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Law and freedom

The theme that Augustine so stressed, about the movement from external law to the inner law written on ones mind and heart, is also found in many places in the writings of St. Thomas. Here is a link to an articlewhich, after discussing the views of St. Ignatius Loyola,has a helpful summary of Aquinass view on the relationship between written law and inward law. Here are two passages from St. Thomass commentaries on St. Pauls Epistles:

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor 3:17) and A law is not given for a just person (1 Tim 1:9) Some people mistakenly take these words to mean that spiritual people are not obliged by the precepts of the divine law. But this is false. Gods precepts are the rule for the human will. There is no human being, nor even any angel, whose will does not have to be regulated and directed by the divine law. It is impossible, then, for any human being not to be subject to Gods precepts.The statement, A law is not given for a just person, should be interpreted thus: A law is not given for the sake of righteous people, who are moved by an inner habit to do the things Gods law commands, but for the sake of the unrighteous, even though the righteous also are bound by it.Similarly, the statement, Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, should be understood thus: A free person is one who exists for his own sake [Liber est causa suiAristotle] while a slave is someone who exists for the sake of his lord. Whoever acts from himself, therefore, is free, while whoever acts because moved by another is not acting freely. Anyone, therefore, who avoids evil not because it is evil but because of a command of the Lord, is not free, while one who avoids evil because it is evil is free. This is what the Holy Spirit does: he perfects the mind inwardly by a good habit so that one avoids evil out of love, as if a divine law were commanding it. He is therefore said to be free, not in the sense that he is not subject to the divine law, but because by a good habit he is inclined to do what the divine law ordains. (Aquinas on 2 Cor 3:17)

Commenting on Rom 2:14, Since Gentiles, who do not have the law, naturally do what the law requires, not having the law, they are the law for themselves, Aquinas has this:

... He shows their dignity in that although they do not have the Jewish law, they are the law for themselves insofar as they perform the function of the law in their own regard by instructing themselves and leading themselves to the good; because, as the Philosopher says, Law, emanating from a certain wisdom and prudence, has compulsive force (Ethics, Bk. 10, ch. 91179b). Which is why it is said that a law is not made for a just person (1 Tim 1:9), that is, it is not compelled by an external law, but is set down for the unrighteous, who need to be forced from without.And the highest level of dignity among human beings is this: that they are led to the good not by others but by themselves. The second level is that of people who are led by another but without compulsion. The third is that of people who need to be compelled in order to become good. The fourth level is that of people who cannot be directed to the good even by compulsion.(Aquinas, In Epist. ad Romanos, ch. 2, lect. 3; Marietti edition, 216-217)

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I am reminded of a criticism I received on my approach to parental authority. In my household there are almost no rules, but there are expectations. I want my children to behave in certain ways, but I want them to do it, not because it's the rule, but because they themselves want to do it that way. They internalize my views and make them theirs. In that way, they will continue to do it freely even into adulthood. A friend commented that, in a way, although superficially it appears that I give them a lot of space, in reality my approach was restricting their freedom more than an authoritarian upbringing. When parents set down explicit rules, the children are free to form their own opinions and to disagree with their parents in their minds, as long as they follow the rules. The parents do not necessarily expect their children to, say, see the benefits of getting enough sleep at night, as long as they do get enough sleep at night. But my reach goes beyond external behavior and aims at shaping their internal attitude, at an age when they are still malleable. It's a much deeper form of coercion.He also likened it to a contrast between rule-based Judaism and "brain-washing" Catholicism.

I don't quite follow your friend's logic, Claire. I wonder what he would make of the antitheses at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount....

I did something similar, equating freedom (as they got older) with trust. They were free to do reasonable things, as long as they didn't break the trust that they would behave appropriately. (I wasn't, however, above checking up on them to make sure they did, in fact, behave in that way. I followed the little one (Clare, then ~10 years old) to up to the shops one day to see if she would refrain from crossing the street as promised. Fortunately for her, she did!)

