Death, thou shalt die

John Donne’s view of death is vividly expressed in his poetry:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Dylan Thomas has another view. The last lines of his celebrated poem on death express an altogether different attitude.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

However many of us would line up instinctively with the incident at a headmasters’ conference: A delegate remarked that his school prepared pupils for life. To which he received the response of another delegate You see, at Ampleforth we always seek to prepare our boys for death.

Our belief is that death is an important gateway through which we can pass – at least eventually – into the realms of the Blessed. A consummation, one might say, devoutly to be wished. But is that really how we feel?

Are we in fact rather nervous about death? Many of us belong to a generation in which the question, am I in a state of grace?, was repeatedly, and perhaps nervously, asked. Joan of Arc’s answer, via Bernard Shaw, was “If I am not, may God bring me to it: if I am, may God keep me in it!” We may not all be so sanguine – and an eternity in Hell seems a heavy punishment for getting that answer wrong.

Do some of us in the early hours ask ourselves: Is it really all true? Perhaps it is a fable and we all pass out of existence into nothing, just as we once came out of nothing into existence.

All of us will have gone through the experience of the death of someone close. We may be confident that they are up there – thinking of us and praying for us, just as we pray for them. But is that true, or just a very human way of obtaining consolation?

What do we believe about death?, what do we feel about death?, and are they the same?

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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121 Responses to Death, thou shalt die

  1. Regarding doubts some may hold on Orthodoxy during the ‘witching hours’ aka ‘dark night of the soul’ etc…

    “This experience of Jesus reflects the situation of all those who having heard and acknowledged God’s word, must also confront his silence. This has been the experience of countless saints and mystics, and even today is part of the journey of many beleivers. God’s silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments of darkness, he speaks through the mystery of his silence. Hence, in the dynamic of Christian revelation, silence appears as an important expression of the word of God.”
    (Pope Benedict on God’s Silence; Verbum Domini – ‘God the Father, source and origin of the word’)

  2. Peter D. Wilson says:

    So far the idea of death doesn’t bother me, except in sympathy for those who have lost beloved companions (human, canine or feline). We have Jesus’s promise of the kingdom, whatever that may be, and I trust in His mercy; but if it shouldn’t materialise, then I find the idea of total extinction quite attractive.

  3. John 20:25 (Douay Rheims)
    “The other disciples therefore said to him: We have seen the Lord. But he said to them: Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

  4. Mike Horsnall says:

    Not quite sure about all this.It seems to me we have the experience of death-second hand as it were from watching people die close to us, then we have our sense of what we ‘ought’ to believe about death-then finally our actual ‘feelings’ about the issue which we have to process in light of what we know and deem to be acceptable to ourselves and to others. My own experience of death is largely ‘professional’ from when I nursed and ‘personal’ from the deaths of friends. I see the process with a vague biological dread-death is not a great friend I suspect though perhaps a merciful release. I feel death to be a transition and nothing I have seen of its methodology and outworking convinces me otherwise….oddly enough I felt this way about the process before I was formally religious at all-belief has only brought some degree of enlightenment as to the outcome.

    • Brendan O' Leary says:

      I think I understand where you are coming from. As a “cradle Catholic ” my beliefs mirrored the ” right way ” to live. I characterise this as my being a congregational or cultural Chtistian, perhaps like a large number of Christians today. About 1975, aged 25yrs. I read a tome “On being a Christian ” by Hans Kung ( still a proscribed author by Catholic Church ?). I am convinced this was Gods work in putting me to read this.
      On the section concerning The Ressurection ( which I can’t recall exactly now ) it suddenly struck me how God (The Spirit) was speaking about me personally – and how I was subject to my own resurrection because of Christs Resurrection. I believe also, there was some kind of process of healing going on as well at the same time owing to past circumstances in my life. From then on I tried deliberately to cultivate a personal relationship/ understanding of Our Saviour to this day within the belief system that I was thoroughly nurtured. Following that ” revelation ” I could not contemplate a return to a ” former life. ” The story continues………………….

      • Mike Horsnall says:

        Brendan…”Tome” is a good description. I have had several attempts at the book and seem to doze off fairly early on. Karl Rahner has written a similar one which is interesting but very dense. I’ll try again with the Kung

  5. Brendan O' Leary says:

    Two opposite and contrasting views of death. John Donne, classic christian attitude c. 16th Century. Confident with perhaps a touch of stoicism, chiding Death for being pretentious in believing it has the last word. Christ’s promises arising from The Ressurection shines through.
    Dylan Thomas – a great Welsh poet, born in Swansea just a few miles from me. He was a complcated fellow and led a torrid life. This poem was composed at the time of his fathers death and bears a number of interpretations. The main theme that I detect is one of fear of the hereafter perhaps with a tinge of Calvinistic non-conformism about it and therefore a clinging onto ones life before ” the dying of the light “, fearing the Holy Wrath.
    The difference is palpably obvious between the Faith of late Medieval religion , ostensibly Catholic ( with all its warts ), and lack of real Faith in the beliefs of today. For me? it’s Donnes view that wins out, period. But Believing is not feeling. That is why subjective faith can no be measured in this world. The important thing is to BELIEVE that The Ressurection of The Lord really happened in history and that vital link between Him (Wholely Other ) and the reality of our existence have met. Why? Because Christ passed the last barrier coquering it for us and opened the gateway to eternity in our dimension. Yes, ” timor mortis contubat me ” , but Dylan Thomas ( in one of his better moments ) declares ” and Death has no dominion.”

    • John Nolan says:

      Hans Kung’s works were never proscribed – the Index Librorum Prohibitorum was abolished in 1966 – and although his missio canonica to teach as a catholic theologian was withdrawn in 1979 he has not been excommunicated ferendae sententiae, nor have his faculties as a priest been withdrawn. Recent comments that the Pope might be schismatic tend towards sedevacantism but his earlier works, at least, are worth reading.

  6. John Candido says:

    Although universally dreaded, there is a practical side of death that most of us are aware of. Namely, if nobody died we would not have the space to provide for them, nor the food to serve them. And what of the capacity of governments to take care of ancient individuals requiring support; nil!

    Apart from these practicalities, death is an elixir of life. We think of Christ and his cross, we think of servicemen and women giving up their lives in war for our freedom and benefit, we think of the collective good of our countless forebears who gave of their lives the gift of work, thought, artistic endeavour, and family life.

    Apple founder Steve Jobs gave a commencement address in 2005 at Stanford University. In it he mentioned the importance of death as a catalyst towards inner integrity, productivity, and personal meaning. I don’t think that finer words have ever been said about the ‘usefulness’ of death.

    ‘When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last,
    someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.’

    ‘Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.’

    ‘About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumour on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.’

    ‘I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumour. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.’

    ‘This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept: No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.’

    ‘Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important; have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.’

    As for my own personal views about death; I am not in favour of it but what can you do. As I get older and closer to my own passing, I find that I am not that fussed about it at all. This is a real contrast with my teenage years where my hope was that science would find a way for all of us to live forever. I am left with a desire to focus on the living and to leave death to itself.

    • Brendan O' Leary says:

      For me you have amply illustrated the difference between natural human feelings when its about oneself and the possession of a complete trust in Divine Providence. I hope I am given the grace of the latter when my time comes. I trust this means full remission for you by the way?

  7. John L says:

    Who was it who said that the idea of being dead did not worry him, it was the process of dying that was frightening?
    Our bodies are designed with survival instincts built in at a very (necessary) deep level. Whatever our beliefs or spiritual state at the time of death, surely our bodies are still going to make the last moments of life unpleasant?
    The lives of the Saints often suggest this is not so, but such accounts as we have are still second-hand?
    As you see, I can offer only questions – I have little concrete or new to offer.

  8. Peter D. Wilson says:

    John Candido – Thank you for that extended quotation – a package of great wisdom.
    John L. – You’ve hit the nail on the head with yours. To qualify my earlier comment: I’m not at all afraid of death itself, but far from keen on some of the ways to approach it.

  9. John Candido, if dogma is living with the results of other people’s thinking as you claim then would you agree with Hamlet’s subjectivist idea when he says to Rosencrantz: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”?

    • John Candido says:

      No I don’t agree with the above notion. I do agree with subjective circumstances being a mitigating factor in one’s level of culpability for an egregious act or omission. We cannot forget the importance of one’s human conscience as it privately informs individuals as to what to do in complex circumstances. It is also germane that a better, scientific understanding of human beings, through the passage of time, helps inform us all in hindsight as to the limits of past knowledge about human and religious issues. All of the above does not wipe away the objective teaching of the faith and the Church’s ordinary magisterium, and how it evolves through history.

      For a fuller rendition of this issue, you might want to read my post in ‘Take the Tube’ on the 1st February 2011 at 1:18 pm. It is my first post in ‘Take the Tube’.

      https://secondsightblog.net/2011/01/27/take-the-tube/

      By the way, for those who are interested this is the full text of his 2005 commencement address to new students at Stanford University. It is simply brilliant.

      http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        John C and stefangillies – The quotation from Hamlet is taken out of context. He refers not to moral considerations but to opinions of external circumstances, in this case the state of Denmark which he describes as a prison. Whether he was right or wrong in that opinion, it’s a matter of politics, not conscience.

      • I disagree, a better scientific understanding of human beings, through the passage of time, does affect the Church’s ordinary magisterium of which Catholics are called to assent to via religious submission of intellect and will. The evolutionary biologists influence on ordinary magisterium through the Pontifical Acedemy of Science bears witness to this and it’s interesting no extraordinary magisterium has been written since Humani Generis on the subject by Pius XII. An example of this influence can be seen in Ratzinger’s writings the same year he became Pope, in ‘The Dialectics of Secularization’…
        “The idea of the natural law presupposed a concept of nature in which nature and reason overlap, since nature itself is rational. With the victory of the theory of evolution, this veiw of nature has capsized: nowadays, we think that nature as such is not rational, even if there is rational behaviour in nature. This is the diagnosis that is presented to us, and there seems few voices today that are raised to contradict it”
        From an antagonistic perspective to Ratzingers comments we find Joseph Bolin offering a contradictory diagnosis in ‘Darwin and Evolution from a Catholic Perspective’ (CTS) in 2009…
        “…from this philosophical principle that an effect cannot be greater than its cause, we can legitimately conclude that the source from which all living things developed, must have been in some way at least as perfect as the result. But what what kind of perfection is this? Since the historical process that the theory of evolution examines is a sequence of material development and order, the perfection in question is actually that of matter and its orderliness.”
        The above example highlights the confusion born out of modernist philosophical influence within our Church and the reason why extraordinary magisterium remains infallible and unchanged by scientific understanding and thus requires full assent of faith.

