gives rise to a question.  Depending upon your answer, you are going to go one way or another entirely different way.  One way leads to authentic freedom, the other way to a false freedom, a slavery. 

You might call this question the question of original responsibility. 

The question is this:  Does free choice precede reason and will, or does free choice proceed from reason and will?

Put another way: Does free choice command reason and will, or is free choice subject to reason and will?

The reason why this can be called the question of original responsibility comes from the word "responsible." 

The word "responsible" comes from Latin verb respondere, "to respond."  The word respondere is formed from the prefix re- which means "back" or "again" and spondere which means "to pledge," "to promise," "to hold oneself accountable," even "to betroth" or marry. 

To be responsible, then, means we have to answer back to someone because of something we have been given, in this case, freedom.

The reason why freedom involves a question of original responsibility is because free choice always involves a fundamental question: Is my free choice answerable to anyone, e.g., God, or to anything, e.g., human nature, reason?  Or, rather, is it answerable to nothing but myself?

That's the watershed question.

If your response to the question of original responsibility is that you are answerable to someone or something, then you believe that free choice follows reason and will, and, if you are believer, God's revealed commandments.

If your response to the question of original responsibility is that you are not answerable to someone or something but only yourself, then you believe that free choice commands reason and will.  This means there will ultimately be no morality other than your whimsy.

In discussing this issue, the moral theologian Fr. Servais Pinckaers, O.P., speaks about two kinds of freedom which follow from how we answer this fundamental question.  He calls these two freedoms the  "freedom for excellence" and the "freedom of indifference." 
 
If you believe that free choice follows reason and will, then you believe in the "freedom for excellence."

If you believe that reason and will follow free choice, then you believe in the "freedom of indifference."

(Personally, I do not like the term "freedom of indifference," because the "freedom of indifference" is not really authentic freedom.  It is more like enslavement.  The philosopher Hume (who went down this "freedom of indifference" path to his probable damnation, but Deus solum iudicat), famously (and more accurately) said that, in his view, "reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of passions."  I see this Humean "freedom of indifference" path not as offering any "freedom," but rather a slavery that is the natural punishment for rebellion.  St. Paul calls it living under the "wrath of God," the org theou, or ira Dei.  (Rom. 1:18)). 

"Freedom for excellence" is the only real route to freedom.  This, of course, is the freedom that is the subject of the great encyclical of Blessed John Paul II, Veritatis splendor (in which, by the way, the word freedom is used 192 times and the word free 27 times). 

Authentic freedom requires us to be answerable to the gift of freedom, and to the giver of that gift.  That means that free choice must be exercised in a way that respects our nature, our reason, and ultimately God, the author of nature and our reason. 

As Pope John Paul II noted in his encyclical Veritatis splendor, what Pinckaers calls "freedom for excellence" and the Pope calls "authentic freedom" requires certain things from us.

First, it requires obedience to God's commandments.  Obedience to the commandments is the "first necessary step on the journey toward freedom."  But as Pope John Paul II makes clear, "this is only the beginning of freedom, not perfect freedom."  (Veritatis splendor, No. 13).

What else, in addition to keeping the commandments, is required for perfect freedom?

According to Blessed John Paul II, to achieve perfect freedom, human freedom must mature.  He recognized that even if we keep the commandments we are, as St. Augustine put it, still "in part freedom, in part slavery," ex parte libertas, ex parte servitus. 

Perfect freedom demands that this half-free-half-slave condition be overcome by training in selflessness to the point where we are able to exercise "self-giving."  "Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called."  (Veritatis splendor, No. 17).  We have to be able to love God and love neighbor, and this requires moral training and moral effort.

How do we mature our freedom so that it may be perfect?

The growth toward perfect freedom requires the recognition that the moral life is connected to truth, and so involves the exercise of reason.  In particular it requires the exercise of conscience and the proper formation of conscience.  (In this regard, conscience has to listen to, and abide by, the teachings of the Church's Magisterium regarding the natural moral law and the divine law.)

It requires training and growth in the virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. 

It requires listening to one's human nature, its well-ordered inclinations, including the "theology of the body," but only when concupiscence is stilled.  Perfection is not gained by following the demands of a body that thirsts for a disordered passion.  "The person, by the light of reason and the support of virtue, discovers in the body the anticipatory signs, the expression and the promise of the gift of self, in conformity with the wise plan of the Creator,"  as John Paul II put it.  (Veritatis splendor, No. 48).

Perfect freedom is not something, however, we can achieve on our own.  We are not a bunch of Pelagians running around trying to save ourselves.  Even if we wanted to save ourselves and perfect ourselves, we can't.

To achieve perfect freedom requires the gift of God's grace.  (Veritatis splendor, No. 17)  It is "grace, which enables us to possess the full freedom of the children of God, and thus to live our moral life in a way worthy of our sublime vocation as 'sons in the Son.'"  (Veritatis splendor, No. 18). 

Perfect freedom is in fact the calling of the Christian.  "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."  (Gal. 5:1, 13).  There is therefore an "inseparable connection between the Lord's grace and human freedom."  (Veritatis splendor, No. 24) 

It is grace that allows the Christian to obey "the new law of the Holy Spirit," and thereby grow "in the freedom to which he or she is called by the service of truth, charity, and justice."  (Veritatis splendor, No. 107). 

