Within the course of salvation history there have been many questions about the work of Christ and the role of the human freedom, or free will. There has been no shortage of theories. Church history shows that there have been many heresies from those trying find a synthesis between the two.
There seem to be two extremes when it comes to this issue—those who think that Christ will save us no matter what we do after coming to faith and those who think that one must continually work to attain salvation (Pelagianism).
The Catholic Definition of Freedom
Saint Pope John Paul II wrote two encyclicals titled Redemptor Hominis and Redemptoris Missio that deal with this important issue.
The Pope reaffirms the teaching of Christ in John 14:6 that He is the way and the truth. He echoes the words of God is creation where he saw the things that he created as good. The work of Christ is expressed as an act of love, and a love that the Father had from the beginning with creation. It was through this act of love that man was restored and made whole. Regarding this Pope John Paul II writes, “He and he alone also satisfied that fatherhood of God and that love which man in a way rejected by breaking the first Covenant and the later covenants that God again and again offered to man” (Redemptor Hominis Para 9). Man is unable to enter into relationship with God unless it is through Christ (Redemptoris Missio Para 5). What Christ did for man was the greatest act of love that ever done. It is one that our feeble minds can barely start to fathom freedom!
The Pope firmly establishes that it is Christ who is the only way and is the source of our salvation. The work of Christ on the cross was an act of love that echoes back to the point of creation, and he reconciles man to himself. How about human freedom? The freedom of man is a source of controversy for many.
Our lives as lack meaning if we do not have love. We were made to love and live in communion with each other. Through His life, death, and resurrection Christ has shown us what love is. This love changes the lives of the apostles, and they passed that on and it changed the world.
Freedom to Choose Life
God offers this newness of life to every man, but man has the freedom to reject it. In this regard Pope John Paul II writes, “Faith demands a free adherence on the part of man, but at the same time faith must also be offered to him” (Redemptoris Missio Para 8). Freedom is not the ultimate end as the world teaches it to be. Freedom is the choice to do as we ought to.
Freedom is only a gift if one knows how to use it for everything that is true good (Redemptor Hominis Para 21). When we encounter Him that is truth we can either accept of deny what he says. He says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NRSV).
Once we reach this realization Christ calls us to a higher standard of living. We are bound to regulate of lives with this truth, and we have the freedom to do so or not (Redemptoris Missio Para 8).
Human freedom is a part of the redemption. By his work on the cross, Christ redeems us by an act of love. We are called to love others and do what Christ commands of us.
John Paul II. Redemptor Hominis 1979 Web. Accessed September 9, 2019.
John Paul II. Redemptoris Missio 1990. Web. Accessed September 9, 2019.
About our guest blogger:
William is aconvert to the Catholic faith. Before entering the churchhewas ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary. William liveswith his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults. Check out hiswebsite/blog atwilliamhemsworth.comfor more great and informativeCatholic content!
According to Henry David Thoreau, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” I interpret the great American writer’s words to mean that writing without having living is a futile endeavor. Lately, I have been experiencing writer’s block. Promising ideas and topics spring into my mind; however, a few sentences in I encounter a cerebral roadblock. I stop and wonder: what do my better works have in common? This question weighed on my mind for several days. Finally, I had an insight, a spark of inspiration! My creativity stems from drawing on palpable life experiences and I write best when I do not force the pen to the paper. Here are three reasons why forcing ideas lead to bad writing:
Writing is Creative
Writing is a form of art. Like all other artwork, writing involves creativity. From my experiences, I find that I am most creative when I do not seek to be creative. Rather, I allow myself to be inspired. I found inspiration from other authors, the wonders of the world, and my life experiences. William Wordsworth once said, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” Without breathing creativity into sterile words, writing is a lifeless process—there exists no meaning.
Creativity stems freely engaging with reality, yet also believing in the seeming impossible. “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You image what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will,” declared George Bernard Shaw. Forcing me to write when I am not inspired and when I lack the volition does not lead to a good essay.