      • Peter D. Wilson, I believe Shakespeare must be interpreted on the many levels it is meant thus representing the philosophical changes aswell as political changes of that time.

  10. Quentin, was your intention to help the faithfull “extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one” by training their “shield of faith” through your inquiry about doubting orthodox teaching?

    • Quentin says:

      That would be far too clever for me! If I read contributors aright, I get the feeling that they are at their happiest hearing everyone’s views — including mine — and considering them, and questioning further. They have never been enthusiastic about being told what or how they should believe. Our approach is maieutic rather than dogmatic. So our patron is Socrates not the Pope. However as the Pope is notably keen on Socrates we come a full circle.

    • John Candido says:

      Welcome to Secondsight stefangillies! I am sorry but I don’t agree with you. Some people on Secondsight don’t agree with my reasoning as well; but be what it may. The scenario of millions of lay people giving assent to the magisterium of the Church, with total submission of intellect and will, is not part of my understanding of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching. It is an inaccurate portrait of the true position of the Church regarding free will generally, and religious freedom specifically, as adumbrated in several documents of the Second Vatican Council. Ones that come to mind are ‘Gaudium et Spes’ (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), ‘Dignitatus Humanae’ (Declaration on Religious Liberty), and ‘Nostra Aetate’ (Declaration on the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions).

      In addition, the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on the primacy of the human conscience is taught in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), published in 1994, promulgated by Pope John Paul II. Please refer to Part Three: Life in Christ, Chapter One: The Dignity of the Human Person, Article 6: Moral Conscience, paragraphs 1776 to 1802.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catechism_of_the_Catholic_Church

      Ultramontanists are those who believe in the power, prestige, and infallibility of the Bishop of Rome when it comes to religious questions. Papal power had its highest moment during the first Vatican council where Pope Pius IX sought and obtained this faculty. I believe that Papal infallibility is an historical accretion that evolved from the influence of the Roman Empire. It is something that I am confident will be revised in the light of modern theology, ecumenical considerations, and ecclesiology.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Vatican_Council

      • III. TO CHOOSE IN ACCORD WITH CONSCIENCE
        1786 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.

      • Quentin,
        I am full adherent of the Socratic dialogue of dialectics which has proven throughout time to maintain the dogmatic truth of the Catholic Church. St Anselm, the originator of Scholasticism through this process of dialectical reasoning to extend knowledge by inference, resolving contradictions passes us down the foundations of our extraordinary magesterium.
        His formula is ‘FIDES QUAERENS INTELLECTUM’ (faith seeking understanding).

      • Indeed herein is the problem with modernist theology John Candido – simply put, it is not Roman Catholic and Papal infallibility will never be revised.

      • Matthew 28:18-20 (Douay-Rheims)
        And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.
        Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
        Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.

      • Giovanni Battista Peruzzo’s short address to the Vatican II Council Fathers, as reported by Prof. Roberto di Mattei, based on Dom Guéranger’s principles of the Anti-Liturgical heresy…

        “I am the last one [to speak] but I am old, the oldest among you, and perhaps I have understood little; therefore, forgive me if some of my statements should be displeasing to you. I have listened to many comments and proposals against Holy Tradition, which has to be maintained regarding the use of the Latin language in the Sacred Liturgy, and many words have been a cause of fear and anxiety to me, so now I will explain these to you briefly, not from a theological perspective but from a historical one. I do not like the anti-liturgical movement because of its origins. It is always of great importance to pay attention to the origins of families, of institutions, of realities, of doctrines, to determine who the father is, who the mother is, who the guide is. If the original source was sound at the beginning, it will easily remain sound throughout the course of time. If the source is contaminated, it will hardly become pure. Based on these principles, I have before me the origins of the anti-liturgical movement – and exactly who the fathers and guides were.
        This movement began at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries. The first anti-liturgists were the Humanists, [who were] true and authentic pagans in Italy and were only a little better in France and the northern lands under the guidance of Erasmus, but all of them wavering in the Faith. Many of our brothers followed them in their path, and consequently separated from the Catholic Church. From there the Jansenists came into being, in Italy the followers of the Synod of Pistoia, and finally the Modernists: this is the company to which many have conformed their speech.”

        John Candido, who are you following?

  11. Lafu Ka says:

    One of the most startling things about going back and reading books by Dahl, CS Lewis and many other authors of just a generation ago is the absolute *lack* of any kind of fear regarding death. When characters see that they may die they basically shrug and say “nice knowing you, see you later!”. It’s an extraordinary thing, but once so normal.

    Do I fear death? Well, why should I?

  12. mike Horsnall says:

    Quentin,

    I most strongly agree with your views about considering and questioning. It is in the considering and questioning that we find ourselves. As you know I am a relatively recent convert -I trained as a catechist in order to find out what made our faith. I do not find the sense of being ‘required to believe..’ a particularly wholesome one-I simply can not , am not able to, believe that which I have not examined at length, over time and with deliberation…I can give a form of assent based on trust, but thats as far as it goes, we are humans after all. As to why we should fear death….well some of us fear mice!!!

  13. Geordie says:

    I think it was Woody Allen who said, “I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens”.

  14. Iona says:

    As I get older, I seem to find the thought of death more “acceptable”, – the next generation is coming along, the baton must be handed over to them. Certainly the process of dying is an unnerving one (there’s a short prayer about accepting “with a quiet mind” whatever death “with all its pains” is in store. I find the quiet mind difficult to attain). But dying itself seems… well, acceptable, for want of a better word. Some people die very peacefully. Some die so suddenly that they can’t have known what hit them.
    But as for after death, – my imagination is completely defeated by this concept. And indeed there is little if any Biblical guidance as to “what it will be like”.

  15. Iona says:

    Dylan Thomas’s advice to hs father to “rage against the dying of the light” suggests that he sees his father’s increasing weakness as something to be resented, or rather, something his father should resent . My mother, who declined over several years before she finally went, certainly used to “rage” and despair over things she could no longer do, – sewing, cooking etc .

    And by the way, I think Joan of Arc’s comment is original to her, not just GBS’ words put into her mouth, – at least, it’s also quoted in Mark Twain’s book about her, predating GBS.

    • Mike Horsnall says:

      Iona,
      Yes, I’m the same. So I think was CS Lewis, when he wrote about death he was approaching it. Dylan Thomas was of course writing in the midst of a lust for life( which in the end destroyed him-brilliant poet though he was) It seems to me that there is a sort of ‘resignation of the flesh’ Our passions grow less but our yearning for heaven grows stronger so there is a kind of exchange that goes on. Set against that is the ‘rage’ you speak of in your mother which is, I would say, completely natural. I treat lots of people through their seventies and eighties and get the sense that there is in fact a kind of war going on in them still. I am always reminded of Jesus’ words to Peter -that he would be taken and led to a place he did not want to go to-I know this was regarding the manner of his death but I find it apposite to this subject, we are all led to a death we do not choose nor especially look for. I also think it relevant to the topic of how we should ‘feel’ about death. It requires of us a certain overcoming spirit to be optimistic about our destination-we have to choose faith if you like and this choosing is not as instinctive as the visceral life, and with it the will to live, which courses in our veins.

    • THE TRIAL OF JEANNE D’ARC
      TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH
      FROM THE ORIGINAL LATIN AND FRENCH DOCUMENTS

      BY W. P. BARRETT

      Asked if she knows she is in God’s grace, she answered: “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me. I should be the saddest creature in the world if I knew I were not in His grace.” She added, if she were in a state of sin, she did not think that the voice would come to her; and she wished every one could hear the voice as well as she did. She thought she was about thirteen when the voice came to her for the first time.

      http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/joanofarc-trial.asp

      • Mike Horsnall says:

        Sorry Stefangillies (RE above post) I simply don’t see what you are getting at through this posting about Joan of Arc.

  16. Just backing up Iona’s statement ” I think Joan of Arc’s comment is original to her”

  17. Mike Horsnall says:

    Ok…sorry!!

  18. John Candido says:

    The primacy of the conscience is the constant teaching of the Church. If the conscience were a falsity, why would the Church promote it? If the conscience exits then we need to consider it thoroughly. It must be inviolate, free, private, and have primacy over the church. If the conscience lacks any of these faculties, it is compromised.

    Compromising these attributes will render it moribund. In such circumstances dictatorships flourish. We need to appreciate that it is a human conscience and not a mechanical one, and therefore is subject to failure etc. An individual can be misinformed. Any sincere person faced with a moral problem should be accorded privacy and sufficient time. A final position is not something that can be preordained. Obedience is derived from an informed conscience.

    This link should satisfy anyone’s curiosity.

    http://www.ascensioncatholic.net/TOPICS/morality/ConscienceAndMoralDecisions.html

    ‘He who acts against his conscience loses his soul.’ (Fourth Lateran council, 1215).

    ‘It is better to perish in excommunication than to violate one’s conscience.’ (St. Thomas Aquinas).

    ‘I shall drink … To Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.’ (Cardinal John Henry Newman).

    ‘If Newman places conscience above authority, he is not proclaiming anything new with respect to the constant teaching of the Church.’ (Pope John Paul II).

    ‘In the final analysis, conscience is inviolable and no person is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his/her conscience, as the moral tradition of the Church attests.’ (‘Human Life in Our Day’, U.S. Bishops Pastoral).
    ‘A human being must always follow the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were to deliberately act against it he would condemn himself.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1790).

    ‘We follow church leaders only to the extent that they themselves follow Christ … Some situations oblige one to obey God and one’s own conscience rather than the leaders of the church. Indeed, one may even be obliged to accept excommunication rather than act against one’s own conscience.’ (Cardinal Walter Kasper, Head of Ecumenical Matters at the Vatican).

    Contrasting views about conscience can be gleaned from the following link.

    http://www.v2catholic.com/background/2012/2012-01-28conscience.htm

    Pope Gregory XVI’s encyclical called ‘Mirari Vos, On Liberalism and Religious Indifferentism’, and promulgated on the 15th August 1832, has made incorrect statements on conscience. Click on ‘Liberty of Conscience’, and go to sections 14 and 15. Gregory XVI takes a hammer to press freedom in section 15.

    http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Greg16/g16mirar.htm#par14

    I should leave the final words on conscience to Pope Benedict XVI. In 1967 he wrote,

    ‘Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one’s own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirements of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which is the last resort, is beyond the claims of external social groups, even the official church, and also establishes a principle in opposition to totalitarianism.’

    (‘Gaudium et Spes’, Volume 5, Part 1, chapter 1, p. 134, in ‘Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II’, Edited by Herbert Vorgrimler, 1968, New York, Published by Herder & Herder).

