Category Archives: Free will

Does free will exist?

With free will, we truly are responsible for our own actions. We are even responsible for proper formation of our own moral compass and informed conscience. And, also those of our brothers and sisters. Gen 4:9

-by Bahar Gholipour, 9/19/2019, for The Atlantic, a New York–based tech and science journalist who covers the brain, neuroscience and psychology, genetics and AI.

“The death of free will began with thousands of finger taps. In 1964, two German scientists monitored the electrical activity of a dozen people’s brains. Each day for several months, volunteers came into the scientists’ lab at the University of Freiburg to get wires fixed to their scalp from a showerhead-like contraption overhead. The participants sat in a chair, tucked neatly in a metal tollbooth, with only one task: to flex a finger on their right hand at whatever irregular intervals pleased them, over and over, up to 500 times a visit.

The purpose of this experiment was to search for signals in the participants’ brains that preceded each finger tap. At the time, researchers knew how to measure brain activity that occurred in response to events out in the world—when a person hears a song, for instance, or looks at a photograph—but no one had figured out how to isolate the signs of someone’s brain actually initiating an action.

The experiment’s results came in squiggly, dotted lines, a representation of changing brain waves. In the milliseconds leading up to the finger taps, the lines showed an almost undetectably faint uptick: a wave that rose for about a second, like a drumroll of firing neurons, then ended in an abrupt crash. This flurry of neuronal activity, which the scientists called the Bereitschaftspotential, or readiness potential, was like a gift of infinitesimal time travel. For the first time, they could see the brain readying itself to create a voluntary movement.

This momentous discovery was the beginning of a lot of trouble in neuroscience. Twenty years later, the American physiologist Benjamin Libet used the Bereitschaftspotential to make the case not only that the brain shows signs of a decision before a person acts, but that, incredibly, the brain’s wheels start turning before the person even consciously intends to do something. Suddenly, people’s choices—even a basic finger tap—appeared to be determined by something outside of their own perceived volition.

As a philosophical question, whether humans have control over their own actions had been fought over for centuries before Libet walked into a lab. But Libet introduced a genuine neurological argument against free will. His finding set off a new surge of debate in science and philosophy circles. And over time, the implications have been spun into cultural lore.

Today, the notion that our brains make choices before we are even aware of them will now pop up in cocktail-party conversation or in a review of Black Mirror. It’s covered by mainstream journalism outlets, including This American Life, Radiolab, and this magazine. Libet’s work is frequently brought up by popular intellectuals such as Sam Harris and Yuval Noah Harari to argue that science has proved humans are not the authors of their actions.

It would be quite an achievement for a brain signal 100 times smaller than major brain waves to solve the problem of free will. But the story of the Bereitschaftspotential has one more twist: It might be something else entirely.

The Bereitschaftspotential was never meant to get entangled in free-will debates. If anything, it was pursued to show that the brain has a will of sorts. The two German scientists who discovered it, a young neurologist named Hans Helmut Kornhuber and his doctoral student Lüder Deecke, had grown frustrated with their era’s scientific approach to the brain as a passive machine that merely produces thoughts and actions in response to the outside world. Over lunch in 1964, the pair decided that they would figure out how the brain works to spontaneously generate an action. “Kornhuber and I believed in free will,” says Deecke, who is now 81 and lives in Vienna.

To pull off their experiment, the duo had to come up with tricks to circumvent limited technology. They had a state-of-the-art computer to measure their participants’ brain waves, but it worked only after it detected a finger tap. So to collect data on what happened in the brain beforehand, the two researchers realized that they could record their participants’ brain activity separately on tape, then play the reels backwards into the computer. This inventive technique, dubbed “reverse-averaging,” revealed the Bereitschaftspotential.

Images from the 1964 experiment show the Bereitschaftspotential (left) and one of the finger-tapping subjects. (Lüder Deecke)

The discovery garnered widespread attention. The Nobel laureate John Eccles and the prominent philosopher of science Karl Popper compared the study’s ingenuity to Galileo’s use of sliding balls for uncovering the laws of motion of the universe. With a handful of electrodes and a tape recorder, Kornhuber and Deecke had begun to do the same for the brain.

What the Bereitschaftspotential actually meant, however, was anyone’s guess. Its rising pattern appeared to reflect the dominoes of neural activity falling one by one on a track toward a person doing something. Scientists explained the Bereitschaftspotential as the electrophysiological sign of planning and initiating an action. Baked into that idea was the implicit assumption that the Bereitschaftspotential causes that action. The assumption was so natural, in fact, no one second-guessed it—or tested it.

Libet, a researcher at the University of California at San Francisco, questioned the Bereitschaftspotential in a different way. Why does it take half a second or so between deciding to tap a finger and actually doing it? He repeated Kornhuber and Deecke’s experiment, but asked his participants to watch a clocklike apparatus so that they could remember the moment they made a decision. The results showed that while the Bereitschaftspotential started to rise about 500 milliseconds before the participants performed an action, they reported their decision to take that action only about 150 milliseconds beforehand. “The brain evidently ‘decides’ to initiate the act” before a person is even aware that decision has taken place, Libet concluded.

To many scientists, it seemed implausible that our conscious awareness of a decision is only an illusory afterthought. Researchers questioned Libet’s experimental design, including the precision of the tools used to measure brain waves and the accuracy with which people could actually recall their decision time. But flaws were hard to pin down. And Libet, who died in 2007, had as many defenders as critics. In the decades since his experiment, study after study has replicated his finding using more modern technology such as fMRI.

But one aspect of Libet’s results sneaked by largely unchallenged: the possibility that what he was seeing was accurate, but that his conclusions were based on an unsound premise. What if the Bereitschaftspotential didn’t cause actions in the first place? A few notable studies did suggest this, but they failed to provide any clue to what the Bereitschaftspotential could be instead. To dismantle such a powerful idea, someone had to offer a real alternative.

In 2010, Aaron Schurger had an epiphany. As a researcher at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris, Schurger studied fluctuations in neuronal activity, the churning hum in the brain that emerges from the spontaneous flickering of hundreds of thousands of interconnected neurons. This ongoing electrophysiological noise rises and falls in slow tides, like the surface of the ocean—or, for that matter, like anything that results from many moving parts. “Just about every natural phenomenon that I can think of behaves this way. For example, the stock market’s financial time series or the weather,” Schurger says.

From a bird’s-eye view, all these cases of noisy data look like any other noise, devoid of pattern. But it occurred to Schurger that if someone lined them up by their peaks (thunderstorms, market records) and reverse-averaged them in the manner of Kornhuber and Deecke’s innovative approach, the results’ visual representations would look like climbing trends (intensifying weather, rising stocks). There would be no purpose behind these apparent trends—no prior plan to cause a storm or bolster the market. Really, the pattern would simply reflect how various factors had happened to coincide.

“I thought, Wait a minute,” Schurger says. If he applied the same method to the spontaneous brain noise he studied, what shape would he get? “I looked at my screen, and I saw something that looked like the Bereitschaftspotential.” Perhaps, Schurger realized, the Bereitschaftspotential’s rising pattern wasn’t a mark of a brain’s brewing intention at all, but something much more circumstantial.

Two years later, Schurger and his colleagues Jacobo Sitt and Stanislas Dehaene proposed an explanation. Neuroscientists know that for people to make any type of decision, our neurons need to gather evidence for each option. The decision is reached when one group of neurons accumulates evidence past a certain threshold. Sometimes, this evidence comes from sensory information from the outside world: If you’re watching snow fall, your brain will weigh the number of falling snowflakes against the few caught in the wind, and quickly settle on the fact that the snow is moving downward.

But Libet’s experiment, Schurger pointed out, provided its subjects with no such external cues. To decide when to tap their fingers, the participants simply acted whenever the moment struck them. Those spontaneous moments, Schurger reasoned, must have coincided with the haphazard ebb and flow of the participants’ brain activity. They would have been more likely to tap their fingers when their motor system happened to be closer to a threshold for movement initiation.

This would not imply, as Libet had thought, that people’s brains “decide” to move their fingers before they know it. Hardly. Rather, it would mean that the noisy activity in people’s brains sometimes happens to tip the scale if there’s nothing else to base a choice on, saving us from endless indecision when faced with an arbitrary task. The Bereitschaftspotential would be the rising part of the brain fluctuations that tend to coincide with the decisions. This is a highly specific situation, not a general case for all, or even many, choices.

Other recent studies support the idea of the Bereitschaftspotential as a symmetry-breaking signal. In a study of monkeys tasked with choosing between two equal options, a separate team of researchers saw that a monkey’s upcoming choice correlated with its intrinsic brain activity before the monkey was even presented with options.

In a new study under review for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Schurger and two Princeton researchers repeated a version of Libet’s experiment. To avoid unintentionally cherry-picking brain noise, they included a control condition in which people didn’t move at all. An artificial-intelligence classifier allowed them to find at what point brain activity in the two conditions diverged. If Libet was right, that should have happened at 500 milliseconds before the movement. But the algorithm couldn’t tell any difference until about only 150 milliseconds before the movement, the time people reported making decisions in Libet’s original experiment.

In other words, people’s subjective experience of a decision—what Libet’s study seemed to suggest was just an illusion—appeared to match the actual moment their brains showed them making a decision.

When Schurger first proposed the neural-noise explanation, in 2012, the paper didn’t get much outside attention, but it did create a buzz in neuroscience. Schurger received awards for overturning a long-standing idea. “It showed the Bereitschaftspotential may not be what we thought it was. That maybe it’s in some sense artifactual, related to how we analyze our data,” says Uri Maoz, a computational neuroscientist at Chapman University.

For a paradigm shift, the work met minimal resistance. Schurger appeared to have unearthed a classic scientific mistake, so subtle that no one had noticed it and no amount of replication studies could have solved it, unless they started testing for causality. Now, researchers who questioned Libet and those who supported him are both shifting away from basing their experiments on the Bereitschaftspotential. (The few people I found still holding the traditional view confessed that they had not read Schurger’s 2012 paper.)

