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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Indifference, Liberty of

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a name sometimes given, by metaphysical and theological writers, to the power in the human mind of choosing between opposing motives, or of resisting or yielding to a given motive. The upholders of fatalism consider this "liberty of indifference" as a chimera. If we were indifferent, say they, to the motives which determine our actions, we should either not act at all, or we should act without motive, at hazard, and our actions would be effects without cause. But this is intentionally confounding indifference and insensibility. We are necessarily sensible to a motive when that motive induces us to act, but the question at issue is whether there is a necessary connection between such a motive and such volition; that is, whether, when such a motive induces us to will anything, we can or cannot will the contrary in spite of that motive, or whether we cannot prefer another motive to that by which we determine to act. As soon as it is supposed that we act from a motive, it cannot be supposed that this motive does not determine us to act, for the two suppositions would contradict each- other: but it may be asked whether, before any supposition, our will was connected with the motive in such a manner as to render a contrary volition impossible. The advocates of moral liberty maintain that there is no physical or necessary connection between motives and volition, but only a moral connection, which does not prevent our resisting; in other words, that motives are the moral, not the physical causes of our actions. Because we are said to be determined by a motive, it does not follow that that motive acts, and we remain passive; it is absurd to suppose that an active faculty like volition could become passive under the influence of a motive, or that this motive, which after all is but an idea, a thought, could act upon us as we act upon a body we put in motion.

This metaphysical question is intimately connected with another long discussed by theologians, namely, the mode of action of grace on us, and in what sense grace is to be understood as being the cause of our actions. Those who consider it as their physical cause must, to be consistent, suppose the same relation between grace and the action to which it led as between any physical cause and its effect. As, according to natural philosophy, the relation in the latter case is a necessary one, we cannot perceive how the action produced under the influence of grace can be free. For this reason, other theologians look upon grace only as the moral cause of our actions, and admit between this cause and its effects only a moral connection, such as exists between all free action and its motive. It is, indeed, God who acts in us through grace, but his operation is so similar to that of nature that we are often unable to distinguish between them. When we perform a good action under the influence of grace-a supernatural motive-we feel as active, as free, as well masters of our actions as when doing it from a natural motive, from temperament or interest. Why should we try to believe that God deceives our consciousness, acting upon us as though he left us free, while in reality he does not? Consciousness testifies to us that we can resist grace as readily as we resist our natural tastes and inclinations. Thus the testimony of conscience, that we are entirely free under the influence of grace, is complete. Let us not forget the saying of St. Augustine, that grace was given us, not to destroy, but to restore our free agency. The Pelagians erred in defining free agency to be indifference towards good and evil; they understood by this an equal inclination to either, an equal facility for choosing right or wrong (St. Augustine, Op. imp. l. 3, n. 109, 110, 117; Letter of S. Prosper, n. 4). They concluded from this that if grace destroyed this indifference, it would thereby destroy free agency. St. Augustine correctly affirms, in opposition, that in consequence of Adam's sin man is more inclined to evil than to good, and that he needs grace to restore the equilibrium. Those who accused St. Augustine of disregarding free will in maintaining the necessity of grace, misunderstood his doctrine as much as the Pelagians. Bergier, Dict. de Theologie, 3, 394 sq. (Comp. Barrow, Works, 2, 47; Palmer, Church of Christ, 1, 252-58, 321 sq.) (See WILL).


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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Indifference, Liberty of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/i/indifference-liberty-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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