Understanding moral liberty and natural liberty

November 1, 1994

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

Back in May when this letter disentangled the dignity of man with God from the very different dignity of man without God, you were promised a letter to disentangle the two even more confused liberties, corresponding to the two dignities. As the arrival of winter gives us longer evenings by the electronic fireside, let us attempt the second disentangling.

Liberty, like its Germanic synonym, freedom, is one of those words which in modern times is so charged with emotion that the moment it is mentioned, most people stop thinking because their brains are awash in cozy feelings. However, anybody with a grain of common sense, looking at the world around him, appreciates that the world produced by these feelings is not cozy at all, and so it is not only Catholics who need to so some thinking.

Let us start by defining liberty, or freedom, in the way most people use the word, as an absence of constraint. Now constraint may be external or internal. For instance if a bird is in a cage or has a thread tied to its foot, it is constrained externally, because the cage or thread are not part of the bird but are external to it. But if the bird is externally free or free from any external constraint, that does not mean it is internally free, because all its actions, for instance wherever it flies or whenever it eats, are governed, or constrained, by its instincts. Watch a dog caught in a conflict between two of its instincts. The dog is not freely choosing, or deciding. Eventually one instinct prevails, and the dog acts accordingly. On the contrary men have a superior faculty of reason or intelligence with which they can over-ride their instincts, so men are not normally constrained by their instincts, so they can use their reason to choose which instinct to follow or not to follow, and so men have both external liberty (if they are not in prison) and internal liberty.

Thus a man in prison has internal but not external liberty, a bird in the sky has external but not internal liberty a man in the open air has both, a bird in a cage has neither. What interests us here is not the external liberty, called physical liberty because it means an absence of physical or material constraint. What interests us here is the internal liberty, called natural liberty because it is part of man's rational nature, or sometimes psychological liberty because it is part of man's psychological make-up.

This natural liberty as we shall call it, following on man's reason, is nothing other than his free-will, as it is called in English, meaning man's faculty to choose without constraint of instinct between alternatives presented to his reason. This faculty of free-will, or natural liberty, is at the heart of the confusion over "liberty" and it is one of the two liberties continually confused, so let us look at it well to observe its true nature. Let us establish four points: it is a (1) inalienable (2), faculty, a (3) unlimited (4) capacity, which for purposes of illustration we shall compare to a motor car.

Firstly, in its roots, natural liberty is an inalienable feature of rational nature. Wherever there is the faculty of reason, wherever there is a man not deprived of the use of his reason, there is natural liberty or free-will. If a man loses, for instance by drink, the use of his reason, then he is no longer free, but otherwise his natural liberty is inalienable from his being a man. So long as a car is mechanically in working order, it has or is, until the car "dies", an inalienable ability to drive.

Secondly, in the man, natural liberty or free-will is a faculty and not an act. It is a faculty or ability to act, built into his nature, but it is prior to any of a man's rational acts, presupposed by all of them and so identical with none of them. The car, purely as car, is an ability to drive, it is not yet, purely as a car, driving anywhere. It can be sitting in a garage.

Thirdly, in action, natural liberty is unlimited from within, that is to say the faculty is not limited to this act or that act, to this kind of act or that kind of act, but it is a faculty wide open to any and all acts physically available to a man in his circumstances. The faculty is only limited from without, for instance, a man has no natural liberty to fly (without a machine) because that alternative is not physically available to him. But from within, free-will is not limited. Similarly the car, again purely as a motor car, is not limited to driving north, or south, or east, or west, but it can drive in any of these directions wherever a car can drive, only not for instance across water, because that is not a possibility physically available to it.

