Category Archives: Freedom

Irish Catholic Jansenism – #JOY is @#Heart of the Gospel!!!!!

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Jn 5:11

My mother, lovingly, and with the best of intentions for me, used to remind me, frequently, as a child, “The lightning is going to strike you, Mashew!!”  Ostensibly, to keep the straight and narrow.  And, “If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother!”  NO PRESSURE!!!

There is a severity in Irish Catholicism, cf joyless Irish nuns of discipline, i.e. Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, Lake Wobegon, MN.  Workhouses for Wayward Girls & Truant Boys, etc.  I thought the Irish were tough, until I met the Polish in Chicago!!  Jeesh!!!  Did anyone else notice how the Polish jokes just stopped dead cold after JPII’s election?  They did.

“…Why do they call this heartless place
Our Lady of Charity?

These bloodless brides of Jesus
If they had just once glimpsed their Groom
Then they’d know, and they’d drop the stones
Concealed behind their rosaries.
They wilt the grass they walk upon
They leech the light out of a room…”
-“Magdalene Laundries”, The Chieftains, Tears of Stone, 1999

Cornelius_Jansen_by_Evêque_d'Ypres_(1585-1638)
-Cornelius Jansen (1585–1638), professor at the Old University of Louvain, painting by by Evêque d’Ypres

The heresy of Jansenism is named after Cornelius Jansen, who was the Bishop of Ypres in the early 17th century. His main work, Augustinus, was published after his death. In this work, he claimed to have rediscovered the true teaching of St. Augustine concerning grace, which had been lost to the Church for centuries. Even though he was not strictly a heretic, his writings still caused great harm to the Church.

At that time, the Jesuits were heavily preaching on the mercy of God. This was seen by some as moral laxity. Also the debates with the Calvinists had an influence on Jansen’s thoughts. Without going into the details of the “five propositions from Jansen”, this heresy essentially taught that God’s saving grace is irresistible, though not given to everyone. According to Jansen, a person could neither accept or reject this grace due to his fallen nature. Although persons, who received it, were sure of salvation. Unfortunately not everyone received this saving grace. God decreed who was saved and who was lost. Jansen denied human free will and God’s desire to save everyone (1 Tim. 2:4). Even though the Jansenists hoped to combat the moral laxity of their time through moral rigorism, their denial of human free will and God’s mercy actually promoted moral despair or a carefree, frivolous life style, since personal actions had no effect on personal salvation. Due to the duplicity of its promoters, this heresy harmed the Church for over seventy years.

Summary of Catholic Teaching on Grace & Free Will:

1) The grace merited by Christ is necessary for us for all actions of piety and the exercise of every virtue and should be asked of from God.
2) With the help of grace, all the commandments of God are possible to obey, such that a chaste and holy Christian life without mortal sin is possible. Also, without this grace, we cannot do anything that is truly good, nor even persevere in good except by grace.
3) Grace prevents and aids our wills in such a way that we owe our salvation to God’s grace; if we do fall, it should be imputed to ourselves.
4) Grace strengthens and supplements our freedom, but in no way destroys it.
5) While maintaining the existence and freedom of the will, we should nevertheless remain in a posture of humility, remembering that our will is aided by grace in ways we don’t understand.

I have been trained as a catechist that the Truth, which the Church seeks, is often found in a middle course, a middle way between extremes. This is NOT splitting the difference!!! But, rather, a sincere search for and discovery of the Truth of God. The fact of the matter is, I have been trained, is that Truth happens to often be found in the moderation of extremes.

There are two known poles regarding the theological and metaphysical interplay of grace & free will, from a Roman Catholic perspective. The first, the heresy of Pelagianism, errs in assigning too great a role to free will and debasing God’s grace; the other, of course, is that of Calvinism, in which free will is negated and the operation of grace inflated to the point that we arrive at total (or double) predestination. These extremes are the Scylla and Charybdis of the theology of grace; a truly Catholic approach to this problem must sail skillfully between these two dangers, turning neither to the left nor to the right.

michael_moreland
-by Michael Moreland
May 26, 2015

“The big story coming out of the weekend was the Irish referendum on same-sex marriage, accompanied by barely concealed glee in some quarters at the humiliation of the Catholic Church. Here’s a hypothesis to ponder about the historical reach of theological ideas and the place of Catholicism in different cultures (not so much about the substance of the same-sex marriage debate itself), even if it might not hold up in every detail to scrutiny.