    On the 24th May 1990, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of the CDF wrote ‘Donum Veritatis, on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian’. In paragraph 38 he states that,

    ‘Finally, argumentation appealing to the obligation to follow one’s own conscience cannot legitimate dissent.’

    …‘Setting up a supreme magisterium of conscience in opposition to the magisterium of the Church means adopting a principle of free examination incompatible with the economy of Revelation…’

    This is hypocrisy in the light of Ratzinger’s statement in 1967.

    • John Candido, some great research put on the table for us there and it’s wonderfully circular how the extraordinary magesterium of the Church is the outcome of conscience and ‘vice the versa’. Sundays extraordinary reading is relevant here…
      “I say then, walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would. But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law.”
      (Galatians 5:16-18 Douay-Rheims)
      Whilst on the subject of Newman let us not forget his writting was sometimes blurred by modernism as when he wrote…
      “I mean that it is as strange that monkeys should be so like men, with no historical connexion between them,”!

      • John Candido says:

        stefangillies, I think that you are terribly confused.

      • Interestingly last Sundays readings in the extraordinary form are repeated today and the Gospel reading is Mathew 6:25 where Jesus states “Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life”.
        John Candido, perhaps you can highlight my confusion lies.

      • John Candido says:

        I don’t think that anything that I say will be of any help to you.

      • Quentin stated the approach of this site is that truth is latent in the mind of every human being due to innate reason but has to be “given birth” by answering intelligently proposed questions. I responded that I am a full adherent of the Socratic dialogue of dialectics which has proven throughout time to maintain the dogmatic truth of the Catholic Church however oppositional discussion in which the defense of one point of view is pitted against the defense of another is required.

    • John Candido says:

      I welcome any genuine enquiries. However, as I know where you are generally comming from, we will rarely agree on hardly any substantive theological issue. If you read my replies to both Mike Horsnall and Vincent, they will inform you of where I am comming from on the issue of conscience. Perhaps after you have read the replies you might want to question me about something. When I get your question, I may reply to it or I may not give it any reply. It depends on a host of factors.

      • John Candido, when the Catechism explains…
        “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”
        …and thus our definition of Roman Catholic Dogma by Michael Schmaus as thus: “a truth revealed by God, which the magisterium of the Church declared as binding,” can you not see the cyclical nature of magesterium and conscience combined?

  19. mike Horsnall says:

    John Candido,

    Thanks John for doing all the spadework here, its an issue which is important. If I may state it as plainly as I can then perhaps others can correct meor whatever seems right.
    You are outlining a principle, to which you give reference, that the obedience of a person to his/ her conscience is paramount. As I understand you you are saying that a person must follow their heart/soul/conscience in matters of import, if they genuinely feel with all their being that a particular path is best then they must take it-intellectually or physically and if this path is at variance with the percieved teaching of the Church of which they freely claim to be a part-then so be it- with integrity.
    The counter vailing argument -put by Ratzinger in your bottom quote is that the first and abiding principle is of submission to revelation-in this case the revealed will of God expressed through the church. Freedom of conscience remains viable but cannot be used to erect the edifice of a principle which negates submission to revelation. In other words though freedom of action in accord with ones conscience is a basic freedom and a bulwark against totalitarianism (and clericalism?)but it is not sufficient as a freestanding principle above all other because if it were we would be free to ignore revelation….this last is what you feel to be hypocritical?

    As far as I can see there is a balance to be struck here. I simply cannot believe that which I cannot but that does not free me to then assume that which I cannot believe in is wrong and must be struggled against; in fact it may be that it is my lack of belief which is the problem so therefore I should still seek submission for my will. This does not however sanction behaviour which I feel in my bones to be wrong.

    • Vincent says:

      Yes, I agree with Mike that this is a useful summary of ideas ready for consideration.
      I would want to make two points by way of addition.

      First, what is the reason for the primacy of conscience? It is clear that it lies in the fact that this is the best judgment I can make of truth. It is as plain as a pikestaff that I can only follow my own judgment about the truth. I simply cannot justify following your, or any one’s, opinion, if I believe it to be in error. As Aquinas reminds us: the will can only be drawn by what it sees as good. And, refreshingly, I find in your Cardinal Pell’s reference: “It is the truth that is primary, and it is from the truth that conscience takes its value.”

      But we can seek truth in two ways. One is from our own authority judged from examination of evidence and the use of our own reason. The other is through the authority of someone we take to be more knowledgeable than we are. Suppose that my child turns blue and has difficulty breathing. I may be convinced that it is a minor problem which will soon clear. At St Ormond Street they tell me that my child must have an immediate cardiac operation if it is to survive. Now either of us may be wrong, but I think that it’s easy to see which decision I must take. Of course this is polarised. It become harder to weigh the balance in closer cases. But I must always take the authority which I judge to be in the best position to know.

      So we are obliged to ask ourselves in matters of dogma and morals who is most likely to be closer to the truth. I have no difficulty in granting authority to the teaching Church in matters like the nature of the Trinity, or whether women can be ordained as priests. But in moral matters, based as they are on the natural law, I can at least question the Church’s reasons, but give weight to her experience, and the relationship of a moral question to the whole economy of salvation. I might for example prefer her views on artificial contraception to my own rather clumsy thought processes – or not, if I were really confident that the reasons didn’t add up.

      Secondly, always I must have humility. My ability to confuse myself, to favour my own interests, to be prone to the weaknesses of original sin, must always put me on warning. Newman make it very clear that to go against the Church’s authority in matters of faith and morals, is an extreme step, for which we must answer at the Judgment. See you there, John!

    • John Candido says:

      Mike Horsnall,

      Conscience ‘…is not sufficient as a freestanding principle above all others because if it were we would be free to ignore revelation…’

      One is never free to ignore ‘revelation’ or the teachings of the Catholic Church. I have never advocated this idea. Any person that is dealing with a conflict between his human conscience and any teaching of the Catholic Church must inform themselves of the relevant, official teaching of the Catholic Church. This is a first port of call and a non-negotiable requirement for any person who is aware of their Catholic heritage and has access to what the church says about any issue.

      ‘… this last is what you feel to be hypocritical?’

      The hypocrisy that I am referring to is the one exhibited by Pope Benedict XVI’s changed stance on conscience.

      ‘As far as I can see there is a balance to be struck here.’

      No balance is needed at all. If you insist that there must be a ‘balance’ between the church and a person with a problem with his conscience, you have nullified the freedom, primacy, and inviolate nature of the conscience in one stroke.

      Either the human conscience is inviolate or it is not inviolate. Either the freedom of the human conscience is free or it is not free. Either the privacy of the human conscience is a private consideration or it is not a private consideration. Either the primacy of the human conscience has primacy over any secular or ecclesiastical authority or it does not have primacy over any secular or ecclesiastical authority. Like the binary system of numbers it is either one or the other.

      There is no safe compromise, balance, middle ground, or shades of grey on any of these characteristic dimensions of the human conscience. A working human conscience must have these faculties. Compromising the human conscience will render it incapable of being used by its author.

      Assuming a person is as sincere and as objective as possible, and that they have consulted as widely as possible, due consideration should be accorded to them in order for them to make a decision inside their own private moral space. Any person faced with a complex set of circumstances should not only be accorded the privacy any person needs in order to arrive at a personal decision, they must also be accorded lots of time and space in order to do so, and free to consult any expert, secular or religious, on the matter. The job of any counsellor is not to subtly drive the person to a preferred ending. It is to listen to the person with the problem in order to assist him to consider all dimensions of the issue, and to facilitate them to arrive at their own decision, even if that is diametrically opposite to the church’s teaching.

      True obedience on any issue, or the complete submission of intellect and will, can only occur after each individual has fully informed and consulted their conscience, prayed about the matter, thought long and hard, and possibly discussed the issue with a trusted counsellor. There must be a real effort to defeat any personal selfishness in the matter.

      ‘I simply cannot believe that which I cannot but that does not free me to then assume that which I cannot believe in is wrong and must be struggled against’

      You are wrong I am afraid! To be religious is to be bound to one’s God. Herein lays the difficulty. You need to re-familiarise yourself with the meaning of the word freedom, and you need to see that a properly working conscience is a free one. It is not only free, but has primacy over the official church, is inviolate, and is an entirely private faculty. If one’s conscience was not free, inviolate, private, and possess primacy over any church structure, it would be a fait accompli, because all final decisions would be in accord with the church’s teaching. This would render the conscience a complete sham.

      … ‘in fact it may be that it is my lack of belief which is the problem so therefore I should still seek submission for my will.’

      Wrong! You would end up betraying your own conscience.

      ‘This does not however sanction behaviour which I feel in my bones to be wrong.’

      If you feel that any behaviour is wrong, you should not act in that way. This is plain common-sense and a part of the reasoning you would use in the legitimate exercise of your conscience.

      In summary; if you have done everything possible to realign your conflict with the Catholic Church, using sincerity, prayer, reflection, knowledge of the relevant teaching of the church, unselfishness, consulting wide and far, but find that you cannot in sincerity abide by a particular church teaching, you are totally free to follow your conscience. This is an absolute, non-negotiable, and constant teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The church teaches and encourages all consciences to be informed, free, private, autonomous, inviolate, and in possession of a primacy over any authority, secular or religious, and that includes itself.

      • I feel this very simple issue is being overcomplicated…

        “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God”

      • John Candido says:

        stephangillies,

        You seem to be confused about the distinct difference between the ordinary magisterium of the church, and the human conscience. They are entirely separate faculties. I think that you need to reread the section on the human conscience in the catechism, between paragraphs 1776 and 1802, and as difficult as it may be, try to read it without any of your conservative ideology getting in the way. If you come up with the same conclusion, you need to reread it again until you comprehend the difference between the magisterium of the church and the human conscience.

  20. John Nolan says:

    In his 1960 novel ‘Unconditional Surrender’ Evelyn Waugh refers to the ‘death wish’ and there is evidence that he actually wanted to die, despite the fact that he was in comfortable cirumstances and had a family. True, he was always repelled by the vulgarity he saw all around him, and when in the wake of Vatican II this same vulgarity entered the Church he felt that the stuffing had been knocked out of him. Yet his attitude smacks to me of despair; and when he died in 1966 he was but 62 years old.

    A hymn of Fr Faber’s, no longer sung now, has the lines:
    “O paradise, O paradise, ’tis weary waiting here!”
    An alternative version ran:
    “O paradise, O paradise, I have a little shop;
    and I’d quite like to stay down here
    until the profits stop”,

  21. John Candido says:

    Vincent,

    ‘I find in your Cardinal Pell’s reference: “It is the truth that is primary, and it is from the truth that conscience takes its value.’

