Martin Luther famously wrote a little tract called “On the Freedom of a Christian”. It is a topic that has long interested Pope Benedict too, and – given that we have been talking about the role of “law” in relation to St Mary’s in South Brisbane – I thought it would be interesting to stick up a few of the Pope’s ideas on the matter of freedom and obedience from his little talk given at Rome’s Major Seminary recently.
Somewhat characteristically, the Holy Father begins his talk on Galatians 5:13 (“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another”) with a reference to Luther. In fact, he makes the same point that he made in his final catechesis on St Paul:
At all times, freedom has been humanity’s great dream, since the beginning, but particularly in modern times. We know that Luther was inspired by this text of the Letter to the Galatians, and his conclusion was that the monastic Rule, the hierarchy, the magisterium seemed a yoke of slavery from which he had to free himself. Subsequently, the age of the Enlightenment was totally guided, penetrated by this desire for freedom, which it was thought had already been attained. However, Marxism also presented itself as the path to freedom.
To anyone unfamiliar with Benedict’s long study of these matters, his jumps from Luther to the Enlightenment to Marx will seem unjustified. (We can’t go into the matter here, but if you want to check it out further you might find a few more dots to connect in this essay “Truth and Freedom” (1996)). But of greater interest at the moment are these statements:
- “We are free if we become one another’s servants”
- “Dependency [on God] would be a fatal dependency only if this Creator God was a tyrant, not a good Being, only if he was as human tyrants are.”
- “There is no freedom in being against the other. If I absolutize myself, I become the other’s enemy.”
- “Only a shared freedom is human freedom”
- “Only by accepting the other, by accepting also the apparent limitation that respect for the other implies for my freedom, only by inserting myself in the network of dependencies that makes us, finally, only one human family, will I be on the way to common liberation”
- “We see that man needs order and law, to be able to realize his freedom, which is a freedom lived in common.”
- “Freedom against truth is not freedom.”
To put it succinctly: God is a good God (this is a statement of faith, Tony, for your information). Dependant upon our good Creator, we are also dependant upon the other human beings whom he has created. We cannot be free apart from the other or against the other; there is freedom only in being for the other and in communion with the other, ie. there is freedom for myself only in shared freedom with others. If I make myself the absolute, I become the enemy of God and of the other. It is therefore necessary, for this shared freedom in communion with others that I accept an “apparent limitation” on my own “freedom”, and submit to common order and law. The ordering of human community requires law and organisation, not only for human society but also for the Church of God, in which the greatest freedom is found in the highest degree of communion.
Thus beginning from our dependance upon a good God and our desire for true freedom, we arrive at the necessity of “organised religion”, of Church law, and of submission one-to-another for the sake of the communion of the Body.