Freedom and Law from a Catholic Perspective

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The following was a college essay written by Maureen Francois. It has been edited and approved by Aidan McIntosh. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

By Maureen Francois, Benedictine College

As human persons, we are called to live in freedom. Pope John Paul II, quoting the Second Vatican Council, defined freedom as an “outstanding manifestation of the divine image” (Gaudium et Spes, 17). We are made in the image of God, and to be truly free is to glorify God by mirroring Him through our lives. The purpose of law is to lead us to our proper actions and end, and by living in accordance with God’s law, we are made truly free. In the history of human thought, blinded by concupiscence, we have tried to redefine freedom as moral autonomy. In the early modern period, Pope Leo XIII invited humanity to return to the true definition of freedom, and examined the necessity of human law for us to walk in true freedom.

As understood by Immanuel Kant, freedom was the public application of reason to thought. Freedom meant using your conscience and philosophy to guide your actions. Kant set out to empower people to educate themselves and think independently. He believed that the best option for a role of law was for the government to allow its citizens to disagree, so long as they obeyed. This way citizens could gradually influence the government, becoming freer themselves. Hence, law would always be, to an extent, working against human freedom.

Pope Leo XIII defined freedom as one having control over his actions, and ordering them toward his higher ends. With the construed societal definitions of freedom, he believed no ideal government could exist, but that a government must stand to guide us toward our true freedom. He defined law as what guides our actions, and orients us to do good and avoid evil for the sake of their consequences.

In his encyclical Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae, Leo XIII asserted that as men are so often misled regarding morality, the Church must state the universal law about morals. In this way, she is a crucial system of law. While the Enlightenment mentality was encouraging Catholics to write their own moral doctrine, thereby living freely in the liberal sense, the Church needed to stand firm in the truth, so as to guide the faithful in the way of authentic freedom.  Thus, the purpose of law was to guide the Church to happiness through freedom.

In the light that man is free through the manifestation of God’s image, the purpose of law is to guide us in living out this manifestation. Through Natural Law, God rules us from within our hearts, leading us to our proper ends. Due to concupiscence, it has become difficult to understand and follow Natural Law, so the Church stands as another voice of God’s law, guiding us in the way of true freedom.

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