Katie van Schaijik

What is conscience 3

Mar. 25, 2010, at 3:12pm

See below for the 3rd part of the comments elicited by Katie's post on Conscience

Steve B • Mar 28, 2010 - 6:15 pm

Ah, Jules!

But that quote you have from Vertiatis Splendor is speaking ONLY about an error of conscience which is the result of invincible ignorance - not in general about about an erroneous conscience as a whole.

If I may quote the entirety of that portion of section 62 of Veritatis Splendor:

The Council reminds us that in cases where such invincible ignorance is not culpable,
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.”

So, despite my thorough enjoyment of the discussions on “conscience” and its corollaries (prudence, modesty, etc.), I would like to get back to the original theme from which this topic of “conscience” originated - i.e. “religious liberty” as promulgated in the Vatican II document Dignitatus Humanae.

In Dignitatus Humanae, two things are incontrovertible:

1) the Council Fathers neither clearly defined exactly what they meant by “conscience”,

2) nor did they qualify “conscience” at all (erroneous vs. correct) in a person’s pursuit of “religious liberty”

Fr. Angelo stated:

“Steve is correct in saying that an erroneous conscience, when it flies in the face of the divine law, has no objective right.”

Thus, one could readily conclude, based upon Fr. Angelo’s conclusion above, either that the Council Fathers wrongly taught that “religious liberty” is an unqualified moral right of each person, based solely upon his/her inherent human dignity, or that out of negligence & ambiguity they implied it.

Either way, there are serious problems and/or deficiencies with with what the Council Fathers taught about “religious liberty” in Dignitatus Humanae.

That is exactly what I asserted from the very beginning in my discussions with Katie, when we “traditionalists” claim that “religious liberty” as taught by the Council Fathers in DH is at the very least ambiguous, and on face value appears to be clearly inconsistent with the traditional, pre-Conciliar, teachings of the Catholic Church.

As I have already stated before, IMHO THAT has played a significant if not dominant role in the widespread dissent of religious belief currently plaguing the Catholic Church on a whole host of issues.

So, in this discussion, we’re literally right back to square one now - an incredible “ride” it has been, I must admit, but which took us virtually nowhere.

After this sometimes-head-spinning discussion, I am VERY glad that the Vatican and the SSPX are hammering out the details to, hopefully, completely clarify Catholic doctrine on this contentious matter!

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

Steve B
Plano, TX

Jules van Schaijik • Mar 28, 2010 - 10:41 pm

It is true, of course, that it makes an importance difference whether the errors of conscience are invincible or culpable.  But I don’t think that that issue changes the point I tried to make above.  It just adds another issue to the mix which, for clarity’s sake, I decided to leave out.

In a nutshell, however, here is how I see things:  A person who has a culpably erroneous conscience is precisely a person who is not sincerely seeking to follow his conscience.  Such a person, as the encyclical describes him, “shows little concern for what is true and good, and [his] conscience gradually becomes almost blind from being accustomed to sin.”  He may even say to himself that his conscience is clear.  But he is not a morally serious person.  To quote the encyclical again:

before feeling easily justified in the name of our conscience, we should reflect on the words of the Psalm: ‘who can discern his errors? Clear me from hidden faults’.  There are faults which we fail to see but which nevertheless remain faults, because we have refused to walk towards the light.

But think now of a man who has lived a morally unserious life and whose conscience, as a result, is weak and malformed.  Imagine that he has a genuine conversion and wants to turn his life around.  What should he do?  His conscience is in bad shape, and he is largely to blame.  Should he set it aside and live according to someone else’s?  Should he, for instance, follow his confessor’s conscience instead of his own?  Many people are inclined to think that he should.  They say that a person has a duty to follow his conscience as long as that conscience is properly formed.  But I think they are wrong.  (I was going to say why, but I would only repeat myself.  And it’s past my bedtime.)

As to Dignitatus Humanae, I cannot agree with you that its teaching is unclear or problematic at all.  But I don’t know what more I can say on that score.

Steve B • Mar 28, 2010 - 11:36 pm

Hi Jules,

Thanks for the further commentary. 

Thank goodness also for Google in helping me to track down exactly from which encyclicals you were quoting!  I’ll chalk that up to your commenting so late in the evening…. ;-)

However, when you have to refer to two OTHER encyclicals - Gaudium et Spes (paragraph 16) and Veritatis Splendor (section 63) to clarify what the Council Fathers wrote in Dignitatis Humanae about “conscience” - well, I think that too merely justifies what I’ve already said - namely, that DH was ITSELF written with a woeful lack of clarity and precision wrt traditional Catholic teaching.

