FOR EARLY NOVEMBER
The Human Will and Freedom
“Consider the will,” St Augustine said
(City of God, XIV, 11.):
“Its choice is truly free only when it is
not a slave to sin and vice. God created the human
being with such a free will, but, when that freedom
had been lost by Adam’s fall from freedom, the
only One who could give that freedom back was the
One who had the power to give it. So Truth tells us
this: ‘If the Son makes you free, you will be
really free’ (John 8:36) He might also have
said just as well, ‘If the Son saves you, you
will really be saved.’” …
Eden was both a material and a spiritual paradise,
“but the joy of Eden did not last long, because
of the proud, and, therefore, envious spirit who fell
from Heaven’s paradise when his pride caused
him to turn away from God to himself instead, and
to the pleasures and pomp of tyranny, preferring to
reign over his own subjects than to subject himself
to God. I speak of his downfall and that of his companions,
former angels of God who became the angels of this
How very much that all sounds like what Augustine
so often says!
Christ, the Son of God – God, the Creator
come to earth; Christ, the One who will lead us back
to God, Christ who saves us and sets us free.
And pride, the destroyer.
Pride and Arrogance
Pride: for Augustine that’s the very root of
sin, its cause and its power. Not the kind of pride
that makes us happy to do a good job; not the kind
of pride that knows God has made us “very, very
good.” Not the kind of pride that can say, with
the old bumper-sticker: “I must be worth somethin’,
‘cause God don’t make junk.” Those
attitudes in fact, seem more like what Augustine calls
humility! Those attitudes are really truth spilling
over into gratitude – like “boasting in
the Lord” (I Cor 1:31).
“Arrogance” is the word some use to translate
the horrible pride that Augustine speaks of here.
It may, of course, start with something true –
Lucifer was indeed a glorious being – but it
ends not in gratitude to God but in exclusive glorification
of oneself. Consider this: Mary was a glorious being,
too – the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, I mean,
of course. Her response, however? “My soul proclaims
the greatness of the Lord…!”
“Arrogance” basically means “arrogating”
– unjustly taking – all good things to
oneself. It means forgetting that we have not made
ourselves, that others – and the Other –
had a hand in making us what we are.
Augustine is very conscious of the fact that he needs
God’s grace to move in a positive direction.
Even outside the realm of religion and theology, we
can see that human beings mess things up when they
set themselves up as the supreme arbiter of all things.
It’s easy to see across history that people
who think they are God cause many, many ills in the
Come back to the thought of the City of God: It’s
easy to see how such a problem can exist among earthly
societies and governments. Remember, too, though,
that Augustine feared that holding a position of authority
in the Church could lead to the same kind of sinful
pride or arrogance. He prayed God would keep him from
The Great and the Lowly
Of course, you don’t have to be in an important
position in the Church or in civil society to be tempted
to arrogance. And you don’t have to be in the
lowest ranks to be good, grateful, and humble.
November begins with the celebration of All Saints,
including the lowly and anonymous. In the middle we
honor people who have given their lives for our freedom.
At the end we gather together in thanksgiving. As
December begins we celebrate the great goodness God
created in Mary. In mid-December we honor a man who
is almost the definition of the lowly and humble,
Juan Diego of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Maybe we need that – maybe all of that is just
a way of getting us ready to celebrate the coming
of God in the lowliness of Bethlehem’s manger.