Friday, August 27, 2010

Pope Leo XIII on Freedom

 Cristo Redentor - Rio de Janeiro (Corcovado) [click to enlarge]

This is another article on the writings of Pope Leo XIII. who lived from 1810 to 1903, and was Pope from 1878 until his death in 1903. In his writings he gives us a profound insight into the philosophical movements of the late 19th century. The ideas generated during that time have largely shaped our present day ideological struggles.

The Pope writes about communism, capitalism and even freemasons - all from a Christian perspective. And yes, from a distinctly Catholic point of view. He shares with the world his concerns about these competing ideologies and the impact that they could have on Christianity if left unchecked.

Today I want to focus on the encyclical "Libertas" written in 1888. "Libertas" means "liberty" or it could also be translated as "freedom". Either way we are well acquainted with this idea. From the Statue of Liberty to the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights - Americans love their freedom!

But the Pope's letter is actually a warning of the dangers inherent in too much freedom. It is the old story of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were free to do whatever they wished in this original Paradise, but if they partook of the Tree of Good and Evil then there would be a price to pay. And as it turned out the temptation was too great to resist.

The Pope begins by saying that freedom (liberty) is "the highest of natural endowments". He says this gift from God can be used by Man for "the highest good and the greatest evil". And as such this gift is "cherished by the Catholic Church". He quickly refutes the idea that the Church is "hostile to human liberty" as some have claimed. He insists we must come to fully appreciate "the very idea of freedom".

The Pope reminds us that the Church teaches that we all have "freedom of choice" (free will); that our lives are not pre-determined. So in a real sense we have the power to choose our destinies - to choose between right and wrong. And this is because we are made in the image of God and as such we are able to determine "what is true and good".

But while God has given Man a soul and the ability to reason, Man is not God! God is "infinitely perfect" while Man is imperfect. As a result Man can be easily be tempted by "something which is not really good, but which has the appearance of good".

And now the Pope reminds us of a bit of ancient wisdom, "the wise man alone is free". This sounds like a saying from a fortune cookie. What does it mean? When we foolishly succumb to temptation and become slaves to our desires, we are no longer free! We have lost our self-control and have become possessed by our darkest passions. Jesus says, "Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin." (John 8:34)

So the Pope is telling us that it's really that simple. There is an intimate relationship between freedom and sin. If you want to be free, don't sin. When the Church teaches us not to sin, it is also teaching us how to be free. That's *real* freedom. Don't worry, you still have lots of other choices open to you that don't involve sin. You haven't given anything up, in fact you have opened up new possibilities now that you have freed yourself from sin.

Now, how do we know right from wrong? Well that's easy - just follow the law. But who's law? God's Law!

The Pope tells us that, "Nothing more foolish can be uttered or conceived than the notion that, because man is free by nature, he is therefore exempt from law." Oh, so you thought that being free meant that you could just ignore the law of God? Wr-o-ng! Try again.

And now comes a bit of papal humor, "Were this the case, it would follow that to become free we must be deprived of reason." Pretty funny, huh? Ok, I see you're not laughing, but instead are scratching your head. Alright, let me paint a picture for you. Imagine a 60s hippy high on LSD, dancing wildly, and shouting out, "I'm free! I'm free!" Yes, this is one of the messages that is often repeated like a mantra in today's society, "If you want to free yourself, you have to stop thinking and just let yourself go." In 1888, Pope Leo XIII rejected this notion and even ridiculed it.

Instead he says, "the truth is that we are bound to submit to law precisely because we are free by our very nature." We don't need to become free, we are already free. We were born free. Unlike other animals we have a soul, and we can know right from wrong, and we have the freedom to choose. The lesser animals are not "bound" by God's law. They simply follow their instincts. And in fact you could say that they are slaves to their instincts. They have no choice whether to kill or not to kill.

But we, who are children of God, have a special place in creation. We alone are "bound" by His law. And it's by submitting to His law that we become truly free.

