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 Post subject: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 8:31 am 
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FOUNDATION: I am in a discussion with an Orthodox priest. As an Orthodox, he denies the necessity of the Immaculate Conception.

MY PREMISE: My argument is that man does not have a completely free-will. Because of the corruption of our nature, our "default setting," as it were, is to always choose sin over following God. We are free to make choices, but not to make the right choices. (I think this may be Augustine's premise)

MY ARGUMENT 1: Just to toss a fly in the ointment - is there really anything such as "free-will?" I would say that the best we have is a limited free-will, that is, while we are not bound to do evil and "totally depraved" (as Calvinists say) we nonetheless cannot really be considered free. Here's why:

1. True freedom would consist of not having a sin-corrupted nature which leads us so easily to make wrong and evil choices. The only way we could be said to have "free-will" would be if we were not affected by sin.

2. Furthermore, to make a free-will "choice," we would have to have a complete picture of both of the choices. In other words, we would have to know exactly what it was that we were choosing (such as sin and the ultimate consequences of our choices) and God (and the beauty of His love for us). Not being able to see either one of these clearly, we can only make decisions which are foundationally conditioned by our fallen state (See # 1)

3. Then there is the issue of being deceived, that is, of having malevolent spirits working constantly to convince us that sinful actions are really in our best interest and good for us (such as drunkenness, fornication, drug usage, greed for as much money as we can get, etc.) How can it be said that we have a free-will choice when we have unseen spirits putting deceptive thoughts in our heads? Again, refer to #1. Our sinful and corrupt natures more than easily default to the sinful choice. That is not free-will.

4. Can we make a choice for God's good things when so many Christians around us give us such a horrid example of the Christian faith, especially those in authority? It was such wretched examples of Christian living that for decades kept me from examining the Catholic faith or anything like it (Orthodoxy).

No....we are not "free." Only God is free.


ARGUMENT 2: St. Paul speaks about the "old man," who is within us, and urges us to put him away. I must think that he (the old man) is that sin-nature within that longs for sin and eagerly turns to it, the man we must "put off" and instead "put on" the new man in Christ.

But before we are saved, we cannot even do that, for no help from the Holy Spirit is available to those who are not baptized into Christ. Thus, the natural man is at a great disadvantage from the start. His sin nature does not want to hear the Gospel, he will, except by the grace of God, reject it outright, and even the baptized Christian must fight this inner enemy all the days of his life.

Jesus said that our enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil. With such a formidable array stacked against us, deceiving us in the many decisions we have to make - how can one possibly be said to be 100% free?

Free-will, yes! 100% free? Don't see it.

RESPONSE 1:The problem is the Mother of God disproves the whole argument. her will is just as naturally free as ours today. just because it's harder to choose the good, that doesn't mean we don't have free will. And again, the Fathers are very clear that we have a free will, and that God perfectly respects our freedom.

QUESTION FOR THIS BOARD: My understanding of Pelagianism is that without the aid of the Holy Spirit - no man or woman, born in the natural order, will decide for Christ because of the corruption of our nature. I'm probably dead-wrong here (I make a habit of being so it seems) but to say that the Mother of God was born in the natural manner and of her own choice, made freely, obeyed God in such a manner as to become the Vessel for the Savior, the Ark of the New Covenant, seems like Pelagianism to me.

Please show me where I am wrong and what I am missing.


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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 8:42 am 
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Your definition of "free" has problems. You're not alone in this, BTW.

But in any case, Mary is not simply set adrift to choose or not, as she sees fit. She is given the graces that bring about her choice.

For a further fly in the ointment, she didn't have to be immaculately conceived to make the choice she did.

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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 8:58 am 
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Obi-Wan Kenobi wrote:
Your definition of "free" has problems. You're not alone in this, BTW.

But in any case, Mary is not simply set adrift to choose or not, as she sees fit. She is given the graces that bring about her choice.

For a further fly in the ointment, she didn't have to be immaculately conceived to make the choice she did.


Can you elaborate on the definition of free and show me wherein my problems lie? Thank you for responding, Father.


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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 9:33 am 
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It might not be until tomorrow. Busy day today.

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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 9:44 am 
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Light of the East wrote:
. As an Orthodox, he denies the necessity of the Immaculate Conception.

.



Catholics also deny the necessity of the Immaculate Conception, if you think it was necessary, you are simply wrong. The argument has never been that the Immaculate Conception is 'necessary', but only that it is 'appropriate'. The argument is not that God had no choice in the matter because Mary logically had to be Immaculately conceived, the argument rather is that God did it because he wanted to, period. The traditional argument is 'it is possible that God could have done it, it would be appropriate that he do it, therefore he did it.' No necessity of any kind is implied.

