Questionis disputanda: Is freedom the capacity to choose rightly?

Obj. 1. It would seem that freedom is not the capacity to choose rightly, but the capacity to choose rightly or wrongly. For if one can only choose rightly, then one is not free to choose wrongly; hence one is predetermined to do right, which is incompatible with the capacity to choose.

Obj. 2. Moreover, the Apostle says: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more” (Romans 5:20). That holds for human beings, who ex hypothesi enjoy some measure of freedom. But if freedom were only the capacity to choose rightly, then nobody could actually sin; for an actual sin is a free choice to do wrong. But the sin that abounds is actual sin; ergo etc.

Obj. 3. According to the Gospel, all will be judged by God on the Last Day according to their deeds, so that the Son of Man will praise “the sheep” on his right and condemn “the goats” on his left (Matthew 25: 31ff ). But if freedom were only the capacity to act rightly, then no actual sin could be a free act. And by general agreement, nobody can be reasonably held to account for an act that is not free. Therefore, “the goats” could not be justly condemned, which would be incompatible with divine justice.

On the contrary, St. Anselm defines freedom of choice as “the power to preserve rectitude of will for its own sake” (DLA 3). Such a power can only be exercised by acting rightly. Ergo, freedom of choice entails only the capacity to act rightly.

I answer that

freedom is the capacity to choose rightly for at least one relevant reason, without being predetermined to do so by any factor(s) beyond one’s control. For if freedom always and necessarily included the capacity to choose wrongly, then neither God nor the blessed in heaven (the beati) would be free, which is contrary to fact. But God and the beati do makes choices for relevant and good reasons, without being predetermined to do so by any factor beyond their control. And this could not be otherwise. For “whoever sins is a slave to sin,” whereas “the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32), and there is no falsehood in God and the beati.

Nonetheless it must be conceded that, in via as opposed to in patria, humanity in general suffers from the effects of original sin, such that even though no particular actual sin is inevitable for any given human bieng capable of free choice, some-or-other such sin is inevitable for such people. But from this it follows only that our freedom is imperfectly developed and requires divine grace to reach its proper perfection.

Reply Obj. 1. If somebody is predetermined to do only right, it does not follow that they are predetermined to only one morally acceptable course of action. That would only follow if they were predetermined to just one course of action by factors beyond their control. But nobody suggests that freedom is compatible with that kind of predetermination.

Reply Obj. 2. That sin abounds shows that freedom is often wrongly exercised.  But ex hypothesi, freedom so exercised is not fully developed, just as a toddler learning to walk often stumbles and sometimes falls. But it is unreasonable to define the capacity to walk as including the capacity to stumble and fall. In general, then, it is unreasonable to define a power by the errors made in its immature state. And the same thus holds for freedom.

Reply Obj. 3. By divine grace, one is enabled to choose to be transformed into one who will be as gloriously free as God and the beati. But since, in via, our freedom is immature, it is always possible, even when offered grace, to exercise freedom wrongly so as to remain a slave to sin. If one dies in that state, then one will merit condemnation for the resulting deeds.


46 Responses

  1. Mmmmm––rich, chocolatey, scholastic goodness. w00t!

  2. Dr. Liccione,

    Do the above imply that the beati are, thus, become ‘perfect’ and incapable of sin?

  3. Yes. They have been divinized and thus, like the Lord, are incapable of sin.

  4. Non posse peccare, is how St. Augustine called it, I believe. The other “modes” of will for him were, afaik, posse (non) peccare [Adam and Eve], and non posse non peccare (us now). I forget how he classed the Lord’s mode of will during His earthly ministry.

  5. Dr. Liccione & Elliot B.,


    This blog is, quite simply, AWESOME!

    — even for the uninitiated as I ! ;^)

    Lotsa good stuff to ponder about.

    Keep up the Great Work, gents!

  6. “And to discover what is natural we must study it preferably in things that are in a natural state, and not in specimens that are degenerate.” Aristotle’s Politics, Book I, Chapter 2.10.

  7. Nice job! Elliot said it well in his first comment.

    You’ve gotten me to the point where I can buy the idea that freedom does not require the freedom to choose sin.

    I would, however, still claim that freedom may include the freedom to choose sin. You seem to admit that in your Reply to Objections 2 and 3, for you call the choice to sin “freedom wrongly exercised“—which is still freedom. Furthermore, if freedom precludes the freedom to choose sin, then Adam and Eve were not free even before the Fall; nor could the choice to accept grace—which carries within it the possibility of refusing to do so, else it couldn’t be a choice—be rightly called “free”. (Not to mention the issue of whether our Lord was free in his earthly ministry.)