The Pope closes this section by saying, "law is the guide of man's actions; it turns him toward good by its rewards, and deters him from evil by its punishments." Remember this is Divine Law that he is referring to here. Something tells me that our current system of laws has some major flaws, because sometimes it seems we are punished for doing good, and rewarded for doing evil. But I suppose this is to be expected in this earthly world in which we live.

Jesus did not become human to build a earthly paradise; His Kingdom is in Heaven. The Church warns us about those who promise a Utopia on Earth. The worker's paradise of the Soviet Union turned into a living hell for millions; as did also Mao's promise of earthly bliss. Likewise the French Revolution was heaven only for those who reveled in the sight of blood and heads rolling off the guillotine.

I could go on, but I think it is best to leave it here. I've covered only the opening parts of this encyclical. There is so much more in this document about the various freedoms that we take for granted like freedom of religion, speech and the press. In discussing this encyclical I hope I've given you an appreciation for the writings of Pope Leo XIII. (You can find all of his encyclicals here.)


  1. Thank you Baba for sharing Poe Leo XIII words in this two last articles.

    I have to agree once again, real freedom is not in doing whatever desire we have, there has to be an order, god's order.

    For example, many people feel like going to church every Sunday is a chain. Truth is, I need to go for my spirit as a thirsty man needs water to live. Everytime I stop praying and going on my way, I know something is missing.

    Baba, what is your personal opinion about premarital sex?

  2. Hi Ride. The Catholic teaching on premarital sex is that it is a sin. I know this is not what most people want to hear these days. They just want to hear that gay sex is a sin. But from a Catholic perspective any sex outside of marriage is a sin.

    I was actually thinking about writing an article about how the free sex movement came out of the 60s. The idea was to use the songs from Joni Mitchell's Blue album as the basis of the article. You know before that time sex before marriage wasn't not considered socially acceptable. I'm sure it still happened, but it was not done out in the open - at least not by "respectable" people.

    The Church sets a very high bar when it comes to morality. You would need to be a saint to be fully faithful, and even then many saints were sinners before they found their way. By the way, I wrote a piece on Mary Magdalene imagining what her life might have been like, but I decided not to post it because I thought it might be heretical.

    Hey Ride. Have you heard of a writer called Michael D. O'Brien? He wrote a book called "Father Elijah: An Apocalypse" which is supposed to be very good.

    Anyway Ride, I'm not a saint so I'm in no position to judge anyone. I think its important to maintain a high moral standard even if we know that people will not always meet it. The alternative is the immoral soup that we currently find ourselves in. (At least Catholics aren't as radical as Puritans.)

  3. Hello Baba!

    I apologize for not answer before, I was meditating in my many aspects of my life in these days.

    "I think its important to maintain a high moral standard even if we know that people will not always meet it. The alternative is the immoral soup that we currently find ourselves in."

    You may not know this, but those words help me a lot. Once again I agree with you.

    The novel looks very interesting, thank you for the suggestion.

    Baba, what do you think about this:

  4. Hi Ride! I'm really flattered that you find inspiration in the things I say. It's nice to know that I am appreciated and taken seriously. Thanks! It makes me feel all the more that I need to be responsible about the things I write about. Especially since now I am attempting to interpret some of the views of the Catholic Church.

    I was just reading about Stephen Hawking this morning and thinking that I should write an article about that. I was thinking of calling it "Also sprach Stephen Hawking". I've never been a fan of his. I always thought his "a brief history of time" to be an exercise in extreme egotism and pure conjecture. I never bothered reading it because I didn't want my mind polluted with those thoughts.

    Man has throughout history come up with different ways of explaining creation. While it is interesting to ponder on the beginnings of the universe, it is a mystery that I fully accept and I don't require an explanation for. There are numerous scientific theories floating around that don't involve any sort of big bang, and I don't find it intellectually stimulating to try to pick a winner. Any theory is only as good as its assumptions.

    It seems to me that Hawking is using a particular model of the universe to try to attack religion. But for me the very fact that there is a universe is enough to fill me with awe at creation and in God the Creator. In fact the more we learn about the immensity of space and the variety of celestial objects, the more I am filled with awe and wonder. Part of that is the admiration that we are living in such an advanced society that we are able to make these discoveries in the first place.

