Fulton Sheen - The Annunciation: When Freedom and Love Were One

Updated: May 30, 2020

The modern age, which gives primacy to sex, justifies promiscuity and divorce on the grounds that love is by its nature free—which, indeed, it is. All love is free love, in a certain sense. To be devoid of love is of the essence of hell. Scripture tells us: “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor 3:17). The ideal life is fulfilled—not in subjection to an absolute law but in the discriminating response of an educated affection.

The formula that love is free is right. The interpretation of this can often be wrong. Those husbands who leave one wife for another may justify their infidelity on the grounds that “one must be free to live his own life.” No oneis ever selfish or voluptuous without covering up his demands with a similar parade of ideals. Behind many contemporary affirmations of the freedom of love is a false rationalization, for although love involves freedom, not all freedom involves love. I cannot love unless I am free, but, because I am free, still I may not love as I please. A man can have freedom without love—for example, he who violates another is free in his action when there is no one around to restrain him—yet he certainly has no love. A robber is free to ransack a house when the owners are away, but it is absurd to say that he loves the owners because he is free to steal. The purest liberty is that which is given, not that which is taken.

What many moderns mean by freedom in love is freedom from something without being free for anything. True love wants to be free from something for something. A young man wants to be free from the parental yoke—that he may love someone besides his parents and thus prolong his life. Freedom of love is, therefore, inseparable from service, from altruism and goodness. The press wants freedom from restraint in order to be free to express truth; a man wants to be free from political tyranny in order to work out his own prosperity for him here below and for his destiny in the life hereafter. Love demands freedom from one thing in order to place itself freely at the service of another. When a man falls in love, he seeks the sweet servitude of affection and devotion to another. When a man falls in love with God, he immediately goes out in search of a neighbor. But to be utterly free from all restraint, a man would have to be alone; but then he would have no one to love. This is precisely the ideal of Sartre, who says: “Others are hell.” The basis of his philosophy is that anything restraining the ego is nothing. But every other man, and every other thing, restrains the ego—therefore, they are nothing. Truly, indeed, if a man sets out to be free in the sense of living life only on his own terms, he finds himself in the nihilism of hell. Sartre forgets that to fall in love means to fall into something, and that something is responsibility. Thus, the same love that demands freedom to exercise itself also seeks the curbs to limit it. The liberty of love, therefore, is not license. Freedom implies not just a mere choice but also responsibility for choice.

There are three definitions of freedom: two of them are false, and one is true. The first false definition is “Freedom is the right to do whatever I please.” This is the liberal doctrine of freedom, which reduces freedom to a physical, rather than to a moral, power. Of course we are free to do whatever we please: for example, we can turn a machine gun on our neighbor’s chickens, or drive an automobile on the sidewalk, or stuff a neighbor’s mattress with used razor blades—but ought we to do these things? This kind of freedom, in which everyone is allowed to seek his own benefit, produces confusion. There is no liberalism of this particular kind without a world of conflicting egotisms, where no one is willing to submerge himself for the common good. In order to overcome this confusion of everyone’s doing whatever he pleases, there arose the second false definition of freedom, namely, “Freedom is the right to do whatever you must.” This is totalitarian freedom, which was developed in order to destroy individual freedom for the sake of society. Engels, who with Marx wrote the Philosophy of Communism, said: “A stone is free to fall because it must obey the law of gravitation.” So man is free in Communist society because he must obey the law of the dictator.

The true concept of freedom is “Freedom is the right to do whatever we ought,” and ought implies goal, purpose, morality, and the law of God. True freedom is within the law, not outside it. I am free to draw a triangle, if I give it three sides, but not, in a stroke of broad-mindedness, fifty-seven sides. I am free to fly on condition that I obey the law of aeronautics. In the spiritual realm, I am also most free when I obey the law of God.

In order to escape the implications of freedom (namely, its involvement in responsibility), there are those who would deny individual freedom either communally (as do the Communists) or biologically (as do some Freudians). Any civilization that denies free will is, generally, a civilization that is already disgusted with the choices of its freedom, because it has brought unhappiness upon itself. Those who make the theoretical denial of free will are those who, in practice, confuse freedom by identifying it with license. One will never find a professor who denies freedom of the will who does not also have something in his life for which he wishes to shake off responsibility. He disowns the evil by disowning that which made evil possible, namely, free will. On the golf course, such deniers of freedom blame the golf clubs but never the