It is also grace that obtains for us forgiveness when we fail in our pursuit for the "freedom for excellence."  "[I]f redeemed man still sins, . . .  though he has fallen into sin, [he] can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit."  (Veritatis splendor, No. 103)

In the public square, our country speaks of freedom to the point where it is hackneyed.  But the "freedom" touted on the television, taught in our public schools, claimed by all manner of activists, and heard in every political stump speech is a far cry from Servais Pinckaer's "freedom for excellence" or from Blessed John Paul II's "authentic freedom" or "perfect freedom."

Where are the cries of a responsible use of freedom?  Where are the suggestions that we may be answerable to God for the use of our freedom?  Where is the insistence that we must abide by the commandments?  Where is the realization that we must inculcate and grow in virtue?  Where is the awareness that we must properly form our conscience?  Where is the knowledge that we need God's grace to be free?

As a nation, it seems that we need to re-think freedom.

-----

Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for January 2015
General Intention:
That those from diverse religious traditions and all people of good will may work together for peace.
Missionary Intention: That in this year dedicated to consecrated life, religious men and women may rediscover the joy of following Christ and strive to serve the poor with zeal.



Comments


More Politics & Policy

Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney hold summit meeting: Are they plotting election strategy? Watch

Image of There have been stories in a number of outlets that Jeb Bush proposed the meeting weeks ago, in order to thank Mitt Romney for his past party leadership.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Former governors Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are having a summit meeting. The meeting will be in Utah. Speculation swirls about what the meeting will entail. Some GOP party officials hope "the two former governors will find a way to avoid competing presidential campaigns ... continue reading


An average of 27 late-term abortions happen every day in the United States; the bill to protect the unborn from this cruel pain was dramatically dropped by the GOP Watch

Image of 10,000 babies are killed each year through late-term abortions.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

An estimated 10,000 unborn babies are killed each year through late-term abortions. This averages out to 27.4 abortions taking place 20 weeks or later per day or 1.14 per hour, according to the Congressional Budget Office. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Pain ... continue reading


Father Frank Pavone on Pope Francis, Politics, and Catholic Social teaching Watch

Image of Fr Frank Pavone - Fidelity to the Gospel requires that we be able to prophetically challenge the positions of all political parties, and that our loyalty to Christ and his teaching supersedes our loyalty to any political party, although such loyalties are not per se incompatible with being a Christian.

By Matt C. Abbott

It remains true that the right to life is the most fundamental right and that the duty to defend it is a more urgent priority than other social justice priorities. But to what extent that fact helps or hurts a political party depends upon the party, and his ... continue reading


President Obama fiercely hits the country with proposed $320 billion tax hike, explained in his annual State of the Union Watch

Image of Obama plans on spending his remaining two years in office helping the middle class experience the prosperity of the recovery.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Two years before President Obama's departure, he has vowed to spend his remaining time "playing offense." In his annual State of the Union, Obama will address his proposal to increase tax hikes on America's "one percent." LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Parts ... continue reading


Attorney General Eric Holder denounced as 'coward' and 'hypocrite' by former FBI agent Watch

Image of A former FBI agent says that Attorney General Eric Holder has used the

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Former FBI agent K. Dee McCown, who left the agency in 2008, has written a strong letter to Attorney General Eric Holder where McKown denounces Holder as a "coward" and a "hypocrite." McCown says he was compelled to write after the shooting deaths of two New ... continue reading


President Christie? New Jersey governor builds PAC for 2016 run Watch

Image of New Jersey Governor Christ Christie is likely seeking to run for president in 2016, setting up a political action committee that may be up and running as soon as February.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's actions have already made it abundantly clear that he intends to run for president in 2016, but the most recent sign from the Republican should silence all deniers. Christie is organizing a political action committee which ... continue reading


Romney gears up: Campaign staff mobilizes as 2016 presidential election approaches Watch

Image of Mitt Romney is making noises that hint strongly to a bid for president in 2016, entering a ring that is filled with numerous, divisive Republican candidates.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Despite numerous polls showing that he had backing from the majority of Republicans and conservatives and requests from several high profile Republicans, Mitt Romney spent all of 2014 claiming that he was not considering running for president a third time in ... continue reading


Where's Obama?: Top leaders of the world march together in Paris to stand up against terrorism, U.S. leaders skip out Watch

Image of High profile officials from the United States did not attend the historic march on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015 in Paris.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Heads of states from around the world put their differences aside and came together in Paris to denounce terrorism and the recent terrorist attacks. More than 40 top leaders walked side-by-side during this historical march. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "The ... continue reading


Obamacare Report: Health premiums will soar, coverage pulled from millions Watch

Image of Citing the law's wording, the case, called King v. Burwell, is scheduled for arguments on March 4. A ruling is due by the end of June.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

More and more, Obamacare is just another bad idea. Case in point: A Supreme Court ruling has struck down federal subsidies for health insurance. This will remove coverage from millions of people who currently have it. According to two new reports issued last ... continue reading


Two years of tuition-free community college? President thinks it's a good plan Watch

Image of President Obama, alongside Vice President Joe Biden and second lady Jill Biden, will tout his proposal dubbed

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It's an idea that's been adapted by Germany - and now U.S. President Barack Obama wants to give college students two free years of community college. While this would inspire millions to pursue higher education, the plan would have to pass many several hurdles ... continue reading


All Politics & Policy News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Hebrews 9:15, 24-28
15 This makes him the mediator of a new covenant, so ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6
1 [Psalm] Sing a new song to Yahweh, for he has ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 3:22-30
22 The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem were ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for January 26th, 2015 Image

St. Timothy
January 26: Born at Lystra, Lycaenia, Timothy was the son of a Greek father ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter