Monday, February 16, 2009

Class: Freedom, Autonomy and Secularity

“God (is) defined as freedom in person, because he is the totality of the possession of being.”[1]

Freedom: fullness of Being:

Not able not to be. For a finite, contingent being, freedom is the possession of being, not merely “to be” placed in act. Ultimately, only God is “free.”

Ratzinger: “Considered biblically, freedom is something other than indeterminacy. It is participation, and indeed, not just participation in some particular social structure, but participation in being itself. It means to be the possessor… of being. Only on this basis can indeed God be defined as freedom in person, because he is the totality of the possession of being. We can… say that freedom is identical with exaltation of being, which admittedly only makes sense if exaltation of being is really exaltation: the gift of life and being given in love.”[2]

The Freedom of the Human Will: Self Mastery

Jesus Christ achieved freedom for the human will that He assumed into His divine Person.
“Thus the Logos adopts the being of the man Jesus into his own being and speaks of it in terms of his own I: ‘For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me’ (Jn. 6, 38). In the Son’s obedience [note that it is not the “will’s” obedience], where both wills become one in a single Yes to the will of the Father, communion takes place between human and divine being. The ‘wondrous exchange,’ the ‘alchemy of being,’ is realized here as a liberating and reconciling communication, which becomes a communion between Creator and creature. It is in the pain of this exchange [the “exchange” is the human will of Christ laden with all sins of all men as disobedience{cf. 2 Cor. 5, 21}], and only here, that that fundamental change [of obedience] takes place in man, the change which alone can redeem him and transform the conditions of the world. Here community is born, here the Church comes into being. The act [faith] whereby we participate in the Son’s obedience, which involves man’s genuine transformation, is also the only really effective contribution toward renewing and transforming society and the world as a whole. Only where this act takes place is there a change for good – in the direction of the kingdom of God.”[3]

Autonomy: Self Cause

Autonomy is the power of determining the self, and as an act of self-mastery, gives the self to the self as possession.

Autonomy is the discovery of the self as “cause.," and therefore, free. Newman says, with Hume, that sensible perception does not perceive “causes” but an association of events. Causality is not sensibly perceived but experienced within the subject himself. Newman: “The assent which we give to the proposition, as a first principle that nothing happens without a cause, is derived, in the first instance, from what we know of ourselves: and we argue analogically from what is within us to what is external to us. One of the first experiences of an infant is that of his willing and doing; and, as time goes on, one of the first temptations of the boy is to bring home to himself the fact of his sovereign arbitrary power, though it be at the price of waywardness, mischievousness, and disobedience. And when his parents, as antagonists of this willfulness, begin to restrain him, and to bring his mind and conduct into shape,, then he has a second series of experiences of cause and effect, and that upon a principle or rule, Thus the notion of causation is one of the first lessons which he learns from experience, that experience limiting it to agents possessed of intelligence and will. It is the notion of power combined with a purpose and an end. Physical phenomena, as such, are without sense; and experience teaches us nothing about physical phenomena as causes. Accordingly, wherever the world is young, the movements and changes of physical nature have been and are spontaneously ascribed by its people to the presence and will of hidden agents, who haunt every part of it, the woods, the mountains and streams, the air and the stars, for good or for evil: just as children again, by beating the ground after falling, imply that what has bruised them has intelligence: - nor is there anything illogical in such a belief.”[4]

The first to thematize the autonomy or freedom of the subject to act on itself is Immanuel Kant. He took Newton’s physics as model; i.e. reality had to be tweaked and acted on to create a new experience for us. That experience is the experience of the self as free and self-determining. Kant is less a subjectivistic idealist than pointing to the self as autonomous and ontological cause of itself and acting according to the ontological dictate of the "categorical imperative." That imperative is a real effervesence from the existential subject, according to David Walsh.
The problematic of this was the loss of the traditional “nature” as the fixed criterion of knowledge once it had become subject to our domination. David Walsh writes that “Human being… is defined by a questioning that is itself a mode of being, never by a nature that has closed the process through an answer.”[5] He then announces the revolution: “In this way we follow the most fundamental shift toward an existential mode of inquiry.”[6]

The large point Kant made from an analogy with science was ethical knowledge. Man has to act in order to know what the good is, and in a word, who he is. Praxis precedes theory. You must know what it does in order to know what it is.