    I must admit that I find the walking/stumbling analogy you use not entirely helpful. As a matter of physical reality (at least, the one we inhabit), walking actually does include the possibility of falling. Walking involves having your center of gravity above your feet. That implies the possibility of falling, given enough force applied at the wrong point in the wrong direction. The fact that a football player can be tackled is not due to any immaturity in his ability to run; it’s due to the fact that he’s not lying down.

    This says nothing about freedom—just because the ability to walk carries within it the possibility of falling physically doesn’t imply that moral freedom must imply the ability to fall morally. It does, however, mean that your walking analogy doesn’t do what you want it to.

    As always, corrections welcome.


  8. Peter,

    Not to mention the issue of whether our Lord was free in his earthly ministry.

    This would necessitate a discussion on the 2 Wills of Christ as well as touching on the Boethian definition of ‘person’, among other things.

    I leave that discussion to my betters — thankfully, we seem to have the best of the crop here.

    phamilton —

    Thanks for the Aristotelean bit! Relatively speaking, that is perhaps the closest thing to ‘Plain English’ I have thus far encountered on this blog dealing with such topics.

  9. I would, however, still claim that freedom may include the freedom to choose sin.

    God cannot sin. Is He not free?

    When you stumble you no longer are walking, you are falling. Although our “fallen” state allows that most of us do, in fact, fall. Some do not. I can think of Two.

  10. Peter Brown: (whose name, I admit, always, awesomely, triggers me to think of both Spiderman and Charlie Brown, but never mind that ;))

    “Walking involves having your center of gravity above your feet. That implies the possibility of falling, given enough force applied at the wrong point in the wrong direction.”

    I think the analogy has more value than you admit.

    No one can actually will to fall, since a willfully enacted fall is just that––an act, an intentional violation of the essence of walking naturally. To walk is to will to do exactly what you said, namely, to keep the center of gravity in a certain range of motion relative to the earth. Ambulatory freedom consists in the ability to walk in many directions; stumbling is not, in principle, any proper aspect of walking, since it is precisely something we avoid by learning to walk. If stumbling were a proper aspect of walking, we would see nothing wrong with stumbling and scraping and rolling along the ground until we somehow righted ourselves, perhaps in an upwards fall.

    Walking may not always be pretty, but it is, I think, incoherent to say it can formally include a violation of it. A gun blowing up in your hand is not any proper part of shooting a target, though, it’s true, pulling the trigger was a “free” act. That explosion, however, because not determined by you, was not even what you willed, and therefore was no part your own shooting.

    Least, that’s ‘ow it looks t’me.

  11. Also, I suspect there is some implicit confusion about the relationship of deliberation (de liberare, as coming from liberty) and free agency. The will is the RATIONAL appetite of the person, and therefore, an act of rational deliberation precedes the act of the will (metaphorically, as we size up a menu before ordering and eating). It is certainly true that humans are free in a radically “bipolar” way (for good or evil) in the act of deliberation, but that this can only RATIONALLY and properly terminate in free acts ordered towards the good––or, as Dr. Liccione said, towards “choos[ing] rightly for at least one relevant reason.” But it does not follow from this that the dialectic of deliberation must requires that freedom is similarly dialectical.

    Consider thesis §21 from the “24 Theses”:

    “The will follows the intellect. The will does not precede the intellect. The will necessarily desires that which is presented to it as a good that in every way can satisfy desire, but among the many goods that are proposed to it as desirable by a judgement that is subject to change, [thus] the will freely chooses. Thus, a choice follows the last practical judgement, and the will makes that judgement into the last one.

    [Intellectum sequitur, non praecedit, voluntas, quae necessario appetit id quod sibi praesentatur tamquam bonum ex omni parte explens appetitum, sed inter plura bona, quae iudicio mutabili appetenda proponuntur, libere eligit. Sequitur proinde electio iudicium practicum ultimum; at quod sit ultimum, voluntas efficit.]

    The last sentence bears repeating: “Thus, a choice follows the last practical judgement, and the will makes that judgement into the last one.”

    Only analytically are deliberation and decision separable, since, metaphysically, they are cooperative (i.e., even the way in which we reflect on, or reject, certain data in coming to our decision, is itself a form of free decision).

    I think the cognitive snag comes when we hear the claim that freedom doesn’t include choosing evil, and yet know so well how we choose evil all the time. I agree with Socrates, however, that we can’t really choose evil in itself with respect to a rational, and thus free, choice we make. Our grasp of how the means violates the end, or how the end is actually disordered, is still rooted in a rational deliberation towards the best option ahead of us. Whenever we make decisions, we are always looking to make, not merely arbitrary (free!) choices, but “good decisions.” Even when we ‘know’ that what we are about to do is wrong, yet we implicitly choose a higher (albeit nominally ‘evil’) good in suppressing our conscience. Our capacity to choose wrongly does not impinge on the nature of freedom as the capacity to choose rightly; it only shows we are not as free as we thought.

