The Chains of our Freedom
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 6 Dec 1979, p. 143-155

Carter, His Eminence, Gerald Emmett Cardinal, Speaker
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Anything that is different or strange seems to be threatening: a broader definition of racism. What do we do about it? The question of balance between individuality and community. A discussion of this issue under these headings: Chains and Freedom; Our Common Humanity; Chains for Freedom; The Motivation. The true development of humanity.
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6 Dec 1979
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DECEMBER 6, 1979
The Chains of our Freedom
AN ADDRESS BY HIS Eminence, Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter ARCHBISHOP OF TORONTO
CHAIRMAN The President, John A. MacNaughton


Ladies and gentlemen of The Empire Club of Canada: Those of you who have been regular attenders at Empire Club luncheons over the years are aware that one of the features of our meetings is a welcoming introduction of the guest of honour. It is our tradition to introduce speakers warmly, and certainly it is my pleasure to perpetuate this tradition in presenting His Eminence, Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter, Archbishop of Toronto. However, before doing so I thought that His Eminence might be interested to know the amusing reaction to an introduction of one of those speakers who preceded him to this podium a few years ago.

On May 1, 1975 we were addressed by the Most Reverend Donald Coggan, The Archbishop of Canterbury, who began with the following remarks: "I am very grateful to you, Mr. President, for the kind way in which you have introduced me today, and for the over-kind way in which you have written up my undistinguished life. I remember the story of the man who was introduced, perhaps over-flatteringly, when he was about to make a speech. When he got up to reply to the introduction, he said that he felt that he had to offer up two prayers for forgiveness: one, forgiveness for the man who had introduced him because he told so many lies, and the second for himself because he enjoyed it so much."

In introducing Cardinal Carter there is no need to exaggerate or to be over-flattering because simply reminding the audience of his accomplishments is in itself a glowing tribute to the man who is with us today as guest speaker and guest of honour.

Cardinal Carter spent his first twenty-five years in the priesthood working in various educational fields. He founded St. Joseph's Teachers College in Montreal--a college for English-speaking Catholics of the province of Quebec--and was a member of the Montreal Catholic School Board for fifteen years. He has also been deeply involved in adult education, both at the university level through the Newman Club at McGill and as first president of the Thomas More Institute in Montreal.

Cardinal Carter was a professor of catechetics for twenty-five years and his experience and insights into catechetics and the teaching of religion are expressed in his book, The Modern Challenge to Religious Education. He is the author of two other books: The Catholic Public Schools of Quebec and Psychology and the Cross.

Cardinal Carter moved to Ontario in 1961 when he was named Auxiliary Bishop of London and Titular Bishop of Altiburo; he was installed as eighth Bishop to the See of London in 1964. In this post he served on a wide variety of commissions, conferences, committees and councils and was awarded honorary degrees from the University of Western Ontario, Concordia University, University of Windsor and Huron College. In June of 1978 he was installed as Archbishop of Toronto and one year later, in June of this year, he was created a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II. His investiture in the Sacred College of Cardinals was recognition of the work he has performed within his church and his communities and, in receiving this recognition Cardinal Carter brought great honour to Toronto and Canada.

Cardinal Carter was asked by Metro Chairman Godfrey in the summer of 1979 to serve as mediator in an attempt to alleviate racial tensions in Toronto. His report was published quickly and, as everyone in this room knows well, it won support from all quarters as soon as it was released.

His Eminence was also asked in the summer of this year to come to the Empire Club to speak on a topic of his choosing. Happily for all of us the invitation was accepted; intriguingly the paradoxical topic "The Chains of our Freedom" was chosen.

Your Eminence, we are delighted that you are with us this afternoon and, on behalf of the members of The Empire Club of Canada, I am honoured to invite you to address us now.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome His Eminence, Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter.


One of the philistine postures of our times is a certain contempt for language, particularly for the use of expressions of classical derivation. Some manifested surprise when I use the term xenophobia, the fear of strangers, in my report on minority relations to the Toronto authorities. Yet it best describes the nagging affliction of the human race which causes us to turn inward upon ourselves when confronted with the unknown.

The popular science fiction of the moment deals with people from outer space. The assumption is almost universal that they are hostile. Orson Wells easily panicked the east coast by a simulated invasion which revealed the ease of arousing that lurking attitude. There are people out to kill the Susquatch in British Columbia, or his cousin in the Himalayas who has been dubbed "abominable" without ever asking if he might not be a very nice fellow who loves children and dogs. The fact is that the term "racism" is not broad enough. Anything that is different or strange seems to be threatening.

