The Divine Comedy: XIII. Free Will and God’s Will

The host of myriad glowing souls
Myriad Glowing Souls by Gustave Doré

The essence of this blessed life consists
in keeping to the boundaries of God’s will,
through which our wills become one single will;
so that, as we are ranged from step to step
throughout this kingdom, all this kingdom wills
that which will please the King whose will is rule.
And in His will there is our peace: that sea
to which all beings move-the beings He
creates or nature makes-such is His will.
Paradiso Canto III lines 79-87

While reading this passage, it dawned on me that Kant’s Categorical Imperative, i.e. “Act only on that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”, would be fitting for God, but not for man, for the simple reason that the former is omniscient whereas the latter is not.

An individual’s knowledge and understanding are extremely limited, so it would be unwise to enact universal laws based on his own understanding. In addition, what applies to his specific circumstances may not apply to other people, and what is good for him may be bad for them. But God is not bound by these limitations. Being omniscient, His knowledge and understanding are perfect; Being One, His will is in perfect unity with His understanding, i.e., His will is perfect; Being a faithful Creator, He knows and wills what is good for all the beings He creates, from the smallest to the greatest. The creation cannot reach a higher state of blessedness than that of being in uniformity with His will. Hence the Lord’s Prayer, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

An objection has often been raised that being subject to God’s Will destroys free will and reduces man to slavery. The short answer is this: if we accept the belief that God is the Creator of the universe, and that man has free will, then it follows that free will exists because of God’s will, who created man in His Image, that is Free. God’s Will is the cause that all the living beings are alive and free.

To address that objection fully, however, we need an in-depth understanding of the nature of freedom. But how can anyone demonstrate what freedom is without having experienced or exercised it? It would be as if someone who never loved tried to explain what love was. Perhaps that’s why I’ve come across in my reading very few insights into the nature of freedom. Nevertheless, it’s expedient to have a working definition for the sake of discussion.

Freedom is the state of being, or ability to act, in accord with reason, without external constraints.

According to Kant, the will of the Supreme Being is always in accord with Reason, therefore His Will is in deed and in truth free, whereas the will of man is often hindered by desires, passions and the necessities of his physical existence, and therefore not absolutely free.

From a Christian perspective, the fallen man is not free, because he is a slave of sin, who cannot refrain from sinning. Much like an addict, he loathes himself when he sins, but he cannot deliver himself from sin. In a sense, Dante’s Inferno is the world we live in, as anyone with some self-knowledge could see himself engulfed in one of the fiery circles. Christ came into this world to set the slaves free. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

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