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Christian Freedom and Liberation

by Catherine Frakas 04 Mar 2004

Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation Issued March 22, 1986 by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. INTRODUCTION The yearning for liberation 1. Awareness of man's freedom and dignity, together with the affirmation of the inalienable rights of individuals and peoples, is one of the major characteristics of our time. But freedom demands conditions of an economic, social, political and cultural kind which makes possible its full exercise. A clear perception of the obstacles which hinder its development and which offend human dignity is at the source of the powerful aspirations to liberation which are at work in our world. The Church of Christ makes these aspirations her own, while exercising discernment in the light of the Gospel which is by its very nature a message of freedom and liberation. Indeed, on both the theoretical and practical levels, these aspirations sometimes assume expressions which are not always in conformity with the truth concerning man as it is manifested in the light of his creation and redemption. For this reason the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has considered it necessary to draw attention to deviations, or risks of deviation, damaging to the Faith and to Christian living.[1] Far from being outmoded, these warnings appear ever more timely and relevant. Purpose of the instruction 2. The Instruction Libertatis nuntius (On Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation) stated the intention of the Congregation to publish a second document which would highlight the main elements of the Christian doctrine on freedom and liberation. The present instruction responds to that intention. Between the two documents there exists an organic relationship. They are to be read in the light of each other. With regard to their theme, which is at the heart of the Gospel message, the Church's Magisterium has expressed itself on many occasions.[2] The present document limits itself to indicating its principal theoretical and practical aspects. As regards applications to different local situations,it is for the local Churches, in communion with one another and with the See of Peter, to make direct provision for them.[3] The theme of freedom and liberation has an obvious ecumenical dimension.It belongs to the fact of the traditional patrimony of the Churches and ecclesial communities. Thus the present document can assist the testimony and action of all Christ's disciples, called to respond to the great challenges of our times. The truth that makes us free 3. The words of Jesus: The truth will make you free (Jn. 8:32) must enlighten and guide all theological reflection and all pastoral decisions in this area.This truth which comes from God has its center in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.[4] From Him, who is the way, and the truth, and the life(Jn. 14:6), the Church receives all that she has to offer to mankind. Through the mystery of the Incarnate Word and Redeemer of the world, she possesses the truth regarding the Father and His love for us, and also the truth concerning man and his freedom. Through His cross and resurrection, Christ has brought about our redemption, which is liberation in the strongest sense of the word, since it has freed us from the most radical evil, namely sin and the power of death. When the Church, taught by her Lord, raises to the Father her prayer: Deliver us from evil, she asks that the mystery of salvation may act with power in our daily lives. The Church knows that the redeeming cross is truly the source of light and life and the center of history.The charity which burns in her impels her to proclaim the Good News and to distribute its life-giving fruits through the sacraments. It is from Christ the Redeemer that her thought and action originate when, as she contemplates the tragedies affecting the world, she reflects on the meaning of liberation and true freedom and on the paths leading to them. Truth, beginning with the truth about redemption, which is at the heart of the mystery of faith, is thus the root and the rule of freedom, the foundation and the measure of all liberating action. Truth, the condition for freedom 4. Man's moral conscience is under an obligation to be open to the fullness of truth; he must seek it out and readily accept it when it presents itself to him. According to the command of Christ the Lord,[5] the truth of the Gospel must be presented to all people, and they have a right to have it presented to them. Its proclamation, in the power of the Spirit, includes full respect for the freedom of each individual and the exclusion of every form of constraint or pressure.[6] The Holy Spirit guides the Church and the disciples of Jesus Christ into the full truth (Jn. 16:13). The Spirit directs the course of the centuries and renews the face of the earth (Ps. 104:30). It is He who is present in the maturing of a more respectful awareness of the dignity of the human person.