    I don’t if this adds anything, but I hope it does.

  12. It’s also important to keep in mind the distinction between actus hominis and actus humanus. The former refers to an action done by men in general, a human action (like blinking at a flash or screaming with fright or gagging at maggots, etc.), whereas the latter refers to an action done by a specific person, a human’s action. The distinction is important, because, while we may think an actus hominis is ‘free’ just by being unrestrained (as when someone ‘instinctively’ reaches for a drink while only looking at a computer screen), it is actually not free in the proper sense of the term being argued for here by Dr. Liccione.

    If I knock over a vase and gasp, that was unconstrained––I was free not to knock it over––but it wasn’t free. This is why we say, “Hey, that was deliberate!” for only some kinds of actions. Honest mistakes are not deliberat(ive) and therefore neither really culpable (“I know you didn’t mean it”), nor really commendable (“Well, I know you didn’t mean to do that”). I may commit a wrong actus hominis, unreflectively, but I can really only commit an actus humanus by a process of deliberation among goods, not evils (since, by definition, anything I truly regarded as evil, would ipso facto be removed from my option-list).

    The fundamental point, I think, is that freedom must be subject to good, otherwise arbitrariness would outweigh virtue (e.g., if I freely stole and lied, I’d be good just for being ‘genuine’).

    Again, not sure if this helps…

  13. Elliot B.,

    “I agree with Socrates, however, that we can’t really choose evil in itself with respect to a rational, and thus free, choice we make. ”

    I have been attempting to study Philosophy on my own, so please forgive my apparent deficiencies and ignorance in the matter; but are you perhaps alluding here to Meno by Plato?


    Men. Well then, Socrates, virtue, as I take it, is when he, who desires the honourable, is able to provide it for himself; so the poet says, and I say too-

    Virtue is the desire of things honourable and the power of attaining them.

    Soc. And does he who desires the honourable also desire the good?

    Men. Certainly.

    Soc. Then are there some who desire the evil and others who desire the good? Do not all men, my dear sir, desire good?

    Men. I think not.

    Soc. There are some who desire evil?

    Men. Yes.

    Soc. Do you mean that they think the evils which they desire, to be good; or do they know that they are evil and yet desire them?

    Men. Both, I think.

    Soc. And do you really imagine, Meno, that a man knows evils to be evils and desires them notwithstanding?

    Men. Certainly I do.

    Soc. And desire is of possession?

    Men. Yes, of possession.

    Soc. And does he think that the evils will do good to him who possesses them, or does he know that they will do him harm?

    Men. There are some who think that the evils will do them good, and others who know that they will do them harm.

    Soc. And, in your opinion, do those who think that they will do them good know that they are evils?

    Men. Certainly not.

    Soc. Is it not obvious that those who are ignorant of their nature do not desire them; but they desire what they suppose to be goods although they are really evils; and if they are mistaken and suppose the evils to be good they really desire goods?

    Men. Yes, in that case.

    Soc. Well, and do those who, as you say, desire evils, and think that evils are hurtful to the possessor of them, know that they will be hurt by them?

    Men. They must know it.

    Soc. And must they not suppose that those who are hurt are miserable in proportion to the hurt which is inflicted upon them?

    Men. How can it be otherwise?

    Soc. But are not the miserable ill-fated?

    Men. Yes, indeed.

    Soc. And does any one desire to be miserable and ill-fated?

    Men. I should say not, Socrates.

    Soc. But if there is no one who desires to be miserable, there is no one, Meno, who desires evil; for what is misery but the desire and possession of evil?

    Men. That appears to be the truth, Socrates, and I admit that nobody desires evil.

  14. Elliot:

    Though I agree with much of what you say, I don’t believe that free choice always requires deliberation. Sometimes the “relevant reason” for making the choice is simply that for the sake of which a person chooses as they do, but without thinking about it. Reasons explain actions by making them intelligible, not necessarily by causing them—though reasons, I suppose can be counted as causes in some non-Humean sense of ’cause’, such as ‘explanatory factor’.


  15. Peter Brown:

    It seems to me that you and I are agreeing in substance. But I think you’ve misunderstood my “walking” analogy.

    The point of said analogy was to argue that one ought not to define a capacity in terms of how one can fail to exercise it well. Clearly, given our fallibility and vulnerability in this world, hardly any of us can claim to do what we do without the possibility of failure, even when we’re very good at what we do. But when applied to freedom understood as a capacity, that lesson only tells us that our freedom is not yet perfect down here, which I’ve already conceded. It does not tell us that freedom as a capacity must be defined in terms of how it can be wrongly exercised.