As Damian Thompson writing at the Spectator notes here, the influence of Catholicism in Ireland has waned for various reasons (most especially the sex abuse scandal), and one factor he mentions in passing is “the joyless quasi-Jansenist character of the Irish Church.” Indeed, while the Church’s influence across Europe has fallen, the collapse in those parts of Europe (or places missionized by Europeans) arguably influenced by Jansenism has been ferocious: the Low Countries (we think of Jansenism as primarily a French movement, but Cornelius Jansen himself was Dutch and Bishop of Ypres), France, Quebec, and Ireland. The place of the Church in the culture of those parts of European Catholicism less tinged by Jansenism has fared a bit better: Poland, Austria, Bavaria, Italy, and, most especially, Spain and Portugal and their former colonies in Latin America and the Philippines.

I am simplifying a great deal here, of course. There was, for example, a robust Jansenist movement in parts of modern-day Italy, and, more importantly, it is hard to say how much Jansenist influence there really was in Irish Catholicism (captured by the “quasi-” in Thompson’s essay). Because of English persecution, there were no seminaries in Ireland up through the end of the eighteenth century and so Irish clergy were often trained at Jansenist French seminaries, and there might have been some Jansenist influence in the early days at Maynooth, the Irish national seminary founded in 1795. But the scope of the actual influence of Jansenist ideas on folk Irish Catholicism is much harder to determine, as Thomas O’Connor notes in his 2007 entry on “Jansenism” in The Oxford Companion to Irish History (“The frequent claim that Irish Catholicism was Jansenist-influenced springs from the tendency to confuse Jansenism with mere moral rigorism.”). Jansenism was just one (perhaps small) factor among many contributing to Seán Ó Faoláin’s “dreary Eden.”

If there is something to this, though, we shouldn’t be surprised. Jansenism—with its hyper-Augustinianism, insistence on human depravity, confused doctrine of freedom and grace, other-worldliness, and moral rigorism—was theologically pernicious (condemned in Cum occasione by Pope Innocent X in 1653 and in Unigenitus dei filius by Pope Clement VI in 1713). A Catholic culture shaped by it distorts our understanding of the human person and society, and bad theological doctrines about God, human nature, and sin can wreak havoc even if the institutional forms of the Church endure for a time. Jansenism produced a towering genius in Blaise Pascal and a minor genius in Antoine Arnauld, but it was an unfortunate development in early modern Catholicism. As we think about how to build (or re-build, as it may be) Catholic culture, we would do well to remember that joy is at the heart of the gospel, and a Catholic culture drained of such joy by Jansenism or its cousins will, when the time comes, all too easily be swept away.”

Love & the JOY!!! of the Gospel,
Matthew

Freedom of the Will

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-by Nicene Guy

“False freedom, the fool’s freedom—the freedom to do whatever (s)he may want whenever (s)he feels like doing it—ultimately leads to his/her enslavement to the passions. It also threatens to strangle the real types of freedom, at least to some extent.

The first real type of freedom, which must ultimately underly any other type of freedom, is the freedom of the will. The philosopher Mortimer J. Adler describes this form of freedom as being the one “natural freedom, neither affected by circumstance nor dependent on acquired developments” (Ten Philosophical Mistakes). He continues by stating that:

“This natural freedom is the freedom of the will in its acts of choice. Freedom of choice consists in always being able to choose otherwise, no matter what one has chosen in any particular instance. As contrasted with a freedom that consists in being able to do whatever one wishes, it might be described as freedom to will as one wishes.”

Russell Hittinger calls the Natural Law and its resulting natural moral compass (conscience) our first grace. If this is so, then freedom of the will as the ability to always choose otherwise is the gift which enables this grace. It means that no matter how far we as individuals have fallen, and how poorly we have chosen, we may yet turn back, choose rightly, leave the self-destructive cycle of evil. This also implies that we are morally culpable for our actions—blameworthy in the case of sin and vice, or praiseworthy in the case of virtue [1].