{ absence of external constraint: PHYSICAL LIBERTY
=absence of constraint absence of internal constraint: NATURAL LIBERTY

However, fourthly, in morals, natural liberty is a capacity or ability, and not a right, to act without limitation. For just as certain acts like flying by himself are physically unavailable to man, so too certain acts are morally unavailable to him, for instance murder, adultery or theft. Natural liberty has the capacity to commit these wrong acts, but it has no right to commit them. Similarly the motor-car has the physical capacity to drive down the wrong side of the road, but it has no right to do so because it will suffer and cause accidents. The car's natural ability to drive wherever it can drive comes from within it as a car, but its right to drive wherever it may drive comes not from within but from without, for instance from the highway code. Thus natural liberty gives me the ability from within to do whatever I can do, but the right to do what I may do comes not from within but from without. The ability or capacity alone does not constitute a right.

Of course if there was no highway code, then the motor car would have the right to drive on the road wherever it had the ability, then ability and right would be the same thing. But when it comes to morals, there is a highway code. Man constantly dreams of having the right to do as he likes, but as Catholics know, and as all the truly great pagans and non-Catholics have taught, this universe has a moral framework whereby, from outside of us, certain acts are objectively and unchangingly right whilst others are objectively and unchangingly wrong. From which it follows that natural liberty is an ability but not a right.

So all experience teaches that of all the acts available to be chosen by natural liberty, some are right, or morally good, and some are wrong, or morally evil, and here we come to the second of the two liberties continually confused.

If the faculty of free-will is misused to choose evil acts, then we have the misuse of natural liberty which is commonly (and reasonably) called license, each act of which is sinful, or a sin. On the other hand —- always assuming that human acts divide into those that are morally good and those that are morally evil —- if the faculty of free-will is rightly used, to choose good acts, then we have the, right use of natural liberty which we call moral liberty. Let us again look well, to establish, the true nature of this moral liberty, in four points: it is (1) alienable (2) use of a faculty, a (3) limited (4) right.

Firstly, in its roots, moral liberty is alienable in the sense that every time I misuse my natural liberty by choosing sin, then I may have sinful liberty, or license, but I certainly have no moral liberty to do good, in fact Our Lord says that he who sins is the slave of sin (Jn VIII, 34). Similarly if a car is misdriven so that it is wrecked, it can no longer be driven anywhere until its natural ability to drive is repaired. The car’s being misdriven excludes or alienates for the duration its being driven. Of course a man’s liberty cannot be wrecked beyond repair so long as he is living. He retains until death his inalienable faculty of natural liberty but misuse of the faculty excludes or alienates its right use for as long as the misuse lasts. Therefore moral liberty is alienable.

Secondly, in the man, moral liberty or the right use of free-will is the use of a faculty as distinct from the faculty used, like the safe driving of the car as opposed to the car driven. There must be the faculty prior to the use, as to the misuse, and so every use, like every misuse, presupposes the faculty, as all driving or misdriving presupposes a car, but the faculty is different, from its use or misuse because it is always in itself open to both and so it is identical with neither. Natural liberty is by itself only potential, moral liberty and license are always at least. partly actual. It is because there will never be moral liberty without natural liberty, that the Catholic Church values and defends natural liberty against all heretics who deny that man has free-will; nevertheless it is moral liberty that adds the actual goodness to the mere potential of the faculty of free-will. As driving presupposes a car, so all drivers look after their cars; nevertheless no car in the garage, can insure it will be well driven on the road; the good driving is distinct from the car.

Thirdly in action, moral liberty is limited from within, that is to say moral liberty is limited to all good acts, it excludes and is excluded by the evil acts of license. Thus in terms of the variety of acts open to it, moral liberty is more limited than natural liberty which is open to all acts good or evil. Therefore moral liberty is comparatively limited. As good driving excludes bad driving, so good driving limits the variety of ways in which a car can be driven.

However, fourthly, because moral liberty's limitation is to acts that are good, then moral liberty can be called a right, because if I have no right to do wrong, or commit sin, I do have a right to do what is right. One can say that liberty is a right which is confined to right acts. Now moral liberty is by definition confined to right acts, whilst natural liberty is open to right or to wrong acts. Therefore moral liberty is a right to act whereas natural liberty is only a capacity or a potency to act. It is obeying the highway code and all laws concerned which gives me the right to drive my car out of the garage and on the road.