  16. Glad to see this site up and running with some excellent discussion. I’ll have to come back and join the debate when I have more time. God bless. — PB

  17. Mike:

    I also agree there need not be conscious, meticulous sifting of options; all I think that deliberation means as a precedent to decision is that we at least have to have some awareness of a set of options (even if only two slightly different members) in order to choose.

    When I used the word ‘process’ above, it might have suggested (esp. in our age of computers) a detailed serial procedure in which we “run” a decision “program”, but that is not what I wanted to convey. I use ‘process’ in the legal sense of the word, as such that at least two things stand on trial, as it were, before the rational appetite, and, even if spontaneously and unreflectively, we, by that appetite, choose one from among them.

    Perhaps the difference is that I am saying “rational appetite” and you are speaking of “reason(s) (ratio-nes)” simpliciter.


    Yes, I had Meno in mind. I also like what St. Augustine says in his Commentary on Psalm 32 (which, alas, I cannot find a good reference for online):

    “All men love happiness, and therefore men are unreasonable in wanting to be wicked without being unhappy. … Consider this point for a moment: in all the wickedness men commit, they always desire happiness. A man steals; you ask: “Why?” For hunger, for need. So he is wicked for fear of being unhappy, and all the more unhappy for being wicked. For the sake of driving away unhappiness and obtaining happiness, all men do whatever they do, good or bad; they invariably, you see, want to be happy. Whether they lead a good life or a bad one, they want to be happy; but not all attain to what all desire. All wish to be happy; none will be so but those who wish to be good.

    It is true, of course, that St. Augustine qualifies this in many places (De Trin. Bk. XXIII, Conf. Bk. X, etc. … indeed, even just a moment later in the same commentary on Psalm 32!) by saying not all people REALLY desire happiness, in so far as not all people really desire GOD. But his point still stands in the sense that the false happiness people desire, is at least still exactly all that people desire, namely, happiness as they can grasp it.

    “But it is impossible for anything falling short of yourself to add to your happiness. … Whatever you possess on earth is inferior to yourself. … Look for what is better than yourself, so that by that means you may become better off than you are.”
    (Exp. in Ps. 32, as cited in The Essential Augustine, ed. Vernon J. Bourke [Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1974], p. 152).

    Cf. also ST Ia IIae, q. 5, a. 8, resp.


  18. Elliot,
    Augustine thinks that in order to be good, all temporal succession needs to cease. History doesn’t have any good value to it. Either your good and not free, or free and not good.

  19. Photios:

    Your interpretations are not the ones I reached when I read Augustine’s De Libero Arbitrio and De Civitate Dei.

    1. …Augustine thinks that in order to be good, all temporal succession needs to cease.

    Augustine thought that blessedness is only attained definitively in patria as opposed to in via. But he neither asserted nor implied that all temporal succession ceases for the beati; how could it, if he affirms the resurrection of the body? His position entailed only that one must be lifted out of the City of Man in order to attain perfection.

    2. History doesn’t have any good value to it. That’s nonsense. “History” for Augustine includes the City of God, the Church Militant, as well as the City of Man. The value of history is the growing of the former’s “wheat” amidst the latter’s “tares.” Thus is life lived; thus are lessons learned. That has value.

    3. Either your good and not free, or free and not good. Even a cursory reading of Augustine’s DLA shows that is not what he thought. What he thought is that a person is free to the extent they are good. That’s where Anselm got his similar idea from, though not uncritically.


  20. Mike,

    How about citing some Augustine from De Civititate Dei. And have you read Perry’s Paper on Original Sin and the City of God?

    The thesis of De Libero Arbitrio gets abandoned. Julian quotes much of it and shows how Augustine developed.

    The type of freedom that Augustine imagines in the eschaton, is one that you are free FROM of having to make choices.


  21. I wouldn’t follow Anselm. Look at this exegesis of the Gethsemane text.

  22. Photios:

    I am well aware that you and your colleagues interpret Augustine differently from how I and mine do. My view of Augustine on freedom is that of Mary T. Clark, Augustine: Philosopher of Freedom.

    Augustine certainly believed that the blessed have no choice to sin in the eschaton. But from his reasons for that belief, it does not follow that they have no choices whatsoever. All that follows is that their choices are from among goods, as expressions of the supreme divine goodness.

    I don’t find Anselm’s account of the Agony in the Garden at all incompatible either with Christ’s sinlessness or with dyothelitism. Daniel Deme’s The Christology of St. Anselm of Canterbury is good on this point.