It can be a difference of language. Chesterton said it for us beautifully in his "The World State":

Oh how I love humanity
With a love so pure and pringlish.
And how I hate those horrid French
Who never will be English.

We have ridden right up to the brink of the dissolution of our country and, while it is not the only cause, our attitude to our French-speaking fellow citizens is surely a part of it.

It can be a difference of religion. Heavenly Father, what crimes have been perpetrated in thy name! A gentle Jew named Jesus came to tell us to love one another and his message was delivered with such power that the world has been filled with his disciples, who have proceeded to hate and persecute the very Jews who were and are his kinsmen; to fight to the death among themselves--all in his name--and who even today carry in their hearts hostility and animosity, fear and narrow-mindedness for those who have not adopted their own particular version of his message. Northern Ireland comes promptly to mind, but lest we look too far afield, please remember that the gentle monks of the Trappist monastery in Oka found bigotry right here in Ontario. And unfortunately it is not limited to Christians. The Ayatollah Khomenei gives us a magnificent demonstration of the misuse of religious fervour towards those "outside the pale." In a satirical mood Hilaire Belloc wrote:

Heretics all, wherever you may be
In Tarbes or Nimes or over the sea
You never shall have kind words from me
Caritas non conturbat me!

It can be the colour of the skin, the curl of the hair, size, sex, age, wealth or poverty, occupation, dress--it's unlimited. It's xenophobia.

Most thoughtful people, upon reflection, will agree with this analysis. But the question with which I would like to deal today is what do we do about it? This is considerably more difficult. You will, I trust, have noted the paradoxical title which I have given to this address, "The Chains of our Freedom." Most things in human living are caught up in this type of paradox. We always have to give a little, in order to live a little. The impossible dream is not one of achievement but one of absolute freedom, in the sense that we can do everything we want to do, irrespective of our relationship with others. Behind this, of course, is a philosophical problem which has divided philosophers for many centuries now. It is the age-old need to balance individuality and community.

Chains and Freedom

We have two terms and two concepts. The first is that of "chains." The concept of chains is specifically that we have a social responsibility, and individuality cannot be permitted to run wild. We must each make concessions if we are to live in peace. Behind the kind of xenophobia that I have described is the demon of pride. It postulates a superiority that inhibits almost all social relationships. In any of the areas which I have described as being fertile in terms of this attitude, the basic and underlying force is that in some way, whatever it is I have inherited or have developed is better than that inherited or developed by someone else. My colour is better, my language is better, my religion is better. In some subtle way this gives me the right to impose my views or at least my superiority upon others. And usually this is masqueraded in terms of the good of others. We are such masters of self-deceit that we can always find excuses for our oppression or our hostility, or even our hatred.

I find it at least faintly amusing that I am addressing the "Empire" Club because I must confess that, like most of you, I am not much of an imperialist. Perhaps the most benign regime in the history of empires was the British but it was not devoid of the kind of attitude to which I refer. The British Raj was an expert at presenting himself as a boon to all of the people whom he conquered. The expression "the white man's burden" is about as close to this type of arrogant assumption of superiority as one can imagine. And all of Kipling's "You're a better man than I am Gunga Din" doesn't change much. Better man or not, I am sure that Gunga Din was not often invited to have gin and tonic with the colonel and his lady.

Now please do not assume that because I postulate restriction upon individuality that I support some sort of naive proposition that everyone is equal. I would have to examine that kind of statement. I believe profoundly in a basic equality before God. This is the only really important equality and it will be worked out in a time and place that is beyond our ken. I believe that in human affairs this must be reflected in equality before the law. But it is naive to arrive at the conclusion that for this reason everyone is equal in talent or ability, or that we should enter into some sort of communist state that claims to establish such equality regardless of merit, talent or initiative. Individuality properly understood is equally precious and the equality to which I refer is of a different and more basic nature.