“It’s opened my mind,” says Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at University College London who collaborated with Libet and reproduced the original experiments.

It’s still possible that Schurger is wrong. Researchers broadly accept that he has deflated Libet’s model of Bereitschaftspotential, but the inferential nature of brain modeling leaves the door cracked for an entirely different explanation in the future. And unfortunately for popular-science conversation, Schurger’s groundbreaking work does not solve the pesky question of free will any more than Libet’s did. If anything, Schurger has only deepened the question.

Is everything we do determined by the cause-and-effect chain of genes, environment, and the cells that make up our brain, or can we freely form intentions that influence our actions in the world? The topic is immensely complicated, and Schurger’s valiant debunking underscores the need for more precise and better-informed questions.

“Philosophers have been debating free will for millennia, and they have been making progress. But neuroscientists barged in like an elephant into a china shop and claimed to have solved it in one fell swoop,” Maoz says. In an attempt to get everyone on the same page, he is heading the first intensive research collaboration between neuroscientists and philosophers, backed by $7 million from two private foundations, the John Templeton Foundation and the Fetzer Institute. At an inaugural conference in March, attendees discussed plans for designing philosophically informed experiments, and unanimously agreed on the need to pin down the various meanings of “free will.”

In that, they join Libet himself. While he remained firm on his interpretation of his study, he thought his experiment was not enough to prove total determinism—the idea that all events are set in place by previous ones, including our own mental functions. “Given the issue is so fundamentally important to our view of who we are, a claim that our free will is illusory should be based on fairly direct evidence,” he wrote in a 2004 book. “Such evidence is not available.””

-by Bernardo Kastrup, 2/5/2020, for Scientific American

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Most recently the author of The Idea of the World: A Multi-disciplinary Argument for the Mental Nature of Reality, Bernardo Kastrup has a Ph.D. in philosophy (ontology, philosophy of mind) and another in computer engineering (reconfigurable computing, artificial intelligence). He has worked as a scientist in some of the world’s foremost research laboratories, including the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and authored many academic papers and books on philosophy and science. For more information, freely downloadable papers, videos, etc., please visit www.bernardokastrup.com.

“At least since the Enlightenment, in the 18th century, one of the most central questions of human existence has been whether we have free will. In the late 20th century, some thought neuroscience had settled the question. However, as it has recently become clear, such was not the case. The elusive answer is nonetheless foundational to our moral codes, criminal justice system, religions and even to the very meaning of life itself—for if every event of life is merely the predictable outcome of mechanical laws, one may question the point of it all.

But before we ask ourselves whether we have free will, we must understand what exactly we mean by it. A common and straightforward view is that, if our choices are predetermined, then we don’t have free will; otherwise we do. Yet, upon more careful reflection, this view proves surprisingly inappropriate.

To see why, notice first that the prefix “pre” in “predetermined choice” is entirely redundant. Not only are all predetermined choices determined by definition, all determined choices can be regarded as predetermined as well: they always result from dispositions or necessities that precede them. Therefore, what we are really asking is simply whether our choices are determined.

In this context, a free-willed choice would be an undetermined one. But what is an undetermined choice? It can only be a random one, for anything that isn’t fundamentally random reflects some underlying disposition or necessity that determines it. There is no semantic space between determinism and randomness that could accommodate choices that are neither. This is a simple but important point, for we often think—incoherently—of free-willed choices as neither determined nor random.

Our very notion of randomness is already nebulous and ambiguous to begin with. Operationally, we say that a process is random if we can’t discern a pattern in it. However, a truly random process can, in principle, produce any pattern by mere chance. The probability of this happening may be small, but it isn’t zero. So, when we say that a process is random, we are merely acknowledging our ignorance of its potential underlying causal basis. As such, an appeal to randomness doesn’t suffice to define free will.

Moreover, even if it did, when we think of free will we don’t think of mere randomness. Free choices aren’t erratic ones, are they? Neither are they undetermined: if I believe that I make free choices, it is because I feel that my choices are determined by me. A free choice is one determined by my preferences, likes, dislikes, character, etc., as opposed to someone else’s or other external forces.

But if our choices are always determined anyway, what does it mean to talk of free will in the first place? If you think about it carefully, the answer is self-evident: we have free will if our choices are determined by that which we experientially identify with. I identify with my tastes and preferences—as consciously felt by me—in the sense that I regard them as expressions of myself. My choices are thus free insofar as they are determined by these felt tastes and preferences.

Why, then, do we think that metaphysical materialism—the notion that our choices are determined by neurophysiological activity in our own brain—contradicts free will? Because, try as we might, we don’t experientially identify with neurophysiology; not even our own. As far as our conscious life is concerned, the neurophysiological activity in our brain is merely an abstraction. All we are directly and concretely acquainted with are our fears, desires, inclinations, etc., as experienced—that is, our felt volitional states. So, we identify with these, not with networks of firing neurons inside our skull. The alleged identity between neurophysiology and felt volition is merely a conceptual—not an experiential—one.

The key issue here is one that permeates the entire metaphysics of materialism: all we ever truly have are the contents of consciousness, which philosophers call “phenomenality.”’ Our entire life is a stream of felt and perceived phenomenality. That this phenomenality somehow arises from something material, outside consciousness—such as networks of firing neurons—is a theoretical inference, not a lived reality; it’s a narrative we create and buy into on the basis of conceptual reasoning, not something felt. That’s why, for the life of us, we can’t truly identify with it.

So, the question of free will boils down to one of metaphysics: are our felt volitional states reducible to something outside and independent of consciousness? If so, there cannot be free will, for we can only identify with contents of consciousness. But if, instead, neurophysiology is merely how our felt volitional states present themselves to observation from an outside perspective—that is, if neurophysiology is merely the image of conscious willing, not its cause or source—then we do have free will; for in the latter case, our choices are determined by volitional states we intuitively regard as expressions of ourselves.

Crucially, the question of metaphysics can be legitimately broached in a way that inverts the usual free will equation: according to 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, it is the laws of nature that arise from a transpersonal will, not the will from the laws of nature. Felt volitional states are the irreducible foundation of both mind and world. Although Schopenhauer’s views are often woefully misunderstood and misrepresented—most conspicuously by presumed experts—when correctly construed they offer a coherent scheme for reconciling free will with seemingly deterministic natural laws.

As elucidated in my concise new book, Decoding Schopenhauer’s Metaphysics, for Schopenhauer the inner essence of everything is conscious volition—that is, will. Nature is dynamic because its underlying volitional states provide the impetus required for events to unfold. Like his predecessor Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer thought of what we call the “physical world” as merely an image, a perceptual representation of the world in the mind of an observer. But this representation isn’t what the world is like in itself, prior to being represented.

Since the information we have about the external environment seems to be limited to perceptual representations, Kant considered the world-in-itself unknowable. Schopenhauer, however, argued that we can learn something about it not only through the sense organs, but also through introspection. His argument goes as follows: even in the absence of all self-perception mediated by the sense organs, we would still experience our own endogenous, felt volition.

Therefore, prior to being represented we are essentially will. Our physical body is merely how our will presents itself to an external vantage point. And since both our body and the rest of the world appear in representation as matter, Schopenhauer inferred that the rest of the world, just like ourselves, is also essentially will.

In Schopenhauer’s illuminating view of reality, the will is indeed free because it is all there ultimately is. Yet, its image is nature’s seemingly deterministic laws, which reflect the instinctual inner consistency of the will. Today, over 200d years after he first published his groundbreaking ideas, Schopenhauer’s work can reconcile our innate intuition of free will with modern scientific determinism.”


-by Matt Nelson

“For those who reject the notion of free will, our experience of making our own decisions is nothing more than a deep-seated illusion. “The reality is,” insists biologist Anthony Cashmore, “not only do we have no more free will than a fly or a bacterium, in actuality we have no more free will than a bowl of sugar.”

Those who argue for the nonexistence of free will often do so on scientific grounds. And those who offer a scientific “proof” against free will point to one type of experiment more than any other—namely, those done and inspired by neurobiologist Benjamin Libet.

In 1983, Libet seemed to prove that the unconscious processes of the brain—the interaction of molecules, electrical discharges, and the like, which are associated with decision-making—are ultimately in control. In other words, our voluntary decisions begin unconsciously in the brain. So it is the brain, not the person, that decides the actions we “feel” to be voluntary.

Libet-style experiments involve having a subject carry out a simple prescribed behavior (flexing the wrist, bending a finger, etc.) whenever he feels the urge to do so. Watching a special clock while he executes his movement, the subject notes the specific time at which he decided to move. The goal of the researchers is to plot a timeline of averages, noting the typical sequence of brain activity (e.g., by EEG), muscle activity (e.g., by EMG), and conscious urging (by subjective reporting). The expectation is that if our intentional actions are truly free, associated brain activity will follow the moment of decision. But this is not what Libet found.

Why does this matter? Well, it has obvious implications for the truth of the Catholic worldview. It also concerns human nature and how we understand ourselves as human beings. For if we don’t have free will, then this may dramatically change how we govern ourselves and interact with others. Much of how we operate as individuals, communities, states, and institutions presuppose that we are personally responsible for our actions. But if it were proven that we are not, this would entirely undermine our rationale for structuring and governing society on the assumption that we are free creatures.

So did these experiments really succeed in proving that free will is an illusion? They did not.

First of all, the experiments look exclusively at spontaneously willed behavior with brain activity. Participants were asked to act when they felt the urge. These experiments, then, say little about choices resulting from rational planning. At most, they suggest the nonexistence of free will in the restricted case of willful spontaneity. The voluntary actions with which they are concerned are barely more than split-second reactions. As some critics have observed, such studies tell us more about “picking” than “choosing.”

