Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 29--Freedom as Cruciform

JOHN PAUL II INSISTS on the connection between freedom and truth and faith and morals. These are the two burdens of his encyclical. Christ set men free, and the Christian life to which all men are called is centered upon freedom. Christ is the truth, and the Christian life to which all men are called is likewise centered upon truth. "[O]nly freedom which submits to the Truth leads the human person to his good. The good of the person is to be in the Truth and to do the Truth." VS, 84.*

Here is the central tragedy of this age:

This essential bond between Truth, the Good and Freedom has been largely lost sight of by present-day culture. As a result, helping man to rediscover it represents nowadays one of the specific requirements of the Church's mission, for the salvation of the world. Pilate's question: "What is truth" reflects the distressing perplexity of a man who often no longer knows who he is, whence he comes and where he is going.

VS, 84.

The Pope's solicitude toward mankind is apparent. The loss of a moral compass, of a knowledge of who he is, where he is supposed to go, and how to get there has left modern man in a moral quandary, in a state of moral chaos, in a slough of despond. He is like the Man Who Was Thursday.
Hence we not infrequently witness the fearful plunging of the human person into situations of gradual self-destruction. According to some, it appears that one no longer need acknowledge the enduring absoluteness of any moral value. All around us we encounter contempt for human life after conception and before birth; the ongoing violation of basic rights of the person; the unjust destruction of goods minimally necessary for a human life. Indeed, something more serious has happened: man is no longer convinced that only in the truth can he find salvation. The saving power of the truth is contested, and freedom alone, uprooted from any objectivity, is left to decide by itself what is good and what is evil. This relativism becomes, in the field of theology, a lack of trust in the wisdom of God, who guides man with the moral law. Concrete situations are unfavorably contrasted with the precepts of the moral law, nor is it any longer maintained that, when all is said and done, the law of God is always the one true good of man.
VS, 84.*

There is but one way from shadow into light, from the darkness of moral relativism to the light of moral truth, and it is this way to which the Church is witness. The Church came into the world not for the purpose of denouncing or refuting falsehood. While she may do so, she does so only as a natural concomitant of her true rule: to constantly look toward and point to the Lord Jesus, to Christ crucified. VS, 85.

Each day the Church looks to Christ with unfailing love, fully aware that the true and final answer to the problem of morality lies in him alone. In a particular way, it is in the Crucified Christ that the Church finds the answer to the question troubling so many people today: how can obedience to universal and unchanging moral norms respect the uniqueness and individuality of the person, and not represent a threat to his freedom and dignity? The Church makes her own the Apostle Paul's awareness of the mission he had received: "Christ . . . sent me . . . to preach the Gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power . . . We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:17, 23-24).

VS, 85.

Drawing of Christ Crucified by St. John of the Cross

Freedom is, at its heart, cruciform: "The Crucified Christ reveals the authentic meaning of freedom; he lives it fully in the total gift of himself and calls his disciples to share in his freedom." VS, 85. Christus cruci affixus verum libertatis sensum ostendit! The crucifix--the Jesus affixed to the cross--and Christ's victory over death--His Resurrection--are crucial to understanding the Christian insistence that freedom and truth are conjoined:
Jesus. . . is the living, personal summation of perfect freedom in total obedience to the will of God. His crucified flesh fully reveals the unbreakable bond between freedom and truth, just as his Resurrection from the dead is the supreme exaltation of the fruitfulness and saving power of a freedom lived out in truth.
VS, 87.

Man's freedom suffers from nobility and weakness. It is both real and limited. It is a created freedom, and like all creation something we have not give ourselves, but something which has been given to us: "its absolute and unconditional origin is not in itself, but in the life within which it is situated and which represents for it, at one and the same time, both a limitation and a possibility." VS, 86. The gift of freedom has a responsibility attached to it: it is "to be received like a seed and to be cultivated responsibly." VS, 87. It is self-evident that freedom is not an evil to be suffered, but a good. It is self-evident that freedom ought not to be used to do evil, but rather to do good. And so the gift of freedom contains within itself a hint of its purpose; it hearkens back to the Giver of the gift:

Within that freedom there is an echo of the primordial vocation whereby the Creator calls man to the true Good, and even more, through Christ's Revelation, to become his friend and to share his own divine life. It is at once inalienable self-possession and openness to all that exists, in passing beyond self to knowledge and love of the other. Freedom then is rooted in the truth about man, and it is ultimately directed towards communion.

VS, 86.

Freedom, then, points "Yonder, yes yonder, yonder, yonder."** Though freedom, then, has this golden "echo of the primordial vocation" which points yonder, it also has a leaden echo, a tragic weakness which we witness, and of which we know:
Reason and experience . . . confirm [freedom's] tragic aspects. Man comes to realize that his freedom is in some mysterious way inclined to betray this openness to the True and the Good, and that all too often he actually prefers to choose finite, limited and ephemeral goods. What is more, within his errors and negative decisions, man glimpses the source of a deep rebellion, which leads him to reject the Truth and the Good in order to set himself up as an absolute principle unto himself: "You will be like God" (Gen 3:5).
VS, 86.

There is then, in freedom, the "beginning to despair, to despair, despair, despair, despair, despair."** And man becomes aware of this odd necessity: that freedom has become captive, and "freedom itself needs to be set free."

Libertas ideo est liberanda!

Who, then, is to set the captive freedom free?

Christus est liberator!

Christ, the Pope cries anew with the voice of old, invoking St. Paul's letter to the Galatians (5:1), "has set us free for freedom." Ipse nos liberavit ut essemus liberi. VS, 86.
*This is actually a quote from the Pope's Address to those taking part in the International Congress of Moral Theology (April 10,1986), 1; Insegnamenti IX, 1 (1986), 970.
**G. M. Hopkins, "Maiden's Song from St. Winefred's Well"

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