Strangely enough, the very freedom we seek cannot be attained until we chain some of our exaggerated individuality. Freedom is one of the most abused words of our times. Practically every evil which has been perpetrated upon mankind has, one way or another, been disguised under that covering. It was a favourite word of both Hitler and Stalin. It is presently being used extensively in Iran to justify the denial of freedom to hostages. Our civilization swears by it. But what does it mean? Does it mean that I, an individual, can impose my will on the community, say by driving my car at any speed I choose, or by deciding that I have claim over other people's possessions or lives? Obviously not. The limitations I have already suggested indicate that society requires that my unbridled lust for power or possession must be chained.

The problem is to discover how these two concepts, chains and freedom, coalesce and may, actually, get along. My freedom is my dearest possession. Men rightly die for it. But the question seldom asked is i freedom to do what? At what point does my freedom transgress on yours, because fatally it must sooner or later.

I do not propose to solve this dilemma but only to present it for your consideration. It has its immediate application in things like censorship. None of us likes that word and its connotation. Since God Himself gave us the freedom, if you can call it that, to destroy ourselves, I, for one, don't like to tell grown people what they can do and what they can't. But we must think of the implications. What about the area of exploitation? When pornography, for example, takes helpless children as its victims, can we say that the exploiters should remain immune in the name of freedom?

I am hesitant to bring up the question of the exploitation of women because this matter is now such a convenient catch-all for every two-bit reformer. That is until I hear about "snuff " films. Is there anyone here who feels we should give the freedom of the marketplace to films in which the victim of the plot, usually a girl, is murdered, not only in pretense but in reality? Pornography exploits the young, the helpless, the drug addicts. Does freedom mean we must tolerate and even aid and abet this exploitation? I ask the question. But this must remain an illustration in a larger picture.

Our Common Humanity

To put it another way, there are two manners in which we can approach the human condition. The first is to place the emphasis upon our differences. But I believe that this is the wrong road, the road of racism, the road of xenophobia. I believe it will foster dissent and turmoil and have no positive results even in those who use it to their own advantage and advancement.

The other road is the road of what we have in common. And I am convinced that what we have in common is far superior, far more fundamental than that which divides us. I rejoice that a person like Mother Teresa could be given the Nobel Prize. Here is a woman who can find our common humanity in conditions in which you and I would find nothing but a revolting situation of desperate alienation. Nor do I postulate that we all must have the heroism of Mother Teresa. The specimens of humanity to which she has dedicated her life lie on the fringe of human existence, and most of us could not face them for long. But it is assuredly a lesson to all of us that we can and should recognize our common humanity wherever it exists.

Chains for Freedom

The "chains," therefore, are those which postulate that we must make sacrifices in order to achieve a common brotherhood or sisterhood. I have been working on paradoxes all through these remarks and once again I find myself in that position. The kind of "chains" I am postulating are not really limiting chains but freeing chains. The scene that comes most vividly to mind is that in which Paul stands before King Agrippa, at the court in Caesarea. The king says, after a vibrant plea by Paul, "Paul, in a little time you would convince me to be a Christian?" And Paul says to him, holding forth his manacled hands, "Would to God that you were as I am in all things, save these chains." (Acts 26:29) But the very chains that Paul wore were not symbols of enslavement but symbols of freedom. He was in chains because he would not give up his freedom to express the truth as he saw it. This is the freedom of the human spirit and it is in that context that I speak of the "chains of our freedom."

They are limitations that we put, not upon the soaring aspirations of all that is noble within us but rather on all that is petty and small within us. Man is a very complicated being. He is capable of the utmost heroism and nobility and at the same time he is capable of the lowest forms of desperate evil. The dark part of myself must be curbed in order that the other may be let loose. The chains I am speaking of are chains that limit us and hold us back or hold us down. To use another metaphor, they are the links that hold the hawk to the wrist of the falconer so that he may be ready for his flight at the supreme moment. At that moment, the bird leaps into the air. In a close simile, Gerard Manley Hopkins describes the situation beautifully: "And the spirit broods over the bent world with, ah, bright wings." The bent world is the dark side of us, but the spirit is always there and soars over that bent world once we let it loose.

It is not an exaggeration to say that this limitation of freedom is a necessity. Strangely enough, the manner in which we approach the necessity may well determine whether the chains or the freedom predominate in our lives.

The Motivation

We can look at this necessity to work one for the other and one with the other in a totally selfish way. This is frequently misrepresented as "the golden rule." People say that the "golden rule" is "not to do to others what you would not want done to yourself." This can be a very small view. I think it is best summed up in the adage which often appeared on billboards a few years ago, "The life you save may be your own." I am not averse to saving my life, but I hate to think that the only reason why we should drive or live soberly or carefully is that we might save our own lives. I would like to think that we are not devoid of sensitivity to the point where we might also like to save the lives of others.