This was a large revolution in the face of the primacy of the theoretical over the practical which read: you have to know what it is in order to know what it does (or should do). But the real problem was that our way of knowing what reality is has been limited to our sensible perception of it. Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu. This has been a good and necessary start. But, what happens if reality transcends what is sensed, like God, freedom, values, the soul, etc? It becomes the bed of Procrustes. If you can’t sense it and measure it quantitatively, it isn’t. And then comes the reductionism and objectification through the imposition of categories (concepts).

Wojtyla on Self-Determination:

a) Love and Responsibility: “Nobody can use a person as a means towards an end, no human being, not even God the Creator. On the part of God, indeed, it is totally out of the question, since, by giving man an intelligent and free nature, he has thereby ordained that each man alone will decide for himself the ends of his activity, and not be a blind tool of someone else’s ends. Therefore, if God intends to direct man towards certain goals, he allows him to begin to know those goals, so that he may make them his own and strive towards them independently. In this amongst other things resides the most profound logic of revelation. God allows man to learn His supernatural ends, but the decision to strive towards an end, the choice of course, is left to man’s free will. Gold does not redeem man against his will.”[7]


b) Gaudium et Spes: “Man, the only earthly being God has willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself.”

c) Modern Prototype of Experiencing Autonomy:

Helen Keller as “Experience” of that Fullness of Being.

“We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand, she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened by soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!…

“I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me. On entering the door I remembered the doll I had broken. (She had earlier destroyed the doll in a fit of temper.) I felt my way to the earth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”

What had happened. Percy does the exegesis that must not be taken as the emergence of abstract thought although the language she uses sounds like it: “I felt… a thrill of returning thought.” He remarked: “if there was a bifurcation in our knowledge of ourselves and our peculiar and most characteristically human activity, with a terra incognita in between concealing the mystery, surely I was straddling it and looking straight down at it. Here in the well-house in Tuscumbia in a small space and a short time, something extremely important and mysterious had happened. Eight year-old Helen made her breakthrough from the good responding animal which behaviorists study so successfully to the strange name-giving and sentence-uttering creature who begins by naming shoes and ships and sealing wax, and later tells jokes, curses, reads the paper,… or becomes a Hegel and composes an entire system of philosophy.”[9]

Elsewhere, he makes it explicit that what Helen has done is not abstract immaterial thought, but exercised subjectivity as person. She performed the activity of “symbolizing” which is consists of symballein “to throw together,” (an experience of causal subjectivity) because the child puts two together, the word and the thing. A triadic model is required. The third element is the “I” who freely throws (ballein) the word at the thing and puts them together (sym).

The great error consists in thinking that the “intellect” puts things together. Only subjects act. Intellects do not act. Percy paraphrasing Peirce says “the child puts the two together, the word and the thing.”
[10] The judgement of the copula “is” is an act of the whole person, the “I.” As an action of a person, it is a free act, not a work of “nature.”

Appositely, Helen’s nurse Anne Sullivan made the observation, “I saw clearly that it was useless to try to teach her language or anything else until she learned to obey me. I have thought about it a great deal, and the more I think, the more certain I am that obedience is the gateway through which knowledge, yes, and love, too, enter the mind of a child.”

John Paul II: Naming is an act of subjectivity: The first experience of man as subject in Eden was “the original solitude.” John Paul II says: “Man finds himself alone before God mainly to express, through a first self-definition, his own self-knowledge… He is not only essentially and subjectively alone. Solitude also signifies man’s subjectivity, which is constituted through self-knowledge. Man is alone because he is ‘different’ from the visible world, from the world of living beings.”

Secularity: Result of Autonomy of the Human Will of Christ

“Secularity” in Magisterial Teaching

The ultimate meaning of “secularity” is the autonomy that is the freedom of the human will of Christ. His human will is exercised by the divine Person as self-gift (obedience) to the Father. That human will represents His entire humanity. And the Church (and all of us as dimension and characteristic) is the extension of that humanity. As His humanity and human will are “secular,” so are we. That human will is ontologically distinct from the divine Will, yet it is the will of the divine Person. “I --- have come down from heaven ---- not to do my own [human] will, but the Will of Him Who sent Me” (Jn. 6, 38). Jesus Christ as divine Person had to determine His human will and bend it back from all the sins of all men for all time (2 Cor. 5, 21) – the attachment to self over God – to obedience (freedom) to the Father. That human will of Christ is the meaning of “secularity.”

