Grace in Freedom by Karl Rahner
Karl Rahner, S.J., studied theology under Martin Heidegger, then taught dogmatics in Catholic unversities in Munich and Innsbruck, Germany, between 1937 and 1984. He wrote more than a half-dozen books and was an observer at Vatican Council II in 1962-1965. Published in 1969 by Herder and Herder, New York. This book prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Section 8: True Freedom
The Theology of Freedom
Shortage of space prevents us from giving a survey of the doctrine of freedom as it emerges from the history of dogma and theology, or to discuss in detail the theological statements about the nature of freedom which are found in Scripture, tradition and the pronouncements of the magisterium of the Church. It must suffice to summarize what evidently results on the subject from revelation.
Freedom in History
Man objectivates his ultimate and permanent characteristics in the course of his individual and collective history, though he exercises them in every one of his acts -without actually realizing it. Hence the history of salvation and revelation, including the history of Christian theology, is also a history of man's reflection on himself as a free being. Hence man does not always know expressly and adequately what is true freedom, nor does he use this notion unchangeably in his statements on revelation and theology as if it were complete and needed no further deepening. True, the average school theology often gives this impression, but actually it is not so. Of course, we cannot here present even briefly the history of the Greek-Western concept of freedom.
First, freedom is seen as freedom from social, economic and political compulsion; it is the opposite of slavery, serfdom, etc. Hence it is a quality of the citizen of an independent polls who shares in the government of the state. Later the concept becomes more individual, contemplative: He is free who has autopraxia, that is who can do what he wants. This freedom from being tied to powers who alien- ate a man from himself is increasingly limited to an interiority within which a man can be himself. Thus, if he recognizes this inviolable spiritual sphere as the centre of his true humanity he will and can be free at least in this part of his being. It is sometimes thought that a man can become free also in those spheres that differ from this sublime "I", and which are governed by such powers as nature, the state and so forth, and that he can do this by giving up opposition and regarding them as indifferent; that he becomes free by detaching himself from them be- cause he realizes that they are mere shadows and quite unimportant. One thing seems to be noteworthy: even the true freedom of choice, that is the freedom which consists not only in the absence of external compulsion but in the fact that man must freely decide about himself, and which is, therefore, a demand rather than "freedom" -- this freedom becomes evident only in Christianity, because only there each individual is eternally valid (in the personal love between God and man) and hence must realize himself in perfect responsibility and thus in freedom.
If the history of revelation has reached its final eschatological phase with Jesus Christ, and if the absolute finality of this world's eschatological phase is not only a mere fact, because God will not reveal anything new, but is contained in the very essence of this phase, because the appearance of the God-man can be surpassed only by the direct vision of God himself -- then this quality of the revelation in Christ must also apply to man as a free being. The freedom God always guarantees to man is the freedom of accepting absolutely the absolute mystery which we call God, in the sense that God is not just one among other objects of our neutral freedom of choice, but he who only becomes known to man in this absolute act of freedom and in whom alone the very essence of freedom is fully achieved.
The essence of freedom is certainly not to be understood as the mere possibility of choosing between a number of objects, one of which is God. For in this case he would have a special place among these objects only because of his own objective character, but not because of the very
essence of freedom. According to St. Thomas freedom exists only because spirit exists as transcendence. Infinite transcendence to being as such, hence independence and indifference with regard to a definite finite object within the horizon of this absolute transcendence:, this infinite transcendence exists only insofar as it envisages the original unity of being in every act that is
concerned with a finite object and insofar as it is constantly open to its "Whither", which we call God. We speak of a Whither of the experience of transcendence not in order to express it in as complicated and involved a manner as possible, but for a twofold reason: If we were simply to say "God", we might mistakenly be thought to be speaking of God as an objectified notion, while
here everything depends on the fact that God is already given through the transcendence, and precisely where something finite is the object of knowledge. In other words, because we mean God precisely insofar as he is "in-explicitly" known in something (in quolibet cognoscitur, as St. Thomas says) and not insofar as he is explicitly, but secondarily spoken of, we cannot simply say "God". If we called the Whither of transcendence its "object", this would equally well conjure
up the misunderstanding that it was an "object" such as is given elsewhere in experience. It would suggest that we were not speaking of the Whither of the originally experienced transcendence itself, since the Whither would have been objectivated (categorized) by secondary reflection on this immediate transcendence.
Freedom is Possible only through God
Freedom does not first take on a theological character when God is explicitly objectivated in terms of the categories which apply to objects. It is theological by its very nature, since in every free act God is present, though not explicitly grasped, as its fundamental impulse and final goal. According to St. Thomas God is known in every object non-explicitly, but really; and this applies also to freedom. In every free act God is experienced non-explicitly, but truly; and what is meant by God is only experienced in this way, namely the Whither (incomprehensible by knowledge and will) of the one original transcendence of man, which consists in knowledge and love.
The Whither of transcendence cannot be disposed of, but is the infinite, mute disposal of us whenever we begin to dispose of anything by judging and subjecting it to the laws of our a priori reason. Hence the Whither of our transcendence is present in a mode of rejection and absence proper only to itself. It surrenders itself to us in the mode of denying itself, of silence, distance, incomprehensibility, and thus as very mystery. In order to see this more clearly we must, of course, consider that in our normal experience this Whither exists only as the possibility of comprehending finite things, hence that we are never allowed to con- template it directly, at least not in our normal experience. It is given to us only in the Whither of transcendence itself; thus we avoid all "ontologism" according to which God is what we know first, and in which we know everything else. For this Whither is not experienced in itself, but is only contained together with the experience of subjective transcendence. Apart from this the Whither as well as the transcendence itself is always given only as the condition of the possibility of categorial knowledge, but not by itself alone. For this reason the Whither of transcendence is there only in the mode of a distance that rejects. We can never approach or grasp it directly. It gives itself only by silently pointing to something else, something finite as the object of direct regard.
Freedom towards God
It is a decisive element of the Christian idea of freedom that it is not only dependent on God and refers to him as the basis of the freedom of choice, but that it is also freedom before God. This would not be a particularly difficult proposition if God were only regarded as one reality among others, as one of many objects of the freedom of choice as a neutral faculty. But now this freedom concerns its very basis, hence may be guilty of denying the condition of its own possibility in an act which nevertheless affirms this very condition: and this is the extreme statement of the essence of creaturely freedom which leaves the customary categorial indeterminism far behind. It is decisive for the Christian doctrine of freedom that it implies the possibility of a Yes or No to its own horizon, indeed that it is constituted by this very possibility. And this is so primarily not where God is conceived in categorial notions, but where he is given not absolutely, but in the transcendental experience as the condition of every personal activity directed to one's earthly surroundings. In this sense we encounter God everywhere radically as the actual question put to our freedom in all things of this world and, as Scripture tells us, above all in our neighbour.
The Paradox of Human Freedom
Why, then, is the transcendental horizon of freedom not only the condition of its possibility, but also its real "object"? For by definition this horizon is also the condition of a possible No to itself, hence it is inescapably affirmed by such a No, as the condition of the possibility of freedom, and even denied as a notional object in theoretical or practical atheism. This act of a freedom that denies God is thus the absolute contradiction, in which God is affirmed and denied simultaneously, and this ultimate absurdity is at the same time made relative in the temporal sphere, because it is necessarily objectivated and mediated in the finite material of our life. But the real possibility of such an absolute contradiction in freedom cannot be denied, though it is denied and doubted in vulgar everyday theology. This happens whenever it is said that the infinite God could regard a tiny aberration in the finite world as no more than just finite, and hence could not magnify it by an absolute prohibition and an infinite sanction, considering it as directed against the divine will as such. According to this view the will which such a sin would offend is the divinely willed finite reality, and if we assumed another offence over and above this we should wrongly place God's will like a categorial individual reality beside that which is finitely willed.
Nevertheless freedom makes it possible to say No to God. Otherwise there would be no freedom of the subject. For the free act is the act of the subject because it is transcendence, while the individual things in the world which we encounter in the horizon of transcendence are not events within an untouched space, but the historical concreteness of the encounter of the transcendence which supports our subjectivity. If this is so, then the freedom with regard to individual encounters is always also freedom with regard to the horizon, the ground and abyss which causes these encounters. Now the knowing subject cannot be indifferent to the abyss with which it has to do, especially also when this Whither is not its explicit object; hence it has the freedom to be inevitably concerned with God himself even if this happens always within the sphere of the concrete individual. In its origin, freedom is freedom of saying Yes or No to God, and thus freedom of the subject to itself. Freedom would only be the indifferent freedom to this or that, the infinite repetition of the same or the contrary (which is only a species of the same), a freedom of the eternal return of the same Ahasverus, if it were not of necessity the final freedom of the subject to itself that is freedom to God, though this truest "object" of freedom might not be conscious in the individual free act.
Freedom and Grace
A second reflection will elucidate the last theological ground of freedom as freedom towards God, even though it can here be only just mentioned. Our historical transcendence depends on God's offer to communicate himself; for our spiritual transcendence is never merely natural but always surrounded and carried by a dynamic of grace that points towards God's nearness; in other words God is not only present as the horizon of our transcendence that ever refuses itself, but also offers himself as our direct possession in what we call deifying grace. Because this is so, freedom in its relation to its ground receives an immediacy to God through which it becomes most radically the power to say Yes or No to God as such. This happens in a way that is different from the formal concept of transcendence as the merely distant horizon of existence and cannot be derived from it.