    Truth can mean several things that are consistent with the word validity or correctness. There is the truth of the teaching of the ordinary magisterium of the Catholic Church. This can also be conceptualised as objective truth or objective morality. Truth can also take the form of what rings true to any individual, and because of our consciences, this is just as valid or correct as the ordinary magisterium and its objective teaching.

    ‘But we can seek truth in two ways. One is from our own authority judged from examination of evidence and the use of our own reason. The other is through the authority of someone we take to be more knowledgeable than we are.’

    And; ‘But I must always take the authority which I judge to be in the best position to know.’

    That is fine if that is what rings true to you. What about others who eschew experts of every variety for any set of reasons? Are they to be condemned if they sincerely think that they know better and decide differently? Even if you and I don’t agree with them in the least, they have a right to their view, however befuddled or wrong you and I might conclude of their view, and even if their view clashes with legal authority in a serious manner, they still have a right to their conscience.

    What is crucial in moral terms and in God’s eyes is not being right in this specific context but being sincere. If circumstances are important enough, we could try to persuade them in the long-term to see the error of their ways, but what is important is what their inner voice is saying to them. This is similar to the church’s teaching of the determination of culpability using the objective teaching of the church and the subjective circumstances of individuals.

    ‘Newman makes it very clear that to go against the Church’s authority in matters of faith and morals, is an extreme step, for which we must answer at the Judgment.’

    That may be true; and, we cannot escape the gaze of God. As God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and possessing all love and mercy, sincere individuals, even if they have seriously erred, have nothing to fear because only God can know everybody intimately.

    ‘Newman embraced an interpretation of the papacy which is only then correctly conceived when it is viewed together with the primacy of conscience, a papacy not put in opposition to the primacy of conscience but based on it and guaranteeing it.’

    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in ‘Conscience and Truth’, the 10th Workshop for Bishops, February 1991 Dallas, Texas.

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/ratzcons.htm

    He seems to be upholding the human conscience as one of primacy over the church. However, Ratzinger goes on to water down the human conscience in this workshop to the point of limiting it to a good individual’s struggle to conform to Catholic precepts. The conscience is much more than that. He is very contradictory and confusing on the subject of conscience in this workshop, and his 1967 statement on conscience sits rather awkwardly with his current position.

    • Vincent says:

      John, there was something familiar about the Ratzinger link. A bit if a search, and I found Quentin’s piece on it: an analytic summary and a link to the document. If you both felt it to be a possible key to understanding conscience and the Magisterium then there may be something in it. But do you agree with his analysis. Search for Holding out for a Hero. You might find it interesting to see if you agree with him

      • John Candido says:

        I don’t agree with Ratzinger’s analysis at all. It is a very unclear, overly long, and convoluted presentation to the American Bishops on the subject of the human conscience, and its relationship to the papacy and the authority of the church. I can visualise the setting of his presentation being one of a didactic lecture with little or no questions at all. I almost think that he has consciously or unconsciously tried to confuse the teaching about conscience. Is this a case of too clever by half?

        I subscribe to Quentin’s idea of the mistaken but sincere conscience which is objectively binding on the individual. ‘It is possible to have an erroneous conscience (which is nevertheless binding).’ Quentin, in his introduction to ‘Holding out for a Hero’,

        https://secondsightblog.net/2008/08/28/holding-out-for-a-hero/.

        To go against one’s conscience is to seriously go against what you sincerely believe to be the truth of any matter, no matter how mistaken others consider it to be. If you were to do so you would be acting against the very fibre of your being and seriously err. If an individual through time comes to see the error of past beliefs, were to contemporaneously act in accord with a past understanding of his conscience, he would likewise be in serious difficulty, because your past understanding on a specific issue has changed. To the extent that it has changed, you must sincerely follow your contemporaneous conscience with integrity.

        There are only a few passages that I like in Ratzinger’s presentation to the American bishops. Which as I have said, he waters down, obfuscates, or contradicts. One such passage is found in Section 3A, on Anamnesis, which means one’s memory or recollection.

        ‘The true sense of this teaching authority of the Pope consists in his being the advocate of the Christian memory. The Pope does not impose from without. Rather, he elucidates the Christian memory and defends it. For this reason the toast to conscience indeed must precede the toast to the Pope because without conscience there would not be a papacy. All power that the papacy has is power of conscience.’

        http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/RATZCONS.HTM

    • John Candido, in your statement…
      “Truth can mean several things that are consistent with the word validity or correctness. There is the truth of the teaching of the ordinary magisterium of the Catholic Church. This can also be conceptualised as objective truth or objective morality. Truth can also take the form of what rings true to any individual, and because of our consciences, this is just as valid or correct as the ordinary magisterium and its objective teaching”
      …are you stating truth is relative?

      • John Candido says:

        I am stating the difference between objective teaching of the church’s magisterium, and the subjective circumstances of any individual in their faculty of the human conscience. They are both in tension with one another at times.

  22. I did post this in the other topic ‘Members of one another’ but feel it could be of assistance here on the topic of conscience with some additional expansion from a later chapter, remembering we are created in God’s image…

    St Anselm’s theory of mind – Monologion, 1076, Chap. 32/33/34 (on utterance)

    “For if the human mind were not capable of remembering or understanding either him or itself , it would in no way be able to distinguish itself from non-rational creatures or to distinguish him from all of creation by reasoning silently within itself, as my mind is doing now…
    …For it cannot be denied by any argument that when the rational mind understands itself by thinking itself, an image of itself is born in its thought. Indeed, that very thinking of itself is its own image, formed to its own likeness as by its own impress…
    …And so who could deny that in this way, when the supreme wisdom understands himself by uttering himself, he begets a likeness of himself that is consubstantial with himself…
    …Therefore , when that supreme spirit utters himself, he utters all created things. For before they were made, and once they have already been made, and when they are destroyed or in any way changed , they always exist in him, not as what they are in themselves, but as what he himself is. For in themselves they are a changeable essence created according to an unchangeable reason; in him, however, they are that first essence and first truth of existing, and the more they are in any way like him, the more truley and excellently do they exist. And so in this way it can reasonably be asserted that when the supreme spirit utters himself, he also, by one and the same Word, utters whatever was made.”

    Anselm – God’s memory Monologion Chap 48

    “For to think of a thing we remember is to utter it in our mind; the word of that thing, then, is that very thought, formed out of our memory after the likeness of the thing. And so from this we can quite clearly understand that his coeternal Word is born from the eternal memory of the supreme substance, who always utters himself, just as he always remembers himself. Therefore, just as the word is fittingly understood to be an offspring, so the memory is quite appropriately called a parent.
    Therefore, if the offspring that is born entirely from the supreme spirit alone is the offspring of his memory, nothing follows more logically than that he is his own memory.”

  23. John Nolan says:

    John, thanks for that last link. I found it neither contradictory nor confusing. I can see why you in particular might take exception to sections 2 and 3A, but Ratzinger understands Newman’s theology of conscience better than most. Ratzinger’s 1967 statement is currently being bandied about by various dissident groups to justify their non-acceptance of Church teaching on faith and morals. I wouldn’t like to think an opinion I might have voiced 45 years ago would still be held against me by mischievous and malicious people, and it’s rather cheap point-scoring. The then Fr Ratzinger was commenting on a Council document (Gaudium et Spes) about which he would later express reservations, and it is not unusual for someone, even an academic, to modify his views over time.

  24. John Candido,
    this quote is from paragraph 1776…
    “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God”
    …and it quite clearly states ‘within’ man’s conscience is a law of God he must ‘obey’ and this law is what Roman Catholic Dogma declares as binding through the extraordinary magisterium of the Church. It is not ideological for it has it’s root in the part of our conscience which man ‘has not laid upon himself’. Indeed the magisterium and man’s conscience are not one of the same thing and maybe you misinterpret me on this count but I merely said “it’s wonderfully circular how the extraordinary magesterium of the Church is the outcome of conscience” discovered deep within.
    Here we have this law again in paragraph 1784…
    “The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience.”
    So it seems “Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them,” (1799) we either listen to God whose voice echoes in the depths of conscience or we make an erronous judgement in “rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching” (1792).

    Thus I have reread the section on the human conscience in the catechism on your recomendation and await your reply with interest to my findings.

    • John Candido says:

      stephangillies,

      …“it’s wonderfully circular how the extraordinary magisterium of the Church is the outcome of conscience discovered deep within.”

      I have no problem with an individual freely deciding that their troubled conscience should, after serious deliberation, follow the official teaching of the church. However, this private decision cannot be preordained or a fait accompli. This particular outcome is never inevitable and to say how ‘wonderfully circular’ both faculties are, is misleading and overstated.

      You risk turning the freedom, inviolacy, primacy, and private nature of the conscience into a fait accompli, vis-à-vis the ordinary magisterium. The pastoral outcome of your conclusion about the ‘circular’ nature between the magisterium and conscience can confound the issue in people’s minds.

      If you were to say the obvious; that the Roman Catholic Church has constantly taught that the human conscience exists, rather than pointing to the ‘wonderfully circular’ relationship between the two faculties, it would be far more meritorious, because the former proposition possess clarity. The later proposition is a potentially confusing statement which has little merit or practical application, and could quite easily flummox a lot of people about the authority, freedom, power, and profundity of their consciences.

      ‘Here we have this law again in paragraph 1784…’

      “The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience.”

      ‘So it seems “Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them,” (1799) we either listen to God whose voice echoes in the depths of conscience or we make an erroneous judgement in “rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching” (1792).

      I have always advocated the importance of an informed conscience. This point is not disputed.

  25. John Candido you clearly stated “truth can mean several things,” but as I have demonstrated above through the Catechism God’s voice echoes in the depths of our conscience where we discover a law which man has not laid upon himself (ie not subjective) but which he must obey – Truth.
    St Anselm teaches ‘the truth is God, to know truth means to know God. The Catechism states “Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely” (Chapter2 ‘God comes to meet man’ Article 3 Para 102) – Truth.
    So if truth is found in our consciences just as it is found in Sacred Scripture and Dogmatic declarations through the extraordinary magisterium of the Church and thus it is one ‘Truth’, the same thing found in different places would you agree in hindsight truth cannot mean several things but one thing alone?
    You was half way to proving my point when you said…
    “Truth can also take the form of what rings true to any individual, and because of our consciences, this is just as valid or correct as the ordinary magisterium and its objective teaching”
    …but because truth in the conscience is the same truth as in the Churches dogmatic declarations it is not “just as valid” but the same truth. Ofcourse I speak of the extraordinary magisterium not ordinary magisterium which includes the potentially fallible teachings of the pope and ecumenical Councils (ie not given ex cathedra).

