Freedom of the children of God
My dear faithful,
I want to be free! I want freedom! This is a universal cry. You hear it sung by pop stars and chanted by seething crowds; you are promised it by campaigning politicians and online ads; you see it on graffitied walls and in the eyes of those held against their will. Freedom!
One would have thought that a universal will for freedom might bring about a certain degree of liberation, but instead men find themselves enslaved to their passions within, and a growing totalitarianism without.
This appears to be a great paradox, but it isn’t really when one understands what freedom is as a perfection in man and how it is misunderstood by the world.
Modern notion of freedom
To the world, freedom means three things:
– no external coercion (no exterior obstacles to choice);
– no internal constraint (no limitation by nature);
– autonomy (being able to choose good or evil).
This definition sounds appealing to the modern man and, as such, is the currency of modern culture.
No external coercion
To the liberal world, freedom as a perfection is the absence of coercion: the possibility of indulging every whim without inhibition, the enjoyment of every pleasure without consequence, and the abolition of every taboo.
It is opportunity without any rules, except perhaps “as long as I don’t hurt anyone,” or “infringe upon the rights of another,” or “as long as everyone consents.”
Thus, a liberal might proclaim, “I am free to use my body as I wish: to get drunk, to wear what I like, to continue my marriage or not. I am free to decide to kill the child in my womb. I am free to believe whatever I like and to practice any religion I want - in public as well as in private - without governmental or societal constraints.”
No internal constraint
The world’s notion of freedom is not only freedom from external coercion but freedom from the internal constraints of human nature.
“I can be whatever I want to be: a man or a woman, or even a chicken. I can do whatever I like if I can remove the unwanted natural consequences of my actions: I can be promiscuous if I use contraception; I don’t have to work because the state won’t let me starve. I don’t have to pray because I have decided that there is no God. I can decide myself where my ultimate perfection (heaven) lies: in sensual pleasure, fame, power or nirvana.”
To the world, being free means having the possibility of choosing anything: good or evil. It is having autonomy. For the liberal, freedom as a perfection is the undetermined will: the will in potency rather than act. Freedom is pro-choice: being able to choose how to live one’s life without reference to nature, to finality, to goodness, to God. For the liberal, the glory of man is having the possibility of choosing, rather than having made the right choice.
Root problems with the modern notion of freedom
Problems with the liberal notion of freedom as a perfection stem from the fact that modern man (philosophers, scientists, politicians and the general populace) have the wrong understanding of being in general and the wrong understanding of man in particular.
Four causes of being
Aristotelian philosophy tells us that every created being may be defined by its four causes:
– Efficient Cause: how a thing is made;
– Material Cause: what a thing is made of;
– Formal Cause: what makes the thing what it is. In man,
~ this is the soul (as a co-principle with the body);
~ it is the essence: the thing that makes a man what he is, the thing that gives his being coherence, unity and identity;
~ it is the nature: that principle of all movement and rest of the thing: that which makes man desire what he desires, hate what he hates; that which determines where his ultimate perfection lies – where he would be ultimate at rest
– Final Cause: This is the ultimate end in which a being attains perfection. For man, this is the contemplation of God in the Beatific Vision.
Modern philosophy and science have no notion of the formal cause of a thing (soul, essence or nature) and consequently no notion of the final cause of a thing. They only see the material cause, something of the efficient cause, and forces (mechanical, electrical, magnetic, and gravitational).
Modern scientists cannot detect the spiritual order with their instruments and so either disregard it or deny it altogether.
Problem with the “no external coercion” definition of freedom
With no concept of the nature of the thing, there is no concept of the rules attendant to that nature.
For example, we are not free to drink petrol, to fly unaided, to breathe water. These things are against our nature and will lead to our physical demise. Similarly, we’re not free to be promiscuous, to lie, to ignore God because these things will lead to our spiritual demise. If freedom is to be a perfection then it should lead to our perfection when we practise it, both physically and spiritually.