Freedom over Coercion
To further the previous point, creativity only flows naturally with a will to write. In other words, authors tend to best write under freedom versus being coerced. Freedom presupposes a will. An author’s will to compose comes in ebbs and flows. Throughout this past month, I have lived in an arid climate—intellectually speaking. Previously, creativity freely flowed into my mind like an open spout. Currently, the creative spigot is dripping sporadic moments of creativity. Without having access to turn the metaphorical spout, I need to patiently wait for my natural ability to write to return. Waiting is a tough thing for me. According to the famous French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, “Patience is bitter, but its fruits are sweet”. I pray for the gift of patience from the Holy Spirit to withstand my aridity in authorship.
Real Life Experience vs. Fabricated Events
During the last few months, I learned that recalling past [and present] life experiences help me in sowing [and eventually reap the harvest] the seeds of writing. Concocting or fabricating an experience does not lead to a good piece of writing. A contrived event only breeds half-finished drafts and clutters my computer’s filing system.
Without leaning on real life experiences, my writing suffers immensely. Drawing on the wellspring on my life infuses hue, vibrancy, and emotion into writing. A large part of my childhood involved reading. Franz Kafka boldly stated, “Reading is more important than writing.” The German novelist is on point with his claim.
This month involved a ton of changes in my family’s schedules. As a result, I lack sufficient time to ponder my experiences. I also failed to read daily. To combat this aridity, I made time to read at least 30 minutes a day to end this week. Reinvigorated with fresh ideas, I finally am able to complete today’s post!
Because writing is a creative endeavor forcing ideas does not always lead to the best artwork. Creativity involves freedom and a willingness to write and draw upon past and present experiences. Useful tips to help renew my creativity wellspring include: retreating from the busyness of life to reflect in silence and read other great books.
***“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”***
Yesterday the United States celebrates its 243rd birthday as a nation that champions the following freedoms expressed in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution: freedom of religion, speech, press, and right to a peaceably assembly. Much debate and discussion has been generated over the proper interpretation of these enumerated freedoms spelled out in the primary American document. Today, I do not want to continue or add to the debate. Rather, I simply want to contemplate the question of what is true freedom. Where does mankind’s freedom originate from? Is it possible to achieve complete freedom in this life?
What Does Freedom Mean?
Before I proceed with my thoughts on freedom, I want to define which specific sort of freedom I will be referring to. Throughout the centuries humanity occasionally conflates freedom to[i.e. ability to do anything a person wishes] with freedom from [liberty from an oppressive force or evil]. I am going to dedicate my attention to the later definition of freedom. As a Catholic, I admit that much of my world outlook is influenced by my faith. Because of this I will view the subject of freedom through the lens of Christianity.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
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 (CCC 1739).
Despite this despairing truth, the Catechism states that hope is not all lost. In paragraph 1741 the Church teaches that, “In him [Christ] we have communion with the ‘truth that makes us free.’” In other words, true freedom is not the ability to do anything we want. Disguising freedom under the camouflage of the self leads to chaos and strife. For example, if people chose to have complete freedom from obeying traffic lights and signs traffic jams, car accidents, and even vehicle caused deaths would ensue.
My Experience of Freedom
From my own experience, I have learned that this struggle between freedom to versus freedom from is real. Battling the sin of stubborn pride and possessing OCD, I often lack humility to admit I am wrong. I obsess over possessing control at both work and home. In the short term, I receive peace and relief when I exert control through daily OCD rituals of cleaning and limiting my email inboxes. Sometimes my utopia lasts for a few weeks. However, such utopian bliss is fleeting and temporary. My self-centered approach to freedom hits a roadblock when my family’s needs come in conflict with my own desires.
