In his audience this morning, Pope Benedict talked about the Franciscan Medieval Theologian Duns Scotus. Benedict highlighted some beautiful parts of his theology and also noticed that some of his thinking was very, very modern. His idea of freedom was rooted primarily in the will, in contrast to Augustine and St. Thomas who said that freedom was the fruit of a collaboration between the will and the intellect.
While Scotus’ approach emphasizes that God is absolutely free to do whatever He wills, it separates God’s freedom from what is true or what is good. In other words, God could do something cruel if He wanted to, or He could change the commandments so killing your parents was not a sin. This is not an authentic sense of God, and it is not an authentic sense of freedom. Instead, Jesus reveals God as one who is the truth, the “logos,” and who acts completely out of love. God’s freedom, therefore, is always a freedom in love and does not extend to doing something which is cruel.
Modern thought sees freedom in absolute terms, located in the will, but this quickly becomes the freedom do to, “whatever I want.” Freedom is authentic and helps in the construction of a truly human civilization only when reconciled with truth, Pope Benedict said. Separated from the truth, freedom begins to attack the harmony of human beings and becomes the liberty of the strong to abuse the weak. As Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34). If we abuse our freedom, we reduce ourselves to slavery.
Just as children need to trained to choose what is good for them and avoid what is bad, our will needs to be trained to choose what is good and avoid which is destructive. Duns Scotus said that freedom is perfected when man opens himself to God. As Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)