    I think it is more of a Protestant attribute than a Catholic one to interpret the Bible literally. Catholics have a more complex and mystical interpretation of the Bible. Take for example the Assumption of Mary as well as the Immaculate Conception. These are not tied into physical phenomenon, but are purely spiritual and can only be understood by faith. This is also true of substantiation and the Holy Trinity. Like the universe itself, these are mysteries that the human mind cannot comprehend. (I just checked the Catechism. The section on creation, 337-349, does not give a strict literal interpretation of the six days.)

    Catholics believe that Jesus was at once God and Man. I have begun to think of Jesus as being able to see at once the physical world and the spirit world. And when he speaks he is trying to give us a glimpse of that other world. There is one scene in Luke (chapter 4) that is all spiritual. It is when Jesus is tempted by Satan. This just affirms to me that Jesus was here with us, but could see the "ruler of this world" at the same time. Perhaps Satan tried to pull him out of the physical world back into the spiritual world to destroy his mission, but Jesus rebuked Satan.

    When Satan tempts Jesus by daring him to throw himself from the temple so that the angels will come and lift him up, I think he is reminding Jesus that there will come a time when God will abandon him on the Cross. It reminds me of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help when baby Jesus is shown the cross and he goes running to the safety of Mother Mary's arms. As a man confronted by Satan, He places His trust in His Heavenly Father and replies to Satan, "It also says, 'You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'"

  5. Hi Baba!

    "In fact the more we learn about the immensity of space and the variety of celestial objects, the more I am filled with awe and wonder."

    I completely agree with you, even our own existence, the wonders of the human body and this earth are enough to prove it.

    Today after Mass I went to the library of the church. I think you might like the series of books of saints.

    There are other books that caught my attention, I do not remember the name of one of them, but I do know that is about the apparitions of the Virgin Mary, Especially of Our Lady of Fatima.

    Have you read this book?

    Someone recommended it to me, is about the souls in purgatory. I think is very interesting.

    Finally, I have a question for you. What do you think about the Eye of Providence in Christianity, can it be a graphic representation Holy Spirit? Today my mother noticed and asked me for it, I wonder what role has had Freemasonry in Catholic church.

    As always thank you very much, or in Spanish, "Gracias totales". :)

  6. Ride - You have given me much food for thought. I'll answer in more than one comment, since I don't think I can fit my whole response into just one.

    On saints...
    I have been thinking that the lives of the saints would be great material for Hollywood. We have the technology now to make supernatural events come to life in a realistic way on the movie screen. I was thinking of St. Bernadette who saw Our Lady at Lourdes. She always complained that the paintings and statues of Our Lady never portrayed her full beauty. But imagine if she had been able to describe her vision to a modern movie director working in 3D Imax format. The image could actually be made to float in space in front of the viewer and emanate a holy glow. If the viewer tried to touch this image, his hand would pass through it. (I've experienced this with images in Imax movies. I'm thinking specifically of the floating seeds/"jelly fish" in Avatar.)

    The problem with this is that I wouldn't trust Hollywood to make such a movie. They would use it as an opportunity to spread disinformation and to distort the stories of the saints. We have already seen this in recent years with movies of St. Joan of Arc.

    Maybe the Vatican needs to get into the movie business! In the past the Vatican sponsored the works of arts of the greatest artists of the times. Today the cinema is our greatest, most technologically advanced art form and we need Christian movie directors and producers that will dedicate their art to Christ. This will never happen in Hollywood. The one exception was "The Passion" and we saw what a struggle that was.

    I've watched a variety of shows on EWTN on the lives of saints. Even though the production quality cannot approach that of Hollywood, I find the stories so intriguing that I prefer to watch them to the regular TV programs on other channels. In the 1960s the stories of the saints were rejected as being to full of supernatural elements. Now with the New Age movement, people complain that Christianity does not have enough of a spiritual content. Well that's because the rationalists attempted to strip all the spirituality from Christianity. The lives of the saints are full of spirituality and can demonstrate to contemporary Man that there is no need to turn to exotic religions for spirituality. Everything that they are looking for is right here in the Catholic Church.