Freedom for Salvation or Damnation
As has been said before, freedom in the Christian sense cannot be regarded as a neutral power to do this or that in an arbitrary sequence and in a temporal order which would be interrupted only from outside, but could continue indefinitely as far as freedom was concerned. No, freedom is by its very nature concerned with the freely achieved final end of the subject as such. For this is evidently what is meant by the Christian statements about man and his salvation or loss, when he must freely be responsible before God's judgment for himself and his whole life. Then he will hear the ever-valid sentence on his eternal destiny according to his works, pronounced by a judge who does not consider appearances but the free, innermost heart of the person. True, Scripture presupposes rather than enlarges on man's freedom of choice, and its explicit theme, especially in the New Testament, is the paradox that man's continuing responsible freedom is enslaved by the demonic powers of sin and death and even by the law, and that it must be freed to the love of the law by the grace of God. Nevertheless, it cannot be doubted that in the Scriptures sinful as well as justified men are responsible for their life in the sight of God and thus also free, hence that freedom is a permanent constituent of man's nature. The true nature of freedom appears precisely in this, that in the Christian revelation it is the cause of both absolute salvation and absolute rejection by the final judgment of God. In the common experience of daily life freedom of choice may appear merely as a quality of individual human acts, for which man is accountable only because he has performed them without his decision being preceded by an interior state or an external situation and thus in this sense enforced. Such a concept of the freedom of choice atomizes it by attributing it exclusively to the individual human acts, held together only by the identity of their subject and the length of his life. Hence freedom would only be a freedom of individual acts, attributable to a neutral person capable of determining himself ever again as long as the external conditions exist. In the Christian view, however, man is, through his freedom, capable of determining as a whole and definitively; hence he does not only perform acts which may be morally qualified but are transitory and for which he is only legally or morally accountable. Through his free decision he is rather truly good or evil in the very ground of his being, and thus, in the Christian view, his final salvation or loss is already present, even though perhaps still hidden. Thus responsible freedom undergoes a tremendous change in depth.
Freedom as Self-Realization
Freedom is first of all "freedom of being". It is not merely a quality of an act such as it is sometimes performed, but a transcendental qualification of being human. If man is really meant to determine his final destiny, if this "eternity" is to be the act of his freedom, capable of making him good or evil in the depth of his being and not only accidentally, then freedom must first of all be freedom of being. This means: man is concerned with his own being which is always in relation to itself, which is subjectivity, not merely nature, always person, not simply "being there" but always "by and with himself". Nothing that happens to this being occurs apart from his own "self- relationship" but only through it, through his insight and freedom. This means that if something happens to him it becomes important for his subjective salvation only if it is freely understood and accepted by a free subject in a very special way. His "I" simply cannot be put aside, it cannot be made objective, it can never be replaced or explained by another, not even by its own reflective idea of itself; it is authentic origin not dependent on another and hence not to be derived from another. Its relation to its divine origin must never be interpreted by causal and functional relations of dependence, such as exist in the realm of our categorial experience, in which origin does not liberate, but binds and retains. Because of his freedom of being man cannot be compared to anything else nor adequately integrated into a system or subsumed under an idea. In an authentic sense he is the untouchable and therefore also the lonely and unsheltered, responsible to himself, who can in no way be "absolved" of this solitary self, who can never throw himself on
to others. Primarily, therefore, freedom is not concerned with this or that which it might do or not do. Basically freedom is not the capacity to choose any object or mode of conduct, but the freedom of self-understanding, of saying Yes or No to oneself, the possibility of deciding for or against oneself which corresponds to the knowing subjectivity of man. Freedom is never a mere choice between individual objects, but it is the self-realization of man who makes a choice, and only within this freedom in which man is capable of realizing himself is he also free as regards the material of his self- realization. He can do or not do this or that with respect to his own inescapable self-realization. With this he is inescapable burdened, and though its material will be different, it is either a radical self-realization or self-refusal with regard to God.
Freedom -- the Capacity of the Eternal
We have, however, to consider that this basic essence of freedom is realized in time. The total self-understanding and the radical self-expression, the option fondamentale, remain at first frequently empty and objectively unfulfilled. Not every free action achieves the same depth and thoroughness of self-commitment (Selbstverfugung). Though every individual free act risks total self-commitment, it always surrenders itself into the whole of the one free act of the one finite human life, because every such act is performed within the horizon of existence whence it receives its weight and proportion. Thus the biblical and Augustinian concept of the heart, Kierkegaard's idea of subjectivity, Blondel's "action" and so forth indicate that there is a basic act of freedom which penetrates the whole of existence. True, this is actualized in the individual temporal, localized and motivated human act, but it cannot be identified with this in objective reflection, nor is it merely the moral sum of these acts. Nor is this fundamental act only the moral quality of the final free act before death. Man's concrete freedom in which he disposes of himself and achieves his own finality before God is the unity-in- difference between the formal option fondamentale and free individual human acts, a unity that is the concrete being of the free subject that has realized itself. We would emphasize again that here freedom is precisely not the possibility of always doing something else, of infinite revision, but the capacity for something absolutely final, because it is done in freedom. Freedom is the capacity for the eternal. Natural processes can always be revised and diverted, and are for this very reason indifferent. The result of freedom is the true and lasting necessity.
Freedom -- the Capacity of Love
This self-perfecting of freedom into the eternal moment is its self-realization before God. For the freely attained salvation or damnation which in the gain or loss of God may not be understood as a mere external reaction of a judging or rewarding God; it is itself already done in freedom. If freedom is to achieve salvation or loss, that is the destiny of the whole man, it must involve him in all his intertwined relations of past and future. Freedom is always the self-realization of man making his choice with regard to this whole accomplishment before God. It is thus the capacity of the "heart", the capacity for love. What is the fundamental act of man, in which he can gather his whole nature and his whole life, which can embrace all that is man, bliss, despair, everyday life and hours of destiny, sin and redemption, past and future? The answer is not obvious, but it is true: the love of God alone is capable of embracing it all. It alone places a man before him without whom man would only be horribly conscious of a radical void and nothingness; it alone is capable of uniting all the manifold contradictory powers of man, because it directs them all to God. For only his unity and infinity can create in man that oneness which unites the multiplicity of finite things without abolishing it; love alone makes man forget himself (what a hell it would be if we could not do this in the end!); it alone can redeem even the darkest hours of the past, for it alone finds the courage to believe in the mercy of the holy God. It alone reserves nothing for itself and thus can dispose also of the future (which otherwise man seeks to save, because he is fearful of his finiteness, which must be treated with care); it alone can love even this earth together with God and thus integrate also all earthly love into the moment of eternity, and it alone will not fail in this, because it loves him who has never been sorry for having risked this earth of guilt, curse, death and vanity. The love of God is the only total integration of human existence, and we have understood its dignity and all-embracing great- ness only if we sense that it must be the content of the moment of temporal eternity (zeitliche Ewigkeit) and thus also the content of that eternity which is born from it in the presence of God himself.
The Risk of Love
This love is not an achievement which could be exactly defined; it is what every man becomes when he realizes his unique essence, something that is known only when it is done. This is not to say that there is no general notion of love, according to the general statement that man is obliged to love God and that this is the fulfilment of the whole divine law and all the commandments. For this principal commandment obliges man precisely to love God with his whole heart. And this heart, this innermost centre of his person and thus of whatever else belongs to the individual, is something unique; and what is risked and given in this love is only known afterwards, when man has found him- self and truly knows what and who he actually is. In this love, also, man is concerned with the adventure of his own, at first concealed, reality. He cannot estimate beforehand what is demanded of him; for he himself is demanded, he is risked in his concrete heart and life which are still before him as the unknown future and which reveal only afterwards what this heart is that had to be risked and spent in this life. In all other cases one can know what is demanded, one can estimate, compare and ask whether the risk is worth the gain. One can justify what has been done by the result which turns out to make sense. In the case of love this is impossible. For it justifies itself, but it is only truly itself when it has been perfectly achieved with all one's heart.
Love has No Measure
Fundamentally the Christian ethos is not the respect for the objective norms with which God has endowed reality. For all these are truly moral norms only where they ex- press the structure of the person. All other structures of things are below man. He may change and transform them as much as he can, he is their master, not their servant. The only ultimate structure of the person which adequately expresses it is the basic power of love, and this is without measure. Therefore man, too, is without measure. Fundamentally all sin is only the refusal to entrust oneself to this measurelessness, it is the lesser love which, because it refuses to become greater, is no longer love. In order to know what is meant by this man needs, of course, the multiplicity of objective commandments. But whatever appears in this multiplicity is a partial beginning of love which itself has no norm by which it might be measured. One may speak of this "commandment" of love if one does not forget that this "law" does not command something, but asks of man to be himself, that is the possibility of love by receiving God's love in which God does not give something else, but himself. But despite, no, because of his absoluteness God is no impersonal It, no unmoved receptacle of the transcendence and love of the spiritual person; he is the living God, and all human activity is essentially response to his call, which is the ultimate basis of its historicity. This historicity of man is taken seriously only when he knows himself to be essentially, not only accidentally, something that cannot be disposed of, but is integrated into the sovereign freedom of God. This is actually only the anthropological expression of the fact that every creature depends permanently on God. In the case of man this means that he remains dependent on God in his understanding of himself which is characteristic of his humanity, that he can never integrate God as an element into this understanding. It belongs to man's creatureliness that he experiences and affirms the mystery of God and his freedom. He therefore accepts the creaturely dependence which is proper to him if he does not imagine that he may finally dispose of himself, for example as "pure nature", but that he must wait for an historical interpretation by God himself.
Love of One's Neighbour
What had been said above of the interrelation between the transcendental and categorial exercise of freedom is realized in this historical interpretation. Human freedom is always freedom with regard to a categorial object and an inner-worldly Thou, even when it begins to be directly freedom before God. For even such an act of a direct Yes or No to God does not envisage immediately and solely the God of original transcendental experience and his presence as revealed in this, but first the God of thematic categorial reflection, the notional God.