The other two forms of freedom require first that we have freedom of the will. One is primarily internal, the other primarily external in nature.

1.  The internal form of freedom, which is sometimes called “moral” freedom, is the right ordering of the whole person so that (s)he is predisposed to virtue and against vice, so that his/her mind has control of his/her passions, and above all, so that (s)he is free to resist temptation. To return to Professor Adler:

“Only through acquired moral virtue and practical wisdom does anyone come to possess such freedom. It is a freedom from the passions and the sensuous desires that leads us to do what we ought not to do, or not to do what we ought to do. When, in the conflict between reason and the passions, reason dominates, then we are able to will as we ought in conformity to the moral law, or to normative rules of conduct” (Ten Philosophical Mistakes).  (Ed. NOT being a slave to our passions.  The freedom to choose to do other than what our passions tempt us, compel us to do.  To choose according to reason, as opposed to desire.  True freedom.  Colloquially, one of the forms of “self-discipline”, truly possible ONLY through His Grace!)

2.  While freedom of the will leaves us always able to choose differently, repeated choices in favor of virtue or in favor of vice can make us more pre-disposed to one or the other.  (Ed. habit is an important part of the moral life, as in ALL things, practice perfects, be it virtue, be it vice.  Lesson:  choose wisely, choose habits even more wisely, occasions of virtue, occasions of vice[2]) Temptation becomes harder to resist, or it becomes easier to resist, based on our choices. It is much easier to commit a sin for the second time than for the first, especially if we rationalize (let alone internalize) that sin. Virtue or vice can become a sort of “second nature.” What was unnatural to us becomes connatural, as Prof. J Budziszewski explains:

“One of the strangest and most intriguing things about human nature is its openness to what Plato and subsequent philosophers have called ‘second nature.’ We are designed in such a way that things which are not a part of our design can become so habitual, so ingrained, that they seem as though they are. Another old-fashioned term for this is “connaturality.” Consider the grace of a classically trained ballerina. Human beings do not spontaneously move like that; she must learn that exquisite poise, that heartrending beauty in movement. To that end, she retrains every nerve, muscle, and reflex until clumsiness would take effort, artlessness would take art, and her very walking looks like dancing. It isn’t that grace become effortless for her even then, although she makes it look as though it is. But her limbs have internalized the aesthetic of the dance; beautiful movement, or at least beautiful movement of that kind, has become connatural. It is second nature to her….

[In a sense], every acquired discipline, including moral discipline, goes against our natural inclinations. Consider the ballerina again. The young dancer persists in unpleasant practice for the sake of an end which is so fascinating delightful, and vitalizing that the boredom, pain, and exhaustion of the means are worth enduring. That is just how it is with the virtues. Initially, it is difficult to be good, to be brave, to be true—difficult, and most unpleasant. Yet, if with the help of grace, one persists in this unpleasant discipline, then one can see a day coming from afar when it will be more difficult and unpleasant to not be good, honest, and true than to be that way. On that day, the actions that virtue requires will be second nature” (The Line Through the Heart).”

3.  The third kind of freedom, which is an external sort of freedom, requires not only the first kind to make sense, but also needs the second to be reasonably widespread in order to flourish. This third type of freedom is sometimes called “political freedom” or “social freedom,” and it was summarized by Lord Acton as being “not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.” Pope St. John Paul the Great re-stated this point, in the context of the challenge of finding freedom in Truth. In his Homily in Camden Yards, he said that “Today, the challenge facing America is to find freedom’s fulfillment in the truth….Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

It should be evident that political freedom, at least, is ultimately in some conflict with the false freedom to do whatever we want (and when we want). To be sure, the two are intertwined to the extent that severe political restrictions against the one can result in (or be the result of) an attempt to restrict the other. If you are a virtuous person, that is, if you enjoy moral freedom and have developed a desire to good and eschew evil, then a law requiring you to participate in an evil act or prohibiting you from doing a good one is also a law against letting you do something which you want to do.