  7. Ride - On Maria Simma...
    I had never heard of Maria Simma before you mentioned her here. I found an article that contains an interview with her:
    "The Secret of the Poor Souls in Purgatory"

    When I first started reading it, I proceeded with great caution and skepticism. But there were a few things which rung very true which led me to give her accounts more credibility. One thing that struck me was her statement that souls are more likely to be delivered from purgatory on certain Holy Days:

    Maria Simma: Above all, Christmas Day, All Saints Day, Good Friday, the Feast of the Assumption, and the Ascension of Jesus.

    It turns out that these correspond pretty well with days that the Catholic Church celebrates vigils.

    "In the early ages the evening and night before a feast were spent in prayer, fasting, Scripture-reading, and preaching... besides Holy Saturday, there are 17 vigils: the eves of Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension, Pentecost, Immaculate Conception, Assumption, eight feasts of the Apostles, and feasts of Saint John the Baptist, Saint Lawrence, and All Saints."

    Of course the reason that I bring this up is because it relates to the title of this blog - "Public Vigil". I had no idea of the significance of the term "vigil" to the Catholic Church at the time I named the blog. It was just intended to be a variation on "Vigilant Citizen".

    And of course there is the vigil at the time of a funeral. This is the one that would have the strongest relationship to purgatory. And then there is the idea that we should remain vigilant for the return of Christ.

    In fact in reading the Bible I have been surprised at how often the term "vigilant" appears in the New Testament. And of course there is the prayer vigil that Christ maintains on the night before his betrayal. He commands his disciple to "keep watch" (maintain a vigil) but returns to find them fast asleep. (Mark 14:32-42)


    I came across a particular Marian apparition that happened in Garabandal, Spain in 1961-1965.

    I haven't written about it here because it has not received full approval of the Church. At the same time it has not been condemned and has received some measure of approval by the local bishop. The message seems to have some relationship to the priestly sex abuse scandal which could make it fodder for anti-Catholics.

    A couple of striking things about the apparition that make it resonate with me are that the girls saw St. Michael as well as the Virgin. I have written about St. Michael in the past. And in addition there is a website which is dedicated to Garabandal and the name of their magazine is "The Vigil".

    What do you think? Should I write an article about Garabandal? There is a message that was received that warns of a great catastrophe.

  8. Ride - On Eye of Providence...

    Strange that you should mention this because I came across this recently as a Christian symbol. I tend to think of this as a Freemason symbol.

    The only thing I can tell you is that the Church can and does adopt pagan symbols and changes their meanings. Similar to the way in which sinners can be converted to Christianity, so also can these symbols be converted. In reference to the Eye of Providence however, this symbol is much more closely associated with Freemasonry now.

    Freemasonry has been consistently repudiated by the Catholic Church. In fact Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical specifically condemning it in 1884:
    HUMANUM GENUS (on Freemasonry)

    "At this period, however, the partisans of evil seems to be combining together, and to be struggling with united vehemence, led on or assisted by that strongly organized and widespread association called the Freemasons. No longer making any secret of their purposes, they are now boldly rising up against God Himself. They are planning the destruction of holy Church publicly and openly..."

    Also in 1983 Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) explicitly reiterated the Church's position that a Catholic is forbidden from becoming a Freemason:

    "Therefore the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enrol in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion."

    By the way, are you Argentinian? I never heard the expression "Gracias totales" before, but it seems to be something Argentinians say. You don't have to answer that. :) ¡Ciao, che!

  9. Hi Baba!

    I think that the lives of the saints would be great in Hollywood, but as you said, it would serve to misinform the public. Paintings are a good way to portray the sacred, which has been forgotten in contemporary art.

    It is interesting that you mention the concept of "Vigil", I had not thought of it before. About souls, it is important to pray and celebrate masses begging for their salvation, that is part of charity.

