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Publications: No Longer Slaves

an exposition of Paul's letter to the Galatians

You see in me the one free man in the whole Roman Empire.
You should be glad to have among you an emperor who points the way to freedom.

Those are the words of the Emperor Caligula, as portrayed in the play of the same name by the French author Albert Camus.

Is Camus right? Did Caligula represent an archetypal freedom?

In one sense, he surely did. Of all the monarchs who have ever reigned, none has engaged in such wild caprice as he did. Power, for him, meant the complete absence of self-restraint, the total abdication of personal responsibility. No matter how cruel, disgusting and insane his impulses, Caligula was a man who did precisely as he pleased.

Many people would define freedom in similar terms. They see it as the capacity to do as you want, unconfined by restrictions imposed from outside. For the revolutionary it means political independence—freedom from unwelcome authority. For the capitalist it means economic laissez-faire—freedom from market controls. For the hippie it meant permissiveness—freedom from moral conventions. For existentialist philosophers such as Camus it meant something close to whimsicality—freedom even from the constraints of rationality and common sense.

That’s why Caligula fascinated Camus so much. Here was a man who was not afraid to do his own thing, no matter how absurd or arbitrary. In fact, the more absurd and arbitrary, the better. Here, surely, was a truly free man whose power of choice was unfettered by anything.

But was he really free?

Even Camus had his doubts on this point, for his play ends with Caligula, in a momentary respite from his madness, addressing himself in a mirror: ‘I have chosen a wrong path, a path that leads to nothing. My freedom isn’t the right one...’ In a final fit of rage and disillusionment, he hurls a stool at his own reflection before turning to face his assassins. It is a critical moment in the play, a window of truth thrown open briefly to illumine the folly of Caligula’s original libertarian claims. He wasn’t a free man at all. He was just a libertine.

Although the two concepts are utterly different, Caligula was not the first to muddle liberty and libertinism. ‘Freedom’ is a dangerous word precisely because it is so easily confused with licence. As someone has said; ‘Oh freedom, what liberties are taken in thy name!’

Freedom, properly understood, is not the absence of all constraints upon our behaviour, but submission to the right constraints. It is not the rebellion that recognises no authority, but the discernment that distinguishes legitimate authority. True freedom is not the licence to do as we please, but the liberty to do as we ought.

From Chapter 4 of No Longer Slaves an exposition of Paul's letter to the Galatians.

No Longer Slaves by Roy Clements (copyright 1997)
Published by Inter-Varsity Press (UK) ISBN 0-85111-182-3

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