Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

12/4/2012 (1 year 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 (1 year 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 August 2014
Refugees:
That refugees, forced by violence to abandon their homes, may find a generous welcome and the protection of their rights.
Oceania: That Christians in Oceania may joyfully announce the faith to all the people of that region.



Comments


More Politics & Policy

Classic Cloward-Piven: Here's the simple reason why Obama is breaking the immigration system in the USA Watch

Image of Obama's Cloward-Piven strategy is showing.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

You can't fix something unless you break it first. This appears to be what Obama has done to the U.S. immigration system. Political analysts now expect that Obama will use the current immigration crisis to overhaul the system into something he likes. But more ... continue reading


Stopping at nothing, Davos Man, Warren Buffett, donates staggering $1.2 billion to promote abortion Watch

Image of Obama awarding Buffett the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Warren Buffett has given $1.2 billion to fund abortion advocacy and "research." This startling conclusion comes from the New York Times, which is reporting that he donates hundreds of millions of dollars at a time to a foundation named after his late wife, Susan ... continue reading


Get ready America: Obama set to bypass Senate on international treaty Watch

Image of President Obama and his administration are getting ready to present a climate change treaty to the U.N. and are willing to ignore a Constitutionally required Senate approval to do so.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

President Barack Obama is working to create a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut fossil fuel emissions; however, he is seeking to do this without ratification from Congress. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - This agreement is ... continue reading


That was one costly Web site! In fact the most expensive in Internet history. The Cost of Healthcare.gov estimated $1.7 Billion Watch

Image of The 60 contracts related to the development and operation of the Federal Marketplace started between January 2009 and January 2014. The contracts ranged from health benefit data collection and consumer research, to cloud computing and Web site development.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

That's one might expensive Web site! It's estimated that the Healthcare. Gove Web site, intended to facilitate health care reform, or "Obamacare," has cost U.S. Taxpayers about $1.7 BILLION dollars. That's not even the half of it, as the U.S. government is ... continue reading


Obama administration announces new HHS mandate rules Watch

Image of Sylvia Burwell, HHS secretary, said that the new rules will ensure access to free contraception,

By CNA/EWTN News

The Department of Health and Human Services issued on Friday new rules regarding its contraception mandate, after the Supreme Court ruled against its application to certain companies this summer. (CNA/EWTN News) - The rules create a new way for non-profit groups to ... continue reading


BEEN THERE: Attorney General Eric Holder shares personal experiences while in Ferguson Watch

Image of Attorney General Eric Holder shakes hands with Bri Ehsan, right, following his meeting with students at St. Louis Community College Florissant Valley.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In Ferguson, Missouri to investigate the officer-involved shooting of teenager Michael Brown, Attorney General Eric Holder shared personal stories of his own encounters with racial discrimination. "I am the Attorney General of the United States, but I am also a ... continue reading


One percent? Try the MORE THAN A THIRD in U.S. who rely on Welfare Watch

Image of Back in the

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Back in the "Occupy Wall Street" days, protestors rallied around the concept of the United States' "One Percent," which referred to the people with power in the U.S. government. On the other side of the coin, more than ONE THIRD of all U.S. households are now ... continue reading


SMILE FOR THE CAMERA! Texas Governor Rick Perry cheerfully turns himself in Watch

Image of Under duress, Texas Governor Rick Perry maintained an upbeat and positive attitude. Arriving at the Travis County courthouse in Austin for booking and fingerprinting, Perry gave a warm smile for his mug shot.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Under duress, Texas Governor Rick Perry maintained an upbeat and positive attitude. Arriving at the Travis County courthouse in Austin for booking and fingerprinting, Perry gave a warm smile for his mug shot. He's charged with felony corruption charges ... continue reading


HIDDEN FROM VIEW: President Obama renders decision largely in private, despite claims of transparency Watch

Image of Facing charges of executive overreach, to allegations that he is presiding over opaque policy-making, U.S. President Obama has been making decisions typically behind closed doors

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Facing charges of executive overreach, to allegations that he is presiding over opaque policy-making, U.S. President Obama has been making decisions typically behind closed doors. Unilateral action on such issues as immigration, gay rights and tax policy has ... continue reading


Texas Governor Rick Perry assembles formidable high-profile defense team Watch

Image of According to Michael McCrum, the San Antonio-based special prosecutor presenting the case against Texas Governor Rick Perry, the governor may waive his arraignment altogether.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Texas Governor Rick Perry must now complete the humiliating process of being booked, fingerprinted and having his mug shot taken - but he's gathering a formidable legal team in his defense. High-powered attorneys are being gathered after his indictment on ... 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, Jeremiah 1:17-19
17 'As for you, prepare yourself for action. Stand up ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15, 17
1 In you, Yahweh, I take refuge, I shall never be put ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 6:17-29
17 Now it was this same Herod who had sent to have ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for August 29th, 2014 Image

St. Sabina
August 29: St. Sabina's feast day is August 29th. We know St. Sabina only ... 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