[7] The Holy Spirit is at the root of courage, boldness and heroism: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor.3:17). CHAPTER 1 The State of Freedom in the World Today I. Achievements and Dangers of the Modern Liberation Process The heritage of Christianity 5. By revealing to man his condition as a free person called to enter into communion with God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has evoked an awareness of the hitherto unsuspected depths of human freedom.Thus the quest for freedom and the aspiration to liberation, which are among the principal signs of the times in the modern world, have their first source in the Christian heritage. This remains true even in places where they assume erroneous forms and even oppose the Christian view of man and his destiny. Without this reference to the Gospel, the history of the recent centuries in the West cannot be understood. The modern age 6. Thus it is that from the dawn of modern times, at the Renaissance, it was thought that by a return to antiquity in philosophy and through the natural sciences man would be able to gain freedom of thought and action, thanks to his knowledge and control of the laws of nature. Luther, for his part, basing himself on his reading of St. Paul, sought to renew the struggle for freedom from the yoke of the Law, which he saw as represented by the Church of his times. But it was above all in the Age of the Enlightenment and at the French Revolution that the call to freedom rang out with full force. Since that time, many have regarded future history as an irresistible process of liberation inevitably leading to an age in which man, totally free at last, will enjoy happiness on this earth. Towards the mastery of nature 7. With the perspective of such an ideology of progress, man sought to become master of nature. The servitude which he had experienced up to that point was based on ignorance and prejudice. By wresting from nature its secrets, man would subject it to his own service. The conquest of freedom thus constituted the goal pursued through the development of science and technology. The efforts expended have led to remarkable successes. While man is not immune from natural disasters, many natural dangers have been removed. A growing number of individuals is ensured adequate nourishment. New means of transport and trade facilitate the exchange of food resources, raw materials, labor and technical skills, so that a life of dignity with freedom from poverty can be reasonably envisaged for mankind. Social and political achievements 8. The modern liberation movement had set itself a political and social objective. It was to put an end to the domination of man by man and to promote the equality and brotherhood of all. It cannot be denied that in this sphere, too, positive results have been obtained. Legal slavery and bondage have been abolished. The right of all to share in the benefits of culture has made significant progress. In many countries the law recognizes the equality of men and woman, the participation of all citizens in political life, and equal rights for all. Racism is rejected as contrary to law and justice. The formulation of human rights implies a clearer awareness of the dignity of all human beings. By comparison with previous systems of domination, the advances of freedom and equality in many societies is undeniable. Freedom of thought and of decision 9. Finally and above all, the modern liberation movement was supposed to bring man inner freedom, in the form of freedom of thought and freedom of decision. It sought to free man from superstition and atavistic fears,regarded as so many obstacles to his development. It proposed to give man the courage and boldness to use his reason without being held back by fear before the frontiers of the unknown. Thus, notably in the historical and human sciences, there developed a new notion of man, professedly to help him gain a better self-understanding in matters concerning his personal growth or the fundamental conditions for the formation of the community. Ambiguities in the modern process of liberation 10. With regard to the conquest of nature, or social and political life, or man's self-mastery on both the individual and collective level, anyone can see that the progress achieved is far from fulfilling the original ambitions. It is also obvious that new dangers, new forms of servitude and new terrors have arisen at the very time that the modern liberation movement was spreading. This is a sign that serious ambiguities concerning the very meaning of freedom have from the very beginning plagued this movement from within. Man threatened by his domination of nature 11. So it is that the more man freed himself from the dangers of nature, the more he experienced a growing fear confronting him. As technology gains an ever greater control of nature, it threatens to destroy the very foundations of our future in such a way that mankind living today becomes the enemy of the generations to come. By using blind power to subjugate the forces of nature, are we not on the way to destroying the freedom of the men and women of tomorrow? What forces can protect man from the slavery of his own domination? A wholly new capacity for freedom and liberation, demanding an entirely renewed process of liberation, becomes necessary. Dangers of technological power 12. The liberating force of scientific knowledge is objectively expressed in the great achievements of technology. Whoever possesses technology has power of the earth and men. As a result of this, hitherto unknown forms of inequality have arisen between those who possess knowledge and those who are simple users of technology. The new technological power is linked to economic power and leads to a concentration of it. Thus, within nations and between nations, relationships of dependence have grown up which within the last twenty years have been the occasion for a new claim to liberation. How can the power of technology be prevented from becoming a power