Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Freedom is Relative

This may sound obvious, but it seems that whenever one speaks of freedom, it must be understood as freedom from something.

These thoughts are inspired in part by my Trinity professor and this letter by Charles DeKoninck:

My professor, since the beginning of the year, has dropped hints here and there about the fundamental important of the notion of freedom. My first thought upon hearing this is to look into the Scriptures to see what freedom means there. In the Old Testament, it is freedom from slavery or from one's enemies. In the New Testament, it is freedom from sin and the things of this world. In both cases, it is a freedom from something for the sake of worshiping God. Every morning at prayer we say, "He has set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life." And this seems to be the notion of freedom present throughout the Scriptures.

The question then comes of God's freedom. It is interesting that St Thomas does not set aside a quaestio for the consideration of God's freedom. This makes more sense though if we notice that the first 43 questions of the Summa consider God as he is in himself, i.e., from all eternity. Obviously we must begin with creatures in our understanding of goodness, perfection, life, love, and and so on. Yet from these many created realities, we come to understand more fully the one unchanging divine nature. So excluded from this section are any considerations of God as Lord, Creator, and as Free. God is certainly free, but what does this mean but free from the power of any creature? All creatures depend on him. The Psalm for evening prayer tonight is 139. This Psalm emphasizes the thoroughness of God's knowledge regarding his creatures:

O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you.

Before ever a word is on my tongue
you know it, O Lord, through and through.
Behind and before you besiege me,
your hand ever laid upon me.
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge,
too high, beyond my reach.

This knowledge referred to by the Psalm is that God knows even those things that depend on human freedom. Going on, the Psalmist talks more about how all of our actions are known by him, "written in his book."

Already you knew my soul,
my body held no secret from you
when I was being fashioned in secret
and molded in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw all my actions,
they were all of them written in your book,
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being.

To me, how mysterious your thoughts,
the sum of them not to be numbered!
If I count them, they are more than the sand;
to finish, I must be eternal, like you.

So whatever kind of freedom man has, it seems that we never have a freedom from God, in the sense that we are apart from him in a way that allows to do what we otherwise could not. Truly all of our freedom is from God insofar as he makes us free, but only insofar as he makes us free from sin and from attachment to creatures. Now some will hear this and think that God is being violent or forceful, but this is comes from thinking of God as a creature or as something else opposed to our happiness. Other cases of the higher leading the lower make clear that the lower is elevated by this. The soul/will/mind moves the body--if it didn't, the body would lie in a heap. The parent moves/feeds/changes the child and this leads to the health and benefit of the child. God does more, far more, and for every creature, and the only ones that in some way can turn away from this are men and angels. Yet even they do not escape God altogether, for the Lord orders all things sweetly and he will dispose even sin unto his glory. Jesus Christ manifests his glory most brilliantly in freeing us from sin.

I will have to go back to St Thomas and consider carefully what he says regarding freedom in the places where he talks about, especially when he talks about the freedom of God. One question that I always have is how it is that God freely creates? I had a brief post asking that earlier. It is at least certain to me that creation does not itself cause him to create it, i.e., nothing outside of him forces him to create. For then what is this thing that has a power over God? So no. But can it be said that God necessarily creates, though not necessitated from without? I don't like how it sounds, but I haven't yet seen the problem with it. Surely St Thomas considers this in various places as well. I'll post some findings later if I have time.

The DeKoninck letter has more interesting considerations of person, nature, incommunicability, and so on. That in God the Word proceeding is identical with the Son begotten is interesting. In the Old Testament, it was through begetting offspring that the promise was passed on; in the New Testament, it is through the preaching the word that men inherit the promise. This is all contained in God's interior life. Nature communicates itself. Knowledge is to have the other as other. So many things to consider.

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