    Thanks for the link of the Marian apparition at Garabandal, it would be definitely a very interesting article as usual. Our Lady of Guadalupe personally intrigues me.

    During this time I learned a little more of the Virgin Mary, it's easier to understand her nature and importance when is compared to the concept of motherhood.

    "Gracias totales" is a phrase that Gustavo Cerati used in a farewell concert of Soda Stereo. Although, I am not from Argentina, this phrase is well known in South America. I'm surprised you've noticed this expression. I'm Colombian and I have lived in the United States for a couple of years.

    Baba, what kind of music do you listen currently or do you like the most? :)

  10. Lately, I mostly listen to music that is dedicated directly to the Church. You mention Mary, so I can recommend the CD "O Holy Mary". I listen to it in my car and it helps to keep me calm by reflecting on Mary's devotion to God.

    It is choir music and so I know that it is not for everyone. At the same site, you can find other music - including some in Spanish. This is a Catholic site.

    I've mostly stopped listening to other music. I try to imagine what "spirit" it is that has inspired the music. If it isn't the Holy Spirit, then I'm not very attracted to it. I used to listen to all kinds of music. For a while I had been getting bored with the old rock music of my youth. But now when I revisit that "old time rock 'n roll" I can hear the voice of secularism, enticing me to reject my faith.

    Even the old romantic songs seem to be a call to exchange the love of God for earthly love. And from romantic love it devolved into explicit sexual love, and from sexual love into sex without love at all.

    I've actually begun to treasure silence, and the space it provides to be able to think clearly and to turn my thoughts to listening to the Holy Spirit. But you know the Church teaches us to love our bodies as well, so I hope at some point I will regain my passion for music.

    I've been to Colombia and I know that people there love Hector LaVoe, so here is a video I think you'll enjoy of Todopoderoso (Almighty) by the "patron saint" of salseros.

    P.S. Tomorrow (Sun 9PM) is the MTV music awards. I'll probably watch it just in order to monitor the latest ideas that are being pushed onto young people.

  11. Baba, I would lie if I say that I only listen to Christian music. Truth is I listen almost all kinds of music.

    However, I like the singing choir and the organ in Church. I sang for a half year every Sunday, it's an experience that is beyond words. Sacred music reaches your soul and praises God.

    Silence is necessary to listen to yourself. I remember there were times that I turned on the TV or my music just to hear a sound, in some way that would make me feel less alone. But that was an escape, what I really needed was to figure out what was missing in my life, not covering up as I did.

    My relationship with music has changed a lot in the last year. I gave up to certain bands and music styles that are technically good, but bad for my soul. One example of that is "Therion"; I was very attracted to the vocal arrangements, but it was too dense for me. When I found out their heavy occultism roots, I couldn't listen to them anymore. It’s too dark, too... evil.

    Baba, can you give your opinion of this song? I would appreciate it. :)

    I respect a lot Hector LaVoe, I know little about Salsa but I know he is a great musician. Marc Anthony is a great singer too; I think he married Jennifer Lopez. Thank you a lot for the songs.

    I can only expect the worst from MTV, they are not even trying to hide it. Music is shallow most of the time and promotes an earthly life of sin. This time I’m not going to watch it. That would give them more rating.

    PS: Do you remember that I asked you before about pre-marital sex? Well, I was surprised that the Jonas Brothers, a product of Disney had purity rings.
    Recently Kevin Jonas claimed that sex not worth the wait. I guess that is their real message to young people.

    PSS: How was your experience in Colombia? :)

  12. Hi Ride. I took a quick look at that song. I didn't like it. The singer used to be with a group called "Helloween". That sounds like it has occult influences for sure. Sorry.

    I know about the Jonas Brothers purity rings. I think that is good. I just hope that they are truly sincere about it.

    As for Colombia. I think the people are wonderful. It just too bad that the country has not been able to find the kind of leadership it needs to truly prosper. The people of Colombia deserve much better.

    P.S. The MTV Music awards are starting now. I'm recording it and will probably watch it tomorrow.