The Nature of Freedom

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture
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Recently the brothers and I were engaged in a conversation about the nature of human liberty. We were reflecting on the stark difference between freedom as the modern world would present it, and the true freedom to which our Catholic faith teaches that all men are called.

When most people consider the concept of human freedom or liberty, they generally consider, not the presence of a positive reality within the soul rendering it capable of free action, but rather the absence of realities outside the soul that serve as limits or boundaries to choice. Freedom is said to exist when all the various impediments to external movement or choice are removed; this is the notion of “freedom as license” that is so very common today. Given this understanding, a ball rolling down a hill -- where the mere pull of gravity rules its motion -- would be dubbed “free” if it simply has no obstacles in its path. Yet in this scenario, the ball’s fall is not something that it is “doing,” as much as it is something “being done to it.” The ball is not self-directed, not moved from within. The ball is not dominus sui (Lord of itself), but rather is lorded over by external forces outside of its control. This is not freedom.

True human freedom consists not in the absence of external impediments to action, but rather in the internal principle by which self-directed action towards an intended good is taken. This inner strength or virtus, by which one intentionally chooses the good and thus moves himself to a greater fulfillment of his human nature, is where human freedom lies.