    • John Candido says:

      ‘So if truth is found in our consciences just as it is found in Sacred Scripture and Dogmatic declarations through the extraordinary magisterium of the Church and thus it is one ‘Truth’, the same thing found in different places would you agree in hindsight truth cannot mean several things but one thing alone?’

      Or dear! You have conflated the magisterium and the human conscience once again.

      One point though; I have noticed that you keep using the term ‘extraordinary magisterium’ far more regularly than the term ‘ordinary magisterium’, when the reverse should in fairness apply. As the overwhelming majority of the teaching of the church is not presented as ‘definitively infallible’, are you overstating the church’s authority?

      As ‘reviled’ American Dominican Canon Lawyer Dr. Thomas Doyle O.P. stated in a recent interview,

      ‘The church needs infallibility as much as a duck hunter needs an accordion.’

      http://thelip.tv/losing-faith-abuse-cover-up-and-the-catholic-church-with-fr-thomas-doyle/

    • John Candido says:

      stephangillies,

      There is one other point I would like to make regarding your most recent post. When you say, ‘truth cannot mean several things but one thing alone’, you are pointing to a proclivity of fundamentalism. To say that the word ‘truth’ has a singular meaning, reminds me of what Rabbi Jonathon Sacks has said about fundamentalism.

      ‘Fundamentalism is an attempt to place a singular meaning on a plural world.’

      Rabbi Jonathon Sacks is the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.

      • John Candido,

        in relation to your inserted quotes on plurality do you mind me asking if you beleive in the one truth of Jesus Christ being the only Son of God?
        The response to your question “are you overstating the church’s authority?,” regarding your statement “I have noticed that you keep using the term ‘extraordinary magisterium’ far more regularly than the term ‘ordinary magisterium’, when the reverse should in fairness apply,” would be that I am in no way overstating Church authority because it is clearly defined in terms of dogma which is infallible unlike ordinary magisterium which is fallible and that is why I state extraordinary magisterium over ordinary. The reasoning as to why the reverse should apply according to you is…
        “the overwhelming majority of the teaching of the church is not presented as ‘definitively infallible,”
        …which highlights with remarkable clarity your confusion over my usage of the Dogmatic declarations of the Church through the extraordinary magisterium and thus it begins to become clearer why you previously stated…
        “I believe that Papal infallibility is an historical accretion that evolved from the influence of the Roman Empire. It is something that I am confident will be revised in the light of modern theology, ecumenical considerations, and ecclesiology”.
        If the above statement holds true is the official teaching of Church you indentify in your statement…
        “I have no problem with an individual freely deciding that their troubled conscience should, after serious deliberation, follow the official teaching of the church,”
        …simply an historical accretion that evolved from the influence of the Roman Empire?
        Following on from your response on the ‘official teaching of the Church’ where I state…
        “it’s wonderfully circular how the extraordinary magisterium of the Church is the outcome of conscience discovered deep within.”
        …the pretext of finding that circular relationship depends on discovery of a conscience deep within, not preordained or a fait accompli and neither misleading or overstated in it’s conditional circumstance. Thereby the freedom, inviolacy, primacy, and private nature of the conscience is not infringed by determinism.
        You claim my statement…
        “So if truth is found in our consciences just as it is found in Sacred Scripture and Dogmatic declarations through the extraordinary magisterium of the Church and thus it is one ‘Truth’, the same thing found in different places”
        …has conflated the magisterium and the human conscience, alas the emphisis is in the last two words ie different places, whereby conflation means a merging of two into one which by definition would mean one and the same.

        Oh dear – Truth in two different places not two places merged to become one!

      • John Candido says:

        stephangillies, or is it Nektarios?

  26. Geordie says:

    John(Nolan), if something is said at one time and then altered 45 years later, is the later statement nearer the truth than the first statement? All kinds of pressures can cause us to alter our opinions as we get older but our earlier thoughts may be more accurate than the more sophisticated later ideas. I cannot find any fault in Fr. Ratzinger’s statement of 1967.

    • John Candido says:

      How true.

    • John Nolan says:

      “… is the later statement nearer the truth than the first statement?” Not always, but in this case indubitably. In the 1960s it was almost de rigueur to spout tendentious nonsense (think of Jean-Paul Sartre idolizing Mao Tse-Tung) and it is quite touching to learn that even a distinguished theologian and future Pontiff was not immune.

    • John Candido says:

      Although I don’t know Pope Benedict XVI personally, I can think of reasons for his disgraceful change of mind on the human conscience since 1967; careerism and Lord Acton’s well known edict on the corrupting and corrosive effects of power. Power and status are awfully powerful magnets. These are unpleasant realities that the church has to acknowledge as more pertinent to our monarchical arrangements, than other forms of governance. Benedict XVI’s current position on the human conscience is absolutely wrong, and contrary to the constant teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

      • John Nolan says:

        ‘Disgraceful’ … ‘absolutely wrong’ … ‘contrary to the constant teaching of the Roman Catholic Church’. John, even taking into account your well-known penchant for hyperbole, this is way over the top. I have come across attacks on the Holy Father on ultra-‘traditional’ sedevacantist websites that use strikingly similar language. Do you really want to be lumped with the lunatic fringe?

      • John Candido says:

        I have gone a little too far. My apologies to all.

      • John Candido says:

        Let me clean up my act.

        Although I don’t know Pope Benedict XVI personally, I can think of reasons for his change of mind on the human conscience since 1967; careerism and Lord Acton’s well known edict on the corrupting and corrosive effects of power. Power and status are awfully powerful magnets. These are unpleasant realities that the church has to acknowledge as more pertinent to our monarchical arrangements, than other forms of governance. Benedict XVI’s current position on the human conscience is not consistent with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

  27. Quentin says:

    I hope that I haven’t lost my way here, but I am confused. I cannot see any contradiction in the Pope’s teaching on conscience. In Donum Vitae he is addressing theologians and starts the passage by pointing out that the primacy of conscience only applies to a practical moral choice. So here we are not talking about conscience at all. He then goes on to explain the special demands on the theologian who holds an official position in the Church. You can’t have two separate, and contrary, magisteria in the Church. I can see how this view calls for discussion, even possibly disagreement, but I cannot see how it touches on conscience . The theologian’s conscience is not at issue. He can believe and teach anything he wishes but, if it is contrary to the Magisterium he cannot do so as an official Catholic theologian. There is no contradiction with what he said in 1967.

    • John Candido says:

      ‘In Donum Vitae he is addressing theologians and starts the passage by pointing out that the primacy of conscience only applies to a practical moral choice.’

      I don’t agree that ‘the primacy of conscience only applies to a practical moral choice.’ As important as moral issues are, this is belittling the scope of the human conscience. The conscience can also apply to the driest academic research, especially when that academic work is in conflict with the ordinary magisterium of the church. Fr. Hans Kung was fired from his academic post for this very reason. And what of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin S.J. and a host of other academic priests and religious throughout history who have been fired or worse, for the same exercise of their scholarly work, which can be generated from their intellects and form part of their consciences.

      So the right to one’s human conscience is curtailed or limited by one’s public position as an official church theologian or teacher? In the end it is ecclesiastical power that will be the determinant of ‘official’ academic research, and the consciences of academic theologians. How convenient for those in power to threaten or fire those who have displeased them through the exercise of their academic work. All conservatives love this power as it most certainly suits their unwavering desire to maintain the church as it is.

      All church theologians or teachers, who teach officially, should have complete academic freedom, by asserting their sincere concerns about any of the church’s beliefs, policies, disciplines, liturgies, or its general direction; period! This can occur during speeches, informal meetings, conferences, articles, books, and papers. This is called freedom of religion, and its exercise can make free use of their human consciences. Vatican II has some relevant things to say about the issue of religious freedom and the human conscience. This applies mainly to liberals, but it can and should also apply to any conservatives or moderates, if need be.

      Of course this is simply impossible when you have a church that relishes the exercise of instilling fear through power, via the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), whenever miscreants appear. As a sign of genuine faith, a thinking church, energised by the certain teaching of the Second Vatican Council, should promote freedom of religion by freeing all academic theologians. An important part of this policy would be to abolish the CDF, and allow academics to peer review each other’s work.

      ‘You can’t have two separate, and contrary, magisteria in the Church.’

      The Roman Catholic Church is constituted by three complementary magisteria. The ordinary magisterium of the church, academia, and the laity, all have a distinct but complementary authority, which can be in tension from time to time. I have written about this in secondsight in ‘Take the Tube’ on the 1st of February 2011, at 1:18 pm and the 2nd of February 2011 at 3:46 am.

      https://secondsightblog.net/2011/01/27/take-the-tube/

      ‘There is no contradiction with what he said in 1967.’

      I am sorry, but I don’t agree with you.

      • Quentin says:

        John, you are of course free to define or extend your personal definition of conscience as you see fit. But if you are arguing that Pope Benedict’s statements on conscience are inconsistent you have to use his definition of conscience to do so.

        There may be any number of arguments about how free official theologians should be. And probably some worthwhile discussion. But supreme authority in the Church is clearly entitled to say what the limits of dissent should be for those whom she directly or indirectly licenses. No harm whatsoever is done to the theologian’s conscience by this – anymore than, say, the expulsion from a party of an MP who refuses to accept a three line whip. He becomes an independent. Indeed a teacher of theology is obliged to make the Profession of Faith and, in doing so, to subscribe to: “Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.”

        You may well want to argue that that is unreasonable and counterproductive. Indeed I have subjected it to some criticism in my book Autonomy and Obedience in the Catholic Church. But the time for a theologian to complain is before he makes his Profession of Faith, not after.

  28. Singalong says:

    Having rather delayed my response to Quentin`s post, this comment is probably out of sequence, but may still be of interest,

    I have always had in mind that death can happen any time, “you know not the day nor the hour”, a sudden heart attack, a plane crash on to a building, the possibilities are numerous. I sometimes consciously think, is this the last time I shall ever cook a dinner, will I ever be on a
    train to London again, shall I ever see this friend again. In many ways, a sudden quick end would be preferable to a slower decline. As long as I am “ready”.

    However, now I am in my late 70`s, death is definitely coming well within sight, though I am very fit and active. Not very long ago, this was a good life span in the West. Now, we seem to be adding even more years, when people in some poorer countries still have a life expectancy of 45 or less. Shouldn`t we forgo some of our advances to give them more basic health care? What is the purpose of our extended lives? Have we outlived our usefulness? Do our children and families, society, still need us?

    My thoughts about the approach of death, I am afraid, are indeed clouded with fear, fear of the justice of God, which has been with me since childhood, but also with belief in His mercy, and forgiveness, which I know I have received also. Selfish and wrong decisions may have been made, and have had their effect on others, especially our children. How can we know all our motives, and how does that weigh in the balance? How can we stay sane if we really believe that there is even a possibility of damnation for all eternity? How I would love to have a clear and uncomplicated conscience, and lose this fear. (As a “cradle Catholic”, 30 years old when the Vatican Council began, I think guilt was probably over emphasised in my childhood, perhaps obligations and commitment are not emphasised quite enough now?)