The prophet Jeremiah was purified from all sin while in the womb, see Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations". The prophet Isaiah was purified of all sin before he was called as a prophet, see Isaiah chapter 6. So, if it was appropriate that mere prophets be purified of all sin in order to fulfill their mission, then how much more appropriate would it be that the Mother of God be free of all sin? And since her office was higher, she received a much greater grace.


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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 9:54 am 
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It might not be until tomorrow. Busy day today.


I certainly understand that. God bless you, Father, and I would appreciate some prayers if you can remember me. Going through some spiritually deep waters.


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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 9:56 am 
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Doom wrote:
Light of the East wrote:
. As an Orthodox, he denies the necessity of the Immaculate Conception.


Catholics also deny the necessity of the Immaculate Conception, if you think it was necessary, you are simply wrong. The argument has never been that the Immaculate Conception is 'necessary', but only that it is 'appropriate'. The argument is not that God had no choice in the matter because Mary logically had to be Immaculately conceived, the argument rather is that God did it because he wanted to, period. The traditional argument is 'it is possible that God could have done it, it would be appropriate that he do it, therefore he did it.' No necessity of any kind is implied.

The prophet Jeremiah was purified from all sin while in the womb, see Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations". The prophet Isaiah was purified of all sin before he was called as a prophet, see Isaiah chapter 6. So, if it was appropriate that mere prophets be purified of all sin in order to fulfill their mission, then how much more appropriate would it be that the Mother of God be free of all sin? And since her office was higher, she received a much greater grace.


Well, that is the first time I have heard that. Usually, if I mention any questioning of the Immaculate Conception, I get blasted because it is de fide pronouncement from the Chair of Peter.


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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 10:00 am 
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Freedom is not found in the ability to choose good over evil or in its more popular (and more wrong) cousin having a choice between good and evil. Freedom is the ability to choose between two perceived goods. The reason we say that the will is "free" is that it is not determined to this or that particular good. For example, if I strike a match, it will catch fire. That's the end the match is "aimed" at. When you strike it, it isn't free to do anything other than ignite. The will, however, has no such proper object. It is fitted to any range of perceived goods. It is, in a word, indeterminate. If, then, I see that I can do A or B (and both are perceived as a good), then what is it that determines if I do A or B? It is the faculty called the will. That just is the means by which I determine A or B, because, again, it was not determined by my nature that I necessarily choose A over B or vice versa.

Now, that is not to say that I cannot be wrong in thinking that A or B (or both) is good. I might very well choose something evil. Or I might choose a lesser good. And this is all the more true when the goodness of a thing is not immediately evident. Nothing is more good than God, and yet His goodness is not immediately evident, and certainly not to the senses! And even if you think of things that are obviously good--so if I'm hungry, then it is good to eat, and it is best of all to eat something healthy--even this is not enough because absolutely all goods on this earth are contingent goods. That is, nothing on this earth is good in and of itself, necessarily and always. That belongs to God alone. Everything else's goodness is contingent on the facts on the ground, as it were. Jesus, for example, was very hungry, and so the devil tempted Him to make bread from stones and eat. Under normal circumstances, such would be good (and so Jesus would later do something similar and feed crowds of four and five thousand). But under these circumstances, such would have been evil, because eating--even healthily and when you are hungry--is not necessarily always good.

And yet it doesn't follow from that, that we are not free. Yes, we may make mistakes in what we think is good. But the essential point remains that even when I choose to sin, I was not predetermined by my nature to this rather than that, as a match is, again, to ignition. We can talk about the many obstacles I face to choosing the good. We can talk about the necessity of the grace of God in overcoming my deficiencies (rooted in sin, to be sure) so that I can properly perceive what is good and have the strength to do it. But we can't say that when I sin, I sin because I was made to do so--that I had no choice. For if I truly had no choice but to sin, then there was no choice in the act at all. And if there is no choice, then by definition there is no act of will. And if there is no act of will, then there is no sin to begin with!

I can't speak to how any of this applies to the immaculate conception. I'll let others answer that for you. :)

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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 10:05 am 
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Light of the East wrote:
Well, that is the first time I have heard that. Usually, if I mention any questioning of the Immaculate Conception, I get blasted because it is de fide pronouncement from the Chair of Peter.

I can address this, though. Doom is not saying that you are free to question the Immaculate Conception. He's saying you are thinking about it wrong. Whether you intended to or not, you were making an argument for the IC from necessity. That is, you were saying that for some reason that Mary must have been immaculately conceived. What Doom is telling you is that that proposition is wrong.

