Do you disagree?

At what level does stealing constitute a mortal sin? The answer as I write is £155.02. I say this with confidence because the good Jesuits taught me, in 1944, that £5 constituted “grave matter”, and so potentially a mortal sin. It may even have altered a penny or two by the time you read this. Aren’t we lucky? A combination of the modern Catechism and the thoughts of leading moral theologians enable us to measure immediately the moral status of any act we have committed or are proposing to commit. In these days of the smartphone every Catholic should have an app which will not only assess gravity but will indicate a proper penance. No doubt, as artificial intelligence advances, an app will also give us absolution once we have ticked the box confirming our firm purpose of amendment. We must hope that St Peter has a good connection to the internet.

But I am being serious. Behind me as I write are several volumes on Catholic moral matters but very little on the formation of conscience. Perhaps I don’t need it: if the answer is always to be found at the back of a book, why look for a different answer? Yet the deep theology of the moral life tells us that we stand or fall by our response to what we recognise to be evil or good. It is really rather important.

Let’s see what a secular situation might tell us. Imagine that you take your child to a doctor because he suffers from bedwetting. Your doctor concludes that the child has psychological anxieties and should be referred to a psychoanalysis expert. But your own research tells you that enuresis is best cured by behavioural methods. Which authority do you follow: the doctor or your own judgment? The answer must lie in which you judge to be in your child’s best interests. It is quite proper, of course, to choose the recognised authority if we think it to be more likely to be right than us, but vice versa if we do not.

Is this a parallel for moral questions? Here, the authority is likely to be the Church’s moral law. There is no doubt that this has authority in its moral teaching, but changing situations or better understandings have led to developments from time to time. An interesting example was the elevation of the seriousness of abortion when science, via the microscope, demonstrated the radical unity of the embryo from conception onwards. Currently the argument concerns whether an individual in a technically adulterous marriage can ever rightly receive the Eucharist.

Forgive me for covering well-trodden ground but another standing example is the acceptance by many episcopal authorities that those whose conscience guides them to use artificial contraception should do so. In this case the formal doctrine was authoritative and embedded in tradition. It clarified that there may be instances in which the magisterium’s commands should yield to the conclusion of individual conscience.

Obedience is an evolved tendency which enabled groups of various kinds to survive and breed by working together and submitting to common rules. We respect and respond to proper authority, but we must always be aware that it is not absolute: we must answer for yielding to obedience rather than to our own reason. Experience warns us that our inherited tendency to obey is influenced by our temperament and our personal history.

We are obedient to God because, by definition, he is the infinity of the good, but this is not invariably so for the agencies which translate this goodness for us. Catholic morality is rightly based in natural law, and our respect for this requires us to review our moral alternatives in the light of the magisterium’s understanding of nature. That understanding remains open to development.

This may read as if I am encouraging barrack-room lawyers, questioning every instruction and constantly arguing. I am not. But I am suggesting that to act solely in response to authority is morally inferior to recognising the good which lies behind the instruction. And that could, and should, lead us to say so if we encounter an instruction, either in itself or in some application, we judge to be contrary to the good.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of this in action was the “conversion” of the late eminent moral theologian Josef Fuchs SJ. His book Natural Law (1965) remains a classic text on the subject as it was traditionally taught. As a member of the pontifical commission on contraception, he sought to understand the views of the lay, married members of the commission and concluded that, through their direct experience of the demands of married love, they were the most reliable judges of the application of natural law to contraceptive practice in their own lives. Some call him “the champion of the Catholic conscience”. Others don’t

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, evolution, Moral judgment, Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Do you disagree?

  1. John Thomas says:

    “Your doctor concludes that the child has psychological anxieties …” – the doctor might decide that you, the parent, has caused those psychological anxieties (laughing at his/her expressed desire to change sex, perhaps), and report you.
    It might be that my conscience guides me, against the guidance of the Church, to murder my spouse.

  2. Geordie says:

    Surely the degree of sinfulness is dependent on the harm you do to others. Stealing £100 from someone, who has very little, is much more serious than stealing £1000 from a millionaire.

