Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

12/4/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

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."


By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (

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 orgç 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


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

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.


More Politics & Policy

'We cannot succumb to fear': U.S. joins France in fight against ISIS Watch

Image of U.S. President Barack obama has decided to join forces with France in eliminating ISIS.


Following a meeting with French President François Hollande, United States President Barack Obama has proclaimed "total solidarity" with France. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - President Obama believes the declaration of solidarity, alongside his trip to Paris for ... continue reading

U.S. throws doors open to Syrian refugees - despite identity of Paris terrorist suspect as disguised refugee Watch

Image of It's not yet known how many more additional refugees the U.S. may take in beyond the originally state 10,000. Two senior administration officials say they are seeking ways to take in even more.


Even after it was learned that a key terrorist in the recent attacks in Paris, 25-year-old Ahmed Almuhamed, snuck into France after he was rescued from a sinking shop off the coast of Greece posing as a Syrian refugee, the Obama administration continues to ... continue reading

Supreme Court to hear arguments over Texas abortion clinic ruling Watch

Image of Lawmakers have put major restrictions of abortion since 2010, but none as far-reaching and strict as Texas' HB2.


A measure passed in the State of Texas, HB2 in 2013 has led to the closure of half of that state's abortion clinics. Now, the Supreme Court will hear arguments over the Texas law that has been among the most crucial in the ongoing national dialogue regarding ... continue reading

PUT TERRORISTS IN COLORADO? Law enforcement officials question Guantanamo Bay closure Watch

Image of Obama's Defense Secretary recently said that around half of the remaining 112 prisoners at Gitmo must be locked up


United States President Barack Obama has long promised to close Guantanamo Bay, a holding facility for suspected terrorists at a U.S. naval facility in Cuba. The question, as posed by dozens of law enforcement officials in a letter to the president . where do ... continue reading

What has the United States Government done with $5.9 billion? Watch

Image of American taxpayers gave the United States government $5.9 billion in foreign military financing last how was it distributed?


Each year Americans complain about paying taxes, much of which is distributed to foreign military aid. So where have all the funds gone? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to the United States government's Foreign Assistance report, $5.9 billion was directed ... continue reading

You won't believe how Trump and Carson have become a disrupting force in the Republican Party! Watch

Image of Donald Trump and Ben Carson's popularity has other Republican presidential candidates sweating.


Republican presidential hopefuls Ben Carson and Donald Trump have disrupted Republican politicians and have many questioning where the United States is headed should either become the next American President. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Members of the ... continue reading

Fourth Presidential debate asks the hard questions Watch

Image of The Fourth Republican Debate gave presidential candidates several opportunities to shine -but who took advantage of the spotlight?

By Kenya Sinclair (California Network)

The fourth Republican presidential debate took place at the Milwaukee Theater Tuesday night. Candidates were asked the big questions ranging from how they felt about protester demands for a $15 minimum wage to the deportation of 11 million illegal immigrants in the ... continue reading

Court halts Obama's executive orders with Obama's own words! What were they? Watch

Image of Obama's own words were used to stop him from changing the law as he pleased.

By David Drudge (California Network)

A federal appeals court has used Obama's own words to halt his growing use of executive orders that allow him to rule by edict. Their decision specifically halts his edict that shields 5 million illegal immigrants from imminent deportation and that he does not have the ... continue reading

Social Security administration hits unbelievably new record in spending - You won't believe the numbers! Watch

Image of This latest figure represents a substantial increase from the $910,394,720,000 the Social Security Administration spent in fiscal 2014.


Hitting a record $944,143,000,000 in fiscal 2015, the Social Security Administration reached an all-time in spending. The inclusive payments for this bureau include payments for Social Security and disability benefits in addition to Supplemental Security Income ... continue reading

Obama's executive order gets blocked and why that's a disaster for thousands of Catholic families Watch

Image of President Barack Obama's plan to protect millions of undocumented immigrants falls flat.


On Monday night, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found that a lower court did not "abuse its discretion" when it claimed President Barack Obama's controversial executive actions on immigration were unlawful. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Obama's executive ... continue reading

All Politics & Policy News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

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

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • St. Saturninus: Saint of the Day for Sunday, November 29, 2015
  • BIGGER THAN ISIS - There's a hidden power behind ISIS and it's so big ...
  • Prayer For Courage HD Video
  • The Miracle Prayer HD Video
  • 'Black Friday' leaving bruises as shoppers trample each other for ...
  • Daily Readings for Sunday, November 29, 2015
  • President likens Syrian refugees to pilgrims on Mayflower in ...

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Daniel 7:15-27
15 'I, Daniel, was deeply disturbed and the visions that passed through ... Read More

Psalm, Daniel 3:82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87
82 Bless the Lord, all the human race: praise and glorify him for ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 21:34-36
34 'Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened by debauchery and ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 28th, 2015 Image

St. Catherine Laboure
November 28: St. Catherine Laboure, virgin, was born on May 2, ... Read More