A bit more clearly: "The Church teaches that the immaculate conception is true" is a true statement. The Church teaches it as a defined dogma and therefore you are obligated to believe it. That is also true. However, "The Church teaches that it was necessary that Mary be immaculate conceived" is NOT a true statement. The argument for the IC from the Church has never been about necessity (except in a technical sense of necessity by supposition, but that's not a useful distinction for this conversation) but rather about fittingness.

Hope that helps a bit more. :)

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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 11:35 am 
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The only correction/clarification I would add is that we do talk about freedom as the ability to choose the good, and this is a meaningful sense of the word, since sin reduces our ability to choose the good. But it's not the sense that's relevant to this discussion.

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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 1:39 pm 
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Light of the East wrote:
Doom wrote:
Light of the East wrote:
. As an Orthodox, he denies the necessity of the Immaculate Conception.


Catholics also deny the necessity of the Immaculate Conception, if you think it was necessary, you are simply wrong. The argument has never been that the Immaculate Conception is 'necessary', but only that it is 'appropriate'. The argument is not that God had no choice in the matter because Mary logically had to be Immaculately conceived, the argument rather is that God did it because he wanted to, period. The traditional argument is 'it is possible that God could have done it, it would be appropriate that he do it, therefore he did it.' No necessity of any kind is implied.

The prophet Jeremiah was purified from all sin while in the womb, see Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations". The prophet Isaiah was purified of all sin before he was called as a prophet, see Isaiah chapter 6. So, if it was appropriate that mere prophets be purified of all sin in order to fulfill their mission, then how much more appropriate would it be that the Mother of God be free of all sin? And since her office was higher, she received a much greater grace.


Well, that is the first time I have heard that. Usually, if I mention any questioning of the Immaculate Conception, I get blasted because it is de fide pronouncement from the Chair of Peter.


It's necessary that we believe in it. It wasn't necessary for it to happen, but it did happen. [I.e, God could have wrought the Incarnation and its fruits even without the Immaculate Conception, but the Immaculate Conception is in actuality part of how God chose to bring it about and it is necessary that we believe it happened.]

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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 4:10 pm 
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Back to my question:

QUESTION FOR THIS BOARD: My understanding of Pelagianism is that without the aid of the Holy Spirit - no man or woman, born in the natural order, will decide for Christ because of the corruption of our nature. I'm probably dead-wrong here (I make a habit of being so it seems) but to say that the Mother of God was born in the natural manner and of her own choice, made freely, obeyed God in such a manner as to become the Vessel for the Savior, the Ark of the New Covenant, seems like Pelagianism to me.

Please show me where I am wrong and what I am missing.

Is it a kind of Pelagianism to believe the the Mother of God was born of normal circumstances and through her own decision, she was, with the help of the Holy Spirit, able to be sin-free?


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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 4:30 pm 
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Do you mean "born" or "conceived"?

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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 4:54 pm 
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theJack wrote:
Freedom is not found in the ability to choose good over evil or in its more popular (and more wrong) cousin having a choice between good and evil. Freedom is the ability to choose between two perceived goods. The reason we say that the will is "free" is that it is not determined to this or that particular good. For example, if I strike a match, it will catch fire. That's the end the match is "aimed" at. When you strike it, it isn't free to do anything other than ignite. The will, however, has no such proper object. It is fitted to any range of perceived goods. It is, in a word, indeterminate. If, then, I see that I can do A or B (and both are perceived as a good), then what is it that determines if I do A or B? It is the faculty called the will. That just is the means by which I determine A or B, because, again, it was not determined by my nature that I necessarily choose A over B or vice versa.

Now, that is not to say that I cannot be wrong in thinking that A or B (or both) is good. I might very well choose something evil. Or I might choose a lesser good. And this is all the more true when the goodness of a thing is not immediately evident. Nothing is more good than God, and yet His goodness is not immediately evident, and certainly not to the senses! And even if you think of things that are obviously good--so if I'm hungry, then it is good to eat, and it is best of all to eat something healthy--even this is not enough because absolutely all goods on this earth are contingent goods. That is, nothing on this earth is good in and of itself, necessarily and always. That belongs to God alone. Everything else's goodness is contingent on the facts on the ground, as it were. Jesus, for example, was very hungry, and so the devil tempted Him to make bread from stones and eat. Under normal circumstances, such would be good (and so Jesus would later do something similar and feed crowds of four and five thousand). But under these circumstances, such would have been evil, because eating--even healthily and when you are hungry--is not necessarily always good.

