Friday, May 19, 2006

Clarification on the meaning of "conscience"...

There are so many people in today's society (especially pro-abortion "Catholic" politicians) who claim that they are following their conscience, when their conscience goes against the teachings of the Church. This is a clear misunderstanding on the role of conscience. Below is a nice, brief article on the true meaning of conscience. Here's the intro:

A Clarification on the Meaning of "Conscience"
by Doug McManaman

Whenever I think certain popular misconceptions are finally behind us, someone who should know better, such as a priest, teacher, or God forbid, a bishop, brings me back to reality. One such misconception that seems to never go away is the idea that conscience is the final arbiter of what is morally right — a misconception often designated under the expression “primacy of conscience”.

But to put it bluntly, conscience is not the final arbiter of what is morally right, nor has the Church ever taught that it is. In its truest sense, conscience is the intellectual apprehension of the Divine Law. For this reason, Divine Law is primary.

In his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, Newman quotes Cardinal Gousset, who writes: "The Divine Law is the supreme rule of actions; our thoughts, desires, words, acts, all that man is, is subject to the domain of the law of God; and this law is the rule of our conduct by means of our conscience. Hence it is never lawful to go against our conscience."

Essentially, conscience is one's best judgment, in a given situation, on what here and now is to be done as good, or to be avoided as evil. Because conscience is one's best judgment, hic et nunc, a person has a duty to obey it. The Fourth Lateran Council says: "He who acts against his conscience loses his soul".

Moreover, the duty to obey one's conscience includes an erroneous conscience. For example, if, as a result of being brought up by neurotic parents, I judge that in this particular situation right now, drinking this cup of Tim Horton's coffee is contrary to God's will, then I have a duty not to drink the cup of coffee. Should the Pope or a local Bishop try to persuade me that there is nothing sinful in drinking a cup of coffee, yet for some reason I continue to judge, erroneously, that drinking this cup of coffee would offend my Creator, I must nonetheless follow my conscience and not drink the coffee. The reason is that if I were to drink it, I'd be doing what in my best judgment is morally wrong.

This is what is meant by the “primacy of conscience”, that is, conscience having the final word on what I ought to do in the here and now situation.

”Primacy of conscience” does not mean that I can dissent from Church teaching on a particular issue because I don't agree with the teaching or see anything wrong with doing what the Church says I ought not to do. That this is true is rather easy to demonstrate.


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