by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
Human freedom is an experience before it is a concept. Indeed, even as concept, freedom is extremely elusive. It is hardly surprising that modern science, concerned with precision and objectivity, is distinctly uncomfortable with it. The “scientific method,” with its emphasis on measurement and predictability, finds it much easier to deny the existence of freedom than to account for it.
If we search for the reason for this experience of freedom, we find ourselves stymied; we know, first, that freedom is a given. We cannot explain it without running into an intractable psychological—and, perhaps, logical—puzzle. Whatever freedom is, it is simply because it is. Freedom exists for the sake of free, intelligent choice; freedom is, in its origin, self-referential. A free choice is its own cause.
In this respect freedom bears the character of a tautology: We human beings choose because we choose. Indeed, if our act is compelled, it is not really a choice. We have motives, of course, but free choice is, as such, self-caused. The why of a free choice is simply the freedom of the choice. The determination of a free choice is not reducible to a psychological motive. If it were, that would be the end of what we call the “justice system.”
It further occurs to us to reflect that if freedom is a given, it must also be a gift. And if freedom is a gift, then surely there must be a giver. And that giver must, in turn, be free. To put the matter in theological terms, only Someone supremely free can give freedom to those outside Himself.
When man goes on to examine the created Cosmos, he reaches the further conclusion that he—the human being—must be very special in this world, inasmuch as he detects no evidence that anything else in existence is endowed this self-conscious experience of freedom. Every other creature in existence is reducible to the causes brought to bear upon it. Only in the case of human choice, then, do we speak of “responsibility.” Only the human being has the capacity to respond in freedom.
Everything else that takes place in the Universe takes place as an inevitable effect of some external cause. Everything else in the Universe is driven; whatever every other creature does is the result of the determining influences brought to bear upon it. Planets move because something, a very long time ago, set them moving. Plants grow because of an inherent dynamism over which they have no control. Man, alone within the Universe, has the capacity for self-determination.
Consequently, when the human being declares that God made the Universe in freedom, he is basing this declaration on an analogy; he is saying that in God there is something very much like man’s own experience of freedom. And, since God is the creating source of man’s freedom, freedom must start with God, not with man. Any “analogy of freedom” in man’s thought must confess that the radical origin of freedom is the infinite and wise freedom of God. Man, in his own freedom, bears some likeness to God.
When we recite the Creed we begin by speaking of God in His eternal being (“the Father almighty”), and then we go on to declare what God does outside of His eternal being (“Creator of heaven and earth”). Two things are affirmed here: With respect to eternity, God is the Father almighty. With respect to time, He is the Creator of heaven and earth.
The first affirmation is a metaphysical given; God cannot not be the Father Almighty. This is what He must be. The second affirmation, however, involves God’s free decision:
“let US make . . .”
What God does outside of Himself—His Creation—He is not obliged to do. It is His free act.
Moreover, these reflections shine an important light, not only on the Creator, but also on the creature. When we declare that God created the Cosmos in freedom, we mean that nothing outside of God had to be, no more than God had to create it. Things outside of God are contingent on His election.
Yet, the things outside of God certainly exist. Why is there something instead of nothing? This sober and sensible question springs from the plain insight that nothing we see in the Universe really has to be.
The biblical doctrine of Creation, to which the Church is committed by Tradition and Creed, finds the root of all created things in the intelligent freedom of the Creator. Things are, because God caused them—thoughtfully!—to be. He creatively conceived them. All created things are the embodiments of His thought. Outside of the being of God, to be is to be creatively thought. Thus, all created things embody intelligibility at their root. The freedom of God is not detachable from His Logos.