If the word of God can be spoken in this world at all it can only be spoken as a finite word of man. And, conversely, the direct relation to God is necessarily mediated by inner-worldly communication. The transcendental message needs a categorial object, a support, as it were, in order not to lose itself in the void; it needs an inner- worldly Thou. The original relation to God is the love of neighbour. If man becomes himself only through the love of God and must achieve this by a categorial action then, in the order of grace, the act of neighbourly love is the only categorial and original act in which man reaches the whole categorially given reality and thus experiences God directly, transcendentally and through grace.
In this relation to one's fellow men dialogical freedom enters history even more deeply, because it is concerned not only with the sovereign God, but also with the decisions of human beings, by which it is determined and which, in certain situations, it has to determine itself.
Thus freedom is always called to decisions which cannot be derived from general norms and eternal laws alone (even though they must not contradict them) and which nevertheless are not left to an arbitrary choice but claim the whole man because of his special call.
True, man's freedom is free self-realization towards achieving finality. Yet, despite its special creative character, it is a creaturely freedom. This is evident from two things. This freedom experiences itself as supported and authorized in its transcendental nature by its absolute horizon, which it does not form but by which it is formed. For neither in the knowledge nor in the freedom of love may the transcendental spirit be conceived as designing its goal itself. This reveals itself to the knowing and willing spirit rather in a peculiar remoteness; but, as has been said before, without that openness alleged by the ontologists. In the spiritual existence the goal is experienced as the actually moving cause. The spirit's own design for its future experiences itself as supported by the opening goal of which the spirit does not, however, dispose, but by which it is constituted in its being. The very transcendentality of freedom as supported and authorized by its goal signifies its creatureliness, which it experiences directly by exercising it. Insofar as this authorization of freedom towards absolute being is experienced as absolute nearness to this goal permitted by grace, the character of creaturely freedom becomes clearer when this goal opens itself, even though this experience can become objective only through its interpretation in supernatural revelation and in faith.
The creatureliness of freedom further shows itself also in this, that it is necessarily mediated by the surrounding world. Man always exercises his original freedom by passing through the history which is given to him. Freedom is a free Yes or No to necessity and thus once more experiences its creatureliness.
Creaturely freedom is conditioned by the situation; for it does not simply possess itself but it must first gain itself, and this it can do only in the encounter with other freedom, in the common life in the world. According to Christian doctrine the growth of freedom is always also determined by guilt. This is implied above all in the doctrines of original sin and concupiscence. These doctrines mean that man's freedom finds no situation or material for its own decision that have not already also been partly determined by the guilt of mankind, and till the end of history- it will not be possible wholly to eliminate this burden of guilt.
Insofar as freedom always needs foreign material in order to find itself, it will always be alienated from itself. As has been shown before, it can never regard what it has done in a situation sufficiently clearly to know with absolute certainty whether it has said Yes or No to itself and to God. This is so because it can never be said with absolute certainty whether the objectivation in a certain situation springs purely from freedom and never from nature. Because this freedom is mediated by creatures it will al- ways be ultimately equivocal and thus a mystery which must surrender itself to God. This equivocal character of the objectivations of freedom when reflecting on its original nature is increased by the fact that the material on which it must be exercised is always also determined and formed by the guilt at the beginning of the history of the spirit. Of course, the free individual can always either ratify the guilty determination of this material as an embodiment of his own No to God and thus turn it into an objective appearance of his own guilt, or he can overcome it in a Yes to God through his participation in the Cross of Christ. But just this equivocal meaning of the given situation turns the original free act once more into an insoluble mystery for freedom itself, leaving the meaning and quality of the individual life and of the history of mankind as a whole to the inscrutable judgment of God.
Inasmuch as freedom is always and in all its acts directed to the mystery of God himself, the act of freedom is essentially always the act of man's surrender to the providence of God and in this sens? a trusting risk. It appears only slowly in history how God deals with this freedom which must entrustitself to him unconditionally unless it wants to refuse him. Even though, according to Catholic teaching, human freedom has not been destroyed by original sin, it has nevertheless been deeply wounded; hence, though God need not completely re-create it, it yet needs his loving help. Injured freedom must accept this help freely, yet it cannot do even this on its own initiative but needs the "prevenient grace" of God's unfathomable counsel, who "has mercy upon whomever he wills, and (who) hardens the heart of whomever he wills" (Rom 9:18) but of whom we must also believe that he "desires all men to be saved" (I Tim 2:4).
Freedom is a mystery first of all because it is only from God and towards God, who is, however, himself essentially the incomprehensible mystery. The ground of freedom is the abyss of the mystery which can never be conceived as something not yet known but knowable in future, but which is the primeval fact of our transcendental knowledge and freedom. Moreover, in its permanent incomprehensibility it is the ground of all comprehension of the individual things we encounter within its horizon.
We cannot here pose the question of the real knowability of freedom in the theory of knowledge. Freedom does not belong to empirical psychology, for this can only state functional connections of individual data within the sphere of experience. Freedom, however, is always apprehended before such an objective experience as a transcendental experience in which the subject knows himself to be free.
Freedom is Subjectivity
This radical mystery of freedom continues in the free act of the subject as such. The individual free act participates in the mystery of its origin and goal insofar as its freedom and hence its moral quality is never absolutely objectifiable. This peculiarity results not only directly from the strict subjectivity of freedom, it is also explicitly emphasized in revelation. The above-mentioned total decision in which a man finally commits himself, that is in which he places his wholeness into its freely determined finality (and only then can an act be called completely free) must, according to revelation, be left only to the judgment of God. True, man produces his finality in freedom and as a conscious subject, but he cannot objectify this result of his freedom and its consciousness, that is, he can- not judge his own state, let alone that of others, before God. According to Catholic doctrine man cannot judge his justification or his eternal salvation with absolute certainty while he is still a pilgrim, and this is ultimately not contradicted by the Protestant doctrine of justification either, despite all controversies, because in Lutheranism, too, absolute "fiducial faith" has always been attacked. Thus a man cannot reflect on his free decision adequately and with complete certainty. Freedom is truly subjectivity, that is something more original than objects that can be unequivocally defined in an existing system of general notions. Freedom designs, as it were, its own system while exercising itself; man knows in the very act of his freedom who he freely is and wants to be. But this very knowledge is strictly himself, hence he cannot separate it from him- self as a separate entity and thus once more say to himself what he freely says towards God. This statement which is himself disappears, as it were, into the mystery of God.
Freedom and Moral Judgment
An absolutely certain objective statement about a man's exercise of freedom in a certain definite act is impossible for the man himself and even more for others. This is a principle. But it does not mean that freedom and responsibility cannot be found in human experience and relationships. Freedom is always exercised on given particular material, even when it is total commitment of the free subject. Subjectivity is always accomplished in naturality (Naturalitat). This shows that human freedom is creaturely. It is also clear that though it is impossible for man to reflect on himself adequately he is nevertheless a being that objectivates himself and places himself under universally valid norms. It is Catholic and also biblical doctrine that we cannot only evolve formal principles of subjective freedom regarding right and wrong, but also material, objectively and universally valid norms for exercising subjective freedom in the categorial material of man and his world. Thus it is a matter of course that man is both able and obliged to judge his moral state objectively and to arrive at a well-founded opinion about the way he uses his freedom. This possibility of self-knowledge and self-criticism which can arrive at certain valid results is characterized by man's existence as a pilgrim in this life, in which freedom is still active, hence every examination is itself a free action which cannot be adequately examined.
This knowledge gives a kind of certainty such as is possible in the realm of history and freedom, that is as a claim to make freedom itself a binding norm. Man has the right and the duty to apply his knowledge of himself and others in the decisions and actions of his life, because otherwise one cannot exist, and to abstain completely from such judgments would not avoid the risks, but would itself be a free risk and decision. Nevertheless this judging knowledge of free- dom knows that it is not final, but subject to appeal. In this objectified knowledge man accepts himself and surrenders himself to the mysterious judgment of God which takes place in the unreflected act of his freedom. Freedom is mystery.
Freedom through Christ
God has made known in his Son the irrevocable decision to set freedom free. Hence the history of freedom is salvation history. It is the experience realized in Jesus Christ that God has given himself to man's freedom in what we call deifying grace in absolute nearness and as the ground of the free acceptance of this nearness. God himself has given himself to the freedom that surrenders itself to him in his inmost divinity, he is not only the distant horizon to which man directs his free self-understanding, but has become the object of the exercise of this freedom in absolute immediacy. This exercise of freedom in Christ is what St. Paul calls the "freedom of the children of God", the truly Christian freedom. The love of the Father revealed in the Son made flesh (Jn 8:36), the aletheia, sets free (Jn 8:32), because where his pneuma is, there is freedom (2 Cor 3:17), since "for freedom Christ has set us free" (Gal 5:1). This freedom is freedom from sin (Rom 6:18-23; Jn 8:31-6), from the law (Rom 7:3 f.; 8:2; Gal 2:4; 4:21-31; 5:1, 13) and from death (Rom 6:21 f.; 8:21): from sin, insofar as this is the free self-assertion, in its innumerable variations, which is not open to the love of God; from the law, insofar as this becomes for the grace- less man only the cause for asserting himself against or before God, even though the law is God's holy will and may be either broken or proudly fulfilled; from death, insofar as this is only the phenomenality of guilt. This freedom which is Christ and which he gives is appropriated by the man who obeys the call to this freedom in faith and through the baptism which is its expression, submitting himself to the event that opens the prison of the world; namely the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son.
In this experience of freedom it has become clear that, as far as the whole history of man's freedom is concerned, man's No to God has been permitted only because God has communicated himself to the freedom of his creatures and thus, in the history of salvation, his Yes remains victorious. Man's freedom is freed into the immediacy of God's own freedom of being. It makes possible its highest act, of which its formal nature is capable, but which is not demanded of it. The freedom to and from God as the origin and future of freedom, and freedom as a dialogical power of love are accomplished in the highest modality of these aspects: as freedom supported in personal love by God's own self-communication and which accepts God himself, so that the horizon and the object of the love that is made free to itself become identical.
