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What is Conscience?

(By Gian Domenico Daddabbo) In the modern Western culture a wrong conception of conscience has asserted itself, that is a way to think about it only as will and absolute moral autonomy, but the Church has never given up her mission to enhance the human person and in this perspective she has rediscovered the primacy of conscience.

Without offending those convinced that such primacy is a change introduced by the latest Council, actually it has always been in the common feeling of Christian people and in Tradition, yet it is true that before the Council there hadn’t been a true theology. Council Fathers defined conscience as “the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths” (Gaudium et Spes, n 16), that means moral conscience opens individuals to relationship and listening of God’s voice, indipendently from that they are believers or not, indeed as Pope Francis says Truth is relationship: “Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37).

If conscience goes beyond certain limits, it makes erroneous judgment, which can be because of invincible ignorance of the person, that is to say when the person does not know about the mistake, so it cannot be imputed; in other cases because of rejection to search for Truth (deliberate ignorance) and the Western mentality falls into the latter case, as it has put the Church’s Teachings in the dock.

A very important forgoer of theology of conscience is Cardinal John Henry Newman, ex-Anglican converted to Catholicism and great enemy of liberalism, a great reference for Vatican II Council and our Popes in the last decades, especially for Benedict XVI in his battle against relativism, which still continues now with Pope Francis. The “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk” is a benchmark of newmanian thought. Written after the proclamation of Papal Infallibility (1870), it was the response to the accuses of sir William Gladston against British Catholic citizens, guilty (he said) of having submitted to the foreign guide of the Pope, betraying the Queen. With great doctrinal firmness, Newman shew that freedom of conscience is awareness of one’s rights and duties, in this British Catholics could and had to be in comunion with the Pope, the conscience of the Church, to discharge their duties as Christians and, at the same time, faithful to the Crown to fulfil those ones of citizenship in full adhesion to evangelical precepts.

Liberal thought, which preaches rights forgetting duties, has demolished conscience in the name of freedom of conscience and the results are evident to us, it’s a proof the declaration the Patriarch of Beirut for the Maronites Cardinal Bechara Raï gave in an interview at the microphones of the Vatican Radio at conclusion of the extraordinary Synod about family: «Western states – he explains – make laws without consideration of the Divine Law, both the one revealed and the natural one. That is why everything is open, there are no more limits». This rejection of objective Truth has imposed in the West an authority based on opinion, a new form of tiranny which is not the absolutism of King Louis the XIV anymore, but an absolutism disguised as democracy.

The Apostle Peter invites us to obey authorities (Cfr 1 Pt 2:13-17), but not unconditionally. If the state legislates against natural and revealed laws and so against the person, every good citizen, especially if Christian with a formed conscience, has to resist, even with strenght in extreme cases. An example of resistance is given by the nondenominational movement of the Veilleurs, with the intent of defending non-negotiable values, starting from family, founded on marriage between a man and a woman, in the name of the true freedom of conscience against the dictatorship of gender (or homosexualist) ideology; another example of resistance are pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-family movements in the USA, where in the few last years a great awaking of faith is on act.

If conscience were really opinion, where would it be the dignity of the person created and loved by God? How could we, for example, condemn the crimes of XX century dictators like Hitler? We could rather affirm: «What will you say to them? It’s their choice», we could say the same for ISIS fighters.

Certainly the words of Cardinal Raï exhort strongly us Westerners to get rid of liberal thought for a serious formation of our consciences. Particularly for us Christians the Word of God and Teachings of the Church, “lamp to our feet and light to our path” (Cfr Psalm 119,105), are a casting contribution to formation of conscience, since through them the Holy Spirit enlightens it with the gift of Counsel, so that it may be for us (to express ourselves in newmanian terms) that “strict counsellor” we need, even though we have to fight against the world.

Simone Venturini

Scrittore

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