Andrew M. Greenwell on Rethinking Freedom
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."
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 ...
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