“The Crucified Christ reveals the authentic meaning of freedom; he lives it fully in the total gift of himself and calls his disciples to share in his freedom” (Veritatis Splendor #85).
“Secularity” is presented as “dimension” and “characteristic” in Christifideles laici #15. “Certainly all the members of the Church are sharers in this secular dimension but in different ways. In particular the sharing of the lay faithful has its own manner of realization and function, which, according to the Council, is `properly and particularly’ theirs. Such manner is designated with the expression `secular character’).“In fact the Council, in describing the lay faithful’s situation in the secular world, points to it above all, as the place in which they receive their call from God: `There they are called by God.’ This `place’ is treated and presented in dynamic terms: the lay faithful `live in the world, that is, in every one of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very fabric of their existence is woven.’ They are persons who live an ordinary life in the world: they study, they work, they form relationships as friends, professionals, members of society, cultures, etc. However, the Council considers their condition not simply an external and environmental framework, but as a reality destined to find in Jesus Christ the fullness of its meaning….“The `world’ thus becomes the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation because the world itself is destined to glorify God the Father in Christ…. The lay faithful, in fact, `are called by God so that they, led by the spirit of the Gospel, might contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties….” Thus for the lay faithful, to be present and active in the world is not only an anthropological and sociological reality, but in a specific way, a theological and ecclesiological reality as well…“Precisely with this in mind the Synod Fathers said: `The secular character of the lay faithful is not therefore to be defined only in a sociological sense, but most especially in a theological sense. The term secular must be understood in light of the act of God the creator and redeemer, who has handed over the world to women and men, so that they may participate in the work of creation, free from the influence of sin and sanctify themselves in marriage or the celibate life, in a family, in a profession, and in the various activities of society.’”
[12]The Incarnation of the Logos is the paradigm of secularity as “dimension.” The freedom of the Logos, now become Flesh, before the Father is the autonomy of the “world”[13] subsumed into the humanity (the human will) of the Person of Christ. The Body of Christ, the Church in its totality (including the religious) is secular, with the autonomy of the human will of the divine Person of Christ before the Father.But there is also secularity as "characteristic." This means the secular world, its work and friendships, is the very occasion of the giving of the self. John Paul II described it as “the place, the environment, the means, or if you prefer, the tools and language of our response to the caring love of God.”[14]Secularity as characteristic is intrinsic to Christian anthropology, not the result of an extrinsic state. “Secularity… is not added on to our vocation from outside. On the contrary, it receives it fullest meaning from our vocation. Our vocation means that our secular state in life, our ordinary work and our situation in the world, are our only way to sanctification and apostolate.[15] Secularity is something Christian, a Christian way of being and living. In other words, our divine vocation, our spirit – or in broader terms, Christian faith and morality – cannot be judged from the starting-point of a secularity defined a priori. Rather, secularity should be judged and valued – or rather, discovered – from the starting-point of our vocation, and what the Christian faith reveals to us about man, about the world and about our destiny.”[16]

“God (is) defined as freedom in person, because he is the totality of the possession of being.”[17]

[1] J. Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism and Politics, Crossroads (1988) 198.
[2] J. Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism and Politics, op. cit 198.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 92-93.
[4] John Henry Newman, “Grammar of Assent,” UNDP (1979) 70.
[5] David Walsh, “The Modern Philosophical Revolution – The Luminosity of Existence” Cambridge Univ. Press (2008) 13.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Karol Wojtyla, “Love and Responsibility,” Ignatius (1990) 27.
[8] As in Walker Percy’s The Message in the Bottle, The Noonday Press, Farrar Straus, Giroux (1995) 34-35.
[9] Ibid 35.
[10] Walker Percy, “Signposts in a Strange Land,” Noonday Press (1991) 280
[11] John Paul II TOB DSP (1997) 35.
[12] “Christifideles Laici” #15.
[13] “For all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollo’s, or Cephas; or the world, or life, or death; or things present, or things to come – all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor 3, 22-23
[14] L’Osservatore Romano, N. 17 – 26 April 1995, 3.
[15] St. Josemaria Escriva, Letter, 9 January 1959, 41.
[16] The Prelate of Opus Dei, Letter, 28 November 1995, #20.
[17] J. Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism and Politics, Crossroads (1988) 198.

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