Category Archives: Free will

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

Free will

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(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