Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Free Will

I am a great believer that freedom is a great virtue and right mankind has, and should have. We can identify this on a social and historical point of view, whereby many peoples have endeavoured and achieved their freedom from foreign or oppressive rulers. In regards to Christianity we identify that God created man free, giving him free will, allowing him to either love or hate God, to believe or not believe in the Creator. This is a great idea and reality, which emphasises the existence and importance of the idea of love. Without freedom, we would not be able to love each other or God. Therefore, free will, the idea of freedom, is central to our faith. Many Fathers have given their views on this great theme. Below we see an interesting text which explains free will:

‘Made in the image of God, man is a personal being confronted with a personal God. God speaks to him as to a person, and man responds. Man, according to St Basil, is a creature who has received a commandment to become God. But this commandment is addressed to human freedom, and does not overrule it. As a personal being man can accept the will of God; he can also reject it. Even when he removes himself as far as possible from God, and becomes unlike Him in His nature, he remains a person. The image of God in man is indestructible. In the same way, he remains a personal being when he fulfils the will of God and in his nature realizes perfect likeness with Him. For according to St. Gregory Nazianzen, ‘God honoured man in giving him freedom, in order that goodness should properly belong to him who chooses it, no less than to Him who placed the first fruits of goodness in his nature.’ Thus, whether he chooses good or evil, whether he tends to likeness or unlikeness, man possesses his nature freely, because he is a person created in the image of God. All the same, since the person cannot be separated from the nature which exists in it, every imperfection, every ‘unlikeness’ in the nature limits the person, and obscures ‘the image of God.’ Indeed, if freedom belongs to us as persons, the will by which we act is a faculty of our nature. According to St Maximus, the will is ‘a natural force which tends towards that which is conformed to nature, a power which embraces all the essential properties of nature.’ St Maximus distinguishes this natural will (θέλημα φυσικόν) which is the desire for good to which every reasonable nature tends, from the choosing will (θέλημα γνωμικόν) which is a characteristic of the person. The nature wills and acts, the person chooses, accepting or rejecting that which the nature wills. However, according to St. Maximus, this freedom of choice is already a sign of imperfection, a limitation of our true freedom. A perfect nature has no need of choice, for it knows naturally what is good. Its freedom is based on this knowledge. Our free choice (γνώμη) indicates the imperfection of fallen human nature, the loss of the divine likeness. Our nature being over-clouded by sin no longer knows its true good, and usually turns to what is ‘against nature’; and so the human person is always faced with the necessity of choice; it goes forward gropingly. This hesitation is our ascent towards the good, we call ‘free will’. The person called to union with God, called to realize by grace the perfect assimilation of its nature to the divine nature, is bound to a mutilated nature, defaced by sin and torn apart by conflicting desires. It knows and wills by means of this imperfect nature, and is in practice blind and powerless. It can no longer choose well, and too often yields to the impulses of a nature which has become a slave to sin. So it is that that in us which is made in the image of God is dragged into the abyss, though always retaining its freedom of choice, and the possibility of turning anew to God.’[1]

[1] Lossky, Vladimir, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, (Cambridge, James Clark & Co. Ltd, 1991), pp.124-126. 

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