DIGNITY AND RESPONSIBILITY OF BEING HUMAN
Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
It is the will of God that his creatures act according to their nature. The nature of man is that he was created with an intellect to know and a free will to choose. God honors the exercise of free will. God wills that man seek the truth, inform his conscience with the truth, and then follow the honest dictates of his conscience.
Conscience is the intellect making a practical judgment about the morality of an action to be performed here and now. A dictate of the conscience is a categorical ought judgment about what we ought to do or not to do. The intellect has the power to intuit, to draw from its earliest experiences, even without revelation, the primary moral principle, do good and avoid evil, and also the secondary principles of the Decalogue. Historically, man preceded the revealed law. The revealed law was made for man, not man for the law.
The traditional teaching of the Church is that the dictate of conscience is the proximate norm of morality. “Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of man. There he is alone with God.” (Gaudium et Spes, I,1,16) “Eternal salvation is open to those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and His Church but seek God with a sincere heart, and under the inspiration of grace try in their lives to do His will, made known to them by the dictates of their consciences.” (Lumen Gentium n.2.16)
Cardinal Newman is most eloquent on this subject. “What is the main guide of the soul, given to the whole race of Adam, outside the true fold of Christ, as well within it, given from the first dawn of reason, given to it in spite of that previous penalty of ignorance which is one of the chief miseries of our fallen race? It is the light of conscience, “the true light,” as the same evangelist says in the same passage, “which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world.” Whether a man be born in pagan darkness, or in some corruption of revealed religion, whether he has heard the name of the savior of the world or not, whether he be the slave of some superstition, or is in the possession of some portions of Scripture and treats the inspired word as a sort of philosophical book which he interprets for himself, and comes to certain conclusions about its teachings, in any case, he has within his breast a certain commanding dictate, not a mere sentiment, not a mere opinion, or impression or view of things, but a law, an authoritative voice, bidding him do certain things and avoid others. I do not say that particular injunctions are always clear or that they are always consistent with each other, but what I am insisting on here is this, that it commands, that it praises, it blames, it promises, it threatens, it implies a future and it witnesses to the unseen. It is more than a man’s own self. The man himself has not power over it, or only with extreme difficulty; he did not make it, he cannot destroy it. He may silence it in particular cases or directions, he may distort its enunciation, but he cannot, or it is quite the exception if he can, emancipate himself from it. He can disobey it, he can refuse to use it, but it remains.” (Sermons Preached on Various Occasions, p. 64)
Pope John Paul II agrees with Newman. “If Newman places conscience above authority, he is not proclaiming anything new with respect to the constant teaching of the Church. The conscience, as the Council teaches, is man’s sanctuary and most secret core where he finds himself alone with God, whose voice resounds within him.” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p.191)
The Holy Father affirms that this is also the position of St. Thomas. “The position of St. Thomas is, in fact, well known: He is so consistent in his respect for conscience that he maintains that it is wrong for one to make an act of faith in Christ, if in one’s conscience one is convinced, however absurdly, that it is wrong to carry out such an act.” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p.183)
The dictate of conscience is law in its formal sense. To act against one’s conscience is to commit a formal sin. To habitually go against one’s conscience is to set the stage for enormous psychological and emotional self-destruction. Mental health is heavily dependent upon a person living according to his conscience. (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church #1795-1802)
GOOD MORAL IS GOOD MEDICINE
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