  3. galerimo says:

    Thank you Quentin – I think I disagree more with the way the argument is presented – its emphasis on the foundation of Morality on the Natural Law.

    To me the assertion that Catholic morality is based on the natural law sounds more like starting to argue the pros and cons of sexual behaviour.

    Alternatively morality is our response to the love of God as revealed in the life of the Blessed Trinity. For European Catholics it is partly formed by the traditional way that revelation has been received within the community of Jesus’s disciples influenced by their GraecoRoman culture. And it is a rich culture indeed especially in its structuring genius.

    The response to that Trinitarian Love urges the community of Jesus’ followers to order their living and their character building virtue in such a way that demonstrates their own loving response to God. Communally first and individually.

    The magisterium or the teaching role of the Community Church is responsible for the guidance of the community. It cannot deal in detail with the life decisions of every single living soul over which it legitimately exercises its charism of teaching.

    Each individual in that community has the unequalled dignity of a baptized human person living, by God’s grace, in, and in response to, the merciful love of God. At times they are well served by the Magisterium providing the best possible teaching for the greatest number.

    For me this is “The deep theology of the moral life”.

    Much more than “telling us that we stand or fall by our response to what we recognise to be evil or good.” It tells us that whether we stand or fall we are held in the merciful love of God, we can, with the help of the Magisterium determine good and evil and their implications, and most important of all our determinations are founded primarily on our love for God – as such more firmly based than it ever could be on the natural law.

  4. Nektarios says:

    Is the Magisterium agreeing with the Pope or colluding with him, as it has newly come across the wires of the media and social media that he as just forgiven and absolved 2000 pedophile priests?

    I am beginning to feel sorry for my Roman Catholic Christians brethren who are unwittingly being subjected to such a wicked leader whose recent pronouncements seem to suggest he has only a relative, liberal and globalist view of you all and morality which is wicked and inhuman.
    Time to take stock.

    True morality is spiritual in nature, governing the physical life, it is one that proceeds from, and can only proceed from a new life which is the life of Christ in us. Everything else is just a religious sham and a false sense of holiness.

    • pnyikos says:

      I have not seen the report, Nektarios. Could you give me a reference to it that is reasonably reliable?

      Absolution does not mean excusing people from the obligation to make restitution, or to do penance. If you want to make a case for the Pope being wicked, you need to do a better job than the one you’ve done.

  5. G.D. says:

    And once again Quentin say’s it all for me. ….. “I am suggesting that to act solely in response to authority is morally inferior to recognising the good which lies behind the instruction. And that could, and should, lead us to say so if we encounter an instruction, either in itself or in some application, we judge to be contrary to the good.”
    (Even our own ‘authority’ should be continually suspect & challenged).

    ‘Authority’ has been continually used as an excuse to impose ‘obedience’ according to ‘my will’
    since time began.
    The authority that posits truth/morality has no need to sanction punishments; the authority ‘natural law’ places deeply in our hearts (the ‘heart’ of all creation?) produces a spontaneous creative positive ‘natural response’. Hard fought for sometimes but it is ‘natural law’s’ response. (Something to do with love’s ‘authority’, rather than our own will?).

    It’s in listening to other ‘authoritative’ voices that deafens us to that ‘still small voice’, leads us astray and actually leads to/causes(?) sin. The ‘authority’ that promises rewards for ‘right actions’ & punishments for ‘wrong’ responses (secular or religious) has the power (of ‘original sin’? The temptation in the garden of Eden springs to mind) to manipulate obedience by appealing to the various weakness’ we all have – greed, selfishness, vanity etc etc. ).
    By all means use ‘knowledge’ of what is ‘right’ to guide and teach authoritatively. But only by making it subservient to the ‘authority’ of Love’s Wisdom will it produce a freely loving response, that sets us free; for free. (True moral growth & development individually and/or collectively).

    Obedience to the true Authority (love) is not a carrot & stick in any way whatsoever, it simply is because ‘Love bids me welcome’ (George Herbert) and love itself is the reason (not a reward).
    Until that ‘authority’ is paramount as the ‘voice we listen to’ (and often need to acquiesce against our own will, not just simply ‘obey’) we will not break the cycle of egos ‘lording it over’; our true self & each other. (Again, individually and/or collectively).

