Christian ethics based on harmony between truth and freedom

On Wednesday morning, 13 July, the Holy Father returned by helicopter to the Vatican from his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo to address the following meditation to the thousands of pilgrims in St Peter's Square.

1. "We are truly his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance" (Eph 2: 10).

The Redemption, dear brothers and sisters, has renewed man by recreating him in Christ. Upon this new being of his there must now follow a new acting. It is on this new ethos of the Redemption that we wish to reflect today in order to understand it at its very source.

To speak of "ethos" means to recall an experience that every man, not only the Christian, lives daily: it is at the same time simple and complex, profound and elementary. This experience is always connected with that of his own freedom, that is, the fact that each one of us is truly and really the cause of his own acts. But the ethical experience makes us feel free in an altogether singular way: it is an obliged freedom that we experience. Obliged not from "without"—it is not an exterior compulsion or constriction —but from "within": it is the freedom as such that must act in one way rather than another.

This mysterious and wonderful "necessity" that exists within freedom without destroying it is rooted in the very force of moral value, which man knows with his intellect: it is the expression of the normative force of the truth of good. Committing itself to "do" this truth, freedom is situated in the order that has been inscribed by the creative Wisdom of God in the universe of being.

In the ethical experience, therefore, there is established a connection between truth and freedom, thanks to which the person becomes ever more himself, in obedience to the creative Wisdom of God.

Only the truth gives us freedom

2. "I do not do what I want to do, but what I hate... I do, not the good I will to do, but the evil I do not intend" (Rom 7:15 and 19). These words of Saint Paul describe the ethos of the man fallen into sin and therefore deprived of "original justice". In the new situation man notices a contradiction between his intentions and his actions—"I do not do what I want to do"—though continuing to have in himself the perceptions of good and the tendency toward it.

The harmony between truth and freedom has been broken, in the sense that freedom chooses what is contrary to the truth of the human person and the truth is smothered in injustice (cf. Rom 1:18). Ultimately, from what does this interior division of man arise? He begins his history of sin when he no longer recognizes the Lord as his Creator and wants to be the one who, in absolute autonomy and independence, decides what is good and what is evil: "You will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad", says the first temptation (cf. Gen 3:5). Man no longer wants the "measure" of his existence to be the law of God, he no longer receives himself from the creating hands of God, but decides to be the measure and principle of himself. The truth of his created being is denied by a freedom that has released itself from the law of God, the only true measure of man.

At first glance it would seem that the sinner's freedom is true freedom, inasmuch as it is no longer subordinated to the truth. In reality, however, it is only the truth that can make us free. Man is free when he submits to the truth. After all, is it not our very experience of every day that testifies to this? Saint Augustine observes, "The love of truth is such that those who love something different pretend that the object of their love is truth. And since they hate to be deceived, they hate being convinced that they are deceived. They therefore hate the truth through their love of what they believe to be the truth. They love it when it shines, they hate it when it reproves. They don't want to be deceived and they want to deceive, loving it, therefore, when it is revealed, but hating it when it reveals them... Yet, even in this unhappy situation, (man) prefers the enjoyment of truth over the enjoyment of falsehood. He will therefore be happy when he enjoys without obstacles or anxiety the only Truth, thanks to which all things are true" (St Augustine, Confessions 10, 23, 34).

The enjoyment of truth

3. The Redemption is a new creation, because it leads man from the situation, described by St Paul in the passage quoted from his Letter to the Romans, back to his truth and freedom.

Man, created in the "image and likeness" of God, was called to fulfil himself in the truth of that "image and likeness". In the new creation, which Redemption is, man is made like the Image of the only-begotten Son, freed from the sin that disfigured the beauty of his original being. The ethos of the Redemption sinks its roots into this redemptive act and continually draws its strength from it: strength through which man is enabled to know and accept the truth of his relationship with God and with creatures. He is thus made free to "lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance" (Eph 2:10).

The ethos of the Redemption is the meeting, in man, of truth with freedom. "The happiness of life is the enjoyment of truth, that is, the enjoyment of you who are the Truth", St Augustine wrote (Confessions, 12, 23, 33): the ethos of the Redemption is this happiness.

L'Osservatore Romano July 18, 1983
Reprinted with permission