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Chapter 4 The Moral Conscience 1) What is conscience i) Conscience is not: (a) A feeling (b) A theoretical judgment on whether something is good or evil ii) Conscience is: (a) A judgment of reason whether a particular act is right or wrong from an ethical point of view. (b) A judgment made with the Intellect iii) The new life brought about through Baptism gives special light to the conscience. (a) The new Christian receives special graces that help him understand and live the moral demands of the Christian life. (i) The ability to interpret the natural law (ii) The ability to know and fulfill the requirements that the “life in Christ” demands. (b) The conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. 2) Conscience and truth i) Conscience is rooted in the truth (1) The truth about mankind, law, and what is good and evil (2) Truth is prior to conscience, therefore, conscience must respect truth ii) When fundamental truths are ignored, there is error in practical judgments (1) The conscience will make false judgments when it fails to acknowledge the truth about things (2) One cannot obscure or harm the practical dimension of the truth without, to a large extent injuring its theoretical aspects. iii) Conscience should freely embrace truth, since truth is a permanent light which never fades away. iv) Conscience shares an innate capacity to come to the truth (1) In so far as the person has the use of reason, he can discern the good and evil. (2) Conscience is an indistinguishable light given to us by God as part of our human nature. v) There is an obligation to follow our judgment when truth is present. 3) The Formation of Conscience i) Every human being has the obligation to correctly form his conscience ii) Children are born without knowledge of good and evil iii) These concept are acquired: (1) through education (2) built upon by reason (elaborated on through natural law) (3) By instruction (in the truths of the faith) (4) The grace of the Holy Spirit (5) Christian reflection iv) Ideas about good and evil are acquired in the same way as knowledge throughout life v) The formation of conscience is a continuing lifelong process. 4) Means to formation of conscience i) Acceptance of moral teaching (1) A child needs to be open to the moral teachings given by parents and teachers. (2) An adult needs to be attentive to the moral teaching of the Magisterium. (3) The Church possesses the fullness of truth and one is guilty of sin if he ignores or refuses to accept the truth. (4) Knowledge of Christian Life and Doctrine (a) Every Catholic has an obligation to seek the truth in moral matters from the teaching of the Church. (5) One must configure his moral criteria to the Christian moral life (a) Transmitted by the teaching of the Bible (b) Transmitted by the Tradition as defined by the Magisterium (c) This obligation does not end with the conclusion of formal education ii) Prayer and Meditation (1) Prayer in all its forms consists of a conversation with God (a) God communicates His will, which should be the basis of our practical judgments. (b) Personal prayer, on a daily basis, brings us closer to God, and develops a relationship with Jesus called the interior life (c) Through interior life, in concert with direction by our confessor, we can be assured that our consciences will remain well formed and in conformity with the truth. iii) Personal examination (1) The best way of internalizing one’s actions is an examination of conscience . (a) In the same way as intellectual objectivity is reached by critical intellectual examination (b) Moral rightness can be accomplished by a serious examination of conscience. (c) An essential result of the examination of conscience is the practice of sacramental confession (d) In academia, the preference is for comprehensive examinations over simple tests (e) In the moral life, the act of examination of conscience and sacramental confession are a more complete form of moral examination than mere contemplation iv) Spiritual Direction (1) Helps acquire a more objective moral judgment (2) Helps overcome subjectivism or impulse (3) Most easily done by speaking with our confessor during the sacrament of Penance 5) Divisions of conscience a) A judgment of conscience can be: i) Antecedent which precedes action ii) Concominant which accompanies the action as it takes place iii) Consequent which follows the act b) Conscience is understood in relation to the law that it seeks to fulfill i) True (Correct) conscience deduces correctly from true principles that some act is lawful. ii) Erroneous conscience which decides from false principles considered as true that something is lawful which is in fact unlawful . (1) Vincible ignorance is ignorance of the truth that can be overcome by ordinary diligence. (a) It results from a person’s failure to find out what is required of him. (b) If the ignorance is the result of neglect (a failure to discover the truth because of laziness or disinterest), there is a risk of committing sin . (2) Invincible ignorance is ignorance that cannot be overcome by ordinary diligence (a) It is ignorance of the moral law that is not the fault of the person acting, because he has no reasonable way to know the truth. (b) One who acts with invincible ignorance does not sin if he has taken the necessary and reasonable steps to learn what he is permitted and prohibited. iii) Conscience can also be adversely affected by the will (1) A scrupulous conscience is one that, for little or no reason judges an action to be morally evil when, in fact, it is not. (a) The direction of a confessor is required to overcome this difficulty. (2) A lax conscience formulates moral judgments on insufficient grounds. (a) It judges mortal sins as venial and venial sins as no sins at all. (b) Frequent use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a protection against a lax conscience. iv) Conscience is not an infallible guide (1) There is always the possibility of error in one’s judgment (2) One must first seek to know what is truly good (3) The person who has become blind to the truth through habitual sin, or who refuses to seek what is good, is culpable for the evil of his actions, because his ignorance is vincible. 