And yet it doesn't follow from that, that we are not free. Yes, we may make mistakes in what we think is good. But the essential point remains that even when I choose to sin, I was not predetermined by my nature to this rather than that, as a match is, again, to ignition. We can talk about the many obstacles I face to choosing the good. We can talk about the necessity of the grace of God in overcoming my deficiencies (rooted in sin, to be sure) so that I can properly perceive what is good and have the strength to do it. But we can't say that when I sin, I sin because I was made to do so--that I had no choice. For if I truly had no choice but to sin, then there was no choice in the act at all. And if there is no choice, then by definition there is no act of will. And if there is no act of will, then there is no sin to begin with!

I can't speak to how any of this applies to the immaculate conception. I'll let others answer that for you. :)


First of all, why haven't you converted yet? This post sounds very Catholic as I read it, indeed, I have seen similar wording in other places Catholic.

Okay, as for the part I put in bold above, this is where I disagree and can't figure out why it is that people say we are free. My view on this is precisely that we are very much inclined to sin and that the "old man" in us more readily leans to doing wrong than to doing right.

Now maybe at this point I am interjecting my own personal experience into the discussion. Perhaps I am conflating my struggles with the condition of mankind as a whole, but it seems to me, looking at the world as a whole, that mankind is much, much more easily led to do wrong than right, evil than good.


How can there be a definitive act of the will when all the choices are not known and presented as viable? Did the Aztecs, for instance, really have the choice to not sacrifice to their "gods" (demons) when they had no idea of any other God, were told that if they didn't do those horrendous acts that their "God" would wipe out the crops next year, had never been instructed in moral right and wrong. My sense is that their wills were bound to evil. They could do no other because they knew no other.


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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 4:56 pm 
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Obi-Wan Kenobi wrote:
Do you mean "born" or "conceived"?


Make that "conceived" The natural order of birth, which is what the Orthodox propose. That is what I am questioning in this regard and the idea that any human being, after the Fall, could be conceived in the natural way and yet, without the help of the Holy Spirit, choose complete obedience to God.


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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 5:14 pm 
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Who said it's without the Spirit?

If the situation were as you describe, you would be right, because what you describe is Pelagian indeed. But that's not the situation.

Mary is not merely free from all sin (great gift though that is); she is "full of grace" (whether or not you think that's the best way to translate the word in Luke). It is from that plenitude of grace that she is able to respond positively to God's invitation. It is her free act, but it is at the same time utterly and totally dependent upon God's gratuitous aid.

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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 7:28 pm 
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Let me see if I can bring this around to my original premise. I didn't mean to get sidetracked on an Immaculate Conception issue.

My original premise was to say that we are not truly free because of the issue of how we are affected by sin.

The priest countered with the idea that we are as free as Mary was when she was born. He uses Her decision to walk with God as an example of how we all could choose but don't choose.

I am doubting that because I see a special work of God in Mary's life to keep Her from sin, something that is not done for the rest of us.

Now....take a pagan in Africa who has never heard of the Gospel. He cannot, without the help of the Holy Spirit, even decide that the Gospel message is what he wants. Mary did not have that problem, for she was, as you mentioned, "full of Grace."

When the priest says that the example of Mary, born without Immaculate Conception, (his Orthodox view) is the example of freedom for us all, I think at that point either he is wrong or he is promoting a kind of Pelagianism. I am saying that man, in his natural, sin-corrupted state, cannot seek God at all (Council of Orange). Therefore, man lacks true freedom

(I'm sorry if I am lacking a bit of clarity here. This is kind of high thinking for me.)


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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 8:32 pm 
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He cannot, without the help of the Holy Spirit, even decide that the Gospel message is what he wants. Mary did not have that problem, for she was, as you mentioned, "full of Grace."

Mary can't either, without the help of the Holy Spirit. That's the point you keep missing.

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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 8:51 pm 
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Light of the East wrote:
First of all, why haven't you converted yet? This post sounds very Catholic as I read it, indeed, I have seen similar wording in other places Catholic.

I've made my stance on this issue clear enough many times over that I think it's gotten boring. Let's not derail your potentially helpful question with something as banal as my hang-ups.

Quote:
Okay, as for the part I put in bold above, this is where I disagree and can't figure out why it is that people say we are free. My view on this is precisely that we are very much inclined to sin and that the "old man" in us more readily leans to doing wrong than to doing right.

