St. Maximilian Kolbe presented the way to holiness as a simple equation involving free will:
V + v = S
Each V stands for “voluntas”, Latin for “will”. The large V is the will of God. The small v is your own will–your choices. If we add them, rather than keeping them apart, we achieve the S: sanctitas, or holiness.
“If we unite our will to the will of God, losing ourselves in it as a droplet of water loses itself in the ocean, sanctity is achieved.” – St. Kolbe, Roman Conference IV
Notice that St. Kolbe doesn’t tell us that the answer is God’s will alone. That isn’t how God set it up. He did give us free will; we’re not robots. To achieve holiness ourselves–human sanctity–we need both the ability to choose (v) and the following of God’s will (V).
He goes on to illustrate the mathematics of sin, that if we separate God’s will from our own, we invariably* end in sin.
v – V = P
Human will (v), after taking away (subtracting) the will of God (V) from your decisions, returns only perditio (P) or sin. Human free will plus the will of God (a human with free will following God’s will) is the equation for holiness. If we don’t have one or the other, we don’t have holiness. If we don’t have free will–if we’re deeply addicted, perhaps–we can’t complete the equation. We have God’s mercy, thankfully, but we cannot achieve the personal holiness He has intended for us. If we have free will but eliminate the will of God from it, we not only do not get holiness but we get perdition.
Freedom alone is not independence. The devil offered Adam and Eve independence of God, but he didn’t offer them freedom. He gave them a choice to make (v) that was against God (- V), and they ended in perdition (= P). Jesus had human freedom to choose, being fully man as well as fully God. He had free will (v) if anyone has. He followed the will of the Father (V), and made eternal blessedness (S) available to all of us.
St. Kolbe didn’t just make spiritual points with those equations, but he also got the math right. If we do a bit of algebra, we find this:
1. v – V = P [given]
2. v – V (+ V) = P (+ V) [add V to both sides]
3. v = P + V [simplify step 2]
That says that human free will (v) is perdition (P) plus God’s will (V). That’s true, isn’t it? Our will gives us two choices: God and sin. Every decision we make is either turning us toward God or away from him (to paraphrase from C. S. Lewis’ Weight of Glory). Our will is our freedom to choose God and our freedom to choose evil.
I don’t think the saint would mind if I stretched the algebra a little for a spiritual point. If we do a bit more, we find this:
1. v – V = P. [given]
2. v – V (+ V – P) = P (+ V – P) [add V and subtract P from both sides]
3. v – P = V [results of step 2]
4. V = -P + v [rewrite step 3]
5. V + v = S [given]
6. V + v (- v) = S (- v) [subtract v from both sides of step 5]
7. V = S – v [results of step 6]
8. S – v = -P + v [substitute step 7 into step 4]
9. S – v (+ v) = -P + v (+ v) [add v to both sides of step 8]
10. S = -P + 2v [results of step 9]
Holiness (S) is the lack of sin (-P) and 2 human wills (2v). Holiness for all of us–universal sanctification–comes from two human wills that are free of sin (one preserved by a special grace, one like us in all things but sin). And isn’t that just the math that God used?
“Alone we are zero, and though we can make a row of zeroes… nonetheless it will always amount to zero. But if we put at its summit a one (Mary), the resulting figure will be enormous.” – St. Kolbe, Roman Conference IV
Copyright 2017, Joe Wetterling
* Pun definitely intended. That’s for my fellow nerds.
Image courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fr.Maximilian_Kolbe_1939.jpg