Political freedom, like moral freedom, is a type of ordered-freedom, in that it requires and acknowledges an ordering of rights along with responsibilities. This order is disrupted by demands that we each be given the right to do whatever we want, whenever we want to do it, however we want, and with whomever we want. If I have an absolute right to something, then somebody else now has the duty to provide it to me, regardless of their own desires. As David Warren explains:

“The idea of the autonomous “prince” is modern. The medieval idea of hierarchy precluded it. The man at the top was lynchpin for a regime consisting of persons in various ranks of nobility, but in a curiously invertible pyramid, for though each in his place is servant to a master above him, he is also servant to the servants of those below him in station, pledged to their defense. The idea of “public service” survives today, but with a much different flavor. This is because the individual has ceased to be defined as a soul, a “being,” with duties. He has been redefined as a cypher or “function” with “rights.” Where to the old Christian view, rights followed from duties in the same man, to our post-Christian view the arbitrary rights of one man translate to duties for unaccounted others. (My right to a free lunch translates to your duty to pay for it, &c.) In this sense, all modern political thinking is in its nature totalitarian.”

The right to do whatever I want, or to be treated however I’d like, ultimately imposes a set of often capricious duties upon those around me. All men may be equal under the law, or the law can attempt (and fail) to make them all socially equal, but not both. As Mr. Warren notes, “‘free and equal’ [is] a direct contradiction of terms, and therefore [the two are] never imposed without hypocrisy.” The fool’s freedom leads to the destruction of our political freedom, and then to the discouragement of our moral freedom.

As for moral freedom—this can be discouraged, but it is difficult to eradicate entirely from all members of a populace. The well-ordered social and political freedom which we enjoy relies at least in part of the well-ordering of the individual souls in a society, that is, on moral freedom. Therefore, social-political freedom should help to encourage and inculcate moral freedom, even if it cannot actually instill the virtues in a given individual.

And likewise, a fool’s freedom leads to tyranny, which in turn practically requires that at least some of the virtues be stamped out, that moral freedom be discouraged. The reason for this is aptly demonstrated in an exchange between St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea (Cappadocia, Asia Minor) and former monk, and Imperial Prefect Modestus [3], who was sent to demand that the saint adhere to the Arian creed formulated at Rimini. Saint Basil refused to embrace this heresy, leading to this exchange:

MODESTUS: What, do you not fear my power?

BASIL: What could happen to me? What might I suffer?

MODESTUS: Any one of the numerous torments which are in my power.

BASIL: What are these? Tell me about them.

MODESTUS: Confiscation, exile, torture, death.

BASIL: If you have any other, you can threaten me with it, for there is nothing here which affects me.

MODESTUS: Why, what do you mean?

BASIL: Well, in truth confiscation means nothing to a man who has nothing, unless you covet these wretched rags and a few books: that is all I possess. As to exile, that means nothing to me, for I am attached to no particular place. That wherein I live is not mine, and I shall feel at home in any place to which I am sent. Or rather, I regard the whole earth as belonging to God, and I consider myself as a stranger or sojourner wherever I may be. As for torture how will you apply this? I have not a body capable of bearing it, unless you are thinking of the first blow that you give, for that will be the only one in your power. As for death, this will be a benefit to me, for it will take me the sooner to the God for Whom I live, for Whom I act, and for Whom I am more than half dead, and Whom I have desired long since.”

If we live in a society which, in the name of promoting the fool’s freedom and equality, is increasingly oppressing political freedom, then we must strive all the more to gain moral freedom. This is a difficult task under the conditions of a society which at best is indifferent to moral freedom. Still, even such a society produces a few men who are heroic witnesses to the possibility of freedom in truth, to that freedom which cannot be totally eradicated by political action.

Thank God for the witness of the saints.”

Amen.  Amen.  Amen.  Praise Him!!!  Praise Him!!!  Our Savior, praise Him!!!! Thank you, Jesus!! Thank you, God, forever and ever!!!

Love,
Matthew

—-Footnotes—-

[1] Praiseworthy, in the sense that a virtuous person should be held in higher esteem as a model for emulation than an unvirtuous person. On the other hand, “far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).