Now maybe at this point I am interjecting my own personal experience into the discussion. Perhaps I am conflating my struggles with the condition of mankind as a whole, but it seems to me, looking at the world as a whole, that mankind is much, much more easily led to do wrong than right, evil than good.


How can there be a definitive act of the will when all the choices are not known and presented as viable? Did the Aztecs, for instance, really have the choice to not sacrifice to their "gods" (demons) when they had no idea of any other God, were told that if they didn't do those horrendous acts that their "God" would wipe out the crops next year, had never been instructed in moral right and wrong. My sense is that their wills were bound to evil. They could do no other because they knew no other.

Again, I think you're just not appreciating the nature of the will. It seems to me that you are so focused on the theological question of the effect of sin on someone (in this case, how it has corrupted them), that you're allowing that to blind you to to the proper nature of the question you're asking. Here, let me give you an unrelated example that might help at least clarify the broader problem I'm seeing.

Suppose you are talking about the faith with someone and in the course of discussing their objects, you discover their operative definition of "faith" is "believe in absence of or against the evidence." They even give you this little clip to illustrate their point. So you ask where they came up with that notion, and they respond by reminding you that God says His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Therefore, they say, evidence and proof is all silly, because you are asking God to think like we do, that true faith is spiritually discerned and doesn't concern itself with mere "human logic."

It really wouldn't matter how long you tried to answer whatever theological issue you had been talking about. You've discovered a root problem, and if you don't address that, you'll never get anywhere. I'm thinking something like this is going on. You've adopted a particular theology of sin and its affect on the will that it won't seem to let you look at what the will actually is. I can point all day long that the will is free by definition and nature. Yes, we can nuance things as Obi has offered. You can always nuance things. But the very fact that, for all the nuancing, you by your own admission keep being called back to the problem of sin and that therefore denies that the will is free in the first place . . . that suggests to me that you're looking at things in the wrong order. I would advise you, for whatever it's worth, to appreciate that you have a good question in the relationship between sin and its effect on the human will. But before you ask it, you should set it aside and first work to have a clear understanding of its component parts. What is sin? And what is the will? The latter question really is a philosophical one and needs to be answered on those terms, without your theology of sin encroaching on it. And after you've grasped that, I think what you'll find is that the question you're asking here will end up either evaporating totally or else you'll see it's not so difficult . . . in fact, you might find a richer answer than you expected! And that's an answer, I think, that is related to the IC, and very much so to Obi's last question for you. I know you come from an evangelical (or at least Protestant of some flavor) background, and I wonder if some old Calvinistic thinking isn't still infecting the way you approach the question. There seems to be an idea among such churches that only "saved" folk can "really" do good. There may be some theological sense in which that is true, but I don't think it's true in the universal way they intend it. Getting "saved" isn't the key to suddenly allowing you to start doing good or even avoiding evil--again, certainly not universally stated. Because of what the will is, because of what grace is, and so on, God can give the grace to anyone He wants to lead them to do what is good. That doesn't mean such people are in a right relationship with Him, necessarily. But the failure to see that really does suggest a closeted Pelagianism way, way, way far in the back of some people's minds.

Anyway, I'm sort of rambling now. Bottom line is just an exhortation to give yourself permission to set aside the sin question for a moment--it is a good one--and just come to a firm understanding of what the will actually is. Then come to a firm understanding of what it means for God to move the will. After that, I think your question about in what sense it is free given the reality of sin and our very imperfect grasp on what constitutes good (and that for a range of reasons you've cited) . . . I think that answer will more easily suggest itself than you might realize.

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Making Divine Simplicity Simple: Rediscovering Who and What God Is - an evangelical's (my!) attempt to explain Divine Simplicity in non-technical language
The Galatian Heresy (Gal 3:1-6) - An Argument for Sanctification by Faith Alone


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 Post subject: Re: Philosophical Question on Free Will and Pelagianism
PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 9:38 pm 
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Let me propose for you a different definition of what it means for the will to be free:

The will is free when nothing external to it constrains its choice from among the options available.

"From among the options available" is there to avoid U.S. Supreme Court "freedom," which is to define for yourself what you are. We are human, and there are some choices unavailable to us. I can't fly like a bird because I don't have wings, and if I added wings, I'd be less human. So, contra Justice Kennedy, there are some things that we simply are not able to choose, not because they're sin but because they're impossible.

With that understood, I'll switch to the simpler, "The will is free when nothing external to it constrains its choice." The sinner chooses to sin because of a defect internal to the will. Nothing outside of him prevents him from choosing not to sin. Mary's will doesn't have a defect, and so she is able--as the sinner is not, in the long run, absent grace--to choose consistently not to sin.

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