In a previous episode we saw that Pope John Paul II discussed the relationship of truth and freedom. Today we see that freedom and God’s law also go together.
Jesus points out to the young man that the commandments are the first and indispensable condition for having eternal life; on the other hand, for the young man to give up all he possesses and to follow the Lord is presented as an invitation: “If you wish…”. These words of Jesus reveal the particular dynamic of freedom’s growth towards maturity, and at the same time they bear witness to the fundamental relationship between freedom and divine law. Human freedom and God’s law are not in opposition; on the contrary, they appeal one to the other. The follower of Christ knows that his vocation is to freedom. “You were called to freedom, brethren” (Gal 5:13), proclaims the Apostle Paul with joy and pride. But he immediately adds: “only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another” (ibid.). The firmness with which the Apostle opposes those who believe that they are justified by the Law has nothing to do with man’s “liberation” from precepts. On the contrary, the latter are at the service of the practice of love: “For he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the Law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ ” (Rom 13:8-9). Saint Augustine, after speaking of the observance of the commandments as being a kind of incipient, imperfect freedom, goes on to say: “Why, someone will ask, is it not yet perfect? Because ‘I see in my members another law at war with the law of my reason’… In part freedom, in part slavery: not yet complete freedom, not yet pure, not yet whole, because we are not yet in eternity. In part we retain our weakness and in part we have attained freedom. All our sins were destroyed in Baptism, but does it follow that no weakness remained after iniquity was destroyed? Had none remained, we would live without sin in this life. But who would dare to say this except someone who is proud, someone unworthy of the mercy of our deliverer?… Therefore, since some weakness has remained in us, I dare to say that to the extent to which we serve God we are free, while to the extent that we follow the law of sin, we are still slaves”. [VS §17]
It is the man who will not obey God who is truly in bondage, because God’s law constitutes the relationship with Him for which we were created in the first place. Similarly, as St Augustine says elsewhere (examined here), the freedom we enjoy from God is not a freedom to do evil (or else we could not be punished for exercising our free will in pursuit of its purpose. We are created for the sake of freely doing what is right.
The implications for Christian morality ought to be clear. We are only truly free when we do what is right; we are by no means free to do just anything that appeals to us.