    I think less about the process of death, whether it will be sudden, or a slow and lingering and painful decline, or something in between, but naturally I do think about it sometimes. We see, and hear about, visit, and help relatives and friends or parishioners in these situations, which brings it home to us. I am not too apprehensive about this aspect of death and dying, at the moment, though I probably will be when the time comes.

    Who will be able to provide any care that may be necessary, will they do it with love and kindness, these are worries which we all have, will we have to go into hospital, will we be lonely? Our culture is very deficient now in all these areas. What constitutes “normal” in medical procedures, measures to prolong or shorten life, are all being debated, and will probably affect most of us sooner or later.

    I am trying to pray more now, and come to know better the God with whom I hope to spend eternity. I do hope our faith is secure. God help my unbelief.

    I find Fr. Ronald Rolheiser`s writings on this subject, as on many others, very helpful and practical.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Singalong,
      Thanks for your lovely posting. I’m reading
      Holy Daring (the fearless trust of St Therese of Lisieux)
      Fr John Udris Gracewing presss
      “She found utterly bankrupt the approach to the spiritual life as an acquisition of merits. She had given up the struggle to make herself perfect, knowing that this can only ever be God’s own gracious work..” p43

      Its only a little book but excellent. I do think we struggle to simply believe that God really likes us, is completely aware of our failings but has, nonetheless set his grace upon us. However, since we are such hopeless cases it can be no other way!!! Like you I am keenly aware that each moment might be our last. Working as an Osteopath I meet a lot of people of various ages, I have become convinced that the purpose of the’ extra years granted’ are to smile as much as humanly possible- for the sake of all those younger folk who are so burdened by things-kindness, wisdom and humour never ever outlive their worth!

  29. Quentin says:

    Singalong, you and I are of an age. I can well remember how much of our moral education created a sense of guilt: any passing bus could run you over, and send you to hell for ever! Even my father, a highly intelligent and thoughtful man, experienced it. And of course the strangest aspect of this is that it can cling, even when you know that it isn’t appropriate.

    And you’re quite right. At our age it’s all too easy to see where we have gone wrong, especially with the upbringing of children. It’s so much harder to pat ourselves on the back for the things we did right. Bringing them into the world to start with.
    We are all different, but I find that two thoughts help me. One is that I don’t think that Jesus could have gone to that amount of trouble only to lose us too easily. Just like a parent he’ll make the most of our slightest wish to repent. I suspect that the reason that God likes sinners so much is that they give him yet another opportunity to forgive someone. It’s his favourite activity.

    Secondly, we do know that sincere Confession will always clear the decks. And that includes any other sins we have forgotten about. So even our pre-Vatican II theology assures us of that. Of course there is Purgatory to come. But that became fine by me after I had read Catherine of Genoa on the subject. You’ll find it at http://www.ewtn.com/library/spirit/catpur.txt. If you don’t know it, you may find it as consoling as I do.

    I went to a very happy funeral yesterday – a 97 year old devout Catholic, with very much a mind of his own. His family, starting with his 5 children, took up about 4 rows in the church. Apparently he had a very peaceful, good death. Can’t be bad!

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Quentin, I’m of exactly the same view, believe me if I was God, went to all the trouble of being nailed to a cross, buried then resurrected just for your sake -then I wouldnt drop you just because you tripped over again.

      • John Nolan says:

        Mike, the liturgy of the Requiem Mass makes just this point:
        Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:
        Redemisti crucem passus:
        Tantus labor non sit cassus.

    • John Nolan says:

      John, I don’t see how anyone can misinterpret your position; you have stated it often enough and clearly enough. You talk about the primacy of the human conscience, but it is clear that your idea of conscience is not Newman’s, nor Ratzinger’s, nor the Catholic Church’s as generally understood. My opinions, and yours, and Hans Kung’s (who you say was ‘fired’ which you know to be untrue) have their origins not in conscience but in experience, upbringing, education, ingrained prejudice, and (one hopes) genuine research. I defend the Church’s teachings because faith and reason tell me they are true; if I fail to live up to them, which alas happens frequently, my conscience kicks in.

      • John Candido says:

        Oh of course! Kung wasn’t fired he was ‘shifted sideways’. How silly of me! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_K%C3%BCng

        ‘I defend the Church’s teachings because faith and reason tell me they are true; if I fail to live up to them, which alas happens frequently, my conscience kicks in.’

        I suppose it is a case of you go your way and I’ll go my way. It is a hallmark of a mature society when we are free to exercise our right to religious freedom. By inference, it is a hallmark of a mature religion when we are free to exercise our right to religious freedom inside one. It is called the human conscience.

  30. John Candido says:

    As an aside, I believe that John Nolan could quite possibly have been responsible for the renewed use of the plural of magisterium, in ‘magisteria’. He first mentioned the word ‘magisteria’ in ‘Take the Tube’ and I was surprised to find that the word had fallen out of use, as I couldn’t find it any of my dictionaries or in any online dictionaries. John mentioned ‘magisteria’ in his post on the 2nd of February 2011 at 1:15 am, and that he had a preference for ‘magisteriums’ over ‘magisteria’.

    I emailed both the Oxford English Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary in 2011 regarding ‘magisteria’, only to get a reply stating that the word would only be included in a subsequent edition of either dictionary if it became more widely used. Both online versions of each dictionary don’t have ‘magisteria’ included, but the mobile iPhone app of the American Heritage Dictionary does presently, but it didn’t include it last year!

    If you go to the online dictionary called ‘Wordnik’ and enter ‘magisteria’, you will find several examples of its use as well as its definition.

    http://www.wordnik.com/

    Take a bow John Nolan.

    • John Nolan says:

      My preference for anglicised plurals of Latin words used in an English context is in order
      to avoid (often misplaced) pedanticism. For example ‘stadia’ is indeed the plural of ‘stadium’, but ‘stadia’ is also used in English to mean a surveyor’s rod. And if you admit ‘stadia’, logically you should have ‘arenae’ and the whole thing descends into farce. Secondly, it is a sad fact that many otherwise educated people lack even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin; they assume that any noun ending -us has a plural ending -i, and while this is true of second declension nouns (in the mominative case), it does not apply to those of the fourth declension, where the nominative singular and plural both end in -us.
      A regular commentator on another blog even uses ‘fori’ as the plural of ‘forum’, although I have pointed out to him that ‘fori’ in Latin refers to ship’s gangways or bees’ cells!

      The plural of referendum is referendums, since ‘referenda’ simply means that more than one question is on the ballot paper. If we were to call it a plebiscite we would avoid the confusion. There are even those who give Latin plurals to Greek words; if you’re going to be pedantic, the plural of octopus is ‘octopodes’, but octopuses is preferable.

      By the way, if Benedict XVI holds a position inconsistent with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, then he is a heretic and an anti-pope. Exactly what the sedevacantists are saying. I’m sure there’s room in the asylum.

      • John Candido says:

        You do exaggerate somewhat John Nolan. ‘If Benedict XVI holds a position inconsistent with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church’, I would have thought that freedom of religion and his conscience would entitle him to do so.

  31. John Candido,
    The absence of response in a dialectical dialogue concludes its outcomes.
    Quentin,
    You stated the approach of this blog is maieutic rather than dogmatic but just as we have a full circle from Socrates to the Holy Father we have the circular nature of truth (as latent in the mind of every human being due to innate reason) coming to fruition by answering intelligently proposed questions. The conceptual antagonism of your statement is relieved in my demonstration that the Socratic dialogue of dialectics has proven throughout time to maintain the dogmatic truth of the Catholic Church. Through this process of dialectical reasoning to extend knowledge by inference we resolve contradictions and find the foundations of our extraordinary magesterium.

    “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word is established” (Math 8:16).

    • John Candido says:

      Unfortunately, as you are somewhat incoherent in your replies, this is reason enough for me to limit my replies to you.

  32. mike Horsnall says:

    Stefan,
    “….You stated the approach of this blog is maieutic rather than dogmatic but just as we have a full circle from Socrates to the Holy Father we have the circular nature of truth (as latent in the mind of every human being due to innate reason) coming to fruition by answering intelligently proposed questions. The conceptual antagonism of your statement is relieved in my demonstration that the Socratic dialogue of dialectics has proven throughout time to maintain the dogmatic truth of the Catholic Church….”

    I have been very interested in this discussion and have benefitted from it. I lost the plot a little because, in the forest of detail, I couldnt find the Ratzinger link everyone was referring to. This may be due to me suffering a degree of concussion from a recent biking accident! Anyway, this blog is a bit of a warring camp at times and so you will find it difficult to work your dialectic to its conclusion-but that doesnt mean the game isnt worth the candle. I agree with what I think is the thrust of your argument -that the underpinning reality of God is in the end not negotiable and to the revelation of that reality (through dialectic) our conscience should conform -or else become warped by the disjuncture? The only thing I would ask, if I may ask anything, is that you put in the odd simple analogy here and there for half wits such as myself who struggle with too much compression of concepts!!
    PS What was that link again?

    • Mike Horsnall,

      The dialectical process is so efficient that those seeking to ‘make crooked the straight paths of the Lord’ will use all sorts of diversary tatics to avoid its judgement and thus it is never easy to apply. I am no stranger to antagonism and have been “given a strong conflict that he might overcome” (Wisdom 10:12) – and like in the words of Aquinas “Bella premunt hostilia”. My conversion to the Faith came amidst the arena of dialectical materialism of Marxist/Leninism and walking my first tentative steps after opening my heart to Christ I was pitted against a very worthy opponent in the form of an ex-preist come liberation theologian whoose identity we will protect as he is still a practicing vicar in the Anglican tradition. This was a David and Goliath scenario for me and from the off I learnt to trust in God and face the foe…
      “For thus saith the Lord God: Behold I myself will seek my sheep, and will visit them. As the shepherd visiteth his flock in the day when he shall be in the midst of his sheep that were scattered, so will I visit my sheep, and will deliver them out of all the places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.” – Ezeckiel 34:11-12.
      You have the thrust of my argument and like it is said in 2 Peter 1:20-21…
      “No prophecy of scripture is a matter of ones own interpretation because no prophecy ever came by impulse of man but by men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God”.

      Keep the candle burning.

  33. Iona says:

    I have been following the discussion with a combination of interest and frustration, as my computer was on the blink and although I could read I couldn’t reply.