"one who avoids evil because it is evil" assumes the existence of an objective evil. If my son or daughter avoids something because they learned from me and believe that it is "wrong", but all that "wrong" means is that I think it's wrong - it's my own opinion, not an objective truth - then all I did was use my influence to form their minds after my own values. They are like one who avoids something because they believe, thanks to their upbringing, that it is evil.A parent who would be less self-righteous and who would have less confidence in their own judgment might require their children to act according to their values but would not try to get them to internalize them.Imagine I taught them that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered, that they internalized it, and that they avoid homosexual acts because they believe it is evil. Have they been brainwashed or are they righteous?

Claire: In response to your four comments: (1) "one who avoids evil because it is evil assumes the existence of an objective evil. JAK: It assumes that there are things that may accurately, truly, be described as evil.(2) If my son or daughter avoids something because they learned from me and believe that it is "wrong", but all that "wrong" means is that I think it's wrong - it's my own opinion, not an objective truth - then all I did was use my influence to form their minds after my own values. They are like one who avoids something because they believe, thanks to their upbringing, that it is evil.JAK: Lets insert a particular thing I would teach my son is wrong: lets say rape. It is my own opinion (Id say judgment), but it states what is the case: that it is evil to inflict sexual violence upon a person. I would like my son, because of the way I brought him up, to avoid rape because he, too, believes it wrong, and to avoid it precisely because it is wrong and not simply because I taught him this or because hes afraid of getting caught and punished.(3) A parent who would be less self-righteous and who would have less confidence in their own judgment might require their children to act according to their values but would not try to get them to internalize them.JAK: It is not self-righteousness to assert that rape is wrong, and I am glad to be confident enough to urge this judgment upon my son and to hope that he will make it his own and live by it.(4) Imagine I taught them that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered, that they internalized it, and that they avoid homosexual acts because they believe it is evil. Have they been brainwashed or are they righteous?JAK: If my child avoids homosexual acts because she believes them to be evil, she is acting out of inner conviction, gained, in this case, because I taught her that. People who disagree with that judgment will be tempted to call it brainwashing because they disagree with it. If the child had been brought up to think there is nothing wrong with homosexual acts, that, for such people, would not be a case of brainwashing.

The conundrum can be resolved by not only assuming the existence of an objective evil, but rationally thinking its existence through, as far as reason can take it. Both faith and reason will tell you that human flourishing is a good thing. I don't see anyone in the "secular" world disagreeing with the idea that human flourishing is a good thing:http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/humanrights/resources/child.aspI think that faith takes that flourishing to a further endpoint, the happy contemplation of God, but is coherent with where reason will take it, including physical, intellectual, and psychological flourishing. So anything that interferes with the good of flourishing can reasonably be considered evil (as Aquinas would say, the lack of a good). Such an approach can rationally support the identification of sexual violence as evil, because it obstructs flourishing. The hierarchy has not yet worked its way to seeing either contraception or homosexuality in terms of flourishing, but I think many of the faithful have, which is why attitudes towards them have changed and are changing.

The hierarchy has not yet worked its way to seeing either contraception or homosexuality in terms of flourishing, but I think many of the faithful have, which is why attitudes towards them have changed and are changing.Perhaps the hierarchy holds the truthful view and the faithful have been deceptively lead astray by the culture.

Whether the faithful hold the truthful view or not, they are at least open to the exercise of reason as applied to evidence. A hierarchy that punishes the discussion of certain issues because they are already "decided" betrays the intellectual tradition of the Church.