of oppression over human groups or entire peoples? Individualism and collectivism 13. In the field of social and political achievements, one of the fundamental ambiguities of the affirmation of freedom in the age of the Enlightenment has to do with the concept of the subject of this freedom as an individual who is full self- sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods. The individualistic ideology inspired by this concept of man favored the unequal distribution of wealth at the beginning of the industrial era to the point that workers found themselves excluded from access to the essential goods which they had helped to produce and to which they had aright. Hence the birth of powerful liberation movements from the poverty caused by industrial society. Certain Christians, both lay persons and pastors, have not failed to fight for a just recognition of the legitimate rights of workers. On many occasions the Magisterium of the Church has raised its voice in support of this cause. But more often than not the just demands of the worker movement have led to new forms of servitude, being inspired by concepts which ignored the transcendental vocation of the human person and attributed to man a purely earthly destiny. These demands have sometimes been directed towards collectivist goals, which have then given rise to injustices just as grave as the ones which they were meant to eliminate. New forms of oppression 14. Thus it is that our age has seen the birth of totalitarian systems and forms of tyranny which would not have been possible in the time before the technological leap forward. On the one hand, technical expertise has been applied to acts of genocide. On the other, various minorities try to hold in thrall whole nations by the practice if terrorism. Today control can penetrate into the innermost life of individuals, and even the forms of dependence created by the early warning systems can represent potential threats of oppression. A false liberation from the constraints of society is sought in recourse to drugs which have led many young people from all over the world to the point of self-destruction and brought whole families to sorrow and anguish. Danger of total destruction 15. The recognition of a juridical order as a guarantee of relationships within the great family of peoples is growing weaker and weaker. When confidence in the law no longer seems to offer sufficient protection, security and peace are sought in mutual threats, which become a danger for all humanity. The forces which ought to serve the development of freedom serve instead the increase of threats. The weapons of death drawn up against each other today are capable of destroying all human life on earth. New relationships of inequality 16. New relationships of inequality and oppression have been established between the nations endowed with power and those without it. The pursuit of one's own interest seems to be the rule for international relations, without the common good of humanity being taken into consideration. The internal balance of the poor nations is upset by the importation of arms, which introduces among them a divisive element leading to the domination of one group over another. What powers could eliminate systematic recourse to arms and restore authority to law? Emancipation of young nations 17. It is in the context of the inequality of power relationships that there have appeared movements for the emancipation of young nations, generally the poor ones, until recently subjected to colonial domination. But too often the people are frustrated in the hard-won independence by unscrupulous regimes or tyrannies which scoff at human rights which impunity. The people thus reduced to powerlessness merely have a change of masters. It remains true that one of the major phenomena of our time, of continental proportions, is the awakening of the consciousness of people who, bent beneath the weight of age-old poverty, aspirate to a life of dignity and justice and are prepared to fight for their freedom. Morality and God: obstacles to liberation? 18. With reference to the modern liberation movement within man himself, it has to be stated that the effort to free thought and will from their limits has led some to consider that morality as such constitutes an irrational limit. It is for man, now resolved to become his own master, to go beyond it. For many more, it is God Himself who is the specific alienation of man. There is said to be a radical incompatibility between the affirmation of God and of human freedom. By rejecting belief in God, they say, man will become truly free. Some agonizing questions 19. Here is the root of the tragedies accompanying the modern history of freedom. Why does this history, in spite of great achievements which also remain always fragile, experience frequent relapses into alienation and see the appearance of new forms of slavery? Why do liberation movements which had roused great hopes result in regimes for which the citizens' freedom,[8] beginning with the first of these freedoms which is religious freedom,[9] become enemy number one? When man wishes to free himself from the moral law and become independent of God, far from gaining his freedom he destroys it. Escaping the measuring rod of truth, he falls prey to the arbitrary; fraternal relations between people are abolished and give place to terror, hatred and fear. Because it has been contaminated by deadly errors about man's condition and his freedom, the deeply-rooted modern liberation movement remains ambiguous. It is laden both with promises of true freedom and threats of deadly forms of bondage. II. Freedom in the Experience of the People of God. Church and freedom 20. It is because of her awareness of this deadly ambiguity, that through her Magisterium the Church has raised her voice over the centuries to warn against aberrations that could easily bring enthusiasm for liberation to a bitter disillusionment. She has often been misunderstood in so doing.With the passage of time however it is possible to do greater justice to the Church's point of view. It is in the name of the truth about man, created in the image of God, that the Church has intervened.