  23. Elliot B,

    Tremendous thanks!

    This is great stuff. I am ever grateful for your professional expertise as well as personal wisdom in light of my own personal edification (as, I believe, also that of others, too) in these matters!

    FWIW, I also appreciate your usage of Latin in your posts; for me, it seems better not only because it is the language of the Church, but also it can help make the posting less verbose; e.g., “ceteris paribus” is much more concise than “with all other factors or things remaining the same”, which is a mouthful! ;^)

  24. Simply:

    I am truly glad you are edified by things I might contribute. Let’s hope it’s not only you. 😉

    Easy with the word “professional” in reference to me, however… I’m just a noob, albeit a tenacious learner. I’ve got still got buckets of ignorance and darkness to dredge out of the old nous.

    And yes, I think Latin in ordinary prose rocks the mic (rocks the Mike?).

  25. Mike,

    We’re not taking our interpretation from controversial authors but rather from Augustinian scholars. So if there is a problem of an interpretation of Augustine, it’s on your side (Teske, Bonner, Rist, Portalie).

    Look at the way the City of Man vis. the City of God works. As long as man is historical, sin’s possibility always remains, God is exempt from Original Sin because he lacks the qualities that make it possible. He is absolutely simple and immutable without temporal succession. Man must be rescued FROM time to exclude sin’s possibility, existing now in God’s singular moment:

    “In short, when the fullness of time came, He also came who was to deliver us from time. For being delivered from time, we shall come to that eternity where there is no time: there it is not said, When shall the hour come, for the day is everlasting, a day which is neither preceded by a yesterday, nor cut off by a morrow. But in this world days roll on, some are passing away, others come; none abides; and the moments in which we are speaking drive out one another in turn, nor stands the first syllable for the second to sound. Since we began to speak we are somewhat older, and without doubt I am just now older than I was in the morning; thus, nothing stands, nothing remains fixed in time. Therefore ought we to love Him by whom the times were made, that we may be delivered from time and be fixed in eternity, where there is no more changeableness of times.” On John’s Gospel, 31, 5.

    Augustine needs a stronger position, but the answer is not there. The cost of this trade is that newness is tied to temporal history, but in the eschaton nothing new can be had in terms of change. The life of the blessed is the life of God where there is no change.


  26. Photios:

    The quotation from Augustine you select from his vast corpus does not entail, logically, that there is absolutely no temporal succession for the beati in the eschaton. It only entails that, whatever sort of temporal succession there may be in heaven, that cannot involve any kind of deterioration or corruption. That’s what’s involved in the participation of the beati in God’s eternity.

    I subscribe to that interpretation because I take as axiomatic, even for Augustine, that being a human person involves being a physical creature, so that even the souls of the beati in heaven await restoration to physicality in the form of glorified bodies. It’s reasonable to speculate, therefore, that temporality is somewhat different in the eschaton than it is on the natural plane. For the reason just stated, it would not be sensible to hold that Augustine believes there simply is no temporality in heaven.

    Given my several-years’ acquaintance with your general agenda, I quite understand why you’re inclined to turn this into a scholarly debate about Augustine’s views on freedom and temporality. That is not what interests me. I’m interested in discussing whether the responsio I gave in the post about freedom is true. If it turns out that Augustine’s views can be reasonably interpreted to be incompatible with my position, I would not be particularly disturbed. But it would take a lot more work to convince me of that. Trust me: it isn’t worth your trouble.


  27. Mike,

    Well, first I was responding to Elliot’s use of Augustine, not your post. Augustine views of freedom won’t work and you will only end up spinning your wheels.

    And yes it does logically follow that man’s gets excluded from temporal succession, based on the dialectic of what man has and what God has. That’s the contrast between the City of Man and the City of God.

    Just because Augustine professes belief in the Resurrection of the Body does not-on that basis-preclude that he holds to incompatible ideas. It’s possible his Platonism is incompatible with the bible. And that also depends on what kind of Body he imagines in the eschaton.

    I do not believe I will convince you otherwise as a Roman Catholic, but that isn’t my aim.

    “Ergo, freedom of choice entails only the capacity to act rightly.”

    Freedom of choice does not ential only the capacity to act rightly, but also the multiplicity of choice either dialectically or non-dialectically. Freedom of choice entails objects of choosing, and as Lewis says, without multiplicity there is not choice.

    Your refutation of Obj. 1 is weak and dependent on how you define divine simplicity.


  28. Photios:

    You have a habit that is very difficult both to deal with and to break. When you interpret a text or corpus from a certain perspective, and then come upon something in the text or corpus that seems incompatible with that, you tend to explain the discrepancy by attributing logical inconsistency to the author rather than questioning the adequacy of the original hermeneutic. That strikes me as a very bad habit indeed. The reason I don’t like to debate matters of textual interpretation with you is that you see no need to curb that tendency—at least when its object is a Western thinker. Dealing with that is usually not worth the effort.

