The Areopagus Lectures

Inviting our neighbors in central Virginia to join MARS HILL AUDIO in a continuing conversation about the Church’s role in a post-Christian society.

Fall 2019 Areopagus Lecture

“[W]e generally tend to take the conventional notion of religious liberty for granted as foundational and then we consider the Christian faith, or any other religious or even anti-religious conviction, from within the parameters of this conventional notion. But we need first to ask whether the conventional notion of religious liberty can do justice to the authentically Christian notion of freedom.”

— D. C. Schindler

In this fall’s Areopagus Lecture, “‘For Freedom Set Free’: Retrieving Genuine Religious Liberty,” philosopher D. C. Schindler spoke about the Christian notion of religious liberty as a synthesis of the Jewish, Roman, and Greek traditions. In the Jewish tradition, one receives a theological understanding of freedom understood as freedom from bondage and from sin in order to more fully enter into a loving covenant with God. In the Roman tradition, freedom exists in relation to one’s membership within a polis and is established through legal codes. This objective political presence is internalized and personalized through the education of virtuous citizens. And in the Greek tradition, freedom is understood in relation to nature, on the one hand through membership in a tribe by kinship, and on the other hand, through participation in the Good, which is at the source of all being. Christianity, argues Schindler, is precisely the “receiving, healing, and transforming [of these] three distinct traditions” and Christian freedom is their “flourishing integration.”

Modern liberalism, by contrast, has stepped outside of the Christian tradition and its synthesis of Jewish, Greek, and Roman thought. While religious freedom as it is understood today gives the impression of being amenable to religious faith of all types by claiming neutrality, it does so only by making all religions matters of private faith and preference. Religion, which historically has made ultimate and authoritative claims about reality, is reduced within modern liberalism to mere opinion. Through institutional obstruction of ultimate claims, modern liberalism threatens not only our protection from coercion, but ultimately the very meaning of nature, human and otherwise.

When St. Paul tells the Galatians that “for freedom Christ has set us free,” argues Schindler, he is not only referring to freedom understood in theological terms, but also to freedom that is political and historical, as well as natural and metaphysical. In other words, the freedom for which Christ has set us free encompasses all of reality and all of human experience.

Listen to the entire lecture below or access it remotely from the MARS HILL AUDIO app . . .

More from this fall's lecture

Not sure yet whether to listen? Here are some more excerpts from D. C. Schindler’s talk:

“Freedom is indeed most profoundly a condition won for us by God, specifically by Christ, through a particular event in history . . . that has liberated us from bondage of sin. But this freedom is also . . . a fulfillment of our human nature through the realization of the goodness and indeed of the truth and the beauty for which we have been created. And this realization is meant to shape our common existence, to be a public truth, . . . to be codified and institutionalized as the actual common good around which we order society.”

“To be free, I suggest, for an individual is to receive this whole tradition and be taken up into it. A tradition that encompasses not just our prayer and private intentions and acts of good will, not just our discrete activities of worship, but the full scope of our existence, including our work in the world. Christian faith is life in the real Church, understood as the Body of Christ as an extension of the Incarnation into space and time down through history and to the ends of the earth in both its breadth and depth.”

“Political institutions whether they mean to or not form the souls of individuals, because they gather them together into a community. And such a gathering cannot occur . . . except through the prescription of a defining human good. . . . To deny this meaning of politics is not to eliminate its truth, but simply to distort it in a way that then poses a threat to the meaning of human nature.”

“To make no understanding of God — the positive good that unites us as Americans — is actually to form us in a particular kind of nihilism. . . . The common good that brings us together as Americans is the absence of any doctrine concerning God. . . . There’s a fundamental and indeed inevitable tension here then between being American and belonging in truth to a religious tradition, that we need to face up to when we promote religious freedom in the classical liberal sense. Within the horizon of liberalism, we’re permitted, perhaps even encouraged, to believe in God, whatever sort of God we choose, but it cannot by definition be the true God. It can be only a God reduced to the scope of private conviction, which ultimately means sentiment: an airy thing that cannot have public significance qua public, no matter how passionately it moves us. A God who becomes relevant only if I so choose cannot be God in fact. This means that to identify religious freedom with the power to choose which God one wishes to worship is to eliminate the religious dimension of this freedom, to allow religion in general only in appearance.”

