The nature of free will

I just got off the phone with Dr. Scott Hahn a few minutes ago. I had called him up to discuss some ideas in his book Reasons to Believe, which I had reviewed a few days ago on this website. We started discussing salvation history (particularly the priestly kingship of Adam), jumped over to the idea of natural evil as understood by David Bentley Hart (whose book The Doors of the Sea I also once reviewed), got into discussion of Maximus the Confessor how parallels between his ideas and those of Cardinal Ouellet, and then rounded it off with a good discussion of ecclesiology. Whew! It was...exhilarating!

One key part of our discussion had to do with the exact nature of the sin of Adam and Eve, and just how free they would have had to be truly capable of whatever sin it was that they committed. Dr. Hahn made a passing reference to the monothelite heresy, and just how deadly it was to a Christian understanding of salvation. I could not agree more.

Just what was the monothelite heresy? It taught that while Christ had two natures, a divine nature and a human nature, he only had one will. In some ways, the argument makes sense. After all, if Christ had two wills, a divine will and a human will, doesn't that mean that he could have, at some point, made contradictory decisions? For many, it seemed that the only way Christ would possess unity in his action is if he had only one will (obviously, the divine one).

And I teach my students, if monothelitism is correct, it implies that human free will is actually a kind of disease. Having free will would actually be a kind of defect present in human nature that can never be truly elevated within the context of our divine adoption in God. Indeed, it would imply that human beings aren't really capable of true moral goodness. After all, if Christ must exclude having a human will as part of his moral perfection, it implies that human free will never be capable of truly perfect love, *even if aided by grace*. In other words, according to monothelitism, all human love is somehow necessarily counterfeit.


What is worse, since Love is the very essence of the divine nature, it implies that we can't ever *really* possess the indwelling of the Trinity in our souls, and we'll never *really* be capable of participating in the divine nature when we are in Heaven. The best we'll ever get is a kind of natural goodness, a kind of eternal "consumer love", rather than a real participation in the total self-giving sacrificial love with which God loves us (and which was shown to us in Christ on the cross).

Double-yuck. Personally, I want the glory! And, happily for me (and all of us), God wants it for us. For the Church rejected monothelitism as a false vision of Christ's nature. Jesus had a divine will, but he also had a human will. In this way we catch a glimpse of what it means to truly be free. Real freedom is the capacity to act in the most loving way possible, all the time. The divine will only ever points to that, and by having a human will Jesus also shows us that we humans are not automatically cut off from being able to act in the most loving way possible as well. Oh, it sure isn't easy: that's why we say that saints lived lives of "heroic virtue".

Yes, my friends, Christianity is a religion for people who want to be heroes! But what is amazing is that this teaching of the Church actually means that, even in what appear to be just the simplest things, we can already live true heroism. Stuff as simple as telling the truth, staying faithful to your spouse, being moderate in your diet, not getting envious when good things happen to others, keeping your temper, and so on, are elevated to the status of true acts of worship of God.


And that means one last thing: that holiness of life is for EVERYBODY. Not just for the nuns in the convents and the priests in the pulpits. If any life situation can be lived heroically, then we have a great opportunity — but also a great challenge. For if we can, in theory, love perfectly, then why don't we?

Time to put our human will in Christ's divine will! Amen!