    One point I would have liked to bring in rather earlier is that it might be valuable to have some concrete examples (of possible conflict between individual conscience and Church teachings) to examine in the light of the theoretical positions being put forward. There seems to have been an unspoken agreement to consider only the case(s) of someone (people) who basically adhere to Church teaching but find their individual conscience in some way at variance with it, even though they have done their best to inform their conscience, sought advice, prayed, etc.
    But where does this leave the individual conscience of someone who is not a Catholic, who is perhaps not a Christian, who perhaps has no religious adherence at all? We all have “natural law” embedded in our hearts, apparently, so everyone’s conscience should be able to guide them. Anders Breivik (the spelling of whose name I am not quite certain of) is reported to have shown no remorse and no regrets, – except to regret that he had not managed to kill more than 77 people. Perhaps his conscience tells him that the purity and traditional culture of the north European races is of greater value than the lives of the children of people who support immigration and multi-culturalism. Should he therefore be commended for following his conscience, even though at the same time he must be imprisoned for breaking the law, and because he is clearly a danger to society?
    A less extreme case might be that of someone who feels his primary allegiance is to his family / tribe / in-group; and has no qualms of conscience in, say, cheating an outsider in order to benefit the in-group.
    What are our expectations with regard to how these people should set about (or, should have set about) informing their consciences?

    • John Candido says:

      Let’s take the extreme example of Hitler or Stalin. If they sincerely believed in what they done to others, can they have the benefit of acting according to their consciences? Firstly, only God can judge them with certainty and accuracy. For all the objective evil that these two men perpetrated in history, it is difficult to see how they could sincerely say that they have acted with a clear conscience. They gave the orders to enact mass murder, while never actually doing any of the killing themselves.

      All that I can say is that they may have had such an erroneous conscience from our point of view, but they could have thought that they were acting rightly. It’s difficult for us to see how this could possibly be; you have to see that both of these individuals are primarily motivated by political ideology. They have completely eschewed all religious values. However, it has been said that Stalin was an atheist and Hitler, believe it or not, actually believed in God. I don’t know the authority of these facts. Extreme political ideology is potentially the most dangerous set of ideas that can propel individuals and communities to do objective evil while subjectively considering it to be a civic duty.

      ‘Should he (Anders Breivik) therefore be commended for following his conscience, even though at the same time he must be imprisoned for breaking the law, and because he is clearly a danger to society?’

      He most definitely should not be commended for following his political ideology and his conscience, however distorted his conscience must have been.

      • John Candido,
        By saying…
        “Extreme political ideology is potentially the most dangerous set of ideas that can propel individuals and communities to do objective evil while subjectively considering it to be a civic duty,”
        …are you insinuating that ideology as a whole is not potentially dangerous and by what set of standards do you judge this scale?

    • Iona,
      A concrete example of conscience and magisterium in concordance is the morality of Christian ethical standards. Conscience informs us of a proven succesfull history of Christian culture. I include an article from late last year to solidify my point and to highlight the error of mutliculturalism.

      Mark Vernon
      guardian.co.uk, Monday 19 December 2011
      “David Cameron would not have had to assert that Britain is a Christian country if the matter were beyond dispute. The worry is that we have embarked on a journey of moral drift in this particular sense: it is not that Christian morality makes all things good – far from it – but it has the capacity to bring all things to account. To put it in more philosophical terms, theistic ethics can sustain an objective quality – something recognised by ethical thinkers as diverse as Friedrich Nietzsche and Pope Benedict.”
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/dec/19/christian-morality-objectivity-ethics

  34. Quentin says:

    John, interestingly the address you link: http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/ratzcons.htm deals with exactly this point. If you ‘find’ Nazi SS — it will take you to the precise section.

  35. tim says:

    John C – ” ‘If Benedict XVI holds a position inconsistent with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church’, I would have thought that freedom of religion and his conscience would entitle him to do so.”
    What! As far as I’m concerned, this is the thirteenth stroke of the crazy clock. I don’t see how you can maintain this unless you are happy to allow absolute primacy to the dictates of a personal conscience uninformed by reason, custom or consistency – and exonerate Stalin and Hitler on the ground that they may only have been doing what they thought was right. Let’s be clear – primacy of conscience and freedom of religion may conceivably entitle (possibly even oblige) Benedict XVI to take up a position inconsistent with Catholic teaching – but not so long as he remains Pope.

    • John Candido says:

      You have misinterpreted my position completely.

      • tim says:

        Then maybe you can clarify. I agree that what I understood you to mean makes no sense – and for that reason I should perhaps have rejected it. But what did you mean? Let’s take a different (but at least equally tendentious) example “If Quentin were to reach the conclusion that human sacrifice was an obligatory method of worship, freedom of religion and conscience would entitle him to do so”. This is obvious nonsense. Primarily it’s because the hypothesis is ridiculous, but also because it assumes there are no external checks on what conscience may tell us to do. Maybe you didn’t mean to say ‘entitle’ – which seems to me unjustifiable?

      • John Candido says:

        Granted, that the use of ‘entitle’ is too strong a term to apply to these contexts, and can lead to misunderstandings. It is important to realise that any balanced discussion of the human conscience and a person’s culpability, has to consider a multitude of factors simultaneously. Much like a juggler’s act, multiple considerations are at play contemporaneously.

        In order to get a handle on these issues, let’s list a number of principles.

        1. God is the only perfect judge of a person’s culpability, sincerity, true intentions, and any mitigating subjective circumstances. Human beings are not as perfect in determining the culpability or any individual.

        2. The Church’s ordinary magisterium supplies us with its objective teaching to guide us in our lives.

        3. The Church teaches that subjective factors are important issues that can mitigate culpability, despite the objective teaching of the Catholic Church.

        4. All human beings possess human dignity, even if they are serious wrongdoers. This principle does not excuse individuals of any legal obligations attached to criminal activity, as nobody is above enacted law.

        ‘Be ye ever so high, the law is above you.’

        Attributed to Lord Coke (1st February 1552 – 3rd September 1634), who was Lord Chancellor under King James I.

        5. It is the constant teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that all individuals have a human conscience.

        6. In keeping with their dignity, all human beings have an inalienable right to choose their religion or to sincerely abstain from religious belief. ‘The greatest inheritance that a man hath is the liberty of his person, for all others are accessory to it.’ Lord Coke.

        7. By logical inference, from statements emanating from the Church, and from ecclesiastical notaries throughout history; in order for a human conscience to possess integrity and efficacy, it must free and unfettered, inviolate, private, informed, and have primacy over any secular or ecclesiastical authority, including the church.

        8. Neither the Roman Catholic Church, nor any person can with absolute certainty ascertain if someone has gone to hell for their actions, even if their actions were of the most heinous category. This notion is consistent with my first principle that only God is a perfect, omniscient judge, of the sincerity, true intentions, and subjective circumstances of all individuals.

        9. Apart from the sincerity and true intentions of any individual, mitigating circumstances can include the quality or lack thereof, of one’s family background, one’s level of education, cultural background, intelligence, and social milieu, and one’s physical and mental health. The culpability of Christians, will include how well informed they are of the objective teaching of the church, and for nonbelievers, whether or not they have reflected on how they truly think and feel about what they are about to do, or what they have already done.

        10. While the objective teaching of the Church is very important, the entire subjective context of an individual is even more important in terms of determining culpability before God.

        Given these principles, it would not be possible for a mature and informed Catholic to decide that human sacrifice for religious purposes is consistent with their conscience. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were heinous mass murders. Both individuals would be found guilty in a properly constituted international court of law, for their massive crimes.

        Despite their gargantuan crimes, can anybody or any institution definitively say that God has sent both of them to hell? No, they cannot come to this inference. Why? It is the singular prerogative of God, to judge Hitler or Stalin, consistent with God’s perfect and infinite omniscience. Only God can intimately know every person’s innocence, guilt, or every single mitigating factor that might mitigate culpability for objective acts of immorality.

        Without legally excusing both of them, can Hitler or Stalin have a reduced or nullified culpability because they were acting consistent with their human conscience? Given all of the forgoing principles, nobody but God can answer this question definitively.

        Taking Hitler; if his family upbringing was as harsh as some commentators have reported, it can only be speculated how this would have affected his entire outlook on life. His life before World War I was one of a vagrant, and he lived in an era suffused in an abiding belief in racial truths or categories. This was overwhelmingly supported by the mass media of the time. Hitler was an avid newspaper reader.

        The severity of war affects most participants physically and emotionally. We don’t know how World War I would have affected Hitler’s state of mind. Hitler might have developed his racial hatred for the Jews and his Nazi ideology subsequent to most of these significant life experiences. As an aside, did Hitler ever mature normally as an adult? It is difficult to say with certainty, but I have my doubts.

        It is true that lots of other individuals would have had similar life experiences without being guilty of unimaginable crimes. It might also appear that I am trying to find moral loopholes to excuse his behaviour. What I am trying to do is to imagine scenarios in his life that God would examine minutely, in order to determine if they had significantly informed his world view and his conscience.

        God would also examine if there was any possibility that he was sincerely acting according to his mistaken, imperfect, compromised, and sullied human conscience, and whether this would have reduced his freedom to act morally. It would be impossible for us to know the answer to this question, as only God could determine this perfectly and definitively.

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        John C. – Despite your admirable exposition on the principles of guilt and mitigation, I’m not sure that considering the question of damnation or salvation as a judicial process on human lines is entirely appropriate. It seems to me that the real question is whether at the moment of death, the sinner is ready to accept God’s love and forgiveness or not. In case that seems a foregone conclusion, I can imagine myself finding it too overwhelming, and presumably others could likewise.

      • John Candido says:

        Peter D. Wilson,

        You have raised a valid point. I don’t know how it escaped me. God is after all a merciful judge.

      • John Candido says:

        Peter D. Wilson,

        I suppose the process that I am outlining is relevant whenever someone who is dying refuses God’s love and mercy.