    As for your claim that freedom of choice entails a multiplicity of choices, I concur. But a distinction is in order.

    Freedom of choice certainly entails having more than one option at some-or-other times; but it does not follow that freedom of choice, as I’ve defined it, requires more than one option every time. Typically, we choose from among options in such wise as to foreclose the options not chosen. In particular, the beati have chosen for God definitively, thus foreclosing any other option. But it does not follow that they have thereby made themselves unfree. All that follows is that they’ve used their freedom to embrace the range of options compatible with having chosen definitively for God, and to reject the range of options that is incompatible with such a choice. And for reasons I trust need no elaboration, such a choice is actually necessary for fully developed freedom.

    The sense in which God in se, as distinct from the God-Man, is absolutely simple has no bearing on that distinction, and therefore does not affect the truth of your claim, which I also affirm.


  29. That might be true Mike, but it flounders if I learned that interpretation from Western authors themselves, which is the case. Many Western authors have pointed out that problem in Augustine, and most EO’s don’t deal with it directly or are even aware of it. Furthermore, it is not a nasty habit. Maximus held to a kind of monotheletism early in life where he thought in the eschaton that the human ego was replaced with the divine energy (see Thunberg, Man and the Cosmos). As he came in contact with Monotheletism directly he modified a lot of his view. Augustine did the same with Neoplatonism. The recognition of logical inconsistency in an author is not the mark of an ill will. I came to recognize these problems in Augustine AS an Augustinian. So attributing to me an ill will in interpreting the author is an ad hom.

    I accepted the fact a long time ago that you won’t convince me and I won’t convince you, but there are those who have not made up their mind on what interpretation they will follow.

    “The sense in which God in se, as distinct from the God-Man, is absolutely simple has no bearing on that distinction, and therefore does not affect the truth of your claim, which I also affirm.”

    It has absolutely every bearing on that distinction. Because the starting point on which that is derived is going to affect that interpretation drastically. If you start with the God-man, one kind of simplicity can only be understood without sacrficing basic Chalcedonian Orthodoxy (the “NeoChalcedonian” kind, which is the Church’s doctrine); if you start with philosophical simplicity as from the vareity from paganism, another is derived and subverts the other.


  30. Photios:

    The recognition of logical inconsistency in an author is not the mark of an ill will. I came to recognize these problems in Augustine AS an Augustinian. So attributing to me an ill will in interpreting the author is an ad hom.

    You’re reading too much into what I said. I don’t think you’re ill-willed; I just think you tend to let your favored hermeneutic misconstrue data that don’t quite fit into it. That is a very common, if very bad, habit. As the next quotation indicates, you yourself believe that I fall into it. But I don’t think you’re attributing ill will to me.

    Thus you say, contrary to my view, that ADS “has absolutely every bearing” on the distinction we both accept. You give your reason why, and I’ve heard it often. But I’ve never found it in the least plausible. I believe the doctrine of ADS dogmatized by the Catholic Church to be quite compatible with that distinction as well as “Chalcedonian orthodoxy.” Augustine’s early, particular formulation of ADS, on the other hand, just isn’t clear enough to me (nor, I suspect, was it to him) to enable one to decide whether it itself is similarly compatible. Your reason for disagreeing with me, which has to do with a difference of ordo theologiae, has always struck me as irrelevant. Gregory Palamas’ ordo is the one you favor, but I don’t have any serious problems with his definition of divine simplicity in se, which I believe to be compatible with the Catholic dogma even though it isn’t reached from a philosophical point of departure. Thus we have differing interpretations of the same data. Mine tends to harmonize apparent differences; yours tends to treat apparent similarities as deep differences. One of the reasons I find my hermeneutic more reliable than yours is that mine is far less prone to ascribing internal inconsistencies to minds greater than ours.


  31. Dr. Liccione & Photios,

    Apologies, gentlemen, for interrupting your discussion of various substantive points here in connection to Augustinian theology; but would either of you kindly explain to me what ADS stands for in this context:

    ” I believe the doctrine of ADS dogmatized by the Catholic Church … ”

    As far as my own personal knowledge of what ADS commonly stands for, I don’t think it applies since I hardly think the Church would dogmatize “ATTENTION DEFICIT SYNDROME”.


  32. SP:

    ADS=the doctrine of absolute divine simplicity.

    Take my word for it: the issue is a distraction.


