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The Tragedy of Human Freedom

The Failure and Promise of the Christian Concept of Freedom in Western Culture

Martien E. Brinkman

Human freedom has been the source of both the high points of humanity as well as of its low points, thus giving rise to the impression that it is a somewhat ambivalent concept. According to Martien Brinkman, the major factor in this ambivalence is the rather narrow meaning that the concept has received in the course of history. Freedom is, for the most part, understood as ‘freedom from’ or ‘freedom to’ but only rarely as ‘freedom for’. However, it is precisely this latter understanding that is closest to the Christian understanding of freedom, which Brinkman defines as ‘internal attachment’. In his view Christian freedom is at bottom characterized by that to which one commits oneself in trust. He sees primarily the Christian theology of baptism, with its accent on ‘dying’ and ‘rising’ with Christ as the model for the way in which one acquires freedom.
Brinkman illustrates this in this study by means of a great number of biblical images and images borrowed from the historical debates between Augustine and Pelagius and Luther and Erasmus.


Martien E. Brinkman

In early Christianity, the descent into hell was the symbol of the range of the resurrection: even the dead would be liberated from the evil powers holding them captive. Together with the phenomenon of exorcism during the baptism rite in the night of Eastern it is a clear indication of the strong awareness of the influence of evil powers upon the living and dead in the ancient church. This contribution will discuss the continuous struggle with evil for the dead and living believers. It confronts us first with our beliefs on the place of our ancestors and, second, with our own position regarding bad (evil) spirits, even after our baptism. By speaking about demons, the New Testament intends to underline the seriousness and power of the temptations to which human beings are exposed and to which they repeatedly succumb. The prayer “deliver us from (the) evil (one)” indicates that we need strength from elsewhere to be delivered from the grip of evil. Evil, then, not only has to do with a good or bad will or with a concretely good or bad deed but also with a third power which we cannot apparently denote in a different or more adequate way than by means of such words as demon, devil, Satan, etc.