But even that conclusion might be overly hasty, for the concept of free will is not as plain as often presumed. Free will is a spiritual appetite for the intellectually known good. A decision, moved by free will, is not a quantifiable event like a neuronal discharge. Nor is it reducible to an instantaneous impulse or urge. And a willed movement is not always a purely linear cause-then-effect event like a cue ball striking an eight-ball into action. The activity of the will is more “smoothed out” and pervasive than an impulse. And it is enacted in layers. Thus, even in a setting like the Libet-style experiments, the free will cannot be isolated as cleanly as many assume.

For each study participant, in carrying out the prescribed movement, the will to move in this way at this time is nested within a multiplicity of other intentions motivating the same action. A singular act of wrist flexion is driven also (presumably) by the will to participate in the study; by the desire to follow the specific instructions given; by the desire to contribute to neuroscientific advancement; and in the will to do something for the common good. Additionally, the subject may bend his wrist because he desires to fulfill a class requirement—a class he desires to pass—or because he thinks it will hold the attention of the attractive research assistant across the room. The point is this: due to the complex integration of intentions involved in a single choice to move a body part, these studies cannot account for all the reasons that cause a person to conduct a singular movement. There is a sense in which the free decision of the research subject to flex his wrist “now” originated even before he entered the research lab.

We find ourselves here at an important juncture. It shows that once we have started making claims about free will’s reality or unreality, we have turned from all observation, measurement, and data analysis. We have reached the far side of the physical and have (perhaps unwittingly) thrust ourselves into the realm of philosophy.

Let’s turn to some further considerations. The Libet experiments relied on machines to capture brain and muscle activity. But it must be noted that neither EEG nor fMRI, nor any other form of advanced imaging, can capture the qualitative content of brain activity. When researchers carry out Libet-style experiments, they note the onset of brain activity and compare it to that of muscle activity and, more importantly, the time when the subject reports consciously willing the prescribed movement. But there is no precise way for scientists to know—even when the subject acts on an urge—whether the brain activity recorded or observed is representative of decision, or decision-making, or planning to make a decision.

In fact, more recent research shows the same brain activity believed to induce conscious decision-making is also found in subjects even when they do not make a conscious decision. Libet’s initial conclusion was “that cerebral initiation even of a spontaneous voluntary act . . . can and usually does begin unconsciously.” But these recent studies call such a conclusion into serious question.

There are several other critiques and limitations that have a significant impact on how much (or little) Libet-style studies actually prove. For an excellent detailed discussion of these limitations and their philosophical implications, read Alfred Mele’s little book Free.

At most, Libet-style experiments prove that a constrained subset of willed behaviors is not as freely executed as we are inclined to assume. But as we have seen, they hardly prove even that much. As far as Catholics traditionally conceive human freedom, such experiments pose little threat—and thus, the human person has every reason to believe that he remains infinitely more free than a bowl of sugar.”

Love, freely willed,
Matthew

Conscience

-United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

What is conscience?
God creates us with a capacity to know and love him, and we have a natural desire to seek the truth about him. Fortunately, we don’t search for God unaided; indeed, he calls us to himself and writes his law on our hearts to help us draw closer to him.

Conscience helps us hear the voice of God; it helps us recognize the truth about God and the truth about how we ought to live. Conscience is “a judgment of reason”1 by which we determine whether an action is right or wrong.

Jesus told the apostles, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). We deepen our relationship with God by following him, and in doing so, we become more fully ourselves.

Importance of a Well-Formed Conscience
Have you ever made a decision that turned out badly, but if you had more information beforehand, you would have made a better decision? Sometimes, we may have the best of intentions to do good, but choose an action that is, in itself, wrong.

For example, think of learning a new language. We can only speak with the language we have, and if we have not received good education in vocabulary and grammar, we will communicate poorly, and others will not understand us. It is similar with conscience.

If our conscience isn’t well-formed, we aren’t well-equipped to determine right from wrong. All of us have the personal responsibility to align our consciences with the truth so that, when we are faced with the challenges of daily life, our consciences can help guide us well.

How to Form Our Consciences
Wherever we are on our journey with Christ, we can grow deeper with him by continuing the work of forming our consciences well, so that we may follow him ever more closely. Although not a complete list, these suggestions can help us as we seek to inform and strengthen our consciences with God’s truth.

Pray
Through prayer and participation in the sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist, we encounter the living God. Spending time with the Lord, such as in silent adoration, opens our hearts to him. In drawing closer to the Lord, we allow God’s grace to conform our minds and hearts to Christ, so that we might better discern in every moment how we ought to act.

Learn
Without a foundational, practical formation, it is difficult for our consciences to guide us well in concrete situations. As Catholics, we have the immense gift of the teaching authority of the Catholic Church and can turn to it for help forming our consciences. For example, learning about Christian moral principles, reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or researching what the Church says about a challenging teaching will help us grow in knowledge of the truth. In turn, this helps us understand a little more how to live in a way that leads to our true happiness.

Reflect
We are formed by the stories we hear and tell. We may be uncertain how we ought to respond to various challenges as followers of Jesus, but there are many saints who have faced similar questions throughout the ages. Immersing ourselves in the stories of holy women and men can encourage us and help us develop habits of mind that allow us to grow. Stories help us hone our instincts.

Nurture friendships
A life of following Jesus is exceedingly difficult without help from a community. When we devote energy to holy friendships with people who are also trying to know, love, and serve the Lord, we gain partners who can lighten the load. Conversation with other Christians about how to respond to challenges in the life of discipleship are vital.

Two Challenges
A couple challenges we may face in following our consciences are worth noting.

Indifference
When we are bombarded with news, images, stories, and sound bites, it’s easy to become numb to other people and the world around us. Conscience requires us to be attentive. We must listen to God, who speaks to us. Having a well-formed conscience doesn’t mean we have all the answers to the complex problems in the world, but it does mean that we are sensitive to the needs and struggles of other people.

Coercion
Increasingly, we are seeing that certain groups use the power of the media and even of the state to coerce people to violate their consciences. We can see how unjust these types of actions are that insist that popular opinion, rather than conscience, should be our primary guide for action.

Our Response
Inspired by the example of Sister Agnes Walsh and her mother superior, let us devote ourselves anew to following wherever the Lord leads. Let us take courage from their example of faith and, when facing our own trials, remember what Jesus promised his apostles before ascending into heaven: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Be not afraid; God is with us.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd. ed., 1778.

-Archdiocese of St Paul/Minneapolis

What does it mean to have a well-formed conscience?
The formation of a good conscience is another fundamental element of Christian moral teaching. “Conscience is a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act” (CCC, no. 1796). “Man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary” (GS, no. 16).

Conscience represents both the more general ability we have as human beings to know what is good and right and the concrete judgments we make in particular situations concerning what we should do or about what we have already done. Moral choices confront us with the decision to follow or depart from reason and the divine law. A good conscience makes judgments that conform to reason and the good that is willed by the Wisdom of God. A good conscience requires lifelong formation. Each baptized follower of Christ is obliged to form his or her conscience according to objective moral standards. The Word of God is a principal tool in the formation of conscience when it is assimilated by study, prayer, and practice. The prudent advice and good example of others support and enlighten our conscience. The authoritative teaching of the Church is an essential element in our conscience formation. Finally, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, combined with regular examination of our conscience, will help us develop a morally sensitive conscience.

Because our conscience is that inner sanctuary in which we listen to the voice of God, we must remember to distinguish between our subjective self and what is objectively true outside ourselves. We can be subjectively in error about something that is objectively true. On the objective level, if our conscience is “correct,” then there is no error between what is internally perceived to be true and truth itself. If there is an incorrect conscience, that means that the conscience is erroneous in its view of truth.

On the subjective level we can have a “certain” conscience, which means we believe that our conscience is in conformity with what is objectively true. A person can have a “certain” conscience on the subjective level but an “incorrect” one on the objective level. For example, a person thinks that Ash Wednesday is a Holy Day of Obligation and chooses to miss Mass anyway. The person thinks it is a Holy Day (certain subjectively but incorrect objectively) and acts on it. This person has a certain but incorrect conscience. But because the conscience acted against what it perceived to be objectively the good, the conscience chooses to sin.

There are some rules to follow in obeying one’s conscience. First, always follow a certain conscience. Second, an incorrect conscience must be changed if possible. Third, do not act with a doubtful conscience. We must always obey the certain judgments of our conscience, realizing that our conscience can be incorrect, that it can make a mistake about what is truly the good or the right thing to do. This can be due to ignorance in which, through no fault of our own, we did not have all we needed to make a correct judgment.

However, we must also recognize that ignorance and errors are not always free from guilt, for example, when we did not earnestly seek what we needed in order to form our conscience correctly. Since we have the obligation to obey our conscience, we also have the great responsibility to see that it is formed in a way that reflects the true moral good.

Through loyalty to conscience Christians are joined to other men in the search for truth and the right solution to many moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships. Hence, the more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by the objective standards of moral conduct. (GS, no. 16)”


-by Fr. Christopher Pietraszko, Ignitum, Fr. Christopher serves in the Diocese of London, Ontario.

“The Church is not called to micromanage consciences – because a conscience is a throne for Christ living in a unique way in the individual, whereby their own subjective experience of objective reality is called to become docile to God’s will in freedom (aligned). Micromanaging the conscience is ultimately dehumanizing, trivializing the the sacredness of the individual will in relationship with God’s particular call in that person’s life.

Egalitarianist tendencies can govern the mind of any form of leadership, whereby seeking “sameness” in all things is perceived to be equalizing, fair, and simple. This however is contrary to the gospel which expounds on the unity manifest in diversity. These two dimensions of unity and diversity are sometimes exaggerated or not integrated and in such a case one has not reached what we might call an intellectual or affective maturity in discernment.

Sacred Scripture indicates that the ‘body of Christ’ is made up of members who accept diversity for the sake of unity, and unity for the sake of accepting diversity. These two dimensions, when rightly ordered to God’s mission, not man’s vision, embody the Church as the hands and feet of Christ. When diversity is emphasized to the neglect of unity we become individualists or “rogue” or “lone-rangers.” However, every extreme generates the other as a result of tribalism. Thus, those who emphasize unity at the neglect of diversity find themselves promoting an oppressive type of conformity. With this, what we discover is an abuse of power. With the former we discover an excessive acquiescence of power.