  33. Mike,
    What kind of ordo theologiae do Eunomius and Nestorius have? Why is that not problematic?

    “Your reason for disagreeing with me, which has to do with a difference of ordo theologiae, has always struck me as irrelevant.”

    If it is irrelevant, than all our fruits on the filioque are but words. Why was the ordo theologiae front and center for Gregory of Nyssa in Contra Eunomium?

    If ADS as so defined by RCC is compatible with the Incarnation, then how can a simple hypostasis become a complex hypostasis, if ADS is an attribute of the divine essence and the Person that becomes complex is also identical to that nature.


  34. Photios: “…how can a simple hypostasis become a complex hypostasis, if ADS is an attribute of the divine essence and the Person that becomes complex is also identical to that nature.”

    By complex do you mean with respect to its nature, or with respect to its number? As you know, there is and was only one hypostasis in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, so your claim seems to need some finessing.

    St. Thomas addressed the composite nature of the Incarnation thus:

    “The Person or hypostasis of Christ may be viewed in two ways. First as it is in itself, and thus it is altogether simple, even as the Nature of the Word. Secondly, in the aspect of person or hypostasis to which it belongs to subsist in a nature; and thus the Person of Christ subsists in two natures. Hence though there is one subsisting being in Him, yet there are different aspects of subsistence, and hence He is said to be a composite person, insomuch as one being subsists in two.” –– ST IIIa, q. 2, a. 4, resp.

    The difficulties you see in ADS vis-à-vis the Incarnation seem just variations on the old worries about God’s omniscience as the negation of freedom, or God’s simplicity and the reality of created beings. When you ask how a simple God can become a composite person, it is like asking how a simple God, who knows Himself in His essence, can know complex things other than Himself (for which, cf. ST Ia, q. 14, a. 5). For the problem of future congtingents, cf. ST Ia, q. 14, a. 13).


  35. I think a few points should be kept in mind in considering St. Augustine’s historical theology:

    1. In City of God he clearly taught that history had a meaning, albeit not an intrinsic meaning, but only a meaning as it opens toward and approaches eternal beatitude. This undermines the idea that historical succession is utterly worthless for him. It is, of course, very much a part of his Platonism, but with an important modification which I will mention below.

    2. He argued (Confessions, bk. X) against the eternity of the world. This is nothing other than a defense of the temporal reality of the world AS God’s good creation. Again, if God created a temporal world, it can’t be all that bad.

    3. He also argued against the reality of temporal succession in the first place, along the lines that the past is gone and is the future is not yet, so really only the present, indivisibly brief, because always becoming the past, is existent time. This is very Platonic, in that each present moment is regarded as a “wormhole”, if you will, into eternity. The present is our finite grasp of the eternal, and therefore it does have some value, but again, only in so far as we pass through it into eternal good. (An indivisible point is not susceptible to division or change, and therefore is as imperturbable as eternity.)

    4. St. Augustine modified Platonic idealism by way of his radical sacramentalism. This is one of the key themes Fr. Donald Keefe so brilliantly explores in his Covenantal Theology: the Eucharistic Order of History. (Read it if you can get it!) From page 535f.:

    “…he sees the fallen consciousness of man to be integrated historically [not ideally-atemporally!] in the Eucharist. … nothing further is required for the reconstruction of a realistic Augustinian theology of transubstantiation than the systematic exploitation of Augustine’s own equation of the One Sacrifice, the One Flesh of the second Adam and the second Eve, with the Eucharistic Sacrifice, for it is the freedom of this union that constitutes its historicity. Only the historical density of the liturgical experience itself is able to ground Augustine’s sacramental theology, and to found an Augustinian theology upon any less concrete and historical ground than the Eucharistic Sacrifice is to ignore once again the free historical foundation for Augustine’s on-going conversion of his Neoplatonism to the Catholic faith. This foundation is the Eucharistic liturgy which was his central responsibility over thee nearly forty years of his episcopacy. To ignore this liturgical foundation is to misconceive Augustine’s theology.

    In Augustinian as in Thomist metaphysics we therefore have to do with the concrete, historical, free and objective relation between the event of the Church’s offering of the bread and wine of the Offertory and the Event-presence of the Christ to the bridal Church as Priest, as Victim, and as semper interpellans. This is simply the historical ordo, the dynamically integrating relations of circumincession which we have seen [in the preceding hundreds of pages] to exist between the event of the Old Covenant, the Event of the New Covenant, and the Event of the Kingdom. It is identically the free and intra-substantial ordering of the Offertory, the Canon, and the Communion; it is the historical ordo of sarx, mia sarx, and pneuma, the ordo of the literal, the allegorical and the anagogical sense of Scripture, and finally, the ordo of the sacramentum tantum, the res et sacramentum and the res tantum, radically of the Eucharist and derivatively of the other sacramanets. This is the free order of objective reality, which is to say, the intrinsic meaning of historical substance, the subject matter of any historical-covenantal metaphysics.”

