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Christian Freedom and Liberation

by Catherine Frakas 05 Mar 2004

CHAPTER II Man's Vocation to Freedom and the Tragedy of Sin I. Preliminary Approaches to Freedom A spontaneous response 25. The spontaneous response to the question: What does being free mean? is this: a person is free when he is able to do whatever he wishes without being hindered by an exterior constraint and thus enjoys complete independence. The opposite of freedom would therefore be the dependence of our will upon the will of another. But does man always know what he wants? Can he do everything he wants?Is closing in on oneself and cutting oneself off from the will of others in conformity with the nature of man? Often the desire of a particular moment is not what a person really wants. And in one and the same person there can exist contradictory wishes. But above all man comes up against the limits of his own nature: his desires are greater than his abilities.Thus the obstacle which opposes his will does not always come from outside, but from the limits of his own being. This is why, under pain of destroying himself, man must learn to harmonize his will with his nature. Truth and justice, rules of freedom 26. Furthermore, every individual is oriented toward other people and needs their company. It is only by learning to unite his will to the others for the sake of true good that he will learn rectitude of will. It is thus harmony with the exigencies of human nature which makes the will itself human. This in fact requires the criterion of truth and a right relationship to the will of others. Truth and justice are therefore the measure of true freedom. By discarding this foundation and taking himself for God, man falls into deception, and instead of realizing himself he destroys himself. Far from being achieved in total self-sufficiency and an absence of relationships, freedom truly exists only where reciprocal bonds, governed by truth and justice, link people to one another. But for such bonds to be possible, each person must live in the truth. Freedom is not the liberty do anything whatsoever. It is the freedom to do good, and in this alone happiness is to be found. The good is thus the goal of freedom. In consequence, man becomes free to the extent that he comes to a knowledge of the truth, and to the extent that this truth--and not any other forces--guides his will. Liberation for the sake of a knowledge of the truth which alone directs the will is the necessary condition for a freedom worthy of the name. II. Freedom and Liberation Freedom for the creatures 27. In other words, freedom which is interior mastery of one's own acts and self-determination immediately entails a relationship with the ethical order. It finds its true meaning in the choice of moral good. It then manifests itself as emancipation from moral evil. By his free action, man must tend towards the supreme good through lesser goods, which conform to the exigencies of his nature and his divine vocation. In exercising his freedom, he decides for himself and forms himself. In this sense man is his own cause. But he is this only as a creature and as God's image. this is the truth of his being which shows by contrast how profoundly erroneous are the theories which think they exalt the freedom of man or his historical praxis by making this freedom the absolute principle of his being and becoming. These theories are expressions of atheism or tend towards atheism by their own logic. Indifferentism and deliberate agnosticism go in the same direction. It is the image of God in man which underlies the freedom and dignity of the human person.[16] The call of the Creator 28. By creating man free, God imprinted on him His own image and likeness.[17] Man hears the call of his Creator in the inclination and aspiration of his own nature towards the Good, and still more in the word of Revelation, which was proclaimed in a perfect manner in the Christ. It is thus revealed to man that God created him free so that by grace man could enter into friendship with God and share His life. A shared freedom 29. Man does not take his origin from his own individual or collective action, but from the gift of God who created him. This is the first confession of our Faith, and it confirms the loftiest insights of human thought. The freedom of man is a shared freedom. His capacity for self-realization is in no way suppressed by his dependence on God. It is precisely the characteristic of atheism to believe in an irreducible opposition between the causality of a divine freedom and that of man's freedom, as though the affirmation of God meant the negation of man, or as though God's intervention in history rendered vain the endeavors of man. In reality,it is from God and in relationship with Him that human freedom takes its meaning and consistency. Man's free choice. 30. Man's history unfolds on the basis of the nature which he has received from God and in the free accomplishment of the purpose towards which the inclinations of this nature and of divine grace orient and direct him. But man's freedom is finite and fallible. His desire may be drawn to an apparent good: in choosing a false good, he fails in his vocation to freedom. By his free will, man is master of his own life: he can act in a positive sense or in a destructive one.By obeying the divine law inscribed in his conscience and received as an impulse of the Holy Spirit, man exercises true mastery over himself and thus realizes his royal vocation as a child of God. By the service of God he reigns.