A healthy understanding of the moral law helps us understand why the Church needs to butt-out of people’s decisions, while also enforcing others. Both respecting a person’s individual conscience and enforcing certain disciplines are for the sake of the common-good. Typically the enforcement of law is seen as the sole proprietor of working towards the common-good, however to Aquinas this is an incomplete truth. In fact, he would state, that if a law isn’t followed by the masses, it may be the case that the law needs to he changed.

Developing a deeper understanding of the law that gives way to the subjective discernment within the Church that does not require a micromanaging paternalism is discoverable in the distinction between positive precepts versus negative precepts. Negative precepts require solid teaching that is unwavering because they are “negative” statements that involve the rejection of what is always objectively the case. The term we would use here is “intrinsically wrong/evil.” Negative precepts of the law are universal, and as such, teachings on contraception according to the Infallible Document of HV are considered as such. These therefore require enforcement.

Positive precepts however can pertain to what is licit, but not necessarily in every circumstance. For instance, pregnant women cannot receive the vaccine due to health concerns since the vaccines themselves are still in the experimental phase and we do not have enough information pertaining to the effect they may have on both the mother and child. Another example could be in regard to evangelization. It is true that we are all called to evangelize as baptized Christians, but not in every circumstance. For instance, when I sleep, I am not consciously able to dialogue with another using my charisms as such to explicitly generate faith in the lives of others. What of vocations?

To some degree, it is both the discernment of the Church and the discernment of the individual. Thus involving both in this discernment process, like a marriage involves listening to the voice of Christ who speaks through the conscience/discernment of what Christ is saying. Therefore one does not force a person against their will to enter into a vocation (arranged marriage/enslaved-priesthood). What of the number of children a couple have? Although there are given principles that are universal, the application of those principles to their concrete circumstances are not always clear: health conditions, mental health, and as such: grave-impediments. The priest does not dictate to the family that no matter what they must have 8 children. In an egalitarian manner, the priest does not say: all couples must have 8 children.

Being formed in our family or origin, our relationships, or even our monastery/convent/seminary, in the way these principles are set forward will have an impact on how we live out our vocation. If in one environment conscience is not respected or the law is not enforced when it ought to be, then this disordered approach to unity (egalitarianism) or diversity (individualism) will be copied, reacted to (thus opposed in its opposite extreme).

The Church, government, in respect to human wisdom is never perfect. Thus it must ongoingly examine the complexities of the day, and do its best to first ask the question: “What do you will God?” How we listen to that voice, while in humility and mortification suspending our own natural vision, and preferences, will give us the interior freedom to be led by Christ and navigate a healthy integration of these two principles. We must be patient in the discernment process, accepting that some mistakes will be made, because it can be challenging to know how to integrate two principles that exist in a perpetual state of changing tension (cf. Cardinal St John Henry Newman)”

Love & Peace,
Matthew

John Calvin’s total depravity. Why does evil exist?


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

“In John Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, he presents a view of man that is very much like Luther’s but contrary to what we find in the pages of Sacred Scripture. Calvin used texts such as Genesis 6:5—“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”—and Romans 3:10ff—“None is righteous, no not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one ”—to prove that man is utterly depraved through the fall of Adam and Eve.

Calvin’s conclusion from these texts and others was to say, “The will is so utterly vitiated and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil” (Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 26).

What say we?

The context of the texts Calvin used actually demonstrates the opposite of his claim. For example, if we read forward just four verses in Genesis 6, we find: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. . . . Noah was a righteous [“just”] man, blameless in his generation” (Gen. 6:8-9). While we Catholics agree that God’s grace or “favor” was essential for Noah to be truly “just” before God, nevertheless Noah was truly just, according to the text.

As far as the quote from Romans is concerned, the greater context of the entire epistle must be understood. One of the central themes of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is the fact that it is through “the goodness of God” that we are led to repent (cf. Romans 2:4), to be justified (Romans 5:1-2), and persevere in the faith (cf. Romans 11:22). It is solely because of God’s grace that we become truly just:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God (Rom. 5:1-2).

Further,

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death . . . in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:2,4).

Notice the emphasis on the fact that man is made truly just so much so that he can fulfill “the just requirement of the law.” It doesn’t get any more just, or righteous, than that!

Thus, Romans 3:10ff simply does not teach total depravity in a Calvinist sense. It cannot when the context is understood.

Moreover, if we examine the verses where St. Paul paints his picture of the wicked who have “turned aside” and “done wrong,” we find he actually quotes Psalm 14:3. The next two verses of this Psalm explain who these “evil ones” are:

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.

The Psalmist clearly refers to both evildoers and the righteous.

These and other passages from Romans tell us that Christ came to make us just, not that there are absolutely none who are just. We must stress again that it is because of the justice of Christ communicated to the faithful that their actions and, indeed, they themselves are truly made just. But they indeed are truly made just.

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right (Gr., ho poion tein dikaiousunein/ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην—“the one doing justice”) is righteous (Gr., dikaios estin/δίκαιός ἐστιν—“is just”) as He is righteous (Gr., kathos ekeinos dikaios estin/καθὼς ἐκεῖνος δίκαιός ἐστιν—“as He is just”). -1 Jn 3:7

Scripture couldn’t be clearer that the faithful are made truly just in their being and in their actions through the grace of Christ.

The problem magnified

More grave problems arise when we begin to follow the path Calvin lays for us with his first principle. Even when considering the unregenerate, Calvin is wrong about total depravity, because Scripture tells us even those outside of the law can “do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:14-15).

Though Catholics agree with Calvinists that grace is necessary even for those who are ignorant of the law in order for them to be just before God—in other words, this text is not saying these pagans can be justified apart from grace—the text does infer that nature is not totally depraved, because man can clearly act justly on a natural level and by nature.

But an even more grave error comes to the fore when we consider his notion of the depravity of the just.

“Depravity of the just?” Yes. That was not a typo. According to John Calvin, even those who have been justified by Christ “cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation” (Institutes, bk. III, ch. 9, para. 9). What a far cry this is from “he that acts justly is just” (I John 3:7) or the plain words of the Psalmist, who uses similar words as found in Genesis with regard to Abraham being justified by faith: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). In the Psalms we read: “Then Phineas stood up and interposed, and the plague was stayed. And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation” (Ps. 106:30-31).

Clearly, Phineas was justified by his works and not only by faith. In other words, Phineas’s works are truly “just as he is just,” to use the words of I John 3:7.

There are a multitude of biblical texts that come to mind at this point, but here are only three:

“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned”? (Matt. 12:37).

“By works a man is justified and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24).

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14).

These texts do not even come close to saying all of these works were “worthy of condemnation.” They say just the opposite!

We should be clear here: All “good works” man performs that contribute to his salvation are first and foremost God’s gifts, which, along with his cooperation, truly make him just and worthy to “walk with [Christ] in white; for [he is] worthy” (Rev. 3:4) by God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot escape the biblical fact that these works are truly just and they are truly the fruit of the just man himself.

Understanding the strange

When John Calvin says man is utterly dependent upon God for every single just thought in his mind (cf. Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 27), Catholics will happily agree. And they would be correct: We do agree. However, appearances can be deceiving, because there is meaning beneath those words that Catholics cannot agree with.

With Calvin, there is no sense of grace aiding and empowering our wills as St. Augustine taught and the Catholic Church teaches. For Calvin, being “dependent upon God” means our free cooperation or free will has no part to play. God does not merely empower our wills; He operates them.

In the end, this may well be the most disturbing idea stemming from Calvin’s notion of total depravity: Man is essentially God’s puppet, a notion that led to Calvin attributing both the good and the evil actions of man to God.

And mind you, Calvin rejects and ridicules the Catholic notion of God merely permitting evil and working all things together for good. In his words:

Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting, because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that He directs their malice to whatever end He pleases” (Institutes, bk. I, ch. XVIII, para. 1).

Evildoers do not commit acts of depravity in spite of the command of God, but because of the command of God, according to Calvin (ibid., para. 4)!

Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 are used to teach that there is no evil that occurs that is not “impelled” by God’s positive command (ibid., para. 2).

God is the author of all those things that, according to these objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil (Is. [45:7]); that no evil happens which he hath not done (Amos [3:6]) (ibid., para. 3).

As Catholics we understand, as St. Paul teaches, “[S]ince they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Rom. 1:28). This means God may well remove grace that is rejected. He may also hold back grace as well, but this is, as St. Augustine said, God’s “just judgment.”

But according to Calvin’s unbiblical teaching, God does not give grace in the first place and then “impels” men to act sinfully. As quoted above, according to Calvin, God causes evil. And we are not talking about physical evil here; we are talking about moral evil. That is categorically absurd! God cannot “do” or “impel” moral evil because He is infinitely and absolutely good.

God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:8, Numbers 23:19); “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13) or act contrary to His nature. If God’s nature is one of love and pure being, it is absurd to say that He can “do” evil, which is by nature a lack of some perfection that ought to be present in a given nature. In fact, James 1:13 tells us that God not only cannot cause this kind of evil, He cannot even tempt anyone with evil. That is contrary to His nature.

The bottom line

When Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 say God “creates evil” and “does evil,” this must be seen only in a sense in which it does not contradict God’s nature and what is clearly revealed to us about God in Scripture. God can directly cause physical evil, such as the ten plagues he released against Egypt in Exodus. But this was an act of justice, which was morally upright and justified.

We can also say that God permits evil in view of the fact that He chose to create us with freedom. But even there, God permits evil only in view of His promise to bring good out of that evil, as is most profoundly demonstrated through the greatest evil in the history of the world: the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through this greatest evil God brings about the greatest good: the redemption of the world. God did not kill Christ, nor did he “impel” anyone to kill Christ.

But by virtue of His Omnipotence, He brings good out of the evil acts committed.”

