Most of us know that the definition of Free Will is the power or ability of the human mind to choose a course of action or make a decision without restraints imposed by Divine Intervention. But the belief that Free Will is not given freely but is rather the result of pre-ordination has caused considerable debate for centuries. If a person is without true Free Will, he could not be responsible for his or her actions. Calvinism rejects the role of Free Will, maintaining that God foreordains certain souls to damnation. There are those who find it difficult to believe we have Free Will if God knows in advance what choices we will make. St Thomas Aquinas tells in his writings that God’s omnipotence does not include the predetermination of human will. Some will argue if God already knows what roads we will choose, our will ceases to be free. The belief that Free Will is not given but is the result of pre-ordination causes strong dispute even today. CatholicvView is honored to have Fr Amaro Saumell address the issue of How Free is Free Will with God’s Foreknowledge
Fr Amaro began his religious education at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, later attending St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California for his graduate work. A late vocation priest, he brings to the priesthood his love of life and a wealth of creativity (visit his website at Fr Amaro’s Home Page ). In July of 1992, Father Amaro was ordained to the priesthood and is the pastor of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Church in Crestline, California.
CatholicView: Father Amaro, “The Free Will” Christians proclaim given by God is the ability to think and do what we wish. What are your thoughts on this issue?
Father Amaro: You know, one of the first heresies in the church was similar. Its belief was that once you accepted Jesus, His sacrifice covered all your sins so you could do as you please. The more one thinks about this, the more ludicrous it becomes. To be a Christian is to know a continuing state of conversion. The whole concept of using our free will is to use the gift of discernment to know good from evil. We have the ability to participate with good or the absence of it (evil). Yet, our free will is impeded with the inherited effects of original sin and must find conversion through our actions. We make conscious changes in our lives. We can also make conscious changes in our thoughts. We can choose to be perfected or infect ourselves with deeper imperfections. We often forget that we have a head start by God’s teachings. Those commandments weren’t given to us to merely “boss us around.” All of God’s commandments could be known as the “Ten Protections.” It is through our own will that we participate with the protection of ourselves and others.
CatholicView: Does God pre-ordain what our choices will be and if so can we change this in any way?
Fr Amaro: First we have to understand just what we mean by “pre-ordain” in the context of “predestination”. God’s providential care is just that…provided. Yet, just like any gift, we have to act to receive it. In other words, God has a plan for all creation. We have the choice and free will to cooperate and be part of that plan or not to. This doesn’t mean that our lives will be perfect here if we do. There are many who choose not to cooperate with His Will or simply choose not to. We live socially with all and we “suffer” or persevere through all of this with hope. Our hope is extended to the practice of witnessing the faith so that others will know the confidence and joy that we have. Again, this doesn’t mean it will be easy. It is why we say “protect us from all anxieties” in the Mass. It’s no accident that we say this with the Lord’s Prayer just before the Sign of Peace.
CatholicView: If God knows the outcome of our every action, why doesn’t He intervene so that we choose wisely?
Fr Amaro: We really need to understand a little metaphysics to really grasp this. We lie in creation. Creation is part and parcel of the environment that we call time and space. God created time and space. He is not confined to it (this will give you a headache if you think about it long enough). When we speak even in scripture of days or hours or moments, we only do it analogously because God’s “day” is not a time warp or measurable by our conceptions of such things. Those terms are used to give us a miniscule concept of His accomplishment. When God creates, He eternally knows the result. We are the ones who exist solely in time and space. We are discovering who we can be through our participation with what He provided. We know the judgment (not to be confused with “sentencing”) or result of our continued imperfection and that is “death”. God knows that some do not participate with what He has provided. He also knows the conversion of those who do. Through His Word God revealed Himself. That was His full intervention. He continues to intervene through those who participate with His plan. That’s us!
CatholicView: For example, Jesus knew Judas would betray Him. Some say then that Judas could not help himself if Jesus knew he would be the betrayer. That he was chosen for this purpose makes him a victim of circumstance. Will God then punish him by denying him eternal life?
Knowing that Judas would betray is far from “God making him do it”. Judas only encompassed us all in his decision. Remember, all the Apostles betrayed Christ in one way or another. They were just hopeful enough to stick around to receive forgiveness. Judas made a choice. God knows from His eternal place what we are just discovering as far as our actions are concerned. Judas was a victim of himself and his choices. His greatest sin was not so much what he did to Jesus as was his despair afterwards. Again…if he had only learned from Jesus…if he had only chosen to do so. But no, he “gave up”. He despaired. If he had only chosen hope rather than despair, he could have asked for forgiveness. In other words, he had chosen by his own will not to learn. Punishment is not so much what God does to us. It is what we choose.
CatholicView: Fr Amaro, is not God Himself responsible for what we do if He knows what choices we will make?
