Lawrence Feingold on Freedom of the Will

Apr 15th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Two days ago, Professor Lawrence Feingold of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology and author of The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and his Interpreters gave a lecture titled “The Freedom of the Will” to the Association of Hebrew Catholics. The audio recordings of the lecture and of the following Q&A are available below. Some parts of the lecture and certain questions in the Q&A are highly relevant to points of disagreement between Protestants and the Catholic Church. Below I have provided a brief outline of the lecture (including in parentheses the minute number in the audio recording), and the subsequent Q&A.


Lawrence Feingold

Lecture:
 

I. Freedom is in the will, on account of our intellect; we cannot love what we do not know.
A. Our will is open to all goodness. (2′)
B. Natural desire (3′) — some things we naturally desire, and not by free choice. We’re free to choose the means to those ends.

II. Three different sense of the term ‘freedom.’ (5′)
(A.) Natural freedom (freedom between),
(B.) Circumstantial freedom (freedom from coercion), and
(C.) Acquired freedom (freedom for the good, virtuous freedom).

‘Free will’ refers to natural freedom (between goods, to act or not to act). The most important kind of freedom is freedom for, but to acquire it, we need natural freedom.1

III. Both human experience and divine revelation show us that we have natural freedom. (9′)

Q1. If God is the total good, then how can we be free to reject God, if we are not free with regard to the total good? (15′)

Q2. If one alternative is better than another, are we still free to choose between them? (16′)

IV. The denials of free will (17′)
A. Gnostics / Manichees (18′)2
B. Protestantism: Luther and Calvin (19′ – 31′)
Response by the Council of Trent (31′)
C. The heresy of Jansenism (33′)
D. Materialism/determinism (35′)
E. Freudianism (35′)

V. John Paul II “Reconciliation and Penance” (36′)

A. Free will and self-determination: By building up our identity through our free choices, we become our own fathers and mothers (Gregory of Nyssa) (38′)
B. Free will and Day of Judgment (39′)

VI. Pope Leo XIII “Libertas Praestantissimum” (39′)
A. The distinction between “natural freedom” (freedom between), and moral freedom (freedom for the good).
B. Freedom and the ability to sin. The ability to sin accompanies the kind of liberty we have on earth, not of the essence of freedom. (41′) The ability to sin belongs to us during the state of trial. (42′)
C. The freedom of God and the blessed in heaven. (42′)

VII. Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. (44′)

VIII. The truth shall set you free. (47′)

Q. In what sense does the person in a state of grace have freedom, and in what sense does the person in a state of mortal sin have freedom? (50′)

IX. John Paul II’s 1985 “Letter to the Youth of the World” (Dilecti Amici) (51′) —
A. What does it mean to be truly free?
B. What is the relation between freedom and the divine law? (52′) Contemporary confusion regarding the relation of law and freedom (54′). Jewish conception of Torah.

X. Freedom between and Freedom for
A. Liberation theology (55′)
B. Freedom and the new atheism (57′)
C. Sartre and unlimited freedom (58′)
D. Freedom for is for self-giving to God and neighbor (61′)
E. St. Ignatius of Loyola on freedom (62′)

Q&A:
 

(1) Does prayer affect God’s freedom? If not, how can it be efficacious? What can it change? (1′)

(2) When a tragedy happens, such as 9/11, we may say it was God’s will. And yet sin is a turning away from God’s will. And that act of terrorism (i.e. 9/11) was a sin, and thus a turning away from God’s will? So how do we reconcile these two claims? (5′)

(3) Is the law contrary to the lower freedom (freedom from coercion)? (11′)

(4) If God gives efficacious grace only to some, how is that compatible with Christ dying for all, and with His universal salvific will? (12′)

(5) If man is free to cooperate with grace or resist grace, how is that not Pelagianism, and how does that not make man his own savior, and rob God of all the glory? (18′)

(6) How is predestination compatible with freedom? (22′)

(7) Isn’t one of the problems determinists have with freedom how they can conceive of time, since they operate with a clock-sense of time? (26′)

(8) If people don’t believe in the authority of the Church are they effectively outside the Church, or is it that they just don’t have direction, or are they in “freedom from”? (28′)

(9) Is the definition of ‘good’ love? (31′)

(10) If you wanted to enlighten your friend concerning the errors of Luther, what would you say in less than 50 words? (32′)

Download the mp3s here.