Love,
Matthew

The responsibility of free will


-by Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem., a convert from Episcopalianism

“Freedom!” To hear contemporary people speak, you would think that this notion gives us the essence of human dignity and happiness. Well, freedom is surely closely related to our human dignity and to our acquiring of happiness but not because it is the most important component of either human nature or human fulfillment. It is a condition of our participation in the good things that we need to receive or accomplish in order to be good or happy, but it is not the best aspect of our goodness or happiness.

Free will, as it is called, is simply a composite effect of the fact that we are knowing, rational beings who thus have the power to choose among several (and “several” can mean a whole lot!) means to accomplish a desired end. [Ed. There is no true, real, honest love w/out free will.]  We can go by foot, by ten-speed, by motorcycle, by skateboard, by bus, by car, or by plane or boat. Our freedom is precisely our rational ability to choose between a number of means to an end. This means that our freedom is not an end in itself—it is itself a kind of means to the end.

The frequent problem with people, at least in our culture, is that they think everything is just fine as long as you get to choose (Ed. w/out truly considering the dramatic responsibility of the power they exercise}. The classical and Catholic view is different. For us, everything is fine if we use our understanding in order to arrive at our true good. How stupid it would be to say, “Well, it doesn’t matter that you decided to go shopping for a new smartphone and so missed your mother’s funeral, because at least you were using your freedom!”

A silly approach like this, which is obviously wrong when we apply it to practical things, often ends up being our excuse for serious defects in our relationship with God and with each other. You even hear people say that that it is a better thing for people to be free to go to hell, since that proves that God made us free. This is nonsense.

Misuse of free will is a defect, not a perfection. It doesn’t prove anything except that we are not God, and so we are capable of not reaching the goal of our existence. We should never speak as though God had no choice but to make us capable of going to hell, otherwise he would not show us the respect due our nature, which is dignified by our free will!

Not at all. God gave us free will in order to reach Him according to our reasonable and loving nature, not to prove a philosophical point. Of course, not even God can make a creature that is radically and totally incapable of falling short of its end and goal, but this ability to suffer so awful a defect does not constitute the dignity of the creature; rather, it is just a natural liability of not being God.

This is so deeply part of the modern view of things, even among Catholics, that they fall into the error of Pelagius, against which Pope Francis is always speaking, the idea that our salvation requires our previous activity and that damnation is a proof of our dignity. This is not Christian thought—it is rationalist, pagan thought.

It would be better for us to esteem the power of divine grace and the ability of God effectively to attract our free will to Himself so that we can persevere in grace and be saved. As St. Augustine, the great doctor of grace and theologian of free will, prays, “Give what You command, and command what You will.”

Our free will is only a snare and a road to inevitable disaster without the grace of God, and we will be very happy one day when, seeing the supreme Good, our end, and, possessing Him eternally, we will unable to choose anyone or anything else. Then freedom will have achieved its perfect goal, and we will be at rest in ecstatic joy all together in the kingdom of God’s grace.”

Love,
Matthew

Aug 29 – Beheading of John the Baptist & free will


-“The Feast of Herod”, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531, oil on panel, Height: 81.3 cm (32 ″); Width: 119.7 cm (47.1″), Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT (please click on the image for greater detail)


-by Br Raymond La Grange, OP

“Today is the memorial of the Passion of John the Baptist, who was killed by the corrupt King Herod for condemning the monarch’s illicit marriage (Mk 6:17-29). For John, this was the culmination of a life of sanctity announced by an angel even before his conception (Lk 1:11-17). (Ed. Freed from sin by the Magnificat, John leapt in his mother’s womb.)  This divine decree presents a curious paradox. God, being all-powerful, was able to determine the course of John’s life before his birth (ST I q. 23, a. 6), but at the same time, God respected John’s free will (ST II-I q. 6, a. 4, ob. 1). How is it that God can determine what we will freely choose?

Modern thinking often seems to suppose that freedom of the will means that our choices have no cause other than the will, as if the will depends on nothing. Thomas explains instead that the will is free because it proceeds from an interior principle, namely knowledge, that allows us to act for an end which we know (ST II-I q. 6, a. 1, 4). God did not ‘force’ John the Baptist to give up his life; rather, by his grace he enlightened John the Baptist so that he would understand the good of preaching the truth even when it endangered him.

As a rather crude analogy, consider how a parent can teach a child to make good choices, not by compulsion, but by education. Keep in mind also that some knowledge is abstract, as when a smoker who is trying to quit knows that his habit is bad for him, but rationalizes that away each time he smokes. John’s knowledge was entirely practical; he knew clearly that in his situation the only thing worth doing was to tell the truth. He saw clearly the disappointment inherent in every other course, and so he was free to act for the sake of the truth.

Furthermore, there is never competition between divine and human causality. Two human agents can operate on the same level, when for example two men pull on a rope. In that case, we can ask who pulls harder, and if the men are pulling in opposite directions, maybe the rope will not move at all. But God operates on a completely different level. He is the one who created humans and ropes and set all things in motion.

As another crude analogy, if I write with a pencil, both I and the pencil are equally truly causes of the writing, but in very different ways. Even though I am “in charge,” I do not force the pencil to do anything unnatural. God has even more causal power, because he created pencil-materials in the first place. In the same way, God created John the Baptist as the kind of person who would give up his life for the sake of the truth. God is the first cause on which all else depends. Nothing escapes his causal power, not even the interior life of John (ST I q. 19, a. 6, ad. 3).

You might have noticed that, left to our own devices, there are actually significant limits on our freedom. Those who struggle with habitual sin will know well the painful cycle of repeatedly making a bad choice. The will continually inclines toward damaging action, misapprehended (deceived) for the moment as a good.

Our choices are rather dependent on our own fallen selves, and so we will not always be able to avoid deceiving ourselves and making poor choices. True freedom, then, can only be found outside ourselves, in grace given freely by God that can break us out of our own self-imposed prison. It is by such grace that John’s interior movements were so perfected that he was able to freely give his life. It is only by such divine grace, and not by some creative act of the will, that we can truly draw closer to God”

Love,
Matthew

Doubt, despair, hopelessness,… & Truth.

The ultimate thing the devil wants is our ultimate despair. Resist him. Eph 6:10-18.

“What is truth?” -Jn 18:38


-by Br Raymond La Grange, OP

“In the twentieth century, many thinkers became disillusioned with traditional morality. It seemed to be a cold and impersonal list of rules. For something supposedly based on a transcendent God, it was surprisingly powerless to resist changing social conventions. Many took it as a given that received moral norms are nothing more than commonly held ideas about decency, often buoyed by fluffy thoughts about what God supposedly wants. In Sigrid Undset’s 1932 novel Ida Elisabeth, the main character of the same name considers the religion of her mother-in-law, Borghild:

“But all she had been able to get out of it was that Borghild Braatö’s god dwelt in Borghild Braatö’s heart and broadly speaking was of Borghild Braatö’s opinion on all questions, spoke to her through her conscience and gave his approval whenever she made a decision.”

In the face of such a vacuous morality, what is one to do? I will present the contrasting approaches of two Nobel Laureates. The mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell attempted to engineer moral norms to make them more manageable, while the author Sigrid Undset sought to return to a deeper traditional Catholic morality.

Russell’s approach has become characteristic of progressive movements. Since moral norms only express what is socially acceptable, a rational society may modify its expectations. In his 1936 essay Our Sexual Ethics, he argued that while adultery certainly has its downsides, it is just not realistic for most people to avoid it. In centuries past, spouses were seldom separated for long periods. Small villages, where everyone knew everyone else, would discourage indiscretions, while the fear of hellfire would keep the passions at bay. Without those helps, we might as well decide that adultery is okay after all and work around that. At least no one will feel guilty when they inevitably commit adultery. Russell would become a champion of the sexual revolution.

Sigrid Undset took a very different approach. Raised an agnostic, as a young woman she wandered in moral confusion, falling in and out of love, before finally settling down with a man who had abandoned his first wife. This relationship produced three children, but was not to last. One can detect in her work from this period a dissatisfaction with life. Her 1911 novel Jenny explores the tension in the life of a woman whose only moral code is self-respect. She seeks love but is powerless to its fickleness. By the end, one suspects that Undset did not think there was much more to life than this tension.

During the years of her marriage, Undset began asking serious questions. She had long thought that the morality she heard from the Lutheran State Church was no more adequate to explain life than it was to oppose the legalization of divorce years before. But she realized that the human person demanded far more than any socially updated moral code could deliver. This was especially clear in the face of the joy of her own motherhood. In 1919, she wrote against attempts to fix contemporary problems encountered in marriages by the easy means of divorce and looser moral standards. Instead of giving up on the demands of marriage, she argued, the Catholic Church raised it up by making it a sacrament. In 1924, Sigrid Undset was received into the Catholic Church.

Both Russell and Undset felt that the common notions of morality in their societies were, at bottom, social conventions. Both would initially push these boundaries. Russell went on to modify moral codes to perceived convenience. Undset came to realize that neither social conventions nor the experimentation of a young artist could ever come close to explaining the human person. Russell neutered the impulse to marital fidelity so that the base impulse to adultery could go on mostly unhindered. Undset found Catholic sacramental morality to be a gift from God and the only thing that could answer her questions and raise marriage to the heights that she always knew it must reach. For Russell, morality was a list of conventions for personnel management. For Undset, it became not a list of rules nor a code of decency, but rather God’s gift and plan for human happiness. This is not a morality that is imposed, but one that is discovered contemplating the mystery of the human person.”

Love,
Matthew

Gender?

“Before retiring to bed on a Tuesday night in the Vatican, Saint John Paul II prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, meditating upon the following words from Saint Peter: “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1

Long after others in the papal apartment were asleep, a noise awoke his secretary, Monsignor Stanisław Dziwisz, who left his room to investigate. His room was adjacent to the Holy Father’s, but he noticed that the sounds were not coming from the Pope’s room, but from his chapel. Although late-night prayer was not uncommon for John Paul, Dziwisz peered in to be certain that everything was all right.