I'm glad you said what I was thinking Bruce [regarding artificial contraception, which was what I was thinking about] that perhaps it is the faithful who have been led astray.If we have faith that we are even now in this fallen world-a redeemed people then in spite of our own and the world's falleness-we should be living our lives here as if we are already spiritual beings. We should be looking to genesis before the fall as the way we authentically -are. Because by Christ through baptism we are graced again [like Adam and Eve originally were]We're made by God who is good and we're created in his image hence life -our life, our existence is also inherently good. To deny the possibility of giving life which is good , because of the temporal struggles of this fallen world - is to live as if we deny that we are already a resurrected spiritual people. Not every one has to get married but if married -then just as the pre-fallen adam and eve were told to be fruitful [because God is good and his creation is good] we who have faith that by Christs death he has redeemed the world-then we should live as if we're back in paradise.Because spiritually/authentically we are.[we're transformed into beings once again graced by God because of jesus' death.]The struggles of this fallen world should not trump what is essentially human about us-that we're created by God in his image.And created for eternal life with him. God is good hence human life is good .As redeemed people we should be open to life in marriage because the material trials of the world-having children in difficult circumstances or having goals that we may believe children detract from-are not what makes us essentially human/christian. Being open to life comports with the way we were created-before the fall.We should strive to live the way we were created to live-even if we fall short . Christian faith means faith that we have been-transformed by Christ. We're a spiritutal people called to live as authehtic humans here believing our true home is with God in heaven.That means in faith that becuase God is good and we're made in his image-life is good and hence being fruitful in marriage as Adam and Eve were created to be- is still good. Being open to life is an act of faith-in God's existence and goodness and in our redemption by Jesus Christ. Jesus is the "new Adam",the sinless one[even "greater then Adam" ]-Because we're graced by Jesus' salific act we can strive to live like Adam and Eve were intended by God to live-open to life.To flourish means to live in accordance to the way we were made. That means for us christians that we're created to be spiritual beings [who believe we're made by a God who loves us and made us in his image and though fallen, through Jesus even made us " worthy" of knowing him], and being open to life in spite of obstacles, is an acknowledgement of that.Artifical birth control places a false notion of flourishing,over what is authentically human/christian;living as already redeemed spirtual people ideally open to life and the natural rythms of the body of the woman regarding conception, as it is good and holy because "He has redeemed the world".Natural birth control conforms with the God made human body and intellect.Artificial birth control subverts the God made body and does not conform with authentic flourishing-but with materialism.It is subverts the authentic well being of a person.

JAK, I was hesitating to ask you how you know that it is evil, and not merely wrong in your subjective judgment, to inflict sexual violence upon a person, but fortunately Jeanne preemptively answered.Jeanne, you complain about "decided" issues, but are you not similarly elevating the "exercise of reason" to the level of a non-negotiable? There are people who prefer to follow their emotions, or some irrational intuition, or the assertions of their hierarchical superiors, or the consensus opinion. You (and I) may prefer reasoning, but is it not overbearing to require people to take that approach to what they believe? Why is reasoning the right way to go? Think, for example, of the simple devotional faith praised by Pope emeritus Benedict.Bruce: perhaps. Or vice versa. How can you know what is true, or that what is true really is true?

Claire: The Latin word malum can be translated as "evil" or also as "wrong," although the latter sounds rather weak to me. But I would be interested in knowing what distinction you make between "evil" and "wrong."

No distinction. "Merely" qualified "your subjective judgment". I was hesitating to ask you how you know that it is evil, and not evil merely in your subjective judgment.

Claire: All judgments are subjective, that is, made by human subjects. Some judgments are correct and some aren't, that is, some state what is the case and some don't. But no one reaches a knowledge of reality, or of what ought to be done, except by means of true judgments. "Objectivity," my mentor Bernard Lonergan, used to say, "is self-transcending subjectivity."So my answer to your question is this: I know that rape is evil by my subjective judgment. I wouldn't have much difficulty in giving the reasons that lead to my judgment that rape is wrong, evil, but I should think that they would be superfluous in this forum.

I have to agree.

There are multiple layers to the quote above by Aquinas. Another dimension that is important to keep in mind is that interpreting the word "law" as we understand it according to our modern, positivist categories is different than the interpretation of the law that the ancient Jews and maybe even the Greeks had.Not ever vice needs to have a corresponding legislation against nor does every virtue need to be prescribed. The function of of the law, arguably, is instrumental in that it compels people to act in certain ways by way of force. This can be moral force by way of religious compulsion or actual policing and restriction of certain freedoms if the law is transgressed.Martin Luther King faced the dilemma of internal versus external compliance to the law by saying that the law will not change the heart but it will restrain the heartless. It seems to me that this is the function of the law. It is intended to restrain the heartless and facilitate justice. The problem with our legal system today is that it is manipulated by powerful, educated interest such that the law is not applied fairly or equitably. And the solution we always come up with is more laws!! With every social problem, we turn to the law. Our court system is jammed which is not a good thing. I don't think we need to be creating more market for lawyer, judges, police, etc. etc. Instead, we need to be building the moral character of our children and adults. And this is done through education, building of virtue, etc.