  1. Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Disputed Questions on Evil, Question VI, “On Human Choice.” []
  2. See, for example, Orthodoxus’s last reply to Valentinus in St. Methodius of Olympus’s “Concerning Free Will. []
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21 comments
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  1. If you’re short on time, listen from 19′ through 31′ of the lecture, and 12′ through 26′ of the Q&A (i.e. questions 4, 5, and 6).

  2. Thanks Bryan!
    Professor Feingold’s lectures as well as this website was one of the leading factors in re-invigorating my nominally Catholic upbringing to a stronger belief in the Church and in her teachings.
    God bless,
    -Steven Reyes

  3. Awesome! Thanks Dr. Feingold!

  4. “Freedom is in the will, on account of our intellect; we cannot love what we do not know.”

    As expressed, this doesn’t make much sense. If freedom is something that pertains to the will, it does so from the nature of the will, not from some other power. At best, I think all you can derive from this statement is that the intellect is a sine qua non cause for volitional activity. but that has nothing to do with freedom.

  5. Lee,

    That sine qua non is just what is meant here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. Thanks for the clarification.

  7. Perhaps I missed it (and if so please direct me to the relevant portion), but I did not see much interaction with the idea of God’s decree. Dr. Feingold mentioned the idea of foreknowledge and I think he ably demonstrated that it in no way limits freedom. I put forward the following questions though,

    Does God decree whatsoever comes to pass?
    If so, what is the relationship between God’s decree and his foreknowledge?
    If so, how does Dr. Feingold’s analogy of the arrow speak to the decree and not to foreknowledge. More clearly, can God’s decree be thwarted or his foreknowledge incorrect if man’s free will allows him to always resist grace?
    This is perhaps a Protestant misunderstanding, but how do operating and cooperating graces work given Dr. Feingold’s scheme?

    Thanks in advance for what I’m sure will be thoughtful responses.

  8. I’m going to give this a shameless bump because I really do want to see thoughts on these issues.

  9. RefProt (re: #7)

    Does God decree whatsoever comes to pass? If so, what is the relationship between God’s decree and his foreknowledge?

    Nothing occurs outside God’s consequent will, but His consequent will takes into account our free choices. (On the distinction between antecedent will and consequent will, see here.) He wills that we have natural freedom, and so He governs all things while preserving the integrity and secondary causality of the things He has made, include the freedom of the rational creatures He has made. We’re not puppets driven by forces beyond us toward an inevitable fate about which we have no true choice.

    If so, how does Dr. Feingold’s analogy of the arrow speak to the decree and not to foreknowledge. More clearly, can God’s decree be thwarted or his foreknowledge incorrect if man’s free will allows him to always resist grace?

    God’s consequent will cannot be thwarted. But His consequent will has already taken into account our free choices. His foreknowledge cannot be incorrect, but that in no way removes freedom (“freedom between”) from the rational creature, just as knowing what someone has already chosen does not impose necessity on his choice.

    This is perhaps a Protestant misunderstanding, but how do operating and cooperating graces work given Dr. Feingold’s scheme?

    I recommend listening to minutes 25′ through 62′ of the *second* lecture (i.e. the one on actual grace) at “Lawrence Feingold on Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  10. In the fourth century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote the following on free will:

    Know also that you have a soul self-governed, the noblest work of God, made after the image of its Creator : immortal because of God that gives it immortality; a living being, rational, imperishable, because of Him that bestowed these gifts: having free power to do what it wills. For it is not according to your nativity that you sin, nor is it by the power of chance that you commit fornication, nor, as some idly talk, do the conjunctions of the stars compel you to give yourself to wantonness. Why do you shrink from confessing your own evil deeds, and ascribe the blame to the innocent stars? …