First published in 0. B. Roegele, ed., Die Freiheit des Westens (1967), pp. 11 -- 40.
Origins of Freedom
It must first of all be clarified what freedom means theologically, and especially why it must always be conquered anew. We shall thus gain a proper understanding of the question why freedom must be conquered, and a deeper insight into the life of freedom.
Formal Characteristics of Christian
Freedom In Christian theology freedom is not simply a freedom of choosing between individual realities and objects encountered in our life, it is not merely the freedom to decide upon one course of action among others. Whether we know it or not, true freedom is born from the transcendence of man, hence it is freedom before and towards God. Even if God is not known or not expressly visualized in the free act: wherever freedom is really exercised, this happens in silently stretching beyond all individual data into the ineffable, quiet, incomprehensible infinity of the primeval unity of all thinkable reality, in an anticipation of God. Thus we experience precisely in freedom what is meant by God, even if we do not name or consider this ineffable, incomprehensible, infinite goal of freedom, which makes possible the distance to the object of our choice, the actual space of freedom. God is not one of the many realities with which we are concerned in the freedom of our affirmation or rejection, but originally he is the infinite horizon which alone makes the free choice of individual things possible. As such a horizon God is always encountered in the free act and is present in it. Thus freedom is necessarily freedom before God, even if he is not named, it is a Yes or No to God himself. Certainly, the free act is always also concerned with a finite object which one considers, which one desires, realizes, loves or rejects, destroys, hates and so forth. And in explicitly notional religious knowledge, in explicit religious action God, too, can, indeed must become one of the explicitly conceived individual objects of the freedom of choice, because in finite notional knowledge he is expressly conceived and thus, in a strange duplication, the horizon and condition of all knowledge is itself once more conceived within this horizon. But our freedom is not concerned with God only in this case. It is always concerned with him in Yes or No, wherever it is truly itself. For real freedom with respect to an individual object is possible only where transcendence in knowledge and deed is directed to that infinite and never attained goal which is the sphere of God. Wherever in absolute engagement -- which no adult can avoid indefinitely -- freedom takes up a position toward a definite finite truth, regardless of whether this position is correct or not, there the ineffable Whither of transcendence which we call God is affirmed or denied in the Yes or No to the ultimate possibility of freedom. Hence moral freedom is necessarily always also religious freedom; even if this is not expressly known, it is at least silently experienced in the fact that this freedom cannot be transmitted, in the responsibility and infinity of freedom. For the experience of freedom is inseparable from the experience of God; the exercise of freedom is always at least implicitly the decision between existential theism and atheism.
In this act of freedom man decides his own destiny. Of course, the one free act of man in which he realizes himself once and for all is dispersed in space and time in his many free actions, in which the one fundamental decision of the one man is enacted. As regards its content, the one free act of man in which he commits himself is either an act of loving communication with another "I", and thus with God, or the act of absolute egoism, which refuses the risk of lovingly entrusting himself to another. The essence of freedom consists in this absolute commitment of the subject. We do not everlastingly do this or that, we do not constantly react to ever-new objects and situations, but by doing what we do we make ourselves, once and for all, despite the temporal sequence.
Freedom is not the capacity for indefinite revision, for always doing something different, but the one capacity that creates something final, something irrevocable and eternal, the capacity of what by itself is everlasting. Freedom alone creates that which is final. Certainly, this depends on the possibilities God has given to freedom, not only on the formal structure of freedom itself. But we know through Christian revelation that God has given himself as the absolute possibility and the absolute future in what we call grace, Holy Spirit, and justification. Hence the innermost essence of freedom is the possibility of absolute self-commitment to radical finality through the final acceptance or rejection of the self-communication of God himself, who thus becomes the horizon, object and subject of man's freedom. The one drama of God and man is enacted in our daily, free and personal life, and only because this drama takes place does freedom in a radical theological sense exist at all.
Grace and Freedom
This formal characterization of freedom does not prejudge and anticipate the Christian message of freedom. First of all, I do not think that today there is or should still be a controversy between the Christian Churches and denominations as to whether freedom exists in salvation and justification and whether the theology of man should or should not describe him as a free being. In my view there is at least today a distinct experience and teaching in Catholic theology according to which God must be understood as the all-efficient Giver who gives himself both the potency of freedom and its good act according to his grace that is neither derived nor compelled, and which nothing in man precedes. Hence all specious sharing out of divine and human causality in this matter is false and an heretical attack on the absolute sovereignty of God. Even in the Catholic, and not only in the Protestant view of the relation between God and man the freedom of the latter as derived only from himself is guilty and imprisoned egoism; hence as far as he is concerned, this freedom refuses to accept God's self-communication and to let God be God. Hence God's grace, which ultimately means himself, must set freedom free for God. It can therefore perform its very own deed to which it is called, namely to receive God from God through God, only in this way, and thus all truth of man as a free being proclaims either this liberation of freedom by God or the freedom by which man becomes guilty before God. Thus the theological doctrine of freedom proclaims the grace of God, while the "natural" freedom of man in potency and act is only the presupposition, created by God himself, to make it possible for him to give himself to man in love. Thus understood, the doctrine of freedom need not be a point of controversy between the denominations. This doctrine of freedom can pass over the question whether it is described as a property of the "natural" essence of man or emerges only through the call of God, who reveals and communicates himself as love. For, on the one hand, this interpretation of freedom is historically possible only in the specifically Christian view of man as it has developed through the Gospel message. On the other hand, it says of man what he always is, because he is always called by God and, through the offer of grace, is confronted with the absolute question even when he has not yet received the historical word of the Gospel. If we finally say that man experiences what is meant by God precisely while exercising his responsible freedom we do not mean that the Deus absconditus has thus already become the Deus revelatus. Under the secret call of grace in which God offers himself, this freedom is always meant either for judgment or salvation, and only the Gospel says reliably where this leap of freedom leads: it encounters the God of forgiving grace, indeed it is made possible only by him.
Freedom as Demand and Possibility
There are thus three aspects of freedom: freedom as deciding the relation to God, freedom as finality and freedom as final self-commitment, and these imply that freedom has to be realized. This sounds like a commonplace, but it is not. For man regards freedom mostly as an existing fact and thus fails to consider the question that freedom is something that has to be realized, and as such is not a fact, but a demand. Hence men are inclined to regard freedom as indeed the cause of certain things, but which has a meaning only with regard to the deed it performs. They are greatly tempted to value only the objective results of human action and the objective human states, regardless of whether they have come into being with or without freedom. Only too easily will the free act appear to them as the origin indifferent in itself of an objective state which might have originated in principle just as well without freedom and must be valued only for what it is. But if freedom is the final self-realization of the subject before God and if this self-realization, this eternity of man, can happen only in freedom, if the eternity of the creature is but the fruit of freedom and its own finality, then freedom is that which has to be realized. Then there are objective finalities which have to be realized but cannot except in freedom; then the final act of freedom, which also translates time into eternity, is the only thing that is radically subjective, because it is irreversible and irrevocable. Then the eternally valid can be realized only through freedom. And this makes freedom as possibility and as deed the only ultimate objectivity which has to be realized. God's eternity which he bestows becomes really my own when it is accept- ed by freedom and thus becomes man-made eternity. True, the free act by which God's self-communication is accepted is itself the gift of God and can only be realized as grace.
Nevertheless, God gives and can give himself only by giving us the act of our own freedom which accepts him. Hence grace happens essentially and can exist only as the deliverance of freedom towards God. This is not the place to show that this concept of freedom either exists explicitly in the creed of the Church or is implied by the teaching of Christianity, that free faith justifies, that salvation must be received from God in freedom and that the eternity of salvation is not an indefinite continuation of time but must be understood as the final result of history itself which is produced by freedom.
The Corporeal Nature of Freedom and its Sphere
Every human action is connected with some materiality. Space and time constitute the external atmosphere in which the free human act is accomplished. For the body and soul of man are not two realities which have subsequently been united, but two constituents of one and the same human being which cannot be reduced to each other. They are not two separate beings, but two metaphysically different constituents of the one human being. The body is the exterior of the so-called soul and thus the act of the soul translated into the exterior.
Hence our freedom is bodily freedom, and this means it is realized as the original self-determination of a personal subject in space and time. It must be furnished with such material in which it must express and embody itself. Subjective freedom can only be realized in objects that are not identical with it. It aims at foreign objects; when the subject realizes itself it changes that which is different from itself; when the free subject returns to itself it enters the sphere of the other in order to find itself. Even the innermost act is still external, because it belongs also to the physiological sphere which is open to external influences. Hence a perfect interiority of freedom is impossible. The external element is necessarily part of the self-realization of freedom. This sphere of foreign bodies is at the same time the one open space in which subjects communicate with other subjects and with the world. Despite its original subjectivity freedom is realized in the common sphere of the unity of historical subjects. By realizing my own freedom I also partly determine the sphere of the freedom of others. True, I do not change their freedom, but the sphere in which their freedom is realized, hence this affects the possibilities of their subjective freedom. Freedom is always realized in a concrete sphere. Persons who realize their freedom are not the untouchable Monads envisaged by Leibniz. Every free act of one person changes the objective possibilities of the free act of his neighbour, it enlarges, changes or limits the sphere of the other's freedom before this latter can freely intervene. Hence the realization of freedom is a concrete problem of human relations. True, there is an absolute freedom, but no absolute sphere of freedom, for this would amount to the solipsistic denial of other free subjects. But this freedom which is realized in the social sphere must contain a moral demand to be respected by others. Hence the relation of many freedoms within a common sphere is, both individually and collectively, historically variable. Because of its objective embodiment every free act produces a change in the sphere of freedom shared by all, hence this sphere is in constant historical motion, it is, as it were, always distributed anew. Therefore the distribution of this sphere will always give rise to controversy. The question whether revolution can be justified would have to be discussed in this context. True, every man will have his own personal section of freedom within its one whole sphere, but the size and character of this personal section are in constant flux and cannot be defined once and for all. Hence we cannot decide a priori the question how this common sphere of freedom can best be divided so that the freedom of each individual as well as of the whole community is preserved. What once did not belong to the material of freedom might well be part of it today as well as the other way round. There is no authority in the whole world which could plan the division of this sphere autonomously and for ever. This is so because the acting subjects are necessarily many, if for no other reason because even in the most totalitarian system there would have to be at least one subject which does the planning and cannot be planned himself. Hence the unplanned change in the sphere of freedom always takes place in the factual decision and contains the elements of unreflected spontaneity.