Claire, should we elevate the exercise of reason to the level of a non-negotiable? With two constraints, I would say, yes. First constraint: that we draw a proper distinction between knowledge (where evidence and reason are useful) and mystery (where it's not). If we draw the line between mystery and knowledge in just the right place, we wont have to accept things on faith that can in fact be reasoned about, and we wont depreciate those aspects of faith that dont make obvious sense because they are in fact mysteries. Second constraint: that as Catholics we actually push for the coherence of faith and reason, and test one by the other. Our tradition says that if what we know through reason is true, it cannot contradict something we know through faith, if that is also true. And visa versa. Not only can reason be tested by an understanding of the world that flows from faith, but faith can be tested by an understanding of the world that flows from reason.Does this mean that I think everyone on the planet needs to take this approach? No. We all find our own ways navigating the mysteries of existence.

Imagine I taught them that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered, that they internalized it, and that they avoid homosexual acts because they believe it is evil. Have they been brainwashed or are they righteous?

Neither. They are going to have to re-evaluate in light of further evidence and experience. And everyone does this, or should do this, as this is part of maturity. I can give a less highly charged and seemingly trivial example. I was raised by a Finnish mother and so grew up drinking coffee and LOVING sweetbreads. This was good, normal and part of visits and socializing. It is not that these things are bad in an of themselves but as I now grow and age, I notice that they might contribute to higher blood pressure and other things that might throw me off balance. My dad smoked and I did for a time when I was younger too. And sometimes when I catch a smell somewhere, I have fond memories.I internalized certain habits that were poor for my health. As I grew and learned and aged, I realized that I had to change some of these views and practices. This occurred through reason and experience.And to Jeanne's point though, even here, there is the mystery of iniquity. Why do people, even in the face of evidence and reason, still persist in "malum"? Whether that malum is as serious as adultery or as less serious, in a certain sense, of overindulging in poor nutritional foods (sweets, etc.) or even smoking.

I should obviously add: the exercise of reason should be a non-negotiable for those who have the capability for it.

Faith versus reason -- why does the opposition still excite argument? I think that one reason is that the secular rationalists believe (yes, believe) that faith is arrived at without any evidence to support it, that it is a matter only of wishful thinking. And, of course, that is true, and probably true of all of us. We all do some wishful thinking at times -- including the scientists who think that believers believe without any evidence, and so conclude that religious belief is all irrational.But I think the scientists make an important point -- belief without evidence is irrational. So the question becomes 'what sort of evidence for dogmas would justify belief? What sort of evidence is sufficient to motivate rational belief? The classic answer is a miracle that one perceives oneself, but those rarely happen if at all. So what constitutes rational religious evidence? I think there are at least a number of different answers, a number of roads or ways to the Lord. But I don't know of any theological consideration of the issue, at least no contemporary one that would appeal to those of us outside of theology. But I think the question desperately needs consideration. Kids and adults are leaving the Church because they find no *reason* to remain. So what are the reasons for accepting any dogma at all? And why accept any of the laws of the Church? They all in some way restrict our freedom. So why accept them? Sure, if they are God's laws the answer is that God tells us to accept them. But how do we know those laws are indeed God's? This is probably for another thread or ten or twenty.

After reading the article linked to above, and finding an ad for an e-book offering an e-retreat- introduction to Ignatian prayer blinking at me below the combox -- at least on my cookies-laden computer--I have to ask a question that has always puzzled me: what are the moral justifications for a vow of obedience to another human being by someone with the inner law written on his or her mind and heart? (Yes, I have read Ignatius on obedience and the discussions of same at the election of their present Father General, which seemed to temper the "galvanized corpse "notion of obedience. Still... it seems strange to expect a Christian to live by someone else's conscience, and especially so when as so often, the person one require oneself to obey might be pretty clearly dead wrong.)