I wish that I had better news. Like, I am winning this war against my pride and OCD tendencies! Sadly, I am not. I lost a battle last week. What I do plan on doing is going to daily Mass to celebrate the 4th of July and to make an effort to put my wife and children before my needs this week. I plan on going to Confession to obtain the aid of the sacramental graces provided by the Holy Spirit through the priest. True freedom [that is freedom from sin] may not truly occur until our death and hopeful union with the Trinity in Heaven. I ask for your continued prayers as I seek to become a more humble man. My road toward true freedom only exists through the narrow path provided by Jesus Christ! I pray that I continue to have strength to get up and walk this path daily with Him and I am thankful for God’s continual mercy towards me.
Among the perennial questions that mankind asks involve freedom. With the increasingly new information scientists learn about human biology and DNA that gets passed on from generation to generation, it is natural to wonder: how much control or freedom do I actually possess in my life? Over the course of history the greatest of literary works—Oedipus Rex and Macbeth to just name a couple— centered on the debate of freedom versus fate. When things did not go my own way, I recently struggled with having fleeting thoughts about fatalism— the belief that human actions happen through necessity and a result humans ultimately lack free will.
A year and a half ago, I wrote an article titled Reconciling Free Will with God’s Omniscience: Evidence form C.S. Lewis and My Life. Since publishing this originally in 2017, I have noticed that more search engine results came up on the topic of free will, God’s knowledge, and how to resolve these two seemingly diametric views. If God is all knowing and knows the outcome of every event in an individual’s life, do we truly possess free will? Or are humans fated and not in possession of the ability to be permitted to act on their own accord? Because a lot of attention centers on this topic, I feel compelled to write again on this subject.
While I still experience feeble moments of struggle to reconcile God’s omniscience with human freedom, hope is not out of reach. I am stronger in my belief and understanding. This is through the graces of the Holy Spirit along with my own continued pursuit of truth and sharpening my intellect through reading of people much, much wiser than myself. Most recently, I re-discovered the superb sagacity of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Through the clear writing of Sheen, specifically his work Re-Made for Happiness, and my own humble experiences as a father I furthered my understanding that it is possible to reconcile the apparent Catch-22 between free will and divine omniscience!
1. Sagacity from Sheen: Although every book I have read of Archbishop Fulton Sheen impressed me, as of right now, Re-Made for Happiness tops them all. Chapter 13 entitled Hope specifically resonated with me. I got so excited after reading that chapter that I called my wife and declared, “This is the most amazing chapter, I have ever read of perhaps any book ever!” Whether this is a premature hyperbole, that is a debate for another time, nevertheless, I strongly recommend reading his entire book as soon as possible. In the meantime, I hope to provide an adequate highlight of his treatment on hope, free will, and God’s omniscience. According to Fulton Sheen, “Remember that in God there is no future. God knows all, no in the succession of time, but in the ‘now standing still’ of eternity, that is, all at once. His knowledge that you shall act in a particular manner is not the immediate cause of your acting, any more than your knowledge that you are sitting down caused you to sit down, or prevents you from getting up, if you willed to do it” (p. 161).
Being outside of the space-time continuum, God is not contained within the constraints of time. Our ability to judge knowledge depends on succession of events, day by day, moment by moment. Divine omniscience does not fit into the box of time. Sheen goes on to say, “Because there is no future in God, foreknowing is not forecausing” (p. 162).
2. Insight from Infants [and beyond]: As a parent I have known my children since the moment of their birth. I gazed [lovingly, not creepily—so do not worryJ] at them while rocking them to sleep, watched them slowly grow, develop, and learn about the world around them. The more I learn about my children the more I am aware of the outcome of the choices they will make. Let me give an example. For instance, my youngest son has developed a fond affection for toy cars, actually wheels in general. Possessing the intimate knowledge of my son’s [all my children’s] interests, patterns, and needs allows me to have an ability to now the outcome of a choice posed for them. This “foreknowledge” does not limit their freedom.
Together the examples from Fulton Sheen and parenting helped deepen my ability to reconcile the apparent chasm between God’s omniscience and human free will. Ultimately, these examples fall short in fully explaining the natural of divine knowledge. Nevertheless, I am still at peace with these explanations.