For this reason the Christian's historical action in society. State and Church bears inevitably the character of the risk, of uncertainty, of walking in the dark. For we know not what to ask, we must beg for gracious guidance from above, beyond what can be calculated and foreseen. If, because of this risk, a Christian thinks himself dispensed of taking individual decisions he sins against the historicity of his existence and becomes all the more guilty. For he must not only proclaim the ever-valid principles but also risk the concrete future, trusting to God. As a Christian, too, he must not only suffer but act, without the correctness and success of his action being guaranteed by the correctness of his principles. This is generally valid, but especially as regards freedom and compulsion and their concrete adjustment. The Christian must not only have the courage to represent a balanced eternal doctrine, but also to enunciate a contemporary slogan which he may, in certain circumstances, do in the name of Christianity, even though it can- not be pronounced by the official Church.
Thus it can be understood what the existence of (and in) freedom ultimately means. The theologian cannot analyze concrete dangers and duties connected with the handling of this one sphere of freedom by individuals and groups of men. Some theoretical considerations must suffice; but it is to be hoped that these, too, will be practically useful.
The Change in the Sphere of freedom
In the history of the last centuries the sphere of freedom of the individual has both been enlarged and also become more threatened, because man himself can actively change it. It has been enlarged especially by the technological achievement of the present civilization and by the immensely enlarged possibilities at man's disposal. It has also been enlarged by the emancipation of the sexes, by religious and civic tolerance and freedom, by the increasing abolition of rigid social structures and taboos, in short, by what we call a pluralist social order. At the same time this sphere of freedom exists often only in appearance, because all these achievements and social conditions inevitably define this sphere of freedom in a very special way. They do this without the free decision of the individual, and thus this sphere of freedom does not remain empty, but contains a definite choice of objects from which man may choose in an always finite decision. This sphere of freedom is threatened and secretly determined by anonymous powers determining public opinion without being controlled themselves, which produce mass psychoses, direct consumption and the ever more intricate relations of social life. Thus both the enlargement and the narrowing of the sphere of freedom are strangely interdependent, because such things as technology, automation and the development of social relations which enlarge the sphere of freedom at the same time also furnish the means to restrict it.
The Christian's Yes to the Enlarged Sphere of Freedom
In accordance with his theology of freedom the Christian will have, in principle, a positive attitude to the enlarged sphere of freedom. By its very nature freedom needs an uncluttered sphere in which to realize itself, even if this implies inevitably the possibility and danger of a guilty perversion of freedom. Hence, if freedom is to be, because it alone makes possible finality and eternity, there must also be a sphere of freedom despite all danger. The subjective exercise of freedom is the demand of what ought to be. Where subjective freedom is only regarded as a possible way of producing objective reality, subjective freedom will be justified only by its object. In the nineteenth century Catholic theologians often assumed that subjective freedom was only a neutral possibility to do something, without possessing a moral claim in itself. From this it followed quite easily that only truth and goodness have rights, but not error and evil, which, on the contrary, must be prevented.
It cannot be the duty of individuals or society to take away the sphere of freedom, even in the case of wrong decisions, from other human beings. This would always be an attack on the dignity of the person and his freedom, which is not a means to an end (in this case the compulsory realization of something good), but part of the meaning and goal of the human person.
Any enlargement of this -- though somewhat dangerous -- sphere of freedom increases the chance of producing freedom. If, therefore, this sphere is enlarged, even though not without human guilt, this should not, on principle, frighten the Christian. If this sphere has become larger and inevitably more dangerous he may quite happily accept it as allowed by the Lord of history. He may admit that, relatively to all human civilization and society, there was formerly perhaps more that was specifically Christian in the world. But an outwardly homogeneous Christian society as the given sphere of freedom does not necessarily imply and guarantee that the Christian ethos is really realized in faith, hope and love and thus really produces eternity. It may also happen that such a Christianity gives the impression of a kind of drill, almost of a subtle form of brainwashing, a sociological routine which may produce a bourgeois Christianity but not Christian freedom, and which therefore remains unimportant in the sight of God. From the Christian point of view a pluralistic society may, indeed, be dangerous and harm the stock of Christianity and the Church. But God alone can know whether he may not produce from this as much fruit of freely achieved eternity as in the good old days of a united Christendom; he has not told us anything about it. However that may be, we Christians have every reason to regard the enlargement of the sphere of freedom through modern developments first of all as a positive chance for Christian existence, for as free children of God we can realize the grace of freedom that generates eternal salvation only in the freedom also of the natural spirit.
A Christian theology of freedom can regard any determination or limitation of the sphere of freedom only either as an inevitable consequence of the exercise of freedom by others, or as a provisional educational measure for the protection of a still maturing freedom. In the second case the aim will be to train man for making free decisions so that he will not be enslaved by powers which manipulate this space of freedom in such a way that moral freedom can no longer make its proper decisions within this sphere.
Freedom consists first of all in the courage to accept its larger sphere despite its danger. As it is given by God it is the divinely willed chance to exercise our freedom in it. This enlargement of the social sphere of freedom is actually of Christian origin and hence not actually suspect to Christians. True, throughout the history of Christianity and of the Church the Christians themselves had slowly to learn -- and this process is not yet finished -- what their Christianity really means; they must ask this question again and again and answer it in ever new situations which they can not, of course, foresee and for which they will not have ready-made answers.
Thus Christians have not always been tolerant and freedom-minded. They have persecuted each other and non-Christians, often committing dreadful atrocities, and they have often canonized forms of society that were anything but free. We may mention, for example, the principle cuius regio, eius religio, Leo X's bull Exsurge Domine, directed against Luther, which condemned the view that it was a sin against the Holy Spirit to burn heretics, or the ideology of the completely ecclesiastical state. But even though -this may be admitted and regretted, it must nevertheless be realized that much in the behaviour of Christians was not due to Christianity but to social conditions which had not been created by Christianity and actually blocked Christian possibilities and horizons. Moreover) much of it, even though contradicting the ultimate logic of Christianity, originated as a claim to absolute validity inherent in every great historical concept of the world such as is still only too evident in militant communism.
Nevertheless, it ought at last to be stated that the passion for social and cultural freedom is principally a Christian passion, even though Christians often had to learn it from those who had abandoned Christianity. For civic freedom, after all, originated in the toleration of the various Christian denominations. Freedom was first and most radically proclaimed as the freedom of faith and its confession. The dignity of the individual person is a Western experience grounded in the Christian knowledge of man as a child of God and his eternal value as such. Let us ask quite simply: Would the inviolable dignity of every man continue to be acknowledged if it did no longer receive its force -- even secretly -- from this fundamental conviction? If man is regarded merely as a material or social factor, why should he not be used for any purpose, without his dignity being respected or even known? I certainly do not mean that only Christians respect this intangible dignity of the unique individual. What I say is that this respect is adequately understood only in Christianity and that it is actually of Christian origin.
For this reason it behoves Christians above all to respect not only the freedom of belief but freedom in itself. Otherwise Christianity would betray itself. We Christians must not be interested in freedom only in so far as it affects our own religious or even ecclesial purposes. For freedom is truly indivisible. German Catholics as well as Protestants ought to admit that under the Nazis their official representatives did not realize this sufficiently to defend the freedom of others. For the best proof of one's devotion to freedom is the readiness to grant it also to others. At this point the seemingly merely human concept of freedom receives a strangely Christian character and depth. For if we are really concerned for the freedom of others, we shall be prepared to give up part of our own freedom. We shall make this sacrifice, appearing as weak and stupid, incapable of defending ourselves, as men who give without receiving anything in return. This is the attitude of the Sermon on the Mount and of him who could freely have saved his life, but surrendered it to the guilty freedom of others even unto death.
Freedom and its Limits
This, however, is only one, even if the most important, aspect of the problem. For we would not be Christian realists but harmless and at the same time dangerous Utopians if we were to imagine that Christians must practice an unrestricted liberalism. There is certainly a reasonable liberalism which has actually sprung from the Christian conception of freedom and the person, and this can well be a legitimate contemporary Christian attitude to society. Such liberalism may, in the past, also have represented the justified interests of an ultimately Christian-inspired social order against an over-conservative Church. We ought not to deny this, however unpleasant such facts especially of the last centuries of church history may appear to be. But there is also a Utopian liberalism, a blind hatred of all social order, an irrational fear of anything that sets limits to individual caprice. Such social libertinism says freedom and tolerance while what is meant even if perhaps unconsciously, is arbitrariness and licence. We may mention in passing that such liberalism is actually very old-fashioned. The highly complicated society of the future will undoubtedly enforce ties and restrictions com- pared with which individualistic liberalism will appear as an
anachronism. As Christians we represent personalism, but not libertinistic individualism, hence we have no reason belatedly to grow all enthusiastic over such an individualism in order to be modern. We may well join authentic non-Christian liberals in trying to make future social conditions as tolerable as possible, while avoiding the totalitarian dictatorship of classical communism such as is still practiced today. But in view of the genuine ideals of communism we need not pretend that the Christian idea is antiquated, according to which a certain restriction and even compulsion are necessary for guaranteeing the greatest possible freedom to the greatest number. For such liberalism forgets the basic fact that the enlargement of the sphere of freedom for one means inevitably its limitation for one or many others. Hence the true, indeed the only real problem of freedom In society does not consist in this, that an individual or an organized community unjustly deprives someone of a measure of freedom which it might well accord him, but that it must distribute the one finite sphere of freedom in such a way that all receive their due.