A similar question is posed in that article p.441: "The doctrine of the Law of the Spirit raises questions about obedience also to the commands of superiors. There is a general difficulty which may be expressed in this way: in doing good, it is nobler to ac of one's own accord than to be led by another. Concerning the condition of men under the New Law, there is this special difficulty : if a man has the guidance of the Holy Spirit and clarity, what need does he have of obedience, especially of religious obedience? The life of obedience would seem to be less perfect."Beautifully clear question! It's a pleasure just to read it. Unfortunately the proposed answer is not as clear. It boils down to: "Obedience is a virtue"...

I don't believe that even the most fundamentalistic Jesuit would say that placing oneself under the vow of obedience means living "by someone else's conscience," but I'll leave it to Jesuits to explain (away?) the unfortunate statements that are part of their heritage. Taking a swipe at one of the statements, Fr. Yves Congar (O.P.) wrote, "There's nothing less obedient than a corpse." For Aquinas we are responsible for our obedience; that is, obedience is an exercise of freedom.

Initially i thought it was obvious that the church should oppose gay unions. After all God created male and female for procreation and marriage sacramentalizes that natural state of affairs.Homosexuality must therefore be a disorder-i had no problem thinking.That i thought would be a "true judgement" as Fr. Komonchak says.Now I'm not so sure.What is a correct judgement about homosexuality? [i'm wondering].What "states the case as it is?."Is it correct to say that homosexuality is a disorderbecause it is indeed the case that homosexual union does not lead to procreation?Is that a suffiecnt reason to make the judgement that therefore the church cannot recognize gay marriage?Is it a correct judgement to say that because God created male and female and their sexual union for procreation therefore marriage which sacramentalizes that reality has to be between men and women open to procreation?Can one not also say that is is also a correct judgement-it is also the case- that erotic love is never experienced jubjectively as a desire or drive to procreate.But it is experienced as a need, a desire doe its own sake. And ideally in healthy mature people becomes erotic love-of and for another person.Therefore erotic love, though couples biologically[incidentaly] with procreation is not from the stnd point of the subjective human being about procreation.If it is objectively true that people are born gayand if it is objectiely true that sexuality whether gay or straight is not experienced as a desire to procreate but as an erotic desire - which -in its mature idealized state-encompasses love for another person- mutual love of 2 people-could the church not judge homosexuality -the love of 2 people-as on par with heterrosexuality.Both gays and straights are subjectielyexperiencing the same thing-erotic drive, desire, love.It is from the persons perspective merely incoidental that staight sex leads to procreation.Yes it is how God made procreation. Bit God also made gay love.and neither gays or straigts experiece their sexu drive as a drive to procreate. though the drive to procreate exists[not in all people] ,that drive is different then the sex fdrive or thesexual love for another person.So for me anyway it is no longer so clear that because hereterosex is needed for procreation which God sacramentalizes in marriage ,that therefore gay marriage cannot also be sacramentalized .We're human beings -we're not machines and just because the biology [mechanics here] of procreation require male and female unioin- human beings are also and more essentially made in Gods image- and God is love .Love is found in both gay and straights.[God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.]Gays may indeed be disordered biologically as they are attracted sexually to people that there bodily union with will not result in procreation-[i'm including the sex drive as a physical drive because it is determined-we have no choice in the matter,] but having a disordered physical condition does not mar the capacity and call to live authehtically human/christian lives. Our humanness, essentially resides in our conformity with Jesus who calls us to love one another.Homosexuality which in spite of its uncoupling from procreation is as given as heterosexuality and both givens separate subjectively- love from procreation-so both should be validated as conforming to what is of God-loving one another.[though heterosexual unions not open to the way God made them by using artificial contraception does subvert the human person called to live in synch with ones healthy body open to life].For the Church to accept homosexual unions would be perhaps to abide by God's commandmant to love one another, as homosexual love is also conforming [like heterosexual love] to Jesus' commandmant.

rose-ellen --Good for you! You're looking at the evidence both pro and con, then using your God-given power of reasoning to try to reach a conclusion which is based on the evidence. Not shred of rhetoric in your whole long paragraph:-) Yay, rose-ellen!!

JAK --Did Aquinas say anything about making exceptions to vows, i.e., breaking them? (It would seem to be relevant when talking about the whole current divorce problem in the Church.)

Ann: I don't know.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.