5. Freedom.

The concept of freedom is perhaps, like "love", one of the ideas most affected by philosophical pluralism. Despite the varied and sometimes even divergent explanations of it, one can trace at least three basic notions: (a) self-possession, or the capacity of the subject to invest oneself in a given project; (b) self-definition, or the power of the subject to realize his/her possibilities, and (c) the capacity to choose among different options towards a goal. All these notions are found in the Catechismís definition of freedom:

Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that (c), and so to perform deliberate actions on oneís own responsibility (a). By free will one shapes oneís own life (b). (n. 1731, cf. 1744)19

Excluded is any equation between freedom and licentiousness or between freedom and "acting according to oneís whims and caprices." Freedom after all, is related to the idea of "self-rule" inherent in the notion of self-possession. To be ruled by another, whether a person, or even oneís own drives and instincts is slavery. The Gospel proclaims freedom. St. Paul tells the Galatians: "For freedom, Christ has set us free. (Gal. 5:1)" John the Evangelist proclaims: "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)" This freedom results from the Christiansí new status as sharers in Christís sonship, a new dignity received from Godís grace.

If freedom is self-rule, then what is the "rule?" By what does the self rule itself? Classical philosophy points to the natural law. Christian conviction while not denying this, responds that above the natural law, there is Christís commandment of love:

My brothers, you were called, as you know, to freedom; but be careful, or this freedom will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love, since the whole of the Law is summarized in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself. (Gal. 5:13-14)

Augustineís experience.

Augustine knew the emptiness of a libertineís life. His escapades both in boyhood and young adulthood gave him much to lament on in his maturity about that slavery which paraded itself as freedom20. Augustine saw his possibilities as a young man and made his choices, choices that he regretted afterwards realizing how a false notion of human life and God and has led him from one dead end to another. His experience of his own sexuality made him despair of ever possessing himself to a degree that would allow him to make a commitment to marriage. He wanted so much to excel as a rhetor. But even that was a form of slavery; for in wanting that, he was in fact chained to the expectations of a society that applauded achievements while not minding "the state of oneís soul"

"The Truth shall set you free!" (Jn. 8:31)

Augustineís experience of liberating grace mediated through an encounter with the Word of God in Scriptures made him realize that freedom is not something achieved by oneís own powers. It is a gift from the God who loves us, and loving us wants us to be free. John Paul II gives the following observation:

(Augustine) describes and celebrates Christian freedom in all its forms, from the freedom from error -- for the liberty of error is "the worst death of the soul" -- through the gift of faith which subjects the soul to the truth, to the final and inalienable freedom, the greatest of all, which consists in the inability to die and in the inability to sin, i.e. in immortality and the fullness of righteousness. All other freedoms which Augustine illustrates and proclaims find their place among these two, which mark the beginning and the end of salvation: the freedom from the dominion of disordered passions, as the work of the grace that enlightens the intellect and gives the will so much strength that it becomes victorious in the combat with evil (as he himself experienced in his conversion when he was freed from harsh slavery); the freedom from time that we devour and that devours us, in that love which permits us to live anchored in eternity.21

Finally, the following corrolaries should be noted:

  • One grows into freedom. The freedom that is given in Christ must be appropriated in union with love. Growth to Christian maturity is growth in freedom.
  • For the Christian, to be free is to be committed. Egoistic freedom, closed in on itself results in loneliness and the loss of a sense of values. The subject who is free is a person who can grow only within a community. The social aspect of personal freedom cannot be neglected.
  • Freedom is a gift from God. Freedom is authentic when its divine origin is recognized. Since it is from God, oneís freedom should not lead one away from God.
  • Freedom is completed by love. Augustine would say: "Love and do what your will. If you are silent, be silent for love. If you cry out, cry out for love. If you correct, correct for love. If you pardon, pardon for love. Let the root of love be ever there within you. Out of this root, only good can come22."