The sight was typical: John Paul immersed in contemplation alone before the tabernacle. The Pope usually spoke to God with very simple words, and often prayed during adoration like Jesus did in Gethsemane, talking with his Father. 2 This night, Dziwisz noticed that John Paul indeed seemed troubled. The disturbance he overheard was the Pope speaking aloud to God, asking repeatedly, “Dlaczego? Dlaczego?” (“ Why? Why?”). Out of reverence, the monsignor backed away from the chapel and returned to his room for the night.

John Paul celebrated Mass the next morning, but was unusually reserved during breakfast afterward. The Pope’s typical jovial and engaging demeanor toward the sisters and guests was subdued. Instead of asking questions and conversing about an endless variety of topics, he was recollected and withdrawn. He ate no breakfast, and drank a cup of tea. 3

That afternoon would be an important one: During his Wednesday audience, John Paul was preparing to announce the establishment of two ministries in the Church that would address the problems facing families in the modern world. 4 One of these, the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, would become the main teaching arm of the Theology of the Body. 5

On his way to deliver his message, the Holy Father rode in the Popemobile across Saint Peter’s Square. As he was blessing children and greeting the crowds, gunshots from a Turkish assassin rang out. An ambulance rushed the Pope in his bloodstained cassock to the hospital, where he narrowly escaped death.

Had God given him a premonition of his suffering the night before? The answer to that question will likely remain a mystery known only to John Paul.

Was there a link between his suffering and his efforts to build up marriage and the family? This he affirmed, saying, “Perhaps there was a need for that blood to be spilled in Saint Peter’s Square.” 6 He added, “Precisely because the family is threatened, the family is being attacked. So the Pope must be attacked. The Pope must suffer, so that the world may see that there is a higher gospel, as it were, the gospel of suffering, by which the future is prepared, the third millennium of families. . . .” 7

…While camping at the World Youth Day vigil in Kraków, I spoke with a young woman who was preparing to enter her first year of college at a prestigious university in California. She pulled her phone out of her backpack and showed me where her online college application required her to check the appropriate box to indicate her gender.

There were eighteen boxes to choose from.

I read through the litany of genders, and noticed that two were missing: male and female. (Facebook— which invites its users to identify as one of more than fifty genders— at least offers them the possibility of choosing to be male or female.) The university application, however, did allow the incoming students to choose “cis-male” or “cis-female,” which means that the biological sex one was “assigned” at birth aligns with the gender one chooses for one’s identity.

While some seek to expand upon the number of genders and create a spectrum of options, the ultimate goal of gender theory is not diversity. After all, diversity requires objective differences. The goal is to erase the sexual difference, and thus to eliminate the meaning of the body.

Where is this coming from? The Second Vatican Council prophesied our culture’s sexual identity crisis by stating, “When God is forgotten . . . the creature itself grows unintelligible.” 8 Although the Theology of the Body was written before many of the modern ideas of gender theory became popular, it was ahead of its time in offering a clear answer for them— and for many other key issues about sexuality and the body.

What is the Theology of the Body?

The Theology of the Body is the popular title given to 135 reflections written by Saint John Paul II. As a cardinal in Poland, he (Karol Wojtyła) planned to publish them as a book titled Man and Woman He Created Them. 9 Before this could happen, he was elected pope, and instead delivered the content in 129 Wednesday Audiences during the first five years of his pontificate.

The thousands of vacationers and pilgrims who gathered to see the Holy Father at these audiences had no idea that the Pope’s biographer would later describe the Theology of the Body as a “theological time bomb set to go off, with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church.” 10

What could be so explosive about a Polish bishop’s theological reflections on the body? To answer this, consider how the human body has been viewed throughout history. Thousands of years ago, Gnostics and Platonists believed that a person’s true self was different from his or her body. One Gnostic sect, the Manicheans, believed that man’s destiny was to set his spiritual essence free from the pollution of matter. Because the body was material, it was not only inferior, but evil. In fact, it was considered a sin for a woman to give birth because she was bringing more matter into existence! Centuries later, puritanism considered the body to be a threat to one’s soul. Meanwhile, the philosopher René Descartes proposed that the soul is like a ghost trapped in a machine.

All these views about the body have one element of truth in common: Our bodies and souls aren’t in harmony. However, the body is not unimportant compared to the soul. Nor is the body something we “have,” or something that encumbers our soul. We are our bodies, and our bodies reveal us. However, our current state is not the way God created us in the beginning. The discord that exists within man is the result of original sin. 11

While some individuals devalued the body and cared only for the soul, others fell into the opposite mistake. Atheists and materialist philosophers argued that the human person is nothing more than his or her body: There is no soul, and the body has no meaning.

Although these ideas might seem like debates reserved for philosophers and theologians, consider what happens when entire cultures accept these misguided notions of what it means to be human. If man has a body but no spiritual dimension, what distinguishes him from other animals? Why should he act differently or be treated differently? On the other hand, if a person’s true identity is found in his spirit alone, then man’s view of himself becomes uprooted from any objective reality. Truth would then be defined by a person’s feelings. As a result, masculinity and femininity would be viewed as social constructs, not realities created by God. But if masculinity and femininity don’t exist, then what becomes of marriage and the family?

Because there has been so much confusion about the meaning of the human body, John Paul set out to present a total vision of man that would include man’s origin, history, and destiny. Instead of arguing from the outside in, offering people a litany of rules, he invited them to seek the truth about reality by reflecting on their own human experience. The writings of Saint John of the Cross played a key role in shaping John Paul’s style of thinking. His philosophical studies on of Max Scheler and other phenomenologists further sharpened his ability to observe human experience. John Paul doesn’t begin by explaining what man ought to do, but by explaining who man is. In the Pope’s mind, people will know how to live if they know who they are.

It has been said that rules without a relationship creates rebellion. This is true with parents and children, and it’s especially true with the relationship between God and humanity. John Paul knew that laws don’t change hearts. When people view morality as a rigid list of imposed regulations, they might temporarily behave themselves out of guilt or fear, but they often abandon the faith. The Pope understood the futility of this approach, and knew that a fresh re-presentation of the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics was overdue.

What the modern world needed was not just a defense of the Church’s teachings, but rather an unveiling of God’s original plan for the beauty of human love. Culture needed something that wasn’t simply intellectually convincing or morally upright, but rather something that corresponded to the deepest yearnings of the human heart.

Unfortunately, many have grown deaf to these yearnings and hear only the urges of the body. But no matter how numb one might be to the deepest aspirations of the soul, everyone can relate to the ache of solitude, the experience of shame, and the desire for communion. In the Theology of the Body, John Paul explored these experiences and more, to reveal how God’s plan for humanity is stamped not only into our hearts, but also into our bodies.

When people discover the Theology of the Body, they often exclaim that they’ve never heard anything like it before. This is because many people learned about sexuality in a religious framework that focused only on what is forbidden and permitted. Others learned about it through the lens of modern sex education, which reduces one’s sexuality to biology and sensuality. This might count as “sex ed,” but it’s not a true education in human sexuality. 12

Properly speaking, “sex” is not something people do. Sex is who we are as male and female persons. The Theology of the Body reminds us of this broader meaning and offers compelling answers to questions such as: Who am I? What does it mean to be human? How should I live? It delves into delicate questions regarding marriage and sexual ethics, but does so while inviting people to rediscover the meaning of life. Through it, one realizes that modern man’s sexual confusion is not caused because the world glorifies sexuality, but because the world fails to see its glory.

For those who have disregarded the Church’s teaching on human sexuality because it seems out of touch with the modern world, the Theology of the Body offers a fresh perspective. Its insights are not pious reflections offered by a theologian who was isolated from the daily struggles of married life. On the contrary, they are the result of decades of personal interactions between a remarkable saint and the countless young adults and married couples that he accompanied through their vocations. These couples attest that although John Paul had a great ability to preach, he had an even greater ability to listen.

The Theology of the Body comes from the heart of a saint who listened intently not only to others but also to the God Who could provide meaning to their lives. He was no stranger to suffering, living under Nazi and Communist regimes and having lost his family by the age of twenty. While such trials might lead some to abandon their faith, John Paul’s was forged by them, as he sought answers to the deepest questions about life’s meaning.

John Paul also possessed a staggering intellect, and according to his secretary, spent three hours each day reading. 13 Although he was dedicated to the intellectual life, John Paul’s prayer life took priority. His colleagues attest that he seemed to be continually absorbed in prayer, as can be seen from the fact that he considered the busy Paris Metro to be “a superb place for contemplation.” 14

His greatest devotion, however, was to the Blessed Sacrament. He never omitted his Holy Hour on Thursdays, even while traveling internationally. If the organizers of his trips didn’t make room for it in his schedule, he would make time and simply arrive an hour late to their program. When his assistants attempted to convince him to decrease the amount of time spent in this devotion, he refused, saying, “No, it keeps me.” 15 He knew that apostolic mission derives its strength from life in God. 16 It is from this man’s heart, mind, and soul that the Church has been given a tremendous gift: the Theology of the Body.

Structure

The Theology of the Body is comprised of two parts. The first focuses on three passages from Scripture, or “words” of Christ. In it, John Paul examined the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding marriage and divorce. 17 Then he reflects upon the words of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount, in particular those concerning committing adultery in one’s heart. 18 Finally, he turns to Christ’s words regarding the resurrection of the body. 19 By means of these reflections, he explains the redemption of the body. If fact, in his final catechesis, he describes the content of the whole work as “the redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.” 20

The Theology of the Body is thoroughly biblical— as can be seen by the fact that the Pope draws from forty-six books and more than a thousand Scripture citations. However, among all of the passages he quotes, the three mentioned above are his focus. He compares them to the panels of a triptych, which is a work of sacred art consisting of three panels, or parts. When the three images are displayed together, they present a fuller understanding of a topic of theology (in this case, the human person).