The true problem consists in this that the demand for a larger sphere of freedom itself inevitably threatens the freedom of others because it implies a diminished sphere of their freedom. Hence the very essence and realization of freedom in the life of the community involves legitimate limitations. These may take various forms, for example protection against unjustified interference, educational measures and compulsory assistance in communal concerns. A one-sided liberalism refuses to admit these; it pretends that its fight for freedom is only meant to liberate men from their fetters. In fact, however, the freedom publicly to propagate a certain idea, for example, inevitably narrows my own sphere of freedom provided only that I am freely opposed to this propaganda and that I am undoubtedly myself changed by this propaganda in as much as the preconditions of my personal decision are themselves altered by it. If I unwillingly have to see and hear a thousand times that a certain detergent is the best I am actually no longer as free to buy another as I should be without this advertising campaign.
The unlimited freedom of everybody to claim absolute freedom for everything works like a sort of secret brain-washing by anonymous powers which does not necessarily abolish freedom but narrows in advance the sphere in which the individual can make his free decision. And this happens inevitably wherever someone claims a sphere of freedom for himself. Whether it knows and wants it or not, individualistic liberalism is the implicit denial of the sphere of freedom of others. For it behaves as if I were involved with the free decision of another only when I make the same decision, but not before. But this is a capital error. We need only examine the furious protests against government measures so often heard today. The demands may often be quite justified or at least the object of rational discussion. But it is a capital error if such protesters argue, as often happens, according to the principle that I can personally do as I like, hence I should also let others do as they like, for if the other person does what he likes I can no longer do the same and act from the same situation which would obtain if the other had not acted. To this may be added the odd fact that the same people who claim to be defenders of freedom want to forbid Christians, for example, to send their children to denominational schools or to live according to their own moral principles.
Thus there is a legitimate (and in itself higher) principle of freedom and also a legitimate (though in itself lower) principle of justified compulsion, and these two principles cannot be simply assigned to separate spheres of human existence and action so that they could never come into conflict with each other. Hence we have the problem of correctly distributing freedom and compulsion within the one sphere of freedom. This distribution cannot be made once and for all, not even by revelation, because it depends on concrete situations. Thus man has the moral and Christian duty again and again to redistribute freedom and compulsion correctly, so that his dignity may be preserved.
This delimitation must take place within the framework of general principles, but its performance will also always be unique and creative, because in it the dignity of freedom is most perfectly realized.
Freedom as the Courage of Commitment
We have now to find a concrete pattern according to which the one sphere of freedom for all men may be fashioned. A Christian social policy in favour of freedom cannot simply consist in advocating freedom and tolerance while trying to abolish all compulsory ordering of social life and public opinion because these are felt to threaten freedom. If we really want freedom in the Christian sense, that is, the largest possible sphere of freedom for all men, we must also have the courage to affirm the need for commitment, even for compulsion and for the authority that limits the freedom of individuals for the sake of others, and we must not be disturbed by the clamour of those who say that we are intolerant and suppress freedom. Power and authority which determine the sphere of freedom without the free assent of the individual are indeed dangerous and only too often become depraved by the guilty selfishness of those in command, but they are not by their very nature immoral opponents of freedom. The legitimacy of power can be doubted only by those who regard even the establishment of objective laws as sinful. Not everyone has a right to everything. And if in certain circumstances such a right is denied him, this is by no means necessarily an attack on his freedom, even though he may protest. The common good which limits the freedom of the individual is only another's right to freedom, so that the sphere of freedom is limited for the sake of freedom itself, and not by an alien element.
A completely free and detailed agreement about the concrete distribution of the sphere of freedom among all its subjects will never be possible, even though a voluntary agreement appealing to everybody's reason must be attempted. This is the obligation of all, and especially of all Christian authorities. Hence the life of society can never be completely without an element of struggle and compulsion, of an authoritarian decision which is also justified. Such a "free", unplannable interplay of authoritarian forces of society within the sphere of freedom will always exist; there will always be victors and vanquished. If a single institutional power were to claim to represent all authority absolutely and thus to guarantee all true freedom, this would already be a totalitarian system and a tyranny. But for this very reason a certain pluralistic antagonism among the powers that determine the one sphere of freedom cannot be avoided, indeed it is itself a guarantee of freedom, while on the other hand the governing powers cannot legitimately be asked to refrain from any interference in the sphere of freedom. This means that a distribution of the sphere of freedom which would always be acceptable to all is impossible; a permanently stable social system is a Utopia. The Christian knows this, because he realizes that he will always live within the sphere of historical change. According to Catholic ecclesiology at least, the Church is not only a spiritual community, but a society living within the structures of time and space, hence she claims to have a share in the determination of the social sphere of freedom. Nevertheless, the Church as such may on no account appeal to the secular power to help her realize her own ends and to assist her special mission. She must not seek such assistance, especially not today, nor does she need it. But as members of society and of the state Christians have the duty to cooperate in the formation and distribution of the one sphere of freedom in a way that is suited to the object and to the special historical situation, and to realize that this is im- possible without a responsible and morally applied authority.
Freedom and the Demands of the Time
The actual shaping and distribution of the one sphere of freedom must, indeed, respect general principles of theol- ogy and the natural law, but cannot be deduced from them alone. For it always belongs also to creative historical decision; it needs courage and the realization of what is needed at a certain moment of history. Hence it is the task of individual Christians and of Christian associations to work out an historically effective image of the sphere of freedom.
Such an image ought not to appear antiquated and reactionary. Not all ancient laws and customs are worth defending. There are, indeed, certain Christian taboos which ought to be abolished and which we should not defend only because they once protected a freedom that had not yet come of age. In certain cases we may also safeguard our own freedom by a tolerance for others which goes farther than the nature of freedom demands. In our pluralistic society we cannot expect and not even wish that only that which corresponds to the natural law should be realized. We have the right and the duty to allow freedom to others also where we can foresee that it will be abused and where we might even be able to prevent such an abuse. Such a right and such a duty derive from the nature of freedom as well as from a proper interest in our own freedom. Today they are certainly much greater than in former times, when a pluralistic society such as we have now did not and could not exist. Undoubtedly the Churches are still making stupid mistakes in order to defend their own way of life and their own freedom by means that seem to deny their respect for the freedom of others, or which give the impression that we advocate freedom only where we do not have the power to keep it for ourselves.
There are, however, social controls which are always necessary to defend the freedom of all, even if they have to be upheld by force against individuals or groups which protest against them. This applies not only to the protection of the rules of democracy, because, on the one hand, even the laws of a democratic society may be regarded by some as an unjustified limitation of their freedom, and, on the other, there may also be laws which wrongly restrict freedom even though they were promulgated according to the rules of democracy.
Material regulations, too, belong to those social structures that may be compulsory in order to safeguard the freedom of all. We have the right and the duty to defend them, despite the protest of some. But we must know exactly what we choose to defend, so that the compulsory rules may protect the freedom of as many people as possible and we may not appear as straitlaced governesses of those who want to preserve their own freedom. The attitude of Christians is not so simple as that of the man who has a phobia of any authority, a fear which will ultimately lead to anarchy and the destruction of true freedom. But neither does the Christian favour a society with hard and fast rules so that there is as little freedom as possible to come to wrong decisions. In order to protect true freedom the Christian must always find a new relation to the dialectical unity between the largest possible sphere of freedom on the one hand and its perhaps compulsory distribution on the other. This relation cannot be adequately derived from the principles of Christianity or the natural law alone. In order to find it we must always make historical decisions, for it is an art of the possible, the combination of a mysterious inspiration from above with a constantly renewed examination of the present situation. But precisely for this reason all Christians do not only receive a complete and supposedly concrete natural law which is communicated to them by the official representatives of the Church, they also find out for them- selves the actual requirements of public life, so that all may have as much freedom as possible, a freedom that can act with God in view and thus create that personal finality which receives God himself as its eternal meaning.
Text of a lecture to the Evangelischer Kirchentag, Cologne, 29 July 1965, first published in M. Horkheimer, K. Rahner and C. F. von Weizsacker, Uber die Freiheit (1965), pp. 27 -- 49.
The Test of Christian Freedom
Christian freedom means human freedom, granted by God to every man as a dignity, a task and an inescapable burden. By the grace of God this human freedom is delivered from man's selfish isolation so that it can enter into the infinite, self-communicating mystery of existence which we call God. It is a freedom which only finds itself wholly in the light of the Gospel, founded on God in faith, hope and love, and thus realizes its own truth in the love of the neighbour and of God. But it is not yet clear what human freedom is as such. This we would not here state directly, but perhaps we may at least draw a conclusion about it from what will be said on the more detailed questions.
First of all: The free acceptance of the condition of a finite human being is essential to the adequate realization of human freedom. The will to the necessary is part of freedom. Freedom itself is also, if we may say so, amor fati, provided that the fatum (what is promised), which is met with love is understood to be promised by the God who is love, even, and especially, where he casts us inexorably into his incomprehensibility. Where freedom understands itself correctly, accepts and realizes itself such as it is, the necessary is not its external limit against which it hurts itself and fails, but that element in itself through which it finds itself as a freedom which can
ultimately fail itself only through itself. Freedom is ultimately not the possibility of protest, but the possibility to change what is foreign into oneself, the possibility of acceptance and, insofar as it is not directed to an object but to a person, love. Freedom protests only where it understands itself and it destroys barriers only where they prevent it from being the capacity of acceptance and love, which assimilates itself to what is foreign as well as the other way round. Human freedom is finite, it can be exercised only through the nature of man, the physical and historical situation, the Thou as its horizon and material. However much it may be creative commitment even with regard to God and physical, biological and social self-manipulation of man, tending into an infinite and unknown future, when it is realized there remains always an alien element which it must either accept in hope and love or against which it must protest and thus lose itself, without being able to pretend that this seemingly heroic failure is its true fulfilment.
