In one of his Holy Sonnets, John Donne prays this paradox: “For I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free.” Today On the Square R.R. Reno explains just why it makes sense, why authority helps us be free:
We often discount the way in which authority and hierarchy contribute to our freedom to pursue the particular goods that we care about (and that give society texture and interest). In a democracy I have a duty during election season to cast an informed vote. But if I accept the legitimate authority of Congress, then after I vote I can largely concentrate on raising my family or doing my job well. I need not pore over the details of the Federal budget.
As a creature I have the potential to run quickly, and perhaps with training I can. But that’s not true when it comes to what I desire most of all: to rest in God. We’re finite human beings, and therefore we lack an intrinsic aptitude for the infinite.
But God doesn’t suffer from this or any other lack, and insofar as he exercises his authority and issues commandments, he gives us a way to go beyond ourselves. We can follow instructions that we do not write, obey commands that we do not give. Therefore, although we are creatures, and remain always limited by our finite human nature, because this nature includes the capacity to obey authority, God can engage our finitude rather than ignore or overwhelm it, directing us toward what the Catholic tradition calls a “supernatural end.”