Natural Liberty
= Free-will, by itself unlimited
{ limited in action to bad acts: LICENSE
~POTENTIAL DIGNITY limited in action to good acts: MORAL LIBERTY

Thus we arrive at the following clear distinction in four points between natural and moral liberties, the two liberties which it is necessary above all to distinguish:- whereas natural liberty is an inalienable faculty, a (from within) unlimited capacity, moral liberty is an alienable use of that faculty, a (from within) limited right. Natural liberty and moral liberty are thus as distinct as the motor car sitting in the garage and its being well driven along the road; as distinct as the bottle empty and the bottle filled with wine.

Well, if the two liberties are so clearly distinct, how can they ever be confused with one another? A swift answer is that while I live I cannot lose my natural liberty which is open to all acts, good or evil. Now moral liberty is a right. If then I blur the two, my natural liberty becomes a right, and I have the right to do whatever I like, right or wrong! In fact claiming natural liberty as a right is a convenient way of abolishing right and wrong. Everything becomes legitimate, an old dream of naughty man. We are then all "liberated" and "emancipated", we can all "let it all hang out", we can do as we like, in theory as long as it does not hurt someone else, but in practice (and in logic) even if it does hurt someone else - drive-by shootings, natural-born killers, etc, etc. Teach youngsters that their natural liberty is a right, and, in logic and justice, they will punish their teachers by destroying them.

However, many liberals will admit the difference between right and wrong, and still claim that they have a natural right to do wrong. So the real reason for the confusion must go deeper.

The real reason is the self-glorification of man. The wine-bottle is seen to be so valuable that it is of no importance whether it is filled with wine or dish-water. The car is seen to be such a superb model that it does not matter whether it drives or crashes — look, what a superb wreck it makes, wrapped around that tree! Man is seen to be by nature of such dignity, his natural faculties have such intrinsic value, that howsoever he uses or misuses them they show forth that transcendental dignity, and so their use or misuse becomes of secondary importance. Man's natural liberty thus becomes a right, because whatever he does with it, it shows forth his dignity. Look, what superb wrecks Lucifer and Judas Iscariot are, in the eternal fires of Hell! What a dignity of defiance!

This glorifying of man's nature in itself forgets (or denies) that man is not a value in himself. As the bottle exists only to contain wine, as the car exists only to be driven without crashing, so a man exists only to fill his life with merits so that when he dies he can go to Heaven. No human soul is on earth for any other reason. But the liberals and secular humanists deny that man is relative in this way to any value above him. He is the supreme value in himself, therefore he is a value above right and wrong. Now in truth God alone is above right and wrong (in the sense, that He alone can by nature do no wrong). Therefore the liberals in fact make man into God.

Moreover the liberals have gained such influence over the last several hundred years that they have moulded the whole world around us. Their glorification, in fact deification, of man seeps into our being through their music, arts, media, schools, universities, politics, economics, "patriotism", and so on and so on. As a result, when a man-glorifying error like the right to do wrong is put before us, it finds through the cast of our minds and the tilt of our emotions, moulded by the liberal world around us, such a sympathetic reception that the error and the confusion are liable to drop into us as easily as a letter drops into a letter-box.

That is why, if we are asked such a question as whether moral liberty or natural liberty is the true liberty, our instinctive reaction is to say that it is natural liberty, because moral liberty is limited, and limits take away liberty. Now that answer would be correct if man was an end in himself, because then he would be the measure of right and wrong, which means he could do no wrong, which would give him the right to choose whatever he liked, which would make moral liberty meaningless. But whoever recalls that man is even more for Heaven than the wine-bottle is for wine or the car is for safe driving, realizes that true liberty is liberty for the bottle from dishwater, liberty for the car from crashing, liberty for man from sin (whoever sins is the slave of sin, says Our Lord), so that the true liberty is in fact moral liberty. Thus natural liberty rejects any limitation or law, but moral liberty greets any limitation or law helping it to attain its end. If natural liberty, which is open to sin, were the true liberty, then neither God nor the angels in Heaven who can no longer sin, would have true liberty!



