12 Jul

Free for obedience

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/12/16

Glenn W. Olsen on Augustine’s understanding of freedom

“Augustine developed an understanding of freedom that was intrinsically important and had great historical influence. For him freedom of the will was not something that existed as an end in itself, but as something necessary for love to exist, love’s precondition. Indeed, for both Augustine and Aquinas, will is identified with love of goodness. That is, human life was to aim at becoming God-like, at becoming a wise lover, and to this end mankind had been given freedom of the will. This was to be exercised in community, that is communally, for humans were made for social life. R. A. Markus quite seriously misinterpreted Augustine when he held that Augustine believed in a neutral saeculum. Augustine was no modern liberal. For him freedom, properly exercised, brings one into conformity first with God, and then with neighbor. Freedom exists not to do as one pleases, but as God pleases. Thus the paradox that the most liberated human is he who renounces his own will at every point where it conflicts with God’s will. This of course is a paradox only to a person who accepts the redefinition of freedom of the modern centuries, when freedom is less and less understood as a precondition for living a proper human life, and more and more understood as the very goal of life. Augustine’s view was almost the opposite of what probably the majority since the Enlightenment have meant by liberty.”

—from Glenn W. Olsen, “The Church in History: Status Viatoris” (Communio, Summer-Fall 2013)

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