We have of necessity said this in a very abstract way, but it must be seen very clearly, especially today. For we are living in a world that has become dynamic and is manipulated by man himself, who, through his scientific and technological achievements, has freed himself to a formerly inconceivable degree from the compulsions of nature and from his own self-alienation, and this means that man has come to understand himself and to be his own property and burden. Yet despite all his new freedom he again enters the alien sphere of technology and of the immensely increased compulsions of institutions, of planning and organization.
But if all this is borne only protestingly as external compulsion then everything will be just the same as formerly or worse; for only the material of the fetters would have changed, they themselves would have remained. Freedom will find itself and its true nature only if the needs of modern man, the highly socialized state, the many new ties, the integration into the community are freely accepted, ultimately for the love of men and in the hope of the infinite breadth of eternal life. But all this is even today the free act of the individual, for which he must be trained and formed, to which he may not, indeed can not, be compelled. Today a training for freedom is necessarily a training for love which patiently accepts those restrictions without which the many who are to be loved can no longer exist today. Where stubborn rebellion is not simply the instinctive reaction of a caged animal fettered by social ties, it may often be something like the almost inevitable practice of freedom, the subject's acceptance of its own responsibility. Such rebellion may also be the liberation from the unjust restrictions which an ancient society with fossilized traditions has fashioned for itself. Nevertheless, rebellion is not the last word of freedom, it is not its most mature form, especially not if it is in the deepest sense unsocial, hence both old-fashioned and loveless.
Secondly, genuine freedom is the will to truth, because this frees every man from those interior dangers which threaten freedom more than all external restrictions, the dangers of one's own shortsightedness, of pride and a blinding egoism. St. John says: "The truth will make you free", free for that freedom which one does not simply possess, which might be threatened only by others, but the freedom which every man must seek and for which he must struggle. Certainly, there must be the freedom of thought and the freedom to express one's conviction also in public.
This freedom accepts the risks inherent in it convinced of truth's own strength and not afraid that such expression of opinion might lead to chaos. This is certainly one form of freedom; but it loses its own nature if it is understood merely as caprice which may utter any opinion; if the free individual is lacking in self-criticism and not brave enough to let himself be taught, to listen to the arguments of others and to look for objective standards. It is not right to claim for ourselves freedom of opinion if we want only to air foolish subjective views and half-truths without taking any notice of a knowledge acquired by hard work, of human experience and of genuine authority; though we must allow freedom of expression even to such people as long as they do not prevent others from voicing their opinion, thus destroying the freedom they claim for themselves.
Today this must be emphasized also with regard to the Church. The Second Vatican Council has rightly allowed much freedom of theological discussion within the Catholic Church. Post-conciliar theology makes it clear that many new questions still await an answer, that many opinions in both dogmatic and moral theology must again be discussed and even revised, including matters which are important for the Christian life. But this does not mean that suddenly everything has become
problematic and a subject of individual opinion, that the Church has turned into an open debating society. True, it goes without saying that if a man cannot in conscience accept the doctrine of the Church as the norm of his faith, this must be respected by others, whether they think his view right or not; and the Church, too, must respect such a conviction and may not suppress it by social pressures or prevent its expression. It also goes without saying that only by the free assent of faith can one be a believing Christian, a Catholic. But if someone believes that he cannot and should not accept the authority of the Gospel, of Scripture and of the teaching office of the Church he cannot consider himself a Catholic, he cannot be a partner in the dialogue that takes place within the Church and which presupposes the acceptance of her teaching office in as far as it claims to have authority. We shall certainly carry on a dialogue with a person who thinks in this way with the same love and respect we show to separated Christians and others. But such a person should be honest and show clearly that he is not a Catholic in the sense that the Church understands the term. He ought not to attempt to introduce and spread un-Catholic opinions as tenable within the Church. Where it is doubtful whether a religious, moral or theological opinion is compatible with the official teaching of the Church (and such cases are possible), such an opinion may be a subject of discussion within the Church. But not everything is questionable. The creeds and the defined truths of faith, even those of most recent times, are not subjects of free discussion within the Church, nor have they become such through Vatican II. But neither wild avantgardists nor frightened traditionalists ought to pretend that now everything has become uncertain and everything that had been safe and clear has disappeared in the fog of doubt. An official doctrine of the Church does not lose its binding authority only because some theologian expresses -- whether in a book, an essay, a lecture, on the radio or in television -- an opinion of which another Catholic cannot understand how it is compatible with the doctrine of the Church; and mostly the theologian in question will not have tried very hard to show how it can agree with it. We may even say today that an imprimatur is no sufficient guarantee for the acceptability of an opinion. The mature Catholic must be cautious and critical also with regard to the utterances of Catholic theologians. Above all he must always realize that the freedom of a Catholic presupposes the acceptance of the Church's faith and an obligation towards her doctrinal authority. This is for him an internal principle of his thought because he has assented to it in a freely accepted faith. This authority does not limit his freedom, but frees him from the prison of his own subjectivity. If today some Catholics no longer want to learn from the Church that truth, and hence authentic freedom, too, is involved with society and therefore with institution, they should at least learn it from Marxist anthropology. They should also learn that the truth of the individual does not triumph when it breaks off the dialogue and withdraws into the splendid isolation of its subjectivity, but when it refuses to stop the dialogue with the truth of society, In this case of the Church) and freely lets itself be integrated into this truth.
Further: Christian freedom respects the freedom of others and is therefore tolerant, seeking the open dialogue with all men. Finite human freedom can be realized only in something objective, even if this were to be thought of as consisting merely in brain cells, conceptual mechanisms, associations, that is, basically in social or psychological models of thought, or if it were to belong -- but only seemingly -- to a merely inner realm of thought. This necessary objectification of freedom exists because this objectivation, as opposed to original personal freedom, can be produced also without freedom, from ordinary compulsion of all kinds to the sophisticated forms of brainwashing that are practiced in the East as well as in the West.
This objectivation of freedom is also socially relevant, even where we seem to be concerned only with the inner-most mind. For just this reason men may produce and enforce this objectivation of freedom without freedom, they are tempted to narrow or even destroy the freedom of others by such objectivation. But for the Christian it is decisive how this objectivation originates. It is not enough for him that somebody has a certain opinion, or performs a certain rite, which might be produced also without freedom by means of training, brainwashing, social pressures and so forth. It is decisive for the Christian that this objectivation comes to pass precisely through freedom, for only in this way will doctrine, rites, etc., truly belong to the free person who realizes himself before God, either towards or against him, and thus becomes the person who will be able to work out either his salvation or his eternal loss. Everything objective in doctrine, worship, ecclesial society and so forth is relevant to salvation only if it happens as an objectivation of freedom, is freely received as such into the sphere of original freedom or serves such freedom, if it is original faith, hope and love.
If Christianity were to produce religious reality or its counterfeit only through psychological indoctrination, social pressure etc., it would ignore its own nature and not create what it wanted, even if the outcome would be very successful. Christianity can never come into being through absolute social domination even if this were to call itself Church and succeeded in influencing all men completely from outside. In order to bring forth true Christians the Church itself must will and create that sphere of freedom which must necessarily also be the sphere in which men can decide against Christianity. This is not merely a concession, a toleration of the inevitable, it is not merely Western liberal humanism; it belongs to Christianity as such. Christianity is certainly not so unwordly as to turn man into an absolute subject of pure interior freedom. It knows that there are favourable and unfavourable conditions for the realization of freedom. Hence Christians mis- trust those groups who arrogate freedom to themselves and, under the pretext of freedom, would like to narrow or abolish the sphere of Christian existence. The Church is well aware of her own great and small sins in this respect; for in her desire for her own freedom she has narrowed the sphere of freedom, thus contradicting her own true vocation. She also knows that the concrete social formation of the sphere of freedom not only for Christians, but for all men, is a difficult task which must always be performed anew, also by the Church, and which depends on innumerable historical data.
But all this must not be allowed to obscure the decisive factor: The Church herself must will a sphere of freedom for all men, because without it free human beings and also Christians cannot exist. In this sense "tolerance" is not tactics, but an essential demand of the Church because with- out it she cannot achieve her end, namely the free self-realization of man, who entrusts himself to God, the ultimate mystery of his existence in faith, hope and love, a God who wants to give himself to man as his fulfilment and his absolute future in forgiveness and sanctification. Such freedom, however, is realized only if the sphere of freedom is conceded also to others even if their decision should be a wrong one. It can never be the task of the Church or of an authentic Christianity to prevent what is wrong at any price, even the price of freedom. We Christians ought to be the first to make the cause of the freedom of others our own and to be as sensitive to a threat against another's freedom as to one against our own. But if this be so we also have the right to vindicate the sphere of our own freedom, which is not confined to the church building and the sacristy, but which includes also public and social life. And if we Christians are many and hence cannot avoid to claim a considerable place in public life, then this is no illegitimate restriction of the freedom of others who are perhaps fewer in number.