6) Acting always with right conscience a) One is obligated to follow his conscience . i) When he is in error, his personal freedom to choose must be acknowledged. ii) It is through his conscience that man sees and recognizes the demands of the divine law. He is bound to follow this conscience faithfully in all his activity so that he may come to God, who is his last end. Therefore he must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters. (Dignitatis Humanae, N3) b) Since conscience is the instrument with which one must judge his actions, such judgment should always be made with true or correct conscience. i) This requires knowledge of the general principles of morality and their application, by conscience to concrete acts. ii) Conduct that is modeled on right principles, then, is needed to overcome ignorance. iii) It is wrong to make judgments without knowledge of the law or its precepts. (1) A person may never act when his conscience is in doubt (2) In the case of doubtful conscience, one is required to determine the good or evil of a particular choice before acting. iv) In the case where a person is obligated to act immediately. Since he is unable to secure an informed moral judgment, he may do what he believes would correspond with God’s will. (1) He needs to be conscious of the following: (a) Evil means never justify good ends (b) Love for God and neighbor overrides any other consideration (c) We should act toward others as we would like them to act toward us v) Conscience always obliges in the name of God. (1) God wants us to follow his law, so conscience is obliged to follow the divine will. (2) Even an invincible erroneous conscience does not give us an exception. (3) The capacity to err is one more reason to form our consciences properly. 7) The Bible’s appeal to our conscience a) The existence of conscience, besides having rational proofs, is also found in revelation. b) The OT states that God seeks our conscience c) The NT mentions conscience appears thirty times in reference to the need for proper behavior. 8) Arguments for the existence of conscience a) The specific nature of the rational animal (man) includes conscience b) An essential characteristic of the person is his capacity of reflection (being conscious of his actions) c) This capacity is reflected in three ways: i) Sense experience (1) A person is conscious of his own sensations of pleasure, pain, cold, heat, etc. (2) Self-reflection is exclusive and proper to the human being. ii) Rational Discernment (1) One’s capacity to reflect and inform his conscience exists on a higher intellectual level (2) When people are tempted to act hastily, they are warned of the need to reflect so they can be conscious of what they should know or do. (3) Intellectual conscience is often used to describe this faculty iii) Moral reflection (1) Reflection does not end in sensation or thought. (2) It accompanies all actions. (a) Before acting, he reflects on what he ought to do. (b) He is conscious of his action at the moment of acting (c) Later reflects on the good or evil of his acts (3) Moral reflection in ethical behavior is as real as sense experience or rational discernment. (a) Conscience does not keep silent, it praises and reprimands, exhorts and corrects, incites and represses (b) Conscience confronts each of us with the law, and thus becomes a witness of our own faithfulness and unfaithfulness with regard to the law, of our essential moral rectitude or iniquity. (c) Conscience is the only witness, since what takes place In the heart is hidden from the eyes of everyone outside. (d) Conscience makes its witness known only to the person himself. (e) Only the person himself knows what his own response to the voice of conscience 9) Conscience and law a) There can be confrontations between conscience and law i) Both elements are involved in morality ii) A “synthesis” of the two is required (1) The previous age stressed (sometimes excessively) the law (2) Current stress is on personal conscience (often confused with “feelings”) iii) In the extreme, two separate moral paths are created (1) Autonomous morality (a) Treats conscience as the only moral authority (b) Professes an autonomy of mankind before any law (2) Heteronomous morality (a) Enslaves conscience to an absolute dependence on norms. iv) Conscience and the norm ought to assist one another in a participatory theonomy which means all decisions are made with a sense of God’s presence v) Conscience serves as an immediate norm of moral action, so that the judgment of conscience is the immediate criterion for moral actions. (1) Conscience does not create law – it finds law and takes it as a guide. (a) Conscience is neither autonomous nor exclusive in determining good and evil (b) In conscience there is a deeply inscribed principle of obedience. (c) Conscience has traditionally been called a normed norm, that is, the rule for acting whose measure is prescribed by the law. vi) Divine natural laws are are so intimately united to the proper being of each person that they have a very direct influence on the conscience. (1) Positive law is made by those in authority (2) Conflict may arise in relation to unjust laws (3) The value of a right conscience prevails over unjust law vii) Instead of defining law as an ordinance of reason – which is never in conflict with conscience – law is often seen as the arbitrary will of government or authority. Obedience to the law then becomes slavery. 10) Distortion and degradation of personal conscience a) Conscience, as a judgment of an act, is not exempt from the possibility of error . i) A person can corrupt and distort his conscience in many ways (1) A substantial portion of errors stem from bad formation early in life. (2) A right conscience can still corrupt itself at a later stage by many other causes (a) Ignorance of Christ and His Gospel (b) Bad example of others (c) Enslavement to one’s passions (d) Assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience (e) Rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching (f) Lack of conversion and of charity (3) The risk of distortion of conscience demands from each person (especially the Christian) a concern for individual conduct (4) It stresses the need to properly form one’s conscience (5) A decisive way for the Christian to form his conscience is to follow the moral teachings of the Magisterium 11) Conscience is the practical judgment of reason regarding the morality of an action that leads a person to perform the action or refrain from performing it. a) Every person has the obligation to form his conscience according to the objective standards of good and evil that have been determined by God. b) The highest ideal is to be faithful to right conscience, since this equals being faithful to God and to himself. c) A properly formed conscience protects a person’s dignity and the means necessary to reach happiness.