Day 23 – 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 Catechism’s 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 one’s own responsibility (a). By free will one shapes one’s own life (b). (n. 1731, cf. 1744) Excluded is any equation between freedom and licentiousness or between freedom and “acting according to one’s 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 one’s 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 Christians’ new status as sharers in Christ’s sonship, a new dignity received from God’s 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 Christ’s 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)