[18] Authentic freedom is the service of justice, while the choice of disobedience and evil is the slavery of sin.[19] Temporal liberation and freedom 31. This notion of freedom clarifies the scope of temporal liberation: it involves all the processes which aim at securing and guaranteeing the conditions needed for the exercise of an authentic human freedom.Thus it is not liberation which in itself produces human freedom. Commonsense, confirmed by Christian sense, knows that even when freedom is subject to forms of conditioning it is not thereby completely destroyed.People who undergo terrible constraint succeed in manifesting their freedom and taking steps to secure their own liberation. A process of liberation which has been achieved can only create better conditions for the effective exercise of freedom. Indeed, a liberation which does not take into account the personal freedom of those who fight for it is condemned in advance to defeat. III. Freedom and Human Society The rights of man and his freedoms 32. God did not create man as a solitary being but wished him to be a social being.[20] Social life therefore is not exterior to man: he can grow and realize his vocation only in relation with others. Man belongs to different communities: the family and professional and political communities, and it is inside these communities that he must exercise his responsible freedom. A just social order offers man irreplaceable assistance in realizing his free personality. On the other hand, an unjust social order is a threat and an obstacle which can compromise his destiny. In the social sphere, freedom is expressed and realized in actions,structures and institutions, thanks to which people communicate with one another and organize their common life. The blossoming of a free personality, which for every individual is a duty and a right, must be helped and not hindered by society. Here we have an exigency of a moral nature which has found its expression in the formulation of the Rights of Man. Some of these have as their object what are usually called the freedoms, that is to say ways of recognizing every human being's character as a person responsible for himself and his transcendent destiny, as well as the inviolability of his conscience.[21] Man's social dimension and the glory of God 33. The social dimension of the human being also takes on another meaning: only the vast numbers and rich diversity of people can express something of the infinite richness of God. Finally, this dimension is meant to find its accomplishment in the Body of Christ which is the Church. This is why social life, in the variety of its forms and to the extent that it is in conformity with the divine law,constitutes a reflection of the glory of God in the world.[22] IV. Human Freedom and Dominion Over Nature Man's call to master nature 34. As a consequence of his bodily dimension, man needs the resources of the material world for his personal and social fulfillment. In this vocation to exercise dominion over the earth by putting it at his service through work, one can see an aspect of the image of God.[23] But human intervention is not creative; it encounters a material nature which like itself has its origin in God the Creator and of which man has been constituted the noble and wise guardian.[24] Man, the master of his works 33. Technical and economic transformations influence the organization of social life; they cannot help but affect to some extent cultural and even religious life. However, by reason of his freedom man remains the master of his activity.The great and rapid transformations of the present age face him with a dramatic challenge: that of mastering and controlling by the use of his reason and freedom the forces which he puts to work in the service of the true purposes of human existence. Scientific discoveries and moral progress 36. It is the task of freedom then, when it is well ordered, to ensure that scientific and technical achievements, the quest for their effectiveness, and the products of work and the very structures of economic and social organization, are not made to serve projects which would deprive them of their human purposes and turn them against man himself. Scientific activity and technological activity each involve specific exigencies. But they acquire their properly human meaning and value only when they are subordinated to moral principles. These exigencies must be respected; but to wish to attribute to them an absolute and necessary autonomy, not in conformity with the nature of things, is to set out along a path which is ruinous for the authentic freedom of man. V. Sin, the Source of Division and Oppression Sin, separation from God 37. God calls man to freedom. In each person there lives a desire to be free. And yet this desire almost always tends towards slavery and oppression. All commitment to liberation and freedom therefore presupposes that this tragic paradox has been faced. Man's sin, that is to say his breaking away from God, is the radical reason for the tragedies which mark the history of freedom. In order to understand this, many of our contemporaries must first rediscover a sense of sin. In man's desire for freedom there is hidden the temptation to deny his own nature. Insofar as he wishes to desire everything to be able to do everything and thus forget that he is finite and a created being, he claims to be a god. You will be like God (Gn. 3:5). These words of the serpent reveal