[2] “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

[3] Found in Warren H. Carroll’s A Hisory of Christendom vol. II: The Building of Christendom. Prof, Carroll quoted this from Palanque’s Christian Roman Empire, History of the Church II, 63, and added the names for clarity. He further notes that after the exchange,”The prefect—and later, Eastern Emperor Valens himself—retired abashed.” Such is the power of moral freedom, virtue, and a bit of grace.

True vs False Freedom

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As I struggle with my own temptations/passions, it is very helpful to remind myself of the below.  🙂  Grace is NOT burdensome!! Hardly. IT IS true freedom!  ASK FOR IT!!  Pray for it!!  Beg for it. Totally worth it!!! Totally!!! True freedom. True.

-by Nicene Guy

What makes us free? There are, on the whole, three true types of freedom and one false one. Among the three true types, one is beyond our control, one is ultimately determined by conditions in the larger society, and one is largely under our own control.

The false type of freedom, what might be called a fool’s freedom, is largely mistaken as the real meaning of freedom. It is freedom, of a sort, and as the philosopher Mortimer J. Adler notes, we all possess it to some extent: it is the freedom to do (or attempt to do) whatever we want. Note that I have qualified this notion of freedom—we all possess it to some extent. There are, of course, some limits to it…

Nor is this type of freedom a freedom from consequences [1]. I can enjoy fine dining, but it will cost most of my earnings if I make that my nightly meal. I can enjoy a pint or two with friends, but if I drink too much or too quickly, I can expect to feel tipsy (or worse!). I can leap into the air with hopes of flying, but I must be prepared for the disappointment of a quick landing. This false freedom can be enjoyed if it is rightly ordered—more on this later—but if not rightly ordered it can quickly master and enslave us…

I do not mean here that the freedom to do whatever we want is always bad, but rather that it can lead to bad philosophy of life—hedonism and its attendant philosophical errors—which in turn leads to a bad end. The freedom to do whatever we want leads to the consequence of being enslaved by our passions—these passions together are a cruel mistress. See City of God, Book IX, Chapter 3-6 (especially 3 and 6).

The Platonist Apuleius taught that demons were subject to “every faucet of human emotion,” and that since they lacked self control and any other virtues, they were “tossed about on the stormy seas of their imaginations.” Saint Augustine takes up this theme in his City of God, writing that Aupuleius was arguing that the demons lacked the condition necessary for happiness, but that they were wretched, because:

“Their mind…far from being steeped in virtue and thus protected against any surrender to irrational passions of the soul, was itself in some measure liable to disturbances, agitations, and storms of passion, the normal condition of foolish minds…”

“It is not any of the lower part of the souls of demons that Aupuleius describes as agitated as if by raging seas and storms of passion; it is their mind, the faculty that makes them rational beings. And therefore they are not worthy of comparison with wise men who, even under the conditions of their present life, offer the resistance of an undisturbed mind to those disturbances of the soul from which human weakness cannot be exempt… It is the foolish and lawless among mortals that these demons resemble, not in their bodies but in their characters” City of God, IX.3).

His is a fitting description of those who pursue this false freedom of “doing whatever I want,” namely, that such men are “foolish and lawless.” Worse, by pursuing the desires of the moment, they find wretchedness rather than satisfaction and misery rather than felicity—and that’s in this life. They are like the demons, slaves to their passions. Of the demons, and thus of the hedonistic men who follow them, Saint Augustine concludes that “their mind is subdued under the oppressive tyranny of vicious passions, and employs for seduction and deception all the rational power that it has by nature” [4]. The freedom which inexorably leads to such oppression is a fool’s freedom indeed.”

Love,
Matthew

—-Footnotes—-
[1] Freedom from consequences is an even more foolish form of false freedom than “the ability to do whatever I want.”
[2] See the discussion of the characteristics of the resurrected body http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12792a.htm in the Catholic Encyclopedia. The resurrected body possesses impassibility, brightness/glory, agility, and subtility.
[4] City of God IX.6. Saint Augustine also writes that “Demons are at the mercy of the passions…the mind of demons in in subjection to the passions of desire, of fear, of anger, and the rest,” and that no part of their mind is left for wisdom, or virtue.

The Wheel of Fortune – Rota Fortuna & Freedom

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-the wheel of fortune from the Burana Codex; The figures are labelled “Regno, Regnavi, Sum sine regno, Regnabo”: “I reign, I reigned, my reign is finished, I shall reign.”