    And, of course, those that do will not be very popular with the present societal majority that don’t.
    Pick up your Cross and follow me?

  6. Quentin says:

    G,D., the whole question of how we look at the potentially erroneous conscience is of great importance. You, and others, might look at Pope Benedict’s (when Card Ratzinger) approach at http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/ratzcons.htm . it’s the best explanation I know.

  7. G.D. says:

    Only read half of it so far …. I have a problem with understanding ‘The Pharisee no longer knows that he too has guilt. He has a completely clear conscience.’ His perception of his conscience may be affected by ‘authority’ other than love, and so he can exonerate himself to a certain (conscious) degree, yes. But …. ‘There is present in man the truth that is not to be repulsed, that one truth of the creator which in the revelation of salvation history has also been put in writing. Man can see the truth of God *from the fact of his creaturehood*.’ i see conscience not as (only) a subjective yes or no, but also inextricably linked to the ‘the objective Truth of the Creator’ placed in it by God’s design and grace.
    (Even the sociopath (to my way of seeing) knows despite the official ‘definition’.)

    I may have misunderstood but .. it seems (so far) that it’s either/or good conscience/bad conscience, whereas i have no problem seeing ‘conscience’ can be of both to varying degrees, and that no amount of subjective justification for personal wrongdoing against Truth/Love will obliterate the ‘knowledge’ of the ‘rightful’ action it could choose – conscience will always be aware/connected to Truth/Love, and somehow (in the depths of it’s subjective being) know it’s rejection of it. …..
    Will read on and try to understand better, but it’s testing my ‘preferences’ for the more intuitive free flowing approach.(lol). Which is a good thing!

  8. Nektarios says:

    What Ratzinger says means, we the people are incapable of truly living a moral life without the Church and the Roman Catholic Magisterium. My contributions initially demonstrates with all that is coming out these days let alone Church history, that the leaders in the Church and the Magisterium past and present, for all their moral pontificating and demanding it of the faithful, have failed to keep any morality whatsoever themselves it would seem.

    Conscience in the natural man is self serving. Obeying the law, judges him and condemns him.
    Again, conscience in the natural man is usually guided by his pleasures and desires. Conscience in the natural man is incapable of pleasing God. All this is pretty obvious is it not?

    When Christ came into the world, his teachings were spiritual in nature and the natural man could not receive it, that is, until the Holy Spirit regenerated the person and made a new creature out of him. Yes, that includes a spiritually/not merely religious, orientation towards God. That includes his conscience. This is not something man is capable of himself, rather it is something that God is doing in man by the Holy Spirit. It is just too fine for our words.

    Salvation is not just for the religious aspects to us, but for the whole man, and that includes his conscience.
    The Conscience in the true Christian, is orientated totally differently from what it was before his rebirth. Where in the natural man, no matter how religious he is, it is a conscience in darkness, under the power of the devil and those powers of darkness in high places, holding them captive.
    God in saving a person, translates such a one out of darkness and into the Kingdom of Light and of God’s dear Son.
    Man can influence others in all sorts of ways, but to change another, to give a rebirth to another,
    with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

    • ignatius says:

      ” My contributions initially demonstrates with all that is coming out these days let alone Church history, that the leaders in the Church and the Magisterium past and present, for all their moral pontificating and demanding it of the faithful, have failed to keep any morality whatsoever themselves it would seem.”

      Actually your contributions demonstrate a deep eccentricity and provide a good example of the need for churches to choose their shepherds wisely lest they go off the rails.

    • ignatius says:

      “My contributions initially demonstrates with all that is coming out these days let alone Church history, that the leaders in the Church and the Magisterium past and present, for all their moral pontificating and demanding it of the faithful, have failed to keep any morality whatsoever themselves it would seem…”

      Actually your contributions to this thread mainly demonstrate a deep eccentricity which provides a salutary warning to those who must choose shepherds for the flock..

      • ignatius says:

        Whoops, said it twice as I thought the first post had got lost in the ether. Nektarios, your ever deepening frenzy of words is becoming quite a worry.

      • Nektarios says:

        