And, Veritatis Splendor was written almost 28 years AFTER Digitatis Humanae, for heaven’s sake!  That was plenty of time to allow the liberals’ “seeds of dissent” to fester and grow in the way that they promoted “religious liberty”!!!

As I’ve already said, Dignitatis Humanae qualifies “conscience” not in the least - IMHO, that is its greatest shortcoming. 

And quoting more fully from Gaudium et Spes paragraph 16 (emphasis mine):

Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

So, as I have been asserting all along, even Gaudium et Spes contrasts “right conscience” from “erroneous conscience” - all the more reason that DH should have qualified the term “conscience”! 

Thus, a more complete quote from GS 16 makes my arguments even stronger - i.e. what I was calling “enlightened conscience” is synonymous with what GS calls “right conscience”, and what I called “darkened conscience” is what GS calls “erroneous conscience”.

Having to “jump through hoops” sifting through multiple Church encyclicals to explain what Dignitatis Humanae REALLY meant - I mean, c’mon, how many Catholics have EVER heard this stuff taught, or have read enough Church encyclicals to figure it out on their own? - is proof positive that DH’s declaration on “religious liberty” needs some serious clarification and augmentation.

And, as we speak, that is precisely what the doctrinal discussions between the SSPX and the Vatican are working on doing. 

So, whether or not either of us is right about the clarity of teaching, or lack thereof, on “religious liberty” in Dignitatis Humanae, I have no doubt whatsoever that the ongoing doctrinal talks between the Vatican and the SSPX will result in some sort of document being issued to the faithful that will make it much more explicitly clear.

And that, Katie and Jules, is ALL I and other “traditionalists” are asking for for a LONG, LONG time - further official Church clarification on “religious liberty”, to close the loophole we “traditionalists” believe was left WIDE open in Dignitatis Humanae that dissenting Catholics have been exploiting to their advantage and to the detriment of the Church for nearly 45 years….

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

Steve B
Plano, TX

Scott Johnston • Mar 29, 2010 - 3:57 am

Steve, I offer these additional points to the mix here:

1. The Church always seems to accept on background that man’s freedom (free will) is genuine, and that the exercise of this freedom is proper to being human and thus a part of God’s desire for mankind.

2. Not everyone is born (in geography or in time) into a situation such that they have the opportunity to hear the explicit gospel message. Such people can still be saved, implicitly, by Christ, through a sincere and honest seeking after truth and a genuine effort to live according to the truth as they know it.

3. Non-Christian religions possess, in smaller or larger measure, at least some portion of the fullness of truth about the world and the human condition. In keeping with no. 2, being born and raised in a non-Christian religion, even though it be objectively false in some serious ways, does not necessarily preclude an individual from salvation. Even the partial truth they have through their (false to some degree) religion, their life experience, their human conscience, makes possible an implicit embrace of Christ, though He be not known explicitly, clearly, by name.

4. The teaching of the Church on the freedom of religion does not by any means therefore accept that the fundamental moral code given to all mankind by God can therefore be dispensed with. The free exercise of religion is not an excuse from a Catholic point of view to violate the universal moral law. For example, human sacrifice can never be permitted regardless if a religion advocates it. A non-Christian religion may have certain rights to freedom in a Catholic context, but that freedom does not extend to the point of permitting the violation of those basic moral principles that the Church also claims are present in some way in the hearts of all men. So, stealing, lying, etc., are not to be accepted no matter the religious viewpoint on these. So, you might be allowed to say that your religion does not oppose human sacrifice, but you better not try to actually do it. So, the freedom I think the Church is talking about is freedom of belief and to express what you believe to others. But in anything regarding human actions (including worship), the common moral law always is to be upheld.