Fr Amaro: Not at all. He has opened every door. Even if we should suffer martyrdom in this life, we know that it is a small price to pay when compared to eternal life and glory we shall see. Too often we confine our lives to a now of time and space. If we are living the kingdom, we’ve already started our eternal walk with Him. Even our choices are uneducated in many circumstances, we learn from them and continue our conversion process. We learn to appreciate more and more what God has in store for us when we are free from our imperfections.
CatholicView: If God created us with full knowledge of each action we will take, does this knowledge take away our Free Will?
Fr Amaro: No. Again look at the metaphysical reality of all of this. God has full knowledge but He left the choice to us. Remember the “time and space” concept.
CatholicView: Fr Amaro, would you say that God determines our choices if only through conscience?
Fr Amaro: We are the ones who determine our choices. God has provided the initial environment. We have added to it through our virtue or vice as a social people. How we act in that environment is by our own choice. Remember, predestination is provided for us. We have the choice to participate or not.
CatholicView: Some say our actions are also determined by our backgrounds. How does this figure in the scheme of Free Will?
Fr Amaro: There is some truth to that. However, we can’t use it as a cop out. We have the choice and opportunity to always improve on what we’ve experienced. Often we do not use those gifts of the Holy Spirit that we speak about through our Sacrament of Confirmation. We can be like the person who is abused by an adult and then marries an abusive person because that’s what we’re accustomed to or we can look for something new or find something different. We do have a choice.
Before I was a priest, I was a nightclub entertainer. I remember how I used to cringe every time someone would request the song “Feelings”. Yes, it is psychologically unhealthy to deny feelings. They are perfectly human. But we act on our ability to think! It is sometimes difficult to understand this the way people speak today. “I feel this way…” Feelings come and go and are unreliable for growth. Change takes a decision. Thoughts and convictions are a lot more stable. Although we might have a response of feelings in a given situation, we rise above those feelings and use our heads. It is then that we respond with a real understanding of growth and forgiveness. People act on what they know. If they know only feelings, they reduce who they are as human beings to that of the animal mentality.
This is not to say that the knowledge provided by our backgrounds is fully functional. We are in a constant state of growth. Our knowledge increases every day. We willfully act on that knowledge and our interest in learning more.
CatholicView: If a person turns down salvation, is he exercising Free Will?
Fr Amaro: We do have that choice. It’s sort of like getting married. It isn’t valid if one does not freely choose to do it. Of course, if we as Christians haven’t given the proper witness, then the person really isn’t turning down salvation, is he? Sometimes we don’t really give the proper information by the way we live. How could one turn down what he hasn’t seen?
CatholicView: Father, would you agree that God Who is all good and all knowing could not pre-ordain a sinful action but that action is a result of Free Will? http://catholicvu.com/clip_image006.jpg Fr Amaro: Right. God doesn’t pre-ordain sin. Sin is a result of our choice away from the goodness of what He has provided. God has provided all things. For example, we can use electricity to give quality of life or to actually take life. God pre-ordained the goodness of all creation. If we misuse it, it is our responsibility.
CatholicView: Do you agree that if Free Will is pre-determined, we are living without an essence or true freedom, in a sense a non-person?
Fr Amaro: That is why our will is not determined. We have freedom to actually use our will.
CatholicView: Can one say with certainty that God predicts the future but does not create it?
Fr Amaro: Again, prediction means that someone is confined to time and space and projects the future. God is not confined to past or future. He created it.
CatholicView: Fr Amaro, if we are debating the issue of Free Will aren’t we then committing ourselves to believing in it since we have the Free Will to do so?
Fr Amaro: In a word, yes. We can choose to believe something we don’t understand. We don’t understand God completely. He is a mystery to us. But let’s be careful about that word too! I actually left the Church over that word at one time in my life. I thought it meant “secret”. Mystery means simply “something that has yet to be fully revealed”. If you read Sherlock Holmes the first time, it is a mystery. If you read it again, it’s a story. If you read it again, it’s probably boring. God will eternally reveal Himself to us. That doesn’t mean that we do not choose to believe because we don’t know everything about Him. One cannot really deny a concept he or she has already formed. For then he or she denies his own ability to think. CatholicView: It says in the bible that those who are saved are already written in the Book of Life. We Christian Catholics believe that. Can you explain how this is Free Will?
Fr Amaro: Not to be redundant, but again, we’re speaking about something beyond time and space.
CatholicView: Does denial of a person’s ability to decide a course of action negate the possibility of moral judgment upon man?
Fr Amaro: The denial of a person’s ability to decide reduces a person to the level of the animals. We have a rational soul that can absorb information, consider it, and act upon it. That is where morality comes in. No other creature in creation can make moral judgments and decisions. To become less than human by not using this ability insults and rejects not only our nature, but also the source of the creation of that nature in us.
CatholicView: Fr Amaro, it has been a privilege and a pleasure to spend this time with you. The question of Free Will has been a source of much speculation through the ages and I believe you have significantly reduced most of our questions on this timeless issue. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.