Skip to comments.Freedom as a Christian - ancient and modern
Posted on 11/17/2006 4:23:10 PM PST by sionnsar
Freedom is a word often used in the West and especially in the U.S.A. and by its President! But while there is one word "freedom" there are many meanings and context helps to decide meaning.
Those who created the Episcopal 1979 prayer book, coming out of the 1960s with its emphasis on personal freedom, over-used the word "free." For example, they made the Benedictus from Luke 1:68-79 begin by saying that God "has come to his people and set them free" and the Nunc Dimittis from Luke 2:29-32 begin, "Lord, you now have set your servant free." And in its An Outline of the Faith (p.845) to be created in God's image is said to mean that "we are free to make choices..." (there is no bondage of the will here!).
In a Collect that is prayed each morning by thousands of traditional Anglicans, it is said of God not only that he is the author of peace but also that serving him is perfect freedom. The exact clause is: "whose service is perfect freedom."
For many modern Anglicans to say that the service of God is freedom is to say that God wills and desires that each of us thinks and behaves as a free person- free from inhibitions, cultural restrictions, complexes, codes, taboos, and traditions and free to love and care for others, to enjoy the world and to be true to our own orientation and vocation.
This modern notion of freedom, built into much modern preaching and liturgies, strongly contrasts with what the Christians of the fifth century and then of the sixteenth believed Christian freedom to be, as we shall see. And, as a study of Galatians would clearly reveal, the modern notion is very different from that held by the Apostle to the Gentiles.
The words "whose service is perfect freedom" are an excellent though a free translation of a clause in the original Latin Prayer which dates from the late patristic period. The clause is: cui servire, regnare est. And this literally comes out as, "to whom to be in subjection is to reign," meaning that to live in subjection to God is actually to reign with and for God both in this world and that world which is to come.
For the apostles, for the Christian leaders of the fifth century (when the Collect was written) and for the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century (when the Collect was translated) to be subject to God as the King and to serve him as the Lord is man's truest nobility. It is what man was designed and created for by the Holy Trinity, for God is enjoyed and glorified by man when he is gratefully and humbly served by man.
What the original Latin makes clear is that, by being submitted to God and his will as a disciple of Jesus Christ, a Christian reigns with Jesus, Son of God, the King of kings, as a king-that is, as a king under the supreme King, now able to rule over his own unruly will and affections and to place the lusts of his heart and all evil thoughts and desires under his feet (making them, as it were, do homage to him). In other words, freedom is having such control over one's mind, heart, will and body that one is able joyfully to do the Master's bidding. Freedom is to participate in the righteous and holy reign of Jesus Christ over human lives.
What the free translation of the Latin points to actually adds to the truth conveyed by the Latin literally translated. It makes the point that a disciple of Jesus is truly free when he is wholly committed and consecrated to the will of the Lord. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me", says Jesus, "for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt. 11:29). And St Paul wrote: "But now that you have been set free from sin and have becomes slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life" (Rom. 6:22).
The consecrated serving of God the Father by following the Lord Jesus Christ daily is perfect freedom because it is rendered by the Christian disciple from love and gratitude for forgiveness and cleansing of sins already bestowed upon him by the grace of God. The human conscience has been set free from guilt for sin and is no longer in fear of the justice and punishment of God; and thus the mind and heart, having a sweet sense of acceptance, because of the reconciliation with God brought through the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ in his Cross and Resurrection, are free to enjoy doing God's will.
In this biblical and traditional approach to freedom, there are no claims of rights before God by us and no claims to special privilege. He is the Creator and Judge and he knows what is truly best for the fulfillment and happiness of his creatures, made in his image and after his likeness. Lord, to serve thee as thy servant is perfect freedom!
O God the Father, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And here is a prayer, literally translated from the Latin, which is Augustinian though probably not from Augustine himself.
O God, whom to know is to live, to serve whom is to reign, and to praise whom is the health and joy of the soul; thee with my lips and my heart, and with all the might I have, do I praise, bless and adore; through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
---The Rev. Dr. Peter Toon is President of the Prayer Book Society, USA:
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