the essence of man's temptation; they imply the perversion of the meaning of his own freedom. Such is the profound nature of sin:man rejects the truth and places his own will above it. By wishing to free himself from God and be a god himself, he deceives himself and destroys himself. He becomes alienated from himself. In this desire to be a god and to subject everything to his own good pleasure, there is hidden a perversion of the very idea of God. God is love and truth in the fullness of the mutual gift of the Divine Persons.It is true that man is called to be like God. But he becomes like God not in the arbitrariness of his own good pleasure but to the extent that he recognizes that truth and love are at the same time the principle and the purpose of his freedom. Sin, the root of human alienation 38. By sinning, man lies to himself and separates himself from his own truth. But seeking total autonomy and self-sufficiency, he denies God and denies himself. Alienation from the truth of his being as a creature loved by God is the root of all other forms of alienation. By denying or trying to deny God, who is his Beginning and End, man profoundly disturbs his own order and interior balance and also those of society and even of visible creation.[25] It is in their relationship to sin that Scripture regards all the different calamities which oppress man in his personal and social existence. Scripture shows that the whole course of history has a mysterious link with the action of man who, from the beginning, has abused his freedom by setting himself up against God and by seeking to gain his ends without God.[26] Genesis indicates the consequences of this original sin in the painful nature of work and childbirth, in man's oppression of woman and in death. Human beings deprived of divine grace have thus inherited a common mortal nature, incapable of choosing what is good and inclined to covetousness.[27] Idolatry and disorder 39. Idolatry is an extreme form of disorder produced by sin. The replacement of adoration of the living God by worship of created things falsifies the relationships between individuals and brings with it various kinds of oppression. Culpable ignorance of God unleashes the passions, which are causes of imbalance and conflicts in the human heart. From this there inevitably come disorders which affect the sphere of the family and society: sexual license, injustice and murder. It is thus that St. Paul describes the pagan world, carried away by idolatry to the worst aberrations which ruin the individual and society.[28] Even before St. Paul, the prophets and wise men of Israel saw the misfortunes of the people as a punishment for their sin of idolatry; and in the heart full of evil (Eccl. 9:3),[29] they saw the source of man's radical slavery and of the forms of oppression which he makes his fellow men endure. Contempt for God and a turning towards creatures. 40. The Christian tradition, found in the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, has made explicit this teaching of Scripture about sin. It sees sin as contempt for God (contemptus Dei). It is accompanied by a desire to escape from the dependent relationship of the servant to his Lord, or still more of the child to its Father. By sinning, man seeks to free himself from God. In reality, he makes himself a slave. For by rejecting God he destroys the momentum of his aspiration to the infinite and of his vocation to share in the divine life. This is why his heart is a prey to disquiet. Sinful man who refuses to accept God is necessarily led to become attached in a false and destructive way to creatures. In this turning towards creatures (conversio ad creaturam) he focuses on the latter his unsatisfied desire for the infinite. But created goods are limited; and so his heart rushes from one to another, always searching for an impossible peace. In fact, when man attributes to creatures an infinite importance, he loses the meaning of his created being. He claims to find his center and disunity in himself. Disordered love of self is the other side of contempt for God. Man then tries to rely on himself alone; he wishes to achieve fulfillment by himself and to be self-sufficient in his own immanence.[30] Atheism, a false emancipation of freedom 41. This becomes more particularly obvious when the sinner thinks that he can assert his own freedom only by explicitly denying God. Dependence of the creature upon the Creator, and the dependence of the moral conscience upon the divine law, are regarded by him as an intolerable slavery. Thus he sees atheism as the true form of emancipation and of man's liberation,whereas religion or even the recognition of a moral law constitute forms of alienation. Man then wishes to make independent decisions about what is good and what is evil, or decisions about values; and in a single step he rejects both the idea of God and the idea of sin. It is through the audacity of sin that he claims to become adult and free, and he claims this emancipation not only for himself but for the whole of humanity. Sin and unjust structures 42. Having become his own center, sinful man tends to assert himself and to satisfy his desire for the infinite by the use of things: wealth, power and pleasure, despising other people and robbing them unjustly and treating them as objects or instruments. Thus he makes his own contribution to the creation of those very structures of exploitation and slavery which he claims to condemn.

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