What has been said means in practice that we Christians must seek the dialogue with others, if only because the one social sphere must also be the sphere of the freedom of all men, which compels us to communicate with all men so that there may be a place for all. But beyond this the will to give freedom to all men signifies something deeper: The original free decision of all in the will of love, in the un-conditional respect for others and so forth may be the same also if the free persons express themselves in contrasting objectivations. Different groups may not only have the same formal freedom, but also the ultimate correct attitude and decision in favour of that genuine goodness which is valid before God, even if this is differently interpreted. In controversies and disputes a profound common element may yet effect a reconciliation, namely the devotion to responsible freedom, the unconditional respect for the dignity of all men, the love of one's neighbour as well as of those who are farthest from us. Such an attitude contains implicitly and germinally the essentials of Christianity, namely faith, hope and love of God. This remains true even if on the one hand such people contradict each other in their original notional self-understanding, and, on the other, if the Church as the incarnational and social presence of God's grace can never give up the effort to let the uniting forces in their heart and conscience also appear in their profession of the one creed of the one Church. Hence the Christian who wills the freedom of all must also believe that the others are capable of dialogue. If he does not believe this he would have to regard them as condemned by God, which the Gospel forbids him to do. Hence the freedom of the Christian is, in the last resort, bound to be the holy foolishness which is the true wisdom of God; he must believe that the other wills the good even where, according to the Christian view, this will is realized in a wrong and threatening way. He must always grant to the other the chance of an open dialogue, because he can never ultimately say that there is no common ground for it. He must always place his hope in the heart which God alone can judge. Thus the Church and her members can carry on a dialogue also with all those who are outside. This dialogue should be concerned not only with social, political, cultural and economic questions in order to build and develop a world that is worthy of men, but also with philosophical and religious problems. The Christian knows that a dialogue is valuable even if he must hold on to his Christian convictions with absolute commitment and can- not hope for unity in the foreseeable future. For even the absolute conviction of faith concerns a truth which the Christian can penetrate ever more deeply through such a dialogue with all men, and which he, too, can always learn to understand still better. This truth which all other truths reflect in shadows and images is the incomprehensibility of God and his love.
Freedom is also the courage to risk the unforeseeable future. The freedom of responsible decision certainly demands knowledge, objectivity, reflection, circumspection. It wills something and is responsible for what it knowingly wills, but not for what is absolutely unforeseeable and may happen as a result of what has been done. Nevertheless, freedom is the courage to risk the unforeseeable future. For it is possible only where the individual object that is to be willed or realized is situated in the infinite transcendentality of the personal spirit, that is where it is seized in an anticipation of the absolute good. Further, freedom with regard to a certain object is ultimately the freedom of the subject to commit himself. Thus its transcendence is not only the condition of free action, but also that which freedom must ultimately accept and which it must confess. Thus freedom is the will to the unlimited, to what cannot be surveyed, it is the freedom of creative hope that accepts itself, anticipating what has never yet been realized. Hence freedom is never only the free repetition of what is already there, it is no endless copying of the same models in a neutral space and time. Nor is it the obedient respect for the law as for that which commands always the same. Finite freedom, too, is creative freedom in authentic history, prepared for new things which are both one's own and unexpected and unplanned and only experienced in the hopeful journey into an open future. If the absolute future of freedom is God, who is also before and not only above us, then this God is precisely he who opens up the future to us as authentic history which must be approached in a spirit of venture and hope, but not calculatingly.
All this applies also to the Church. For she is the pilgrim people of God which makes its way through history in freedom. Her faith is her hope; her truth and her law of love do not form a fence around something that is always the same and need only be repeated, but they open up an infinite future. Christians may never stop, they may never set up anything as an idol, until the infinity of ineffable love reveals itself and God himself confronts them face to face. Today the Church presents herself as such a pilgrim of hope not only in the silent hearts of her members, but also in her empirical history. This corresponds to her nature such as it must show itself when the world in which she exists moves ever more quickly, being no longer our stable home but becoming the womb of the future. Hence today even in the Church much more is called in question than in the recent past, changes are made much more quickly, and instead of venerable customs we meet much that is new and even questionable. True, this may partly be caused by the human desire for novelty and perhaps rebellion, but ultimately such social and empirical changes reveal the true nature of the Church as advancing hopefully into an unknown future. Thus the Church remains what she is and always has been, the people that has no abiding city here on earth, the pilgrim seeking the eternal home which is realized through this very pilgrimage because it has still to be built. Hence it would be a pusillanimous faith which believed that the Church must stand like a solid tower on the shore rather than meet her Lord walking on the waves of time. Her constancy in the risk of her historical freedom is guaranteed by her Lord, by her Spirit, not by something man himself has subjected for his use. We must train our- selves to trust this Church and to risk with her the free plunge into the unforeseen historical future. True, for such a pilgrimage into the future we shall need prudence, the will to historical continuity, planning of what can be planned (but only of this!), sober obedience to the government of the Church, distinction as far as possible between what is ever-valid and what is changeable in her faith and constitution, consideration for those St. Paul calls the weak and for the Church as a whole as well as patience with her human side. Above all, however, we need the courage to face the uncertainty of history without a false desire for security.
Lastly, realized freedom is the unique event of the person- al uniqueness of every man in his finality before God. Here we touch the ultimate mystery of freedom in the Christian sense. Freedom is not the possibility of always doing some- thing else and so also the opposite, it is not the motor of the eternal return of the same or the movement into the void. Despite its dispersal and extension in space and time freedom as act is the final commitment of the spiritual subject, event of eternity in time before God, acceptance or rejection of him who is incomprehensible love. Freedom is not meant to pass the time but to gain eternity, because God is made present through the Yes of freedom, regard- less of whether this free act knows it or not. God enters man's life out of pure grace because he gives himself freely and because he gives freedom as potency and also as act of his acceptance. But in this grace he delivers freedom from man's self-absorption and leads it to his own incomprehensible glory. This ultimate nature of freedom constitutes the highest dignity of man and the foundation of an authentic humanism. True, the dignity of man which distinguishes him from an inventive animal and a mere product of surrounding nature, this dignity may also be attained and silently affirmed in the unreflected act of freedom selflessly performed in absolute responsibility. Nevertheless, this dignity is fully itself only if it is conceived as the dignity of the being that creates itself into the final perfection before God. Thus this being achieves an indestructible result which is worth preserving, because his life becomes for ever the deed that accepts eternal life of God himself. This happens wherever a man knows that he is not a mere episode of nature, a transitory experiment and a being that can lose itself in the empty past.
Humanism, therefore, is not a certain Western way of life with all its historical limitations, which is gradually destroyed by the hard technological age of man in the mass, which rejects any self-important personality cult. In the Christian view humanism is the unconditional respect for every individual man. In its material content all concrete humanism is relative and conditioned by the age. Christianity itself is not tied to any such concrete human- ism. But in every historical human condition the eternal dignity of man ought to be admitted, and all should have the chance of realizing the ultimate nature of freedom, that is, the action of eternity in time. And thus it is again clear that the Christian Church can discuss with all men how true humanity is to be realized in time. For Christianity is not the same as a certain humanism, not even the humanism it has itself created in the West. It is rather the confession of the absolute future of man which is God him- self. For this reason it is not tied to any concrete humanism. Hence it can discuss without preconceived ideas what is to be done so that man may freely become the event of eternity in time and that his secular activities may remain compatible with his eternal task and destiny.
Christianity is essentially freedom, and Christian education is training for freedom. But freedom has only understood and realized itself when it accepts God and the neighbour in him. But we know what God is and who our neighbour is only if we know freedom and have accepted it. Both together are the blessed and fearful mystery of life which is risked as love in faith and hope.
Text of a lecture at the annual meeting of the Katholische Erziehergemeinschaft of Hessen in Frankfurt, 14 January 1967.
Fate and Freedom
What is the relation between fate and freedom? This was and still is one of the great questions of mankind. In all such questions we are always aware of two facts but can- not understand how they are to be combined. Hence we are always tempted to deny, or at least to weaken) one in favour of the other. But true philosophy and theology must admit both -- in our case fate and freedom -- and to have the courage to remain open for both in our experience as well as in our theory. In such cases the Christian faith does not, indeed, enable us to understand how fate and freedom can be one and yet different; such understanding is denied to finite man. But it will give us courage and humility to accept both and to integrate their uncomprehended unity into that infinite mystery which we call God.
Fate or destiny, that which is destined for us, exists in a twofold sense. First through our direct experience: our life is a single chain of causes and their inevitable effects which are independent of our freedom and responsibility. If we reflect on this chain we can never point to one of its links and say with absolute certainty: this is due only to my free and responsible decision. For it may also always be interior or external fate. But neither can we ever say of the same link that it is only fate coming from outside. For whatever we thus encounter in our life is also in its entire reality partly effected by our responsible freedom. It is thus an insoluble unity of passive and active elements, of action and reaction, of fate and free self-determination. For we have no standard by which to judge what in this unity is our responsibility and what is mere destiny for which God is responsible. Such judgment is reserved to God alone. But if a man believes in the omnipotent, omniscient and loving God his life will be destiny in an even deeper sense: for it is wholly borne by the power of God without which nothing, not even man's own free act, can exist; his life as a whole and in all its details is always lived before the omniscient God of love. But it is supported and known by this God as precisely this unity of fate and freedom within which his own divine power has placed us. For God's omnipotence can create a free responsible being without diminishing created freedom, because divine omnipotence and creaturely responsibility increase together.
Whether a man may know something of his destiny and whether this knowledge is true or not, the burden and dignity of his freedom will always be with him. He can and should accept his life as far as it is inescapable destiny in faith and hope as coming from infinite love, even if this love is incomprehensible. Only thus will this destiny receive its true meaning and character even if, seen from outside, everything seems to be the same, whether we trustingly accept it or violently protest against the absurdity of life. Further, man is always under the obligation to use his freedom as much as possible for shaping his life; he may never abdicate his responsibility under pretext that everything happens in any case as it must happen. For the use or the refusal of this responsible freedom is precisely part of what "must happen". For if anybody had a sure knowledge of his future this very knowledge would either leave the space of his freedom still open and unknown, and would demand that he should take note of the situation of his freedom, or if the free decision were already included in the knowledge, this would be all the more a demand actually to make this decision.
Based on a radio interview on the problem of astrology, Bavarian Radio, 1 March 1967.