[10] Yet she is accused of thereby setting herself up as an obstacle on the path to liberation. Her hierarchical constitution is said to be opposed to equality, her Magisterium to be opposed to freedom of thought. It is true that there have been errors of judgment and serious omissions for which Christians have been responsible in the course of the centuries;[11] but these objections disregard the true nature of things. The diversity of charisms in the People of God, which are charisms of service, is not opposed to the equal dignity of persons and to their common vocation to holiness. Freedom of thought, as a necessary condition for seeking the truth in all fields of human knowledge, does not mean that human reason must cease to function in the light of the Revelation which Christ entrusted to His Church. By opening itself to divine truth, created reason experiences a blossoming and a perfection which are an eminent form of freedom. Moreover, the Second Vatican Council has recognized fully the legitimate autonomy of the sciences,[12] as well as of activities of a political nature.[13] The freedom of the little ones and the poor 21. One of the principal errors that has seriously burdened the process of liberation since the Age of the Enlightenment comes from the widely held conviction that it is the progress achieved in the fields of the sciences, technology and economics which should serve as a basis for achieving freedom. This was a misunderstanding of the depths of freedom and its needs. The reality of the depth of freedom has always been known to the Church, above all through the lives of a multitude of the faithful, especially among the little ones and the poor. In their faith, these latter know that they are the object of God's infinite love. Each of them can say: I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me(Gal. 2:20b). Such is the dignity which none of the powerful can take away from them; such is the liberating joy present in them. They know that to them too are addressed Jesus' words: No longer do I call you servants,for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (Jn. 15:15). This sharing in the knowledge of God is either emancipation from the dominating claims of the learned: You all know...and you have no need that anyone should teach you (1 Jn. 2:20b,27b). They are also aware of sharing in the highest knowledge to which humanity is called.[14] They know that they are loved by God, the same as all other people and more than all other people. They thus live in the freedom which flows from truth and love. Resources of popular piety 22. The same sense of faith, possessed by the People of God in its hope-filled devotion to the cross of Jesus, perceives the power contained in the mystery of Christ the Redeemer. Therefore, far from despising or wishing to suppress the forms of popular piety which this devotion assumes, one should take and deepen all its meaning and implications.[15]Here we have a fact of fundamental theological and pastoral significance;it is the poor, the object of God's special love, who understand best and as it were instinctively that the most radical liberation, which is liberation from sin and death, is the liberation accomplished by the death and resurrection of Christ. Salvific and ethical dimensions of liberation 23. The power of this liberation penetrates and profoundly transforms man and his history in its present reality and animates his eschatological yearning. The first and fundamental meaning of liberation which thus manifests itself is the salvific one: man is freed from the radical bondage of evil and sin. In this experience of salvation, man discovers the true meaning of his freedom, since liberation is the restoration of freedom. It is also education in freedom, that is to say, education in the right use of freedom. Thus to the salvific dimension of liberation is linked its ethical dimension. A new phase in the history of freedom 24. To different degrees, the sense of faith, which is at the origin of a radical experience of liberation and freedom, has imbued the culture and the customs of Christian peoples. But today, because of the formidable challenges which humanity must face,it is in a wholly new way that it has become necessary and urgent that the love of God and freedom in truth and justice should mark relations between individual and peoples and animate the life of cultures .For where truth and love are missing, the process of liberation results in the death of a freedom which will have lost all support. A new phase in the history of freedom is opening before us. The liberating capacities of science, technology, work, economics and political activity will produce results only if they find their inspiration and measure in the truth and love which are stronger than suffering: the truth and love revealed to men by Jesus Christ.

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