Katie van Schaijik

What is conscience 2

Mar. 25, 2010, at 2:12pm

See below for the 2nd part of the comments elicited by Katie's post on Conscience

Steve B • Mar 26, 2010 - 2:01 pm


I agree with your analogies - we have only one conscience - but I think that the Catechism seems to strongly infer that it has “enlightened” aspects and “darkened” aspects.

Let’s take a radical example - a person who has “sold their soul” to the Devil, and who worships him.  While it’s commonly said that that kind of person “has no conscience”, I’ve also heard it said that that kind of person “has an evil conscience.”

Using the definition you are touting for “conscience” - i.e. that it is only what I am calling the “enlightened” part - what part of their personhood does that inherently evil person follow when they act out their evil intentions and wholeheartedly follow the voice of Satan?  What IS that called? 

I would call it a an “utterly darkened” or “completely blinded” conscience - the most extreme degree of what is stated in paragraph 1791 of the Catechism.

We’d best not go off on a bunny trail with our discussion arguing over the subjective philosophical/theological status of which Cardinals we each consider as great, as giants, or as barely more than competent.  That will get us absolutely nowhere.

All I was trying to imply wrt my discussion of Card. Ottaviani was that he expressed some of the VERY same concerns that we “traditionalists” do about the imprecise and ambiguous language used for “conscience” and “religious liberty” in Dignitatus Humanae.

Note that in Dignitatus Humanae it:

1) never even explicitly defined what it meant by “conscience” before it started using the term all over the place (it assumes that the reader already knows, or can figure it out for themself - which is a pretty ridiculous assumption, especially when your target audience is primarily non-Catholics!), and

2) that it never differentiated either about which religions it was talking about.

Does “religious liberty” apply just as equally to Muslims as well as Christians, even though in the religion of the former they believe absolutely radially different things wrt Divine Law?  Does every religion get to determine for itself what they consider Divine Law to be, in determining what “conscience” is?  This too is a glaring oversight, and in my opinion a woefully negligent deficiency, of Dignitatus Humanae….

All we “traditionalists” are asking for is a much more explicit and clear pronouncement on what the Church truly means and teaches by “conscience” and “religious liberty.” 

Are we ‘traditionalists” being REALLY all that unreasonable to urgently make this request, especially now when Islam is a such dominant force in the world right now???

I, and many other “traditionalists” too, are VERY thankful that the doctrinal discussions between the Vatican and the SSPX are working toward that end.  On top of all the above reasons, the dissenters within the Catholic Church have misconstrued Dignitatus Humanae to their advantage long enough already, and that MUST come to an end!!!

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

Steve B
Plano, TX

Jules van Schaijik • Mar 26, 2010 - 2:51 pm

About your radical example, Steve.  I would say that a person who has sold his soul to the devil is not following his conscience at all.  His fault is not that his conscience is darkened, but rather that, such as it is, he has rejected it.

I strongly suspect that most abortion advocates are in the same position.  They are not following a badly formed conscience, but rather set it aside for things like money, power, prestige, and such like.

Steve B • Mar 27, 2010 - 1:39 am

Hi Jules,

Thanks for jumping into the discussion!

WRT my radical example, what would you use for a term to describe what this radically evil person is following?

If not the term “conscience”, then what?

I’d be fine with calling “conscience” what I have up to now been calling “enlightened conscience”, if you, Katie, Fr. Angelo, or anyone else could find an alternative term or definition for what I am calling “darkened conscience.”  I just don’t know what else to call it, or what the Church would call it - a radically evil person has to be following something inside of them too, the counter opposite of what you, Katie, and Card. Newman have been calling “conscience” for those of us with good will and good intentions.

As far as the abortion advocates, I would completely agree with you Jules that the prominent culture of death “brokers” do advance that cause for things like money, power, prestige, etc. 

However, I don’t think that is necessarily so for their “clientele” - I believe that these pursue it much more because their consciences have been “darkened” by society to such a degree, that they have been severely duped into following the COD “brokers.” 

That is why I also believe we who promote the culture of life can by our efforts still reasonably reach many of the COD “clientele”, but that reaching most of the COD “brokers” borders on requiring direct Divine intervention….

Katie van Schaijik • Mar 27, 2010 - 9:18 am

I hope Jules will jump in again later, Steve.  His dissertation was on this theme.  Just now he’s out biking in the glorious early spring Chester County countryside.

Basically those who disregard the moral law in their acting are acting in a fundamentally different way from those who act according to conscience.  They do not weigh their actions on a scale of right and wrong; they are thumbing their nose at right and wrong.  You could say they follow passion or inclination or ambition or self-will as the case may be. 
To follow conscience is to act to deliberately according to our honest apprehension of the moral law—which is according to what is morally right.  It is almost impossible to imagine that a person who commits a murder does it because he is sincerely convinced it’s the morally right thing to do.  If a person does think that, he can plead insanity in a court of law.

Jules van Schaijik • Mar 27, 2010 - 10:24 pm

It does not really matter what you call it.  St. Paul speaks about the spirit as opposed to the flesh, or of the two laws at war within him, the law of God vs. the law of sin.  Philosophers often use the contrast between reason and passion, and theologians oppose love to pride and concupiscence.

Conscience is the “organ” in man, which challenges him to be good and to live up to his high calling.  But it is not infallible. It can make mistakes.  Even when it does so, however, and this is the important point to see, “conscience does not lose its dignity, because even when it directs us to act in a way not in conformity with the objective moral order, it continues to speak in the name of that truth about the good which the subject is called to seek sincerely” (Veritatis Splendor, 62)

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