5. I would think that because no. 3 is true, the freedom of a non-Christian to openly communicate the content of his sincere belief even within a predominately Christian culture is actually a pre-requisite to then assisting that person to a genuine conversion to Christ. For in order to have a dialog that fully respects the human person in his autonomy, as one who truly possesses what he has embraced as his own philosophy of life, first requires that he be truly free to state what he believes. But this, in the Church’s view, is a precursor to conversion. Because it is first by openly listening to what a person truly believes that one can discern what aspects of his belief are indeed true and in accord with the authentic truth about life as revealed by God, and what aspects of his belief are objectively false. The path to conversion might then be opened by focusing initially on what the non-Christian and the Christian already hold in common; what aspects of the Truth do they already share? Then, the Christian might build upon that to manifest how the rest of the Christian vision of life fits much more fittingly, harmoniously, and beautifully with that portion of truth which the non-Christian already accepts. This sort of open dialog is necessary for a conversion that does not denigrate the dignity of a person’s self-possession. And for this openness of dialog, the society at large must allow for (qualified as above in regard to actions) freedom of religious belief and communication of such. Without this, a dialog that is truly open to the fullest possible depths of an individual’s personal being—to seeing the real person as he genuinely is at that point in his life—cannot take place. And the Church wants to dialog with people as they truly are—in all their honest depth, including the objectively erroneous along with the objectively true. A Catholic context in which a person who holds a false religion were not free to fully express what he believes, would be a context in which such a person’s conversion to the Catholic faith could not be embraced with all of the full force and freedom of that individual’s complete and total humanity. And the Church has confidence in advocating this, because she has ultimate confidence in the desire of every human soul for the true faith—for Christ. She has learned in the course of history that it is better to convert the whole person, as completely as possible, as freely as possible—heart, mind, and soul—to the true faith, than to convert only a part of a person’s life because open dialog was not possible.

Scott Johnston • Mar 29, 2010 - 5:10 am

Steve, you quoted from veritatis splendor 62,

The Council reminds us that in cases where such invincible ignorance is not culpable, 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.

I think I can shed a little more light on this. I’ll try, at least. No guarantees!

How can JPII say that conscience (an invincibly ignorant one, that is) continues to have something good about it, something still worthy of respect, even when it allows human actions that are contrary to the objective moral order?

I think it is helpful here to recall that JPII was familiar with the work of St. Thomas. He must have known how Thomas explained the good (and the role of conscience with respect to it). For Thomas, “the good” (i.e. as manifest in morally good human acts) is called good because it is that which, when done, leads the human person more and more to the fulfillment of his nature as a human being. In other words, man’s life has a purpose built into it by God. Man’s free actions contribute to going farther away from, or, closer to, his purpose. And it is man’s conscience which enables him to judge and to choose which course of action in concrete circumstances will move him further along the path toward greater attainment of that for which he was made.

Every human being naturally seeks the fulfillment of his nature. This, he understands as the good. God Himself inscribed into mankind the innate drive to fulfill his own purpose, to seek to bring to perfection and completion that for which he was created. Conscience is integral to how in the daily details of life, man does this as a free creature.

So, even though a person be invincibly ignorant and his conscience be miscalibrated to accept in part things which on the objective moral order are not truly capable of fulfilling man’s purpose, such a man is still, in some way, trying to do what God created him to do. How? He is trying to honestly abide by his conscience. Simply by trying to genuinely heed one’s conscience, a person implicitly embraces the call put into him by God to move toward his own full flourishing through his freely chosen acts. Following one’s conscience, even if it be (non-culpably) ignorant, always means that such an individual is embracing the call placed into his nature by God to try to act in such a way that he move closer toward the fulfillment of his own nature as a human being. And this reveals an implicit desire to accept God’s will, even though objectively he be acting contrary to authentic moral values.

I think this explains in part why I have heard anecdotes that when missionaries go to places (some, at least) where the gospel is not known, some people (perhaps only a few), even though their lives are in some ways objectively immoral, when they hear the good news, eagerly embrace it, almost as though they have been waiting for it. Some others do not. What might explain the difference? One reason is that those who readily embraced the gospel had already been in the habit of living honestly in accord with their conscience, and thus already were in a position to want to follow the orientation God had placed in them to seek their own highest flourishing (even though it was misguided). When it was revealed to them a more clear and perfect understanding what the constellation of moral values looks like that truly and always move the person toward his own perfection and fulfillment according to God’s plan, they are eager to reorient their moral compass, though they need help in overcoming habits that place obstacles in the way to living out the Christian vision of life.

Contrasted to this, those who do not readily embrace the gospel, might not (in part) have done so because they already had become acclimated to a patten of life in which they no longer cared to heed their own conscience. Such persons would not be much interested in a more perfect vision of the objective moral order, for they had already allowed to grow cold the flame of desire to follow God’s plan as they knew it in the urgings of their conscience.

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