The three parts of John Paul’s triptych are original, historical, and eschatological man. Original man is who God created man to be in the beginning, before the dawn of sin. Historical man refers to the current state of humanity, burdened by original sin but redeemed by Christ. “Eschatological” has its roots in the Greek word for “end,” eschaton, and refers to the glorified state of man in heaven. Together, these three epochs of human history form what John Paul called an “adequate anthropology”— an understanding of what it means to be a human person.

In the first part of the Theology of the Body, John Paul used the above three “words” of Christ to explain man’s call to live out “the spousal meaning of the body.” This phrase is the heart of the Theology of the Body. It means that the human body has “the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and— through this gift— fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence.” 21 (This gift of self can be expressed not only through marriage, but also through celibacy for the kingdom of God.)

In the second part of the Theology of the Body, the Pope analyzed “The Sacrament” which is the “great sign” of Christ’s love for the Church and the love between a husband and wife. He explained what the gift of self means in terms of the “language of the body,” and how men and women are called to live it out, especially as it relates to building their families.”

-Evert, Jason (2017-12-06). Theology of the Body In One Hour (Kindle Locations 63-102, 109-239). Totus Tuus Press. Kindle Edition.

Catechism of the Catholic Church
Sexual Identity

(CCC 2333) “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.”

(CCC 2393) “By creating the human being man and woman, God gives personal dignity equally to the one and the other. Each of them, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.”

Body and Soul

(CCC 364) “The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:

Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.”

Pope Francis

Encyclical letter Laudato Si’ (2015)

(# 155) “Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an ‘ecology of man’, based on the fact that ‘man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will’. It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.”

(# 56) “Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.’ It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that ‘biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.’ …It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to Updated August 7, 2019 3 replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created.”

(# 285) “Beyond the understandable difficulties which individuals may experience, the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for ‘thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation… An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.’ Only by losing the fear of being different, can we be freed of self-centeredness and self-absorption. Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension ‘to cancel out sexual difference because one no longer knows how to deal with it.’

(# 286) “Nor can we ignore the fact that the configuration of our own mode of being, whether as male or female, is not simply the result of biological or genetic factors, but of multiple elements having to do with temperament, family history, culture, experience, education, the influence of friends, family members and respected persons, as well as other formative situations. It is true that we cannot separate the masculine and the feminine from God’s work of creation, which is prior to all our decisions and experiences, and where biological elements exist which are impossible to ignore. But it is also true that masculinity and femininity are not rigid categories. It is possible, for example, that a husband’s way of being masculine can be flexibly adapted to the wife’s work schedule. Taking on domestic chores or some aspects of raising children does not make him any less masculine or imply failure, irresponsibility or cause for shame. Children have to be helped to accept as normal such healthy ‘exchanges’ which do not diminish the dignity of the father figure. A rigid approach turns into an over accentuation of the masculine or feminine, and does not help children and young people to appreciate the genuine reciprocity incarnate in the real conditions of matrimony. Such rigidity, in turn, can hinder the development of an individual’s abilities, to the point of leading him or her to think, for example, that it is not really masculine to cultivate art or dance, or not very feminine to exercise leadership. This, thank God, has changed, but in some places deficient notions still condition the legitimate freedom and hamper the authentic development of children’s specific identity and potential.”

Address to Priests, Religious, Seminarians and Pastoral Workers during the Apostolic Journey to Georgia and Azerbaijan (October 1, 2016)

“You mentioned a great enemy to marriage today: the theory of gender. Today there is a world war to destroy marriage. Today there are ideological colonizations which destroy, not with weapons, but with ideas. Therefore, there is a need to defend ourselves from ideological colonizations.”

Address to the Polish Bishops during the Apostolic Journey to Poland (July 27, 2016)

“In Europe, America, Latin America, Africa, and in some countries of Asia, there are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these – I will call it clearly by its name – is [the ideology of] ‘gender’. Today children – children! – are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex. Why are they teaching this? Because the books are provided by the persons and institutions that give you money. These forms of ideological colonization are also supported by influential countries. And this terrible! “In a conversation with Pope Benedict, who is in good health and very perceptive, he said to me: ‘Holiness, this is the age of sin against God the Creator’. He is very perceptive. God created man and woman; God created the world in a certain way… and we are doing the exact opposite. God gave us things in a ‘raw’ state, so that we could shape a culture; and then with this culture, we are shaping things that bring us back to the ‘raw’ state! Pope Benedict’s observation should make us think. ‘This is the age of sin against God the Creator’. That will help us.”

Address to Équipes de Notre Dame (September 10, 2015)

“This mission which is entrusted to them, is all the more important inasmuch as the image of the family — as God wills it, composed of one man and one woman in view of the good of the spouses and also of the procreation and upbringing of children — is deformed through powerful adverse projects supported by ideological trends.”

Address to the Bishops of Puerto Rico (June 8, 2015)

“The complementarity of man and woman, the pinnacle of divine creation, is being questioned by the so-called gender ideology, in the name of a more free and just society. The differences between man and woman are not for opposition or subordination, but for communion and generation, always in the ‘image and likeness’ of God.” Full text General Audience on Man and Woman (April 15, 2015) “For example, I ask myself, if the so-called gender theory is not, at the same time, an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it. Yes, we risk taking a step backwards. The removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution.”

Address in Naples (March 23, 2015)

“The crisis of the family is a societal fact. There are also ideological colonializations of the family, different paths and proposals in Europe and also coming from overseas. Then, there is the mistake of the human mind — gender theory — creating so much confusion.”

Meeting with Families in Manila (January 16, 2015)

“Let us be on guard against colonization by new ideologies. There are forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family.”

Pope Benedict XVI


Encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (2005)

(# 5) “Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure ‘sex’, has become a commodity, a mere ‘thing’ to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great ‘yes’ to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will.”

(# 11) “While the biblical narrative does not speak of punishment, the idea is certainly present that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become ‘complete’… Eros is somehow rooted in man’s very nature; Adam is a seeker, who ‘abandons his mother and father’ in order to find woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become ‘one flesh’. The second aspect is equally important. From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfill its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage.”

Address to the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” (January 19, 2013)

“The Christian vision of man is, in fact, a great ‘yes’ to the dignity of persons called to an intimate filial communion of humility and faithfulness. The human being is not a self-sufficient individual nor an anonymous element in the group. Rather he is a unique and unrepeatable person, intrinsically ordered to relationships and sociability. Thus the Church reaffirms her great ‘yes’ to the dignity and beauty of marriage as an expression of the faithful and generous bond between man and woman, and her no to ‘gender’ philosophies, because the reciprocity between male and female is an expression of the beauty of nature willed by the Creator.”

Address to the Roman Curia (December 21, 2012)

“These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term ‘gender’ as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.”

Address to the German Bundestag (September 22, 2011)

“…There is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.”

Pope St. John Paul II

Letter to Families (1994)

(# 6) “Man is created ‘from the very beginning’ as male and female: the light of all humanity… is marked by this primordial duality. From it there derive the ‘masculinity’ and the ‘femininity’ of individuals, just as from it every community draws its own unique richness in the mutual fulfillment of persons… Hence one can discover, at the very origins of human society, the qualities of communion and of complementarity.”

(# 19) “…the human family is facing the challenge of a new Manichaeanism, in which body and spirit are put in radical opposition; the body does not receive life from the spirit, and the spirit does not give life to the body. Man thus ceases to live as a person and a subject. Regardless of all intentions and declarations to the contrary, he becomes merely an object. This neo-Manichaean culture has led, for example, to human sexuality being regarded more as an area for manipulation and exploitation than as the basis of that primordial wonder which led Adam on the morning of creation to exclaim before Eve: ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ (Gen 2:23).”

Theology of the Body

Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006)

(# 9:3) “The account of the creation of man in Genesis 1 affirms from the beginning and directly that man was created in the image of God inasmuch as he is male and female… man became the image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning.”

(# 9:5) “Masculinity and femininity express the twofold aspect of man’s somatic constitution… and indicate, in addition… the new consciousness of the meaning of one’s body. This meaning, one can say, consists in reciprocal enrichment.”

(# 10:1) “Femininity in some way finds itself before masculinity, while masculinity confirms itself through femininity. Precisely the function of sex [that is, being male or female], which in some way is ‘constitutive for the person’ (not only ‘an attribute of the person’), shows how deeply man, with all his spiritual solitude, with the uniqueness and unrepeatability proper to the person, is constituted by the body as ‘he’ or ‘she’.”

(# 14:4) “The body, which expresses femininity ‘for’ masculinity and, vice versa, masculinity ‘for’ femininity, manifests the reciprocity and the communion of persons.”

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Letter on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World (2004)

(# 2) “In this perspective [i.e., that of gender ideology], physical difference, termed sex, is minimized, while the purely cultural element, termed gender, is emphasized to the maximum and held to be primary. The obscuring of the difference or duality of the sexes has enormous consequences on a variety of levels. This theory of the human person, intended to promote prospects for equality of women through liberation from biological determinism, has in reality inspired ideologies which, for example, call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality.”

(# 12) “Male and female are thus revealed as belonging ontologically to creation and destined therefore to outlast the present time, evidently in a transfigured form.”

Persona Humana: Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics (1975)

(III) “… There can be no true promotion of man’s dignity unless the essential order of his nature is respected.”

Congregation for Catholic Education

“Male and Female He Created Them”: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education (2019)

(# 1) “It is becoming increasingly clear that we are now facing with what might accurately be called an educational crisis, especially in the field of affectivity and sexuality. In many places, curricula are being planned and implemented which “allegedly convey a neutral conception of the person and of life, yet in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and to right reason”. The disorientation regarding anthropology which is a widespread feature of our cultural landscape has undoubtedly helped to destabilize the family as an institution, bringing with it a tendency to cancel out the differences between men and women, presenting them instead as merely the product of historical and cultural conditioning.” ** This entire document deals with gender theory and education. The above is the first paragraph.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

(# 224) “Faced with theories that consider gender identity as merely the cultural and social product of the interaction between the community and the individual, independent of personal sexual identity without any reference to the true meaning of sexuality, the Church does not tire of repeating her teaching: ‘Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral and spiritual difference and complementarities are oriented towards the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. . . .’ According to this perspective, it is obligatory that positive law be conformed to the natural law, according to which sexual identity is indispensable, because it is the objective condition for forming a couple in marriage” (emphasis in original, internal citation omitted).