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-the Rota Fortuna, a modern interpretation

The modern, or current idea of Freedom is much different than it has been.  The idea of Freedom in the current age is the freedom from any constraint, hence the freedom to do whatever I want.  Sometimes called the freedom of indifference, from Ockham, focusing solely on the will, with no spiritual dimension.

This is dramatically different from the traditional Christian concept of Freedom.  Traditionally, the Christian ideal of freedom was the freedom from attachment, or inordinate desire, from the goods of this world, this life, and hence, the Freedom for Excellence.

The Freedom for Excellence, which we receive as a gift from our loving God, is a freedom from attachments to accomplishments, possessions, competitiveness, and odious comparisons between ourselves. It is a freedom arising from gazing at God as He presents Himself to us, and loving God intently. God gives us this freedom as a gift. He is the origin and the end of this excellence, to which we are all called.  It is the power to act freely with excellence and perfection; proceeding from reason and will, therefore rooted in inclinations to truth and goodness.  The Freedom for Excellence is rooted in the soul’s spontaneous inclinations to the good and the true, natural human disposition toward beatitude, and the perfection of the good.

God made us and he calls us back to Himself. This is excellence at its core. He asks only that we attend to Him, with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our strength, and with all our minds. He wants us to look at Him, and love Him.  At the center of the Rota Fortuna is often depicted Christ Himself, the message being:  detach yourself from the desires for things of this life, for they do not last and cannot satisfy.  Focus on Christ, for He alone is our salvation, our everything, our every satisfaction.  He alone can satisfy human desire, the human heart.

The Rota Fortuna, the Wheel of Fortune, was commonly used in middle ages and originally belonged to the Roman goddess Fortuna, and hence, the reason the zodiac is a wheel . The Rota Fortuna also appears as a card in a deck of tarot cards.  The goddess Fortuna is sometimes depicted as spinning the wheel, with a blindfold over her eyes.  This wheel is painted in many medieval Swedish churches as well.

Edward Burne-Jones: The Wheel of Fortune.

-The Wheel of Fortune, by Edward Burne-Jones, 1875-1883,  Musée d’Orsay

The wheel traditionally depicts a young, happy-go-lucky character that, in the prime of his youth, jumps onto the wheel.  Besides this aspirant are, traditionally, the word, “Regnabo”, I shall reign.  At the top of the wheel sits a king crowned, the pinnacle of success, the summit of powers, even referring to our bodily powers of youth, which wane quickly with the onset of middle age, a prelude of the total, complete disability and corruption to come, even if health remains ruddy, due solely to age.  The word next to the reigning monarch is “Regno”, “I reign”.  Next, at 3 PM, is a former king falling off the wheel, deposed in fortune and power, with the word “Regnavi”, “I reigned”.  And, finally, at the bottom is the completely destitute beggar, with the words, “Sum sine regno”, “I reign no more”, the climax of life.

In the modern interpretation above, the doves by his side representing his innocence. Flanking him in the image is a picture of the rising sun, symbolizing the early morning stages of life. Written beside him is the text “I will rule”. In the older versions of the wheel the latin text “Regnabo” was written which means “I shall reign”.

In the modern interpretation above, to the above left of the subject is the greek letter ALPHA. This is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and this also signifies the beginning. On the top right is the Greek letter OMEGA. This is the last letter in the Greek alphabet. Alpha and Omega comes from the phrase “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” from the book of Revelations. This is a reference to the nature of the wheel- it brings the young rookie from the Alpha point towards the Omega point. The Omega point being the place of one’s death.

On top of the wheel there is a muscle man standing waving a gun defiantly in the air. He is strong and is in the prime of his life. Behind him the sun is at its highest point in the sky. He feels like an indestructible conqueror that nothing can stop. Behind him there is a text that says “I rule” making a reference to the old latin text “Regno” or “reign”, which accompanied this character.