  36. Iona says:

    Quentin – thank you for that link. Section 1 says it all!
    (I haven’t read the other sections yet)

  37. John Candido,

    “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

    Iona,

    You enquired…
    “But where does this leave the individual conscience of someone who is not a Catholic, who is perhaps not a Christian, who perhaps has no religious adherence at all? We all have ‘natural law’ embedded in our hearts, apparently, so everyone’s conscience should be able to guide them.”
    …so I have an example of natural law in a conscience in concordance with Church magisterium by way of a conscientious objector to the Afghan War I visited last year who just so happened to claim to be an atheist. Here’s a link to my prison visit diary (it is the second article down)…
    http://www.for.org.uk/news/archive.shtml

  38. Earlier in this debate I introduced Giovanni Battista Peruzzo’s short address to the Vatican II Council Fathers on the subject of proposals against Holy Tradition. He clearly indentifies the origins of the anti-liturgical as a movement begining at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries with the Humanists, the Jansenists and finally the Modernists. If I may extend this history further back with the help from Alasdair MacIntyre and a section quoted from ‘After Virtue’ – chapter 13 – medieval aspects and occasions, page 169…
    “The plurality of the virtues and their teleological ordering in the good life – as Plato and Aristotle and beyond them Sophocles and Homer had understood them – disapear; a simple monism of virtue takes its place. It is unsurprising that the Stoics and Aristotles later followers were never able to live in argumentative peace with each other. Stoicism is not of course only an episode in Greek and Roman culture; it sets a pattern for all those later European moralities that invoke the notion of law as central in such a way as to displce conceptions of the virtues.”
    The outcome of all this in 1796 we have the French Enlightenment aristocrat and philosopher Destutt de Tracy formally introducing the concept of ideology.
    As it said in Jeremiah 17:5…
    “Thus saith the Lord: Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.”

  39. It was mentioned earlier by John Candido what Rabbi Jonathon Sacks has said about fundamentalism…

    “Fundamentalism is an attempt to place a singular meaning on a plural world.”

    I would now like to offer what our Holy Father has said on the subject in Verbum Dei…

    “…the interpretation of sacred scripture presupposes, in a word, the harmony of faith and reason. On the one hand, it calls for a faith which, by maintaining a proper relationship with right reason, never degenerates into fideism, which in the case of scripture would end up in fundamentalism.”

  40. John Candido says:

    It is not ‘Verbum Dei’ but ‘Verbum Domini’, which is Pope Benedict XVI’s ‘Apostolic Exhortation to the Bishops, Clergy, Consecrated Persons, and the Lay Faithful on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church’, and was promulgated on the 30th September 2010.

    Apart from this troubling error, the two quotes that you are trying to compare have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with each other. You are one of the most dishevelled, confused, and desultory individuals that I have come across on SecondSight. However, don’t get discouraged by my barbs. Please keep writing and contributing. I am not one of your fans; however I have noticed that some of us on this blog enjoy your posts.

  41. John Candido says:

    I might also add that some of the regulars on SecondSight think that I am very confused on the subject of religious freedom and the human conscience. So keep your chin up!

  42. John Candido says:

    I think that I might have put my foot in my mouth. I assumed you were criticising me with your latest post, and offered a quotation from Pope Benedict XVI to support your criticism of my quote. There is nothing contradictory between the two quotes, if anything, they are complimentary. Sorry!

  43. Horace says:

    Perhaps this quotation from today’s first reading (1 Corinthians 4:1-5) may be relevant :-
    “True, my conscience does not reproach me at all. but that does not prove that I am acquitted: the Lord alone is my judge.”

  44. Horace,
    Indeed relevant readings.
    I always like to compare the Rheims with the New King James and I supplement your quote with the comparisons in that order…

    “but neither do I judge my own self. For I am not conscious to myself of any thing, yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me, is the Lord.”

    “For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.”

    …for as St Jerome suggests – “When we approach the Eucharistic Mystery, if a crumb falls to the ground we are troubled. Yet when we are listening to the word of God and God’s word and Christ’s flesh and blood are being poured into our ears yet we pay no heed, what great peril should we not feel?”

    John Candido,
    Verbum Dei is part one of Verbum Domini!

  45. Verbum Dei – God who speaks not to be confused with Dei Verbum – Word of God.

    • John Nolan says:

      Stefan, altering the word order in this case, as so often in Latin, does not alter the meaning. ‘God who speaks’ would be ‘Deus qui loquitur’.

  46. tim says:

    Thanks, John C. – I have misunderstood your position by taking a particular statement out of context (though, to be fair, the necessary context did not immediately accompany the statement); I shall have to think about it some more.

    • John Candido says:

      QUENTIN says: John Candido has contributed a piece which is too long for a comment. The maximum length for a comment is around 600 words – and this should be rare. In this instance I have transferred the comment offsite. You will find it here. In future, anyone who wishes to comment at greater length must agree that with me first. Providing an additional page on the Web requires additional work for which I do not always have time

  47. John Candido says:

    I have included another principle in an eleventh point and have copied it for everyone below.

    11. Outside of questions of subjective morality and culpability, any ecclesiastical academic or theologian may arrive at a sincerely held intellectual position, which may be in conflict with the ordinary magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. Academics have an inalienable right to hold sincerely held views that may be in conflict with the Catholic Church. Sincerely held intellectual positions by ecclesiastical academics, or any other member of the church, are manifestations of the human conscience, and must be conceptualised as inviolate, possessing an absolute right, and are non-negotiable. If the Roman Catholic Church is to be a champion of the human conscience, it must uphold the rights of academics who have produced research that may be in conflict with its own ordinary magisterium. The basis of such a right can be found in the dignity of the human person, our freedom of religion, and the primacy of our human conscience.

  48. John Candido says:

    I have revised this post due to the quasi duplication of points 10 and 3 in the previous version, and the neglect of an important point, that I have placed in point 10 in this version. This process would generally apply to those who refuse God’s love and mercy before their death. However, nobody can know what God thinks, plans to do, or has decided at any given point of time, and this also applies to these principles. This summary of principles of the human conscience, guilt, and the mitigation of subjective factors, does not take into account God’s bountiful mercy of those who ask for this before their death and judgement, as Peter D. Wilson correctly pointed out to me previously.

    Granted, that the use of ‘entitle’ is too strong a term to apply to these contexts, and can lead to misunderstandings. It is important to realise that any balanced discussion of the human conscience and a person’s culpability, has to consider a multitude of factors simultaneously. Much like a juggler’s act, multiple considerations are at play contemporaneously.
    In order to get a handle on these issues, let’s list a number of principles.

    1. God is the only perfect judge of a person’s culpability, sincerity, true intentions, and any mitigating subjective circumstances. Human beings are not as perfect in determining the culpability of any individual.

    2. The Church’s ordinary magisterium supplies us with its objective teaching to guide us in our lives.

    3. While the objective teaching of the Church is very important, the entire subjective context of an individual is even more important in terms of determining culpability before God.

    4. All human beings possess human dignity, even if they are serious wrongdoers. This principle does not excuse individuals of any legal obligations attached to criminal activity, as nobody is above enacted law.
    ‘Be ye ever so high, the law is above you.’
    Attributed to Lord Coke (Born, 1st February 1552 – Died, 3rd September 1634), who was Lord Chancellor under King James I.

    5. It is the constant teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that all individuals have a human conscience.

    6. In keeping with their dignity, all human beings have an inalienable right to choose their religion or to sincerely abstain from religious belief.
    ‘The greatest inheritance that a man hath is the liberty of his person, for all others are accessory to it.’ Lord Coke.

    7. By logical inference, from statements emanating from the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council, and from ecclesiastical notaries throughout history; in order for a human conscience to possess integrity and efficacy, it must free and unfettered, inviolate, private, informed, and have primacy over any secular or ecclesiastical authority, including the church.

    8. Neither the Roman Catholic Church, nor any person can with absolute certainty ascertain if someone has gone to hell for their actions, even if their actions were of the most heinous category. This notion is consistent with my first principle that only God is a perfect, omniscient judge, of the sincerity, true intentions, and subjective circumstances of all individuals.

    9. Apart from the sincerity and true intentions of any individual, mitigating circumstances can include the quality or lack thereof, of one’s family background, one’s level of education, cultural background, intelligence, social milieu, and one’s physical and mental health. The culpability of Christians, will include how well informed they are of the objective teaching of the church, and for nonbelievers, whether or not they have reflected on how they truly think and feel about what they are about to do, or what they have already done.

  49. John Candido says:

    10. One must sincerely follow one’s contemporary conscience with integrity; however mistaken the Church or others view it. A person can have a reduced or nullified culpability, due to a thoroughly mistaken, misinformed, but sincere conscience. A determination of one’s contemporary conscience is essential to assessing personal culpability and sincerity. A thoroughly mistaken but sincere conscience can be in conflict with the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Given the teaching of the Catholic Church on subjective morality, and the primacy of the human conscience; by inference it follows that a thoroughly sullied, mistaken, but sincere conscience, can be objectively binding on the individual.

    11. Outside of questions of subjective morality and culpability, any ecclesiastical academic or theologian may arrive at a sincerely held intellectual position, which may be in conflict with the ordinary magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. Academics have an inalienable right to hold sincerely held views that may be in conflict with the Catholic Church. Sincerely held intellectual positions by ecclesiastical academics, or any other member of the church, are manifestations of the human conscience, and must be conceptualised as inviolate, possessing an absolute right, and are non-negotiable. If the Roman Catholic Church is to be a champion of the human conscience, it must uphold the rights of academics who have produced research that may be in conflict with its own ordinary magisterium. The basis of such a right can be found in the dignity of the human person, our freedom of religion, and the primacy of our human conscience.

    Given these principles, it would not be possible for a mature and informed Catholic to decide that human sacrifice for religious purposes is consistent with their conscience. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were heinous mass murderers. Both individuals would be found guilty in a properly constituted international court of law, for their massive crimes.

    Despite their gargantuan crimes, can anybody or any institution definitively say that God has sent both of them to hell? No, they cannot come to this inference. Why? It is the singular prerogative of God, to judge Hitler or Stalin, consistent with God’s perfect and infinite omniscience. Without legally excusing Hitler or Stalin, only God can intimately know every person’s innocence or guilt. Only God can definitively know every single mitigating factor that will ameliorate or nullify culpability.

    Taking Hitler; if his family upbringing was as harsh as some commentators have reported, it can only be speculated how this would have affected his entire outlook on life. His life before World War I was one of a vagrant, and he lived in an era suffused in an abiding belief in racial truths or categories. This was overwhelmingly supported and reinforced by the mass media of the time. Hitler was an avid newspaper reader.

    The severity of war affects most participants physically and emotionally. We don’t know how World War I would have affected Hitler’s state of mind. Hitler might have developed his racial hatred for the Jews and his Nazi ideology, subsequent to most of these significant life experiences. As an aside, did Hitler ever mature normally as an adult? It is difficult to say with certainty, but I have my doubts.

    It is true that lots of other individuals would have had similar life experiences without perpetrating unimaginable crimes. It might also appear that I am attempting to find moral loopholes to excuse his behaviour. What I am endeavouring however, is to imagine scenarios in his life that God would examine minutely, in order to determine if they had significantly informed his world view and his conscience.

    God would also examine if there was any possibility that he was sincerely acting according to his mistaken, imperfect, compromised, and sullied human conscience, and whether this would have reduced or nullified his freedom to act morally. It would be impossible for us to know the answer to this question, as only God could determine this perfectly and definitively.

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