Pontifical Council for the Family

Family, Marriage and “De Facto” Unions (2000)

(# 8) “In the process that could be described as the gradual cultural and human de-structuring of the institution of marriage, the spread of a certain ideology of ‘gender’ should not be underestimated. According to this ideology, being a man or a woman is not determined Updated August 7, 2019 8 fundamentally by sex but by culture. Therefore, the very bases of the family and inter-personal relationships are attacked.”

(# 8) “Starting from the decade between 1960-1970, some theories… hold not only that generic sexual identity (‘gender’) is the product of an interaction between the community and the individual, but that this generic identity is independent from personal sexual identity: i.e., that masculine and feminine genders in society are the exclusive product of social factors, with no relation to any truth about the sexual dimension of the person. In this way, any sexual attitude can be justified, including homosexuality, and it is society that ought to change in order to include other genders, together with male and female, in its way of shaping social life.”

USCCB: Various Documents

Chairmen Letter to U.S. Senators regarding ENDA Legislation (2013)

“ENDA’s definition of ‘gender identity’ lends force of law to a tendency to view ‘gender as nothing more than a social construct or psychosocial reality, which a person may choose at variance from his or her biological sex.”

ENDA Backgrounder (2013)

“ENDA defines ‘gender identity’ as ‘the gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.’”

“ENDA’s treatment of ‘gender identity would lend the force of law to a tendency to view ‘gender’ as nothing more than a social construct or psychosocial reality that can be chosen at variance from one’s biological sex. Second, ENDA’s treatment of ‘gender identity’ would adversely affect the privacy and associational rights of others. In this respect, ENDA would require workplace rules that violate the legitimate privacy expectations of other employees… Third, ENDA would make it far more difficult for organizations and employees with moral and religious convictions about the importance of sexual difference, and the biological basis of sexual identity, to speak and act on those beliefs.”

Chairmen Statement on ENDA-style Executive Order (2014)

“[The executive order] lends the economic power of the federal government to a deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality, to which faithful Catholics and many other people of faith will not assent… “The executive order prohibits ‘gender identity’ discrimination, a prohibition that is previously unknown at the federal level, and that is predicated on the false idea that ‘gender’ is nothing more than a social construct or psychological reality that can be chosen at variance from one’s biological sex. This is a problem not only of principle but of practice, as it will jeopardize the privacy and associational rights of both federal contractor employees and federal employees.”

Chairmen Statement on Department of Labor Regulations (2014)

“The regulations published on December 3 [2014] by the U.S. Department of Labor implement the objectionable Executive Order that President Obama issued in July to address what the Administration has described as ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ discrimination in employment by federal contractors. . . . [T]he regulations advance the false ideology of ‘gender identity,’ which ignores biological reality and harms the privacy and associational rights of both contractors and their employees.”

Chairmen Statement on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (2013)

“Unfortunately, we cannot support the version of the ‘Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013’ passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate (S. 47) because of certain language it contains. Among our concerns are those provisions in S. 47 that refer to ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity.’ All persons must be protected from violence, but codifying the classifications ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as contained in S. 47 is problematic. These two classifications are unnecessary to establish the just protections due to all persons. They undermine the meaning and importance of sexual difference. They are unjustly exploited for purposes of marriage redefinition, and marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with any children born from their union.”

Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (5th Edition)

(# 53) “Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution. Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.” (No. 70) “Catholic health care organizations are not permitted to engage in immediate material cooperation in actions that are intrinsically immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and direct sterilization.”

For further related USCCB resources, see:

• USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009), https://www.usccb.org/resources/pastoral-letter-marriage-love-and-life-in-the-divine-plan.pdf

• USCCB, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care (2006), https://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/homosexuality/upload/minstry-persons-homosexual-inclination-2006.pdf

• Made for Each Other (video, viewer’s guide, and resource booklet), available at www.marriageuniqueforareason.org

Love, His will is perfect,
Matthew

1 Peter 5: 8.
2 Mieczysław Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference, Krakow, Poland, July 27, 2016.
3 Interview with Father Andrew Swietochowski, July 31, 2017.
4 The Pontifical Council for the Family and the International Institute of Studies on Marriage and Family.
5 Diane Montagna, “Online Exclusive: What John Paul II Intended to Say the Day He Was Shot,” Aleteia, May 7, 2016.
6 Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity (New York: Rizzoli, 2005), 164.
7 Pope John Paul II, Angelus message, May 29, 1994.
8 Gaudium et Spes, 36.
9 Other proposed titles included “Human Love in the Divine Plan” or “The Redemption of the Body and the Sacramentality of Marriage.”
10 George Weigel, Witness to Hope (New York: Harper, 2001), 343.
11 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2516 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994).
12 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 11 (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1981).
13 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
14 George Weigel, City of Saints (New York: Image, 2015), 232.
15 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
16 Pope John Paul II, Master in the Faith 2, Rome: December 14, 1990.
17 Matt. 19: 8; Mark 10: 6– 9.
18 Matt. 5: 28.
19 Matt. 22: 30; Mark 12: 25; Luke
20: 35– 36. 20 TOB 133: 2.
21 Theology of the Body 15: 1; 32: 1, 3.

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

OLPerpetualResponsibility

OLPerpetualResponsibility2

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

Free will

young-man-reading-bible-in-park-featured-w740x493

(Ed. I think the definition of free will and the nature of man is critical to understanding Protestant vs Catholic concepts of human sinfulness, and then by reason, how to go about dealing with that, or how that should be dealt with. Catholicism takes Gen 1:31 very literally, that ALL of God’s creation is good, judged simply by the fact its Creator is God. “God don’t make no junk!” is a more modern way of, if albeit crude, expressing this sentiment.

I have learned in my graduate theology studies from the Avila Institute that ALL of Catholic theology originates in Genesis, ALL of it; and, all biblical typology, too.)

CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

PART THREE
LIFE IN CHRIST

SECTION ONE
MAN’S VOCATION LIFE IN THE SPIRIT

CHAPTER ONE
THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

ARTICLE 3
MAN’S FREEDOM

1730 God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to Him.”26

Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts.27

I. FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY

1731 Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.”28

1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.

1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.

1736 Every act directly willed is imputable to its author:

Thus the Lord asked Eve after the sin in the garden: “What is this that you have done?”29 He asked Cain the same question.30 The prophet Nathan questioned David in the same way after he committed adultery with the wife of Uriah and had him murdered.31

An action can be indirectly voluntary when it results from negligence regarding something one should have known or done: for example, an accident arising from ignorance of traffic laws.

1737 An effect can be tolerated without being willed by its agent; for instance, a mother’s exhaustion from tending her sick child. A bad effect is not imputable if it was not willed either as an end or as a means of an action, e.g., a death a person incurs in aiding someone in danger. For a bad effect to be imputable it must be foreseeable and the agent must have the possibility of avoiding it, as in the case of manslaughter caused by a drunken driver.

1738 Freedom is exercised in relationships between human beings. Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order.32

II. HUMAN FREEDOM IN THE ECONOMY OF SALVATION

1739 Freedom and sin. Man’s freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God’s plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom.

1740 Threats to freedom. The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, “the subject of this freedom,” is “an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods.”33 Moreover, the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions that are needed for a just exercise of freedom are too often disregarded or violated. Such situations of blindness and injustice injure the moral life and involve the strong as well as the weak in the temptation to sin against charity. By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth.

1741 Liberation and salvation. By his glorious Cross Christ has won salvation for all men. He redeemed them from the sin that held them in bondage. “For freedom Christ has set us free.”34 In him we have communion with the “truth that makes us free.”35 The Holy Spirit has been given to us and, as the Apostle teaches, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”36 Already we glory in the “liberty of the children of God.”37

1742 Freedom and grace. The grace of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and the good that God has put in the human heart. On the contrary, as Christian experience attests especially in prayer, the more docile we are to the promptings of grace, the more we grow in inner freedom and confidence during trials, such as those we face in the pressures and constraints of the outer world. By the working of grace the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world:

Almighty and merciful God,
in your goodness take away from us all that is harmful,
so that, made ready both in mind and body,
we may freely accomplish your will.38

IN BRIEF

1743 “God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel (cf. Sir 15:14), so that he might of his own accord seek his creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him” (GS 17 § 1).

1744 Freedom is the power to act or not to act, and so to perform deliberate acts of one’s own. Freedom attains perfection in its acts when directed toward God, the sovereign Good.

1745 Freedom characterizes properly human acts. It makes the human being responsible for acts of which he is the voluntary agent. His deliberate acts properly belong to him.

1746 The imputability or responsibility for an action can be diminished or nullified by ignorance, duress, fear, and other psychological or social factors.

1747 The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in religious and moral matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of man. But the exercise of freedom does not entail the putative right to say or do anything.

1748 “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1).

26 GS 17; Sir 15:14.
27 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 4,4,3:PG 7/1,983.
28 Cf. Rom 6:17.
29 Gen 3:13.
30 Cf. Gen 4:10.
31 Cf. 2 Sam 12:7-15.
32 Cf. DH 2 § 7.
33 CDF, instruction, Libertatis conscientia 13.
34 Gal 5:1.
35 Cf. Jn 8:32.
36 2 Cor 17.
37 Rom 8:21.
38 Roman Missal, 32nd Sunday, Opening Prayer: Omnipotens et misericors Deus, universa nobis adversantia propitiatus exclude, ut, mente et corpore pariter expediti, quæ tua sunt liberis mentibus exsequamur.

Love,
Matthew

Freedom of the Will

fr-walter-ciszek-survivor-of-23-years-in-soviet-prison-camps-on-freedom-and-the-will-of-god

nicene_guy
-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.