Freedom to do anything we liked is in fact dangerous for us as individuals and as a society because freedom is necessarily co-related to our nature. This means that the external coercion that impedes the choice of evil is good. For example, it is good to ban pornography, it is good that we have many of our civil laws (not all) and a police force to enforce them, it is good that we have bannisters on the stairs and tamper-proof lids on medicine bottles, it was good that, as children, we were coerced into saying the family rosary by loving parents.
To pursue freedom as if it were simply the absence of constraint is in fact to invite slavery: not only to one’s own disordered will, but for all society. Not only do individuals become slaves to their passions –addicts to vice – but they are also likely to become slaves to the state because a vicious society will most likely tend to totalitarianism as it multiplies laws and increases its powers of enforcement in an attempt to shore-up an inevitable disintegration of order.
And then, of the constraints that the world does admit: when people say that we should be free to anything we like as long as we don’t hurt anyone, they forget that man is a social being and that everything we do will affect the rest of society. The girl who spends hours admiring herself in secret or the boy who is addicted to computer games in his room will necessarily affect those around them.
Those who claim that consent is the condition of complete liberty err in the same way but with accomplices in their error.
“My rights stop where another’s start” is also popular, but all rights are in view of the common good, not the co-existence or competition of individual goods.
Problem with the “no internal constraint” definition of freedom
Believing that I can choose my own nature and my own finality is clearly delusional. It reduces the whole world to the absurd, and ironically, it is more restrictive:
– If a man choses to be a woman, he is not free to attain to the perfection of womanhood (he can’t bear children, he can never be a mother).
– If a man choses to be a chicken, he is even more severely handicapped in attaining the perfection of chickenhood.
In effect, by choosing an identity and a finality at odds with my real identity and finality, I become enslaved by my choice and do myself real harm. I can never be happy or arrive at the perfection of my real, unchangeable nature which is given to me by my Creator.
Problem with the “autonomy” definition of freedom
To the world, freedom is autonomy. It is the will in potency to both good and evil which is the same as saying: the will in potency to both perfection and enslavement, or even self-destruction.
A far greater perfection is the will in potency to one good or another. And greater still is the will, not in potency, but in the act of choosing good. This is freedom as it exists in God.
The world’s freedom is the same as that promised by Satan to Adam & Eve: “you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5). It is an illusory freedom from God’s law: freedom from the natural law, from Jesus Christ, from the Church and even from God.
Both fallen men and Satan pursue this false notion of freedom and are thereby slaves. Men become slaves to the world, the flesh and the Devil. Satan is a perpetual slave to his hatred of God.
So what is true freedom as a perfection in man? This is answered by St. Thomas in his treatise on the angels.
Whether a beatified angel can sin? (1aQ62a8ad3)
…it belongs to the perfection of its liberty for the free-will to be able to choose between opposite things, keeping the order of the end in view; but it comes of the defect of liberty for it to choose anything by turning away from the order of the end; and this is to sin.
Hence there is greater liberty of will in the angels, who cannot sin, than there is in ourselves, who can sin.
Freedom is always relative to the end in view: the finality of a thing. One is free if one directs oneself towards the ultimate perfection consequent to one’s nature.
The greatest freedom, therefore, is to be found in heaven where we cannot but chose that which leads to God, because the vision of God is wholly satisfying, admits of no lessening, and is without fear of loss.
True freedom is not being free from coercion, having the choice of identity or the choice between good or evil. True freedom is the liberty of knowing, loving and serving Almighty God. It is:
– the interior freedom of virtue which makes choosing good easy;
– the exterior freedom of a well-ordered society which protects and encourages us to choose good;
– and it is the very act of choosing good.
We gain interior freedom by living the Christian life of prayer, mortification, and religious practice. We procure exterior freedom by Catholic Action. And by practice our freedom we are delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. (Rom 8:21)
In Jesu et Maria,
Rev. Robert Brucciani