“[I]n the original Areopagus lecture (which was not recorded but recounted in the Acts of the Apostles), a Roman citizen came to propose the fulfillment of the Jewish promise to the Greek people. . . . Paul’s message was essentially a proclamation of freedom. Note, however, this proclamation did not consist in introducing a new theological option, laying it before the Athenians next to the ones already on offer. Instead, Paul appealed to the depths of the philosophical tradition already present at the heart of the Greek culture. Quoting the poet-philosophers Epimenides and Aratus, he affirmed the truth of the God in whom we live and move and have our being and underscored the fact that we are his children, which means in other words that he began by affirming this tradition’s recognition of an ontological relation to God prior to any choice, a God who does not lie indifferently before and outside of us as one option among others, but who encompasses us in the whole of our existence, to whom we find ourselves always already related. Children don’t choose their parents.” 


More on D. C. Schindler

D. C. Schindler is Professor of Metaphysics and Anthropology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America. Schindler's research interests include the philosophy of Hans Urs von Balthasar, the concept of freedom in modern thinking, and the cultural and philosophical significance of the transcendentals of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. He is a contributing editor for Communio: International Catholic Review and coeditor of A Robert Spaemann Reader: Philosophical Essays on Nature, God, and the Human Person (Oxford, 2015) and the festschrift Being Holy in the World: Theology and Culture in the Thought of David L. Schindler (Eerdmans, 2011). D. C. Schindler has also written several books including Love and the Postmodern Predicament: Rediscovering the Real in Beauty, Goodness, and Truth (Wipf & Stock, 2018), Freedom from Reality: The Diabolical Character of Modern Liberty (University of Notre Dame, 2017), The Catholicity of Reason (Eerdmans, 2013), The Perfection of Freedom: Schiller, Schelling, and Hegel Between the Ancients and the Moderns (Cascade Books, 2012), and Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Dramatic Structure of Truth: A Philosophical Investigation (Fordham, 2004).

Professor Schindler has been a guest on the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal on four different occasions. For his first appearance, on Volume 120, he discussed some key concepts from his book The Catholicity of Reason, particularly how consciousness and reason are “ecstatic,” and necessarily involve reaching outside of ourselvesOn Volume 132, he returned to discuss the work of philosopher Robert Spaemann. On Volume 142, he talked about the differences between the classical and Christian understanding of freedom and the modern view of freedom, focusing on the influence of the modern philosopher John Locke. And most recently, on Volume 147, Professor Schindler explored the classical and Christian understanding of the Transcendentals and why they matter now.


Since 1993, MARS HILL AUDIO has sought to encourage the pursuit of wisdom concerning the cultural consequences of the Gospel. Toward that end, the hundreds of interviews distributed by MARS HILL AUDIO have explored two principal questions: 1) What are the distinctive features of the culture of modernity? and 2) How are those features in conflict with Christian cultural faithfulness? 

One such feature is the assumption that a “religion” is an essentially private, subjective, and non-rational set of beliefs and practices. Thus public life (which is presumed to be a neutral space) must be cleansed of all religiously grounded contaminants. The past several decades have witnessed a more extensive commitment to the de-Christening of the West — the quest for a society freed of interference from Christian claims about human nature and social order. As a result, many Christians are more perplexed than ever about the public consequences of the Gospel.

We believe this is a time for the Church to recognize and remedy the mistake of assenting to the separation of theology from public life. Because the radical privatizing of the claims of Christ is contrary to the ends of human nature and the purposes of God in history, the modern project of radical secularization is inevitably destined to fail. As its failure becomes more obvious (either with a bang or a whimper) the institutions that sustain social, political, and economic life will be open to re-imagination and re-configuration in ways that acknowledge that in Christ, all things hold together. 

In launching the Areopagus Lectures, MARS HILL AUDIO hopes to stimulate conversation among our neighbors about how to navigate this time in the Church’s history with wisdom, courage, and hope. 

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