Lastly an old man is being pulled towards his grave by a smiling devil. The night has come and life has started to fade in the last cycle of the wheel. The moon looks on as all this transpires. Written by his side is the text”I ruled” signifiying that his time is at an end. In the original wheels the latin text “Regnavi” or “I reigned” was written. Finally below the wheel a skeleton lies silently on the ground saying nothing while animals look on as the wheel keeps spinning.

O noble Peter, Cyprus’ lord and king,
Which Alexander won by mastery,
To many a heathen ruin did’st thou bring;
For this thy lords had so much jealousy,
That, for no crime save thy high chivalry,
All in thy bed they slew thee on a morrow.
And thus does Fortune’s wheel turn treacherously
And out of happiness bring men to sorrow.
~ Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Monk’s Tale

Makes me think of Ozymandias by Shelley.  Romans 13:11.

Love,
Matthew

Freedom for Excellence!!!!

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1)

Saul’s Conversion, Caravaggio, 1601, Oil on canvas, 230 cm × 175 cm (91 in × 69 in), Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery (of sin) (Gal 5:1)

In 21st century America, we understand the freedom as an absence of coercion or restraint.  This was not always how this word has been understood.  Christians have understood freedom as freedom for the good,  the Freedom for Excellence.

As a catechist, I am strongly of the opinion, the crises of our age are directly related to a crises of catechesis. Our modern concept of “freedom to/of” suggest, wrongly, that the beauty of freedom is a vacuum of restraint.  Rather than,”You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32), the modern concept of freedom proposes, “You will ignore the truth, and the ignorance will make you free?”

Freedom of indifference (free will) (William of Ockham) provides the ability to do anything one likes, to feel a lack of constraint. Freedom for excellence1, on the other hand, is the freedom to do good. It can develop and grow over time.

Everyone has freedom of indifference when playing the piano. Even if you’ve never had a single lesson, you can sit down and hit any key you wish. But only the trained musician has freedom for excellence, the freedom to play beautiful, sophisticated music. Similarly, everyone has freedom of indifference to throw a basketball toward a hoop, but only an experienced player has freedom for excellence, freedom to shoot and score consistently.

Freedom to achieve the goal of human life is aided and enhanced through revelatory instruction—what to do and what to avoid, or law/constraint. Natural law, that which is plainly evident from nature, enables all to do good and avoid evil. Revealed law is an additional grace that specifies for the individual conscience even more clearly the good to be done.

John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote in his letter to the Duke of Norfolk, our “conscience is the voice of God . . . a messenger of Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal vicar of Christ.”

Conscience has dignity and rights because of its relationship to truth, a truth to which we owe allegiance. Conscience does not create values; it inquires zealously into what is true.  Recall my layman’s fascination for Pilate’s query, albeit mockingly lacking sincerity, “What is truth?” Jn 18:38.  More important than what we are free from is what we are free for:  to live the truth in love, both now and forever.

The human person, or moral agent, is a unity of body and soul, not soul alone. What a person does with his or her body partially constitutes who he/she is and whether he/she is moving toward increased virtue or vice.

As Thomas Aquinas wrote, to analyze the morality of an action, we have to look at the means, motive, and circumstances (Summa Theologiae I-II.18).  All three elements of an action must be good for the action to be good, just as to be a good airplane pilot, the pilot must see well, have flying experience, and be sober. Two out of three is not enough and is likely tragic. An otherwise good act motivated by greed, hatred, or cruelty is not a good act. Likewise, there are situations in which the motive is laudable (say, to express and reinforce love), the means is good (for example, spouses making love), but the circumstances are wrong (making love in a public park at noon).

The moral life involves the challenge to live a life of holiness to a heroic degree – such as the saints have done. Obedience to the truth about the human person —a pursuit of deep happiness and freedom—cannot be achieved through human power alone…

Freedom…even for…the Cross?  Explain the Cross and you will know, imho, all necessary to understand, at least, Christianity.  Spend a little time, slowly…this week, I humbly suggest, with the Cross.  Don’t be afraid.  Don’t turn away.  Don’t rush to Easter.  Just be at the foot of the Cross and relish the radiance and joy of its meaning, splendor and purpose.  I think, doctor, I’ll take my own advice, too.

Love,
Matthew

1  Pinckaers, Servais, O.P. The Sources of Christian Ethics, Translated by Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.