Not Equal

used badly: LICENSE
used well: MORAL LIBERTY
NATURAL = Free-will
an inalienable faculty
an unlimited capacity
an alienable use of faculty, a limited right

Alas, these arguments have difficulty biting when a man's emotions from his background, friends, education and even "patriotism" all run in the opposite direction. However, if the whole world were steeped in the error of deifying man and glorifying natural liberty, it would still not be so grave as long as the Catholic churchmen resisted and condemned the error. But now listen to a few examples of Vatican II's teaching on religious liberty:

* "The human person has a right to religious freedom" (Dignitatis Humanae #2) - he has a natural faculty to choose any religion, yes; he has a moral right to choose any religion other than Catholicism, no.

* "The right to religious freedom is founded in the dignity of the human person" (D.H.#2) -man is so dignified that he has a right by moral liberty to go to heaven, yes; a right by misuse of natural liberty to go to hell, no (unless "right" simply means ability).

* "Men retain the right to religious liberty even when they misuse it by not seeking the truth" (D.H.#2) - men have the natural faculty to turn away from the truth, yes; they have the moral liberty or right to do so, no.

* "Religious bodies have the right to be allowed to spread whatever is their faith" (D.H.#4) — religious bodies have their members' natural faculty to spread truth or error, and the civic liberty if their society chooses to allow them to do so indiscriminately, but they have the moral right or liberty to spread the Catholic truth alone.

These are just four examples of the almost hopeless confusion pervading this Vatican II document, confusion between the natural faculty of freedom and the moral right of freedom. It is a confusion that easily fits into modern minds feeling the self-value and glory of man, but it will not fit into Catholic minds knowing man's entire relatedness to, and dependence on, God. Yet the mass of Catholic churchmen today are going along with this — in effect — declaration of independence from God!

"It is not, nor it cannot come to, good". To Vatican II making man's natural liberty into a right corresponds the man-centered New Mass; to the New Mass corresponds "Beavis and Butthead", that horrific MTV programme whose charming and well-spoken young creator apparently declared on a recent TV talk-show (David Letterman) that the idea for his nihilistic cartoon about two valueless boys came to him all in a flash when, in attendance at the Novus Ordo Mass, he heard a Beavis-style laugh from a youngster two pews behind him; and "Beavis and Butthead", mirror of valueless youth, is the death-knell tolling for a futureless society! Of course, give man the right to do as he likes, and in no time at all human society will become worse than a jungle!

Any reader of today's newspapers cannot fail to observe how fast that is happening around us. Man has put himself in the place of God, he claims natural liberty as a right, that right he has to grant — or he is proud of granting! — to youngsters who have none of the oldsters' residual common sense to restrain them from behaving worse than wild animals. As a result, everywhere the red lights are flashing dissolution and chaos, and the alarm bells are ringing off the wall, but will man put his liberty back underneath God? Never! Anything but that!

Catholic adults! Activate your supernatural faith and charity, recognize the absolute supremacy of God and his Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and the primacy of His one Catholic Church; recall that man by his nature alone is not only open to good or evil, but by the original sin in his nature more or less strongly inclines naturally to evil; so resolutely wash out of your own minds the last trace of confusion between the natural faculty of freedom and the moral right, and then, according to your circumstances, do all in your power to censor, curtail, limit and check the youngsters' misuse of their natural faculty, so that it will choose only that to which they have the moral right. They may not understand, and you may not be popular, but at least you will not have been a traitor to them, and by defying your country in its error, if it rests on religious liberty, you will have done all you can to save it from its ruin!

As usual at this time of year, the Seminary has available Christmas cards to send to your friends or loved ones whereby they will be included in the Christmas Novena of Masses starting on Christmas night at the Seminary's main altar.

May God have mercy upon us all, and make us slaves of that justice and servants of that truth which alone can set us truly free (Jn.VIII, 32).

Sincerely yours in Christ,