True freedom is interior

Editorial, February 2009

Freedom is what makes man to be man. Freedom is what distinguishes man from the rest of visible reality—sun, moon, stars, elements, plants and animals. On the natural level, freedom is man’s greatest gift or quality.

What is freedom? Freedom is the ability to choose between various goods; it means that man is not determined to one way of acting—the way elements, plants and animals are. Atheists and believers disagree on many important points, but they agree on the value and importance of freedom.

Recently I read a little book entitled Interior Freedom by a French priest named Jacques Philippe (, 2007). He offers a number of valuable insights into the nature of freedom. He points out the difference between exterior freedom and interior freedom. A person’s exterior, physical freedom can be limited by prison, confinement, sickness, but such limitation does not take away one’s interior freedom, if one knows what to love and what to hate. A good example of this is Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was in a Russian concentration camp for many years. The Communists controlled his body, but they were not able to deprive him of his interior freedom. Because of his faith in God and love of truth they were never able to control his mind and his heart.

The author says that freedom flows from love, but it must be love of that which is true and good. Jesus said that it is knowledge of the truth that makes one free (John 8:31-32). God is absolute truth and goodness and freedom. He created each one of us as an act of love and he has destined us for a future of love—to be united to him in love in heaven for all eternity. From this perspective, the human person who is most free is the one who loves God with his whole heart and mind and strength. No human person, whether king or emperor or billionaire, has been as free as Jesus was. When his hour came, he freely offered himself in sacrifice to the Father for the salvation of all mankind. He did that because he loves us and loves his Father in heaven.

Philippe says that we all want to be happy and “we sense that there is no happiness without love, and no love without freedom” (p. 13). Love is the gift of self to the other as an act of benevolence, not in order to get something out of it.

Interior freedom is gained by loving God and one’s neighbor and by not being inordinately attached to any created thing. Many people lack this love because they do not have faith and hope. Faith in God and his goodness gives rise to hope and hope leads to love.

Philippe makes a connection between faith, hope and charity and the First Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The “poor in spirit” here refers to those who are not attached to riches or to any created thing in the sense that they would ever prefer it to God. As a result they are blessed and they are free to love.

It seems paradoxical, but for Christians true freedom can be found only by submitting oneself to God in what St. Paul calls “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). The reason for this is that God is absolute freedom and by serving him we achieve the purpose for which we were created. Sharing in his life by grace, we also share in his freedom. So freedom means doing what we ought to do; what we ought to do is to love God and serve him. The Bible repeats over and over again, especially in the Psalms, that the man who lives justly and follows the law of God is the man who is fully what he should be. The more one loves God, the freer he becomes. The reverse side of that is our lack of freedom is the result of a lack of love.

To sum it up, God is love and freedom. Because of his love, he made man and destined man for a perpetual life of love. And St. Therese of Lisieux, who lived in a small Carmelite monastery, said that the one who loves God with his whole being is the one who is truly free.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ About Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ, is editor emeritus of HPR, having served as editor for over 30 years. He is the author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.