God is the Meaning of Freedom

Anselm on Freedom, part 5

In regards to that imperviousness to sin that God and the unfallen angels do “share,” this, too, may be best understood in analogical rather than univocal terms, for even this commonality finds itself radically disrupted by the recognition that, whereas God is his own freedom, creatures are free only by partaking in God’s freedom. As the Teacher explains in the central chapter of the dialogue, the purpose for which creatures were given freedom of choice was so that they might will what is right because it is right, for the sake of the rightness, correctness, or rectitude of will for its own sake.[1] Freedom of choice is accordingly defined as simply this capacity the free creature has for keeping or preserving the will’s original rightness of willing. To his earlier denial, therefore, that freedom of choice involves a floating between the abstract possibilities of sinning and not sinning, the Teacher gives further concrete, actualist grounding to the freedom of choice through his insistence on the latter’s ineluctably teleological character. Freedom is something given to creatures, by God, for a purpose, namely in order that the principle of right willing itself might be a superintending motive force in all of our free actions. The inherently theological character of this understanding of freedom of choice, however, is perhaps best seen in the fact that this rectitude of will (the preservation of which is the purpose of the freedom of choice) is a species of rectitude—or conforming to divine truth—in general, a topic the Teacher addresses at some length in the prequel to On Freedom of Choice, Anselm’s dialogue On Truth (De Veritate). Freedom of choice, in other words, is that unique capacity God’s rational creatures have for self-knowingly conforming themselves to the purpose God has for them and which purpose and conformity is their truth. With this context in mind, it becomes clear that God and his rational creatures do not so much share a common meaning of freedom as it is the case that God is the meaning of the freedom of his rational creatures: they are free precisely to the degree that they allow their own rectitude of will, and hence their own conformity to God’s purpose, to be the ulterior motive behind all their actions deserving to be called free. In sum, then, it is not some abstract, univocal definition of freedom, but God himself who is the prior metaphysical and hence semantic possibility for the similarity or resemblance between himself and his creatures. Far from freedom being a simple binary affair, in which a being either conforms to the univocal definition or it doesn’t, the picture of freedom that emerges is that of an analogical scale according to which freedom admits of a greater or lesser capacity to relentlessly pursue divine truth. God of course cannot himself inhabit such a scale since the scale itself is the measure of a thing’s likeness to God’s own freedom. If so, by what possible, univocal, theologically-neutral definition of freedom might we compare his freedom to that of his creatures? Similar to the possibilist myth of there existing real, determinate, yet uncreated possibilities and worlds—alleged to be necessary for explaining God’s counterfactual freedom and power—so the promise of a univocal concept of freedom, here and as we shall see later, turns out to be less fact than fiction: conjectured as a necessary bulwark for the possibility of meaningful religious langauge and the validity of theological science, univocity turns out time and again to be an apparition that dissipates the moment it is subjected to the light of a frank assessment of God’s transcendence. Freedom, accordingly, is not so malleable as to be hammered thin enough to gild both God and his creatures as so many common “instances” of a single, univocal meaning. Instead, creaturely freedom is a limited, analogical sounding of the otherwise infinite depths of God’s measureless freedom. In terms of our theology of the possible, freedom is not an abstract property existing prior to and apart from God’s creative intention—all the while permanently defining God’s own potential to be univocally harnessed along side his possible creation—but is a metaphysical and semantic possibility only brought into being through God’s at once eternal yet ad hoc interpretation of and improvisation upon his own inimitable liberty. In short, God is his own freedom and as such invents the analogical freedom of his creatures.

[1] On Freedom of Choice 3.


3 thoughts on “God is the Meaning of Freedom

  1. Pingback: Even a Monkey Knows What It Means to be Free | From SOVEREIGN to SERF - Roger Sayles (SERFS-UP.NET)

  2. Pingback: Even a Monkey Knows What It Means to be Free · The Liberty Beacon

  3. Pingback: Even a Monkey Knows What It Means to be Free | The Liberty Beacon

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