I realize that I am a mere part of creation and my Creator is infinitely greater and more loving than I may possibly imagine. This endless wonder and awe about God is a gift. Let us not quiver at the omniscience of God but joyfully ponder it every day!
According to 18th century British poet Alexander Pope, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Although as a perfectionist and someone who thrives on routine, my immediate reaction to his words would be to disagree. However, I am actively seeking to stretch my preconceived notions and prejudices, especially when it comes to challenging situations. Possessing a penchant for order, clear expectations, and knowledge of what exactly I should expect in daily life, I do not always adjust to unexpected changes gracefully.
In fact, I think as a whole humanity tends to be geared towards order, structure, routine, and regular habits. When faced with the unexpected a natural reaction usually is to question the purpose or cause of the upheaval of our “control”. As recent as the new changes [developments as I prefer to call them] to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the issue of the death penalty, people seem to have [over]reactions to something new, and possibly unexpected! Now, I am not going to provide you may thoughts on the new developments on Catholic Church teaching on capital punishment—I hope to write about this on a later time—it is just one example of how mankind does not seamlessly adjust to unexpected changes.
The words of C.S. Lewis appropriately describe our seeking to “control the unexpected”. In his work A Grief Observed the Christian apologist declared, “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination” [emphasis added]. Humanity in the 21st century seeks to dominate all aspects of our life. Even the abortion clinics in the United States contain a euphemism—Planned Parenthood—as if children are something to be ultimately controlled! Why cannot we plan all aspects of life? Would it not be easier to live each and every day free of the stresses of the unknown and unexpected?
Control over all variance that a creature with free will such as man would in fact actually lead to a cold-indifferent robotic society. Attempts to eliminate pain, risk, and the unknown of life would also mean that joy, humor, and creativity would disappear. C.S. Lewis summed up this tension between free will and pain in the world best in The Case for Christianity:
God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (…) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.
1. Love Worth the Unexpected: After a busy week of wrangling and wearing out my three children through taking them to the park, walks around the neighbor, piggyback rides, picking up strewn toys—for the 100th time!—and trying to put the children to bed for what feels like the 1,000th time, I am tanked. Drained out energy I oftentimes lack the strength to be fully present to my wife.
When I am motivated by controlling my kids sleep schedule instead of love, I actually lose control. Love involves permitting free will to occur and setting boundary-lines to avoid self-destructive habits. God as the All-Loving Father graced humanity with the ability to freely choose Him or to reject Him. He provided guidelines for love to grow and flourish both in expected—and expected ways. Freedom involves the unexpected from time to time and love is always worth the unexpected—we just have to make a daily decision to choose love over selfish arbitrary control!
2. Creativity of the Creator: Along with love being worth the unexpected, total control over one’s life actually stymies creativity—an essential feature of love. Whenever I think of creative individuals, famous or people within my life, words that immediately come to mind include: passionate, intelligent, desire, attentive, and inventive. Albert Einstein, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Thomas Edison are individuals that I think of right away that fit this above description. A further trait of creative individuals is that the act of creation originates not from need, but rather from love and or pursuit of a higher reality.
As a creature created by the Creator, man is not meant to be a static, robotic entity. Creativity naturally entails an involvement on behalf of the Creator with creation. Evidence of this is found in Genesis 1 which shows God actively involved and attentive to the creation of the universe—paying heed to both the whole and the details. Throughout the day, my children act creatively by lovingly engaging in imaginative play via erecting Lego-structures, racing toy cars, or dressing up stuffed animals for “dance parties”. While general boundaries exist in play, the joy, creativity, and humor of childhood [and life as a whole too!] exist when the constraints of control do not rule absolutely supreme.
According to J.R.R. Tolkien, “The most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing [controlling] other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.” Regulating reality is not inherently bad, as with most things moderation is the key. Limiting surprises is not necessarily a bad thing. Humans need routine to thrive. The chief purpose of life, for any of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. Our freedom to choose influence over our surroundings should not be at the expenses of our soul or our fellow man!