I do not feel that human rights and human civilization will be advanced simply by the egotistical position that we must do something to avoid racial tension, to avoid xenophobia, because we ourselves are involved, and what we do to others may someday be inflicted upon us. Even in the economic order, I must reject this line of argument, although it has its cogency. It is perfectly true to say that unless we do something to redistribute the wealth of this world, we will lose the very wealth that we have. But I would hate to think that this is the only argument. I feel that our self-discipline can lead us to a far nobler achievement.

In conclusion, I am convinced that we can achieve a true sense of dedication one to the other because we can understand the worth that exists in persons other than ourselves. One of the most cogent books that I have ever read in my life, and that has ever since illuminated my thinking, is called The Heart and Mind of Love by Martin D'Arcy. It is a treatise on what he calls "Eros and Agape." To make it short, "eros" is the self-satisfying aspect of love. It is not evil. It is not illegitimate. It is a very important part of man's fulfilment. But it is not the totality of that fulfilment. "Agape" is the other aspect, one in which we seek not our own good but the good of the beloved. It is the outgoing manifestation of love. It is the principle by which I do not think of others in terms of what I can get out of them or much less what sort of threat they represent. Rather I think of them in terms of the good that lies within them and the good that I would like to see fulfilled. Agape is masterfully defined by Paul when he says that "Love does not seek its own." Herein lies our own fulfilment as well because "It is in giving that we receive." The chains have done their work and the dark spirit of egotism has been curbed to allow our true freedom to express itself in light and love.

My friends, I know that I am speaking in idealistic terms but I do believe this is an objective that we can achieve and that we must achieve. It is negative in one sense, which is the sense of the chains that I have spoken of. It is negative in the sense that it is a denial of violence and hostility, as so masterfully described by Pope John Paul II at Drogheda on the confines of Northern Ireland; as illustrated by Gandhi and Martin Luther King; as achieved by Jesus when he told Peter to put his sword back in its scabbard and added, "No man takes my life from me. I lay it down of myself."

This is the full meaning of freedom, the freedom to be myself to the fullest point of my capacity that involves, above all, the capacity to give. We are still shot through with the concept that those who have succeeded are those who have received the most. We are a long way from the philosophy that those who have succeeded are those who have given the most. But I am convinced that we are slowly and painfully on our way in that direction. It is the way that I would like to point out today. Our freedom to love one another, to respect one another lies ahead.

Also in that direction lies the true development of humanity. Four years ago, Bernard Lonegan, S.J., one of the truly great thinkers of our time gave a lecture in Montreal entitled "Healing and Creating in History." The healing of which he spoke is not far removed from the thesis I have expounded before you today. Among other things he says this, "Where hatred reinforces bias, love dissolves it, whether it be the bias of unconscious motivation, the bias of individual or group egoism, or the bias of omnicompetent, short-sighted common sense. Where hatred plods around in ever narrower vicious circles, love breaks the bonds of psychological and social determinism with the conviction of faith and the power of hope."

It is from that point that true creativity can spring. And only from there. We will therefore never solve the problems before us except in that positive context which is the context of agape.

Let me conclude by a quotation, not from Sacred Scripture, not from the Talmud, not from the Koran, but from a Persian proverb:

The Lover goes to the desert to purify himself before he seeks the hand of his Beloved. After many months of prayer and fasting and self-discipline he approaches the abode of his Beloved. He knocks upon the door and a voice comes to him from within: "Who seeks entrance?" He replies, "It is I," and the door remains closed to him.

Sadly he returns to his desert habitation and again pursues his course of meditation and prayer and penance in search of the mystery.

At last he again rises and seeks out the abode of the Beloved. As before he knocks and as before the voice comes to him, "Who seeks entrance?"

He replies, "It is Thyself," and the door opens unto him.

The thanks of the club were expressed to Cardinal Carter by Reginald Stackhouse, a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.

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The Chains of our Freedom

Anything that is different or strange seems to be threatening: a broader definition of racism. What do we do about it? The question of balance between individuality and community. A discussion of this issue under these headings: Chains and Freedom; Our Common Humanity; Chains for Freedom; The Motivation. The true development of humanity.