  36. I’m no expert…in fact I’m not even old enough to be a student yet…but my two cents (Biblical cliches!! love it!!) are:

    freedom is the capacity to choose rightly BECAUSE freedom is FREE OF SIN

    some would argue that sin is freedom from right, which is where I run into a problem…

  37. Lucia,

    “some would argue that sin is freedom from right, which is where I run into a problem…”

    In what way do you run into a problem? Do you mean that you don’t know how to respond to that argument? Or that you have a problem with people arguing in that way?

    If it’s the former, I’d be happy to give you a hand, but I don’t want to take the time to write a post on the topic if I’m misunderstanding you.

  38. I run into a problem responding to that–perhaps you can help?

    And thank you! 🙂 I really appreciate it.

  39. Assume two people are discussing whether the government should put cameras in public places to monitor its citizens. On person sees this as taking away freedom: the government may very well turn into a police state. However, the other person likes the idea because it will cut down on crime, so he would enjoy the freedom to walk at night without worrying about being mugged. So two people look at the same situation, but depending on the way each looks at the issue, government cameras either make people more free or less free.

    My example suggests that you can look at any freedom in a way that it takes away some other freedom. There is no such thing as absolute freedom from every restraint. Nor would absolute freedom be intrinsically good, even if it were a coherent concept. Some freedoms ought to be granted to no one, such as the freedom to kill innocents.

    On the other hand, when freedom is considered with respect to certain things, it is intrinsically good. Freedom from moral evil, for example, is intrinsically good. However, even if it is intrinsically good, someone may choose to see it as a limitation of freedom, arguing that people who are free from moral evil are no longer free to sin. This is true, but who cares? I have already shown that not every freedom is good.

    So those people who say that sin is freedom from right (it’s probably better to say goodness) are correct, in a sense. You could choose to view sin as the freedom to choose evil. Or, you could choose to look at sin as a type of shackle, a thing that prevents us from achieving eternal beatitude.

    But even if sin can be viewed from either of these perspectives, this does not imply that both perspectives are equal. Since man is ordered towards the good by his very nature, and because things ought to be defined in part by the end they tend towards, sin ought not to be considered a type of freedom, but rather a disorder, something preventing us from becoming what we ought to be.

  40. phamilton,

    …that people who are free from moral evil are no longer free to sin.

    I don’t think that’s quite right.

    For example, I believe (and I am certainly open to correction) it is because the Beati are no longer capable of sinning since they are now free from Sin itself as a result of having thus become divinized.

    I don’t think you phrased it quite well here because it seems to suggest that God has taken away from these folks the freedom to sin; however, I believe they are free because of the very fact that the Beati choose not to do so as they are no longer Slaves to Sin.

  41. Simply Philos,

    I agree with your formulation, and I think it is compatible with what I wrote. Every choice involves opening the door to new opportunities and closing the door to others. If I choose to be ordained a priest (God willing), I am no longer free to marry. Similarly, the Beati choose God, and in doing so are no longer free to sin: based on the choices they have made, choosing to sin is no longer an option for them. This seems true whether or not my words are understood in the way you suggest.

  42. phamilton,

    I think it’s more of a preferred verbiage for me.

    For instance, you had stated:

    “…based on the choices they have made, choosing to sin is no longer an option for them.”

    I would prefer a more precise formulation that “choosing to sin is no longer [something they would consider]”.

    Your formulation inadvertently suggests that God removed that option from them, which is not the actual case.

    If I choose to be ordained a priest (God willing),

    Are you really discerning such a vocation!

    My prayers go out to you! God bless you in your journey!

  43. oh, wow. That 100% makes sense to me now.

    And the rhyming was unintentional. 🙂

    Thank you so much!

    Lucia, a VERY grateful student

  44. Simply Philos,

    I guess it does boil down to preference. Given the dichotomy between freedom and non-freedom that I was trying to highlight, I hope you find my language at least tolerable.

    I’ve been in the seminary for four years, and I have another five to go. Thanks for the prayers.

  45. I hope what I was attempting to convey as far as my own understanding is concerned stood to reason. If there were any errors, I hope you’ll point them out since, as I mentioned, I am entirely open to correction.

    At any rate, I hope God provides you with the necessary strength & guidance in your journey to the priesthood.

  46. […] has recently proposed identifying freedom as the capacity to choose rightly – see his post on Philosophia Perennis of September 9, 2008.  (It is fair to add that he makes this identification with an important qualification, to which I […]

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