    And learn this also, that the soul, before it came into this world, had committed no sin , but having come in sinless, we now sin of our free-will. Listen not, I pray you, to any one perversely interpreting the words, But if I do that which I would not Romans 7:16: but remember Him who says, If you be willing, and hearken unto Me, you shall eat the good things of the land: but if you be not willing, neither hearken unto Me, the sword shall devour you, etc. Isaiah 1:19-20: and again, As you presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification. Romans 6:19 Remember also the Scripture, which says, Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge Romans 1:28: and, That which may be known of God is manifest in them Romans 1:19; and again, their eyes they have closed. Matthew 13:15 Also remember how God again accuses them, and says, Yet I planted you a fruitful vine, wholly true: how are you turned to bitterness, thou the strange vine Jeremiah 2:21?

    The soul is immortal, and all souls are alike both of men and women; for only the members of the body are distinguished. There is not a class of souls sinning by nature, and a class of souls practising righteousness by nature : but both act from choice, the substance of their souls being of one kind only, and alike in all. …

    The soul is self-governed: and though the devil can suggest, he has not the power to compel against the will. He pictures to you the thought of fornication: if you will, you accept it; if you will not, you reject. For if you were a fornicator by necessity, then for what cause did God prepare hell? If you were a doer of righteousness by nature and not by will, wherefore did God prepare crowns of ineffable glory? The sheep is gentle, but never was it crowned for its gentleness: since its gentle quality belongs to it not from choice but by nature. (Catechetical Lecture 4)

  11. D.B. Hart writes:

    In simple terms, if a deranged man chooses to slash himself with a knife or set fire to himself, you would not be interfering with his “freedom” by preventing him from doing so. You would be rescuing him from his slavery to madness. This is why the free-will defense of the idea of an eternal hell is essentially gibberish.

    Hart’s argument treats what in the lecture above is referred to as “acquired freedom” (or freedom for excellence) as though it eliminates or rules out “natural freedom.” But acquired freedom does not eliminate the possibility of natural freedom.

  12. (Reposting this here on the proper thread).

    I have written here before (a good while ago). I am in the Reformed/Evangelical tradition, and have interacted a fair amount with Catholic thinking and teaching, including Thomistic thought, all to a limited agree. Of course I am more on the “bondage of the will” side of things. However, with that said, I am wondering about a deeper definition of the Catholic term “free will”, as it is used in Aquinas, Catholic teachings, et al. On the New Advent site, I read that it is the “rational appetite”. I am trying to get a better, somewhat deeper and more expansive understanding of the Catholic usage. To be sure, I do see the will as being biased towards its prevailing nature (sin for the unbeliever, good for the believer). However, still trying to make sure I get the Catholic definition correct. Thank you for anything

  13. Matt (re: #12)

    The Catholic Encyclopedia article on the will would be a good place to start.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  14. Thank you. Will consult this, freely. :-)

  15. The theologian David Bentley Hart, whom I referred to in comment #11 above, has recently argued for universalism. He said:

    To say that the sufferings of the damned will either be clouded from the eyes of the blessed, or worse, increase the pitiless bliss of heaven is also to say that no persons can possibly be saved. For if the memories of others are removed or lost, or one’s knowledge of their misery converted into indifference or, God forbid, into greater beatitude, what then remains of one in one’s last bliss? Some other being altogether, surely a spiritual anonymity, a vapid spark of pure intellection, the residue of a soul reduced to no one, but not a person, not the person who was.

    Notice that his argument takes the form of a conditional: if the memories and knowledge the saints have of the damned and their on-going suffering are removed or lost or converted into indifference or greater beatitude, then either (a) the saints cannot attain bliss or (b) whatever attains bliss is not a person. Of course this argument begs the question. It presupposes precisely what is in question, because it presupposes that God Himself (whose happiness the saints come to share in heaven) cannot be happy if any persons are damned. And this presupposes a process conception of God, namely, that He can lose His perfect happiness, and that His happiness is not intrinsic to Him and essential to Him, but contingent. And this implies that either the one we are referring to as ‘God’ is not God, or that there is no God (see comment #57 in the “Doug Wilson Weighs In” thread).

    However, I do not wish to discuss universalism in this thread. (I’ve addressed it at the link in comment #4 in the “God’s Universal Salvific Will” thread.) Rather, I want to address Hart’s objection to free will in his argument for universalism. I’ll do so by going through his two paragraphs claim by claim. Hart says:

    But it’s not the logic of the claims that bother me; it is their moral hideousness… Currently, the most popular way of defending the notion of an eternal torment is an appeal to creaturely freedom and to God’s respect for its dignity, but there could scarcely be a poorer argument, whether it’s made crudely… by William Lane Craig or elegantly by Eleonore Stump, it is going to fail.

    Notice that so far he has given no reason or argument against libertarian free will (i.e. natural freedom); he has only used defaming terms such as “moral hideousness,” “poorer,” and “crudely.”

    He continues:

    It wouldn’t [fail] if we could construct a metaphysics or phenomenology of the will’s liberty that was purely voluntarist, purely spontaneous, though even then we would have to explain how an absolutely libertarian act, obedient to no rationale whatsoever would be distinguishable from sheer chance or mindless organic or mechanical impulse, and so any more free than an earthquake or embolism. But on any cogent account, free will is a power inherently purposive, teleological, primordially oriented towards the good and shaped by that transcendental appetite to the degree that a soul can recognize the good for what it is. No one can freely will the evil as evil. One can take the evil for the good. but that doesn’t alter the prior transcendental orientation that wakens all desire. To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably; not to desire it is not to have known it and so never having been free to choose it.

    Here Hart presents a dilemma which he claims entails the failure of all appeals to [libertarian] free will as a justification for hell. According to Hart, either the will is not determined by the good, in which case the will is indistinguishable from “sheer chance or mindless organic or mechanical impulse” or the will is determined by the good, in which case the will is not free [in the libertarian sense]. We discussed this already in comments #301 – #331 of this thread, but the dilemma Hart puts forward presupposes precisely what is in question between the critic (e.g. Hart) and the person who holds that there is such a thing as natural liberty (i.e. libertarian free will). Hart’s dilemma presupposes that there is not a third position in which free agents directed to the good are (in that particular epistemic condition) neither determined by the good nor reducible to the ontological equivalent of “sheer chance” or “mindless organic or mechanical impulse.” In this way Hart’s argument simply begs the question, i.e. presupposes precisely what is in dispute between himself and those who disagree with him.

    He continues:

    It makes no more sense to say that God allows creatures to damn themselves out of his love for them, or his respect for their freedom, than to say that a father might reasonably allow his deranged child to thrust her face into a fire out of a tender regard for her moral autonomy.

    Here again Hart begs the question by using an analogy which, for the defender of free will, is disanalogous. The person who freely chooses sin is precisely not morally and epistemically equivalent to the “deranged child” who thrusts her face into the fire. The deranged child is not morally responsible for her actions, because she does not know what she is doing. But the sinner is responsible for his actions, and knows the good he should do but freely chooses not to do it. So Hart’s analogy presupposes precisely what is in question.

    Finally, he says:

    And the argument becomes quite insufferable when one considers the personal conditions – ignorance, mortality, defectibility of intellect and will – under which each soul enters the world and the circumstances, the suffering of all creatures, even the most innocent and delightful among them, with which that world confronts the soul.

    The proper evaluation of arguments has to do with their soundness, not whether they are “insufferable.” See my “Guide to Rational Ecumenical Dialogue.” The ignorance and mortality with which we come into the world, as well as the defectibility of our intellect and will, and the suffering of even the most innocent and delightful of creatures, is fully compatible with our having libertarian free will.

  16. Actually Hart’s argument is unanswerable correct on this point. All Christian tradition, knowing God to be both the source of being and the substance of the transcendental a, understands freedom as inseparable from true knowledge. The Tryth shall set you free. And he is not obliged to repeat the whole critique of libertarian models that have been so well advanced by Puntel, MacInttre, Murdoch, and so on. More interesting, though, he could omit all that from his case and his argument still holds.

  17. A process conception of God? Are you kidding? That’s so far off the mark that it’s clear you didn’t listen to the argument at all. What’s worse, the “moral hideousness” remark wasn’t aimed at the free will defense at all, but at the notion of the saints delighting in the torments of the damned. You misquote him intentionally. Yet worse, you pretend he did not adequately explain why he rejects the pure libertarian model of the will when he most definitely did.

    Sheesh (as they say).

  18. Kyle (re: #16),

    Actually Hart’s argument is unanswerable correct on this point. All Christian tradition, knowing God to be both the source of being and the substance of the transcendental a, understands freedom as inseparable from true knowledge. The Tryth shall set you free.

    Yes, we (Christians) have acknowledged that the truth shall set us free. But that does not mean that we have conflated natural freedom and acquired freedom, as I explained in comment #11 above, and as explained in the lecture in the body of the post at the top of this page. The existence of acquired freedom does not ipso facto rule out the possibility (or actuality) of natural freedom. Just because one acknowledges and embraces the notion of acquired freedom, it does not follow that one must give up the notion of natural freedom.

    And he is not obliged to repeat the whole critique of libertarian models that have been so well advanced by Puntel, MacInttre, Murdoch, and so on.

    I agree that he is not obliged to repeat anything. But his not being obliged to do that does not falsify anything I said in #15 above.

    More interesting, though, he could omit all that from his case and his argument still holds.

    Again, that does not show anything I said in #15 to be false.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. Kathy (re: #17)

    A process conception of God? Are you kidding? That’s so far off the mark that it’s clear you didn’t listen to the argument at all.

    Set aside the personal attack and address my argument. (We don’t allow personal attacks here.) What you’ll need to do is show how the process position does not follow from affirming the notion that God (in His divine nature) can lose His happiness. If, however, God cannot lose His happiness, even when persons reject Him definitively, then it is possible to be perfectly good and truly and supremely happy even under such conditions. In that case, since the saints share in God’s happiness, it is possible for the saints too to be supremely happy under such conditions.

    What’s worse, the “moral hideousness” remark wasn’t aimed at the free will defense at all, but at the notion of the saints delighting in the torments of the damned.

    I did not claim that his “moral hideousness” remark was aimed at the free will defense.

    You misquote him intentionally.

    Now you presume to be a mind-reader. I have not misquoted anyone intentionally.

    Yet worse, you pretend he did not adequately explain why he rejects the pure libertarian model of the will when he most definitely did.

    I have not pretended anything. I simply showed (in comment #15) four things. First, I showed that his argument for universalism begs the question. Second, I showed that his dilemma against libertarian free will begs the question because, from the perspective of the libertarian paradigm, it is a false dilemma. Third, I showed that his analogy begs the question, by presupposing what remains to be shown. And fourth, I pointed out that the personal conditions to which he appeals are fully compatible with our having libertarian free will. If you think anything I wrote there was mistaken, please show how and where.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  20. Not that it really sheds much light, but i will still add my comments.

    The whole question of how GOD can be eternally happy when there are those who are eternally damned is interesting. At the end of the day, no matter how tightly we slice the logic and verbage, I think we wind up having to say it is….. a mystery. Which I think orthodoxy always is. I think Chesterton advanced that idea. It is of course an outgrowth and consequence of the free will/sovereignty issue which is similarly resolved.

  21. Jeremiah (re: #20)

    This is something accessible to natural human reason, and therefore need not be treated as a mystery. (cf. ST I Q.26) God’s beatitude is grounded in Himself. He is His own beatitude, and His beatitude is uncreated. But only God is uncreated. For this reason, His beatitude is not contingent on what is created. Nor is it variable, or dependent on what free creatures do. No creature can rob God of any happiness or add anything to God’s happiness. Creatures (e.g. Satan) can deprive themselves of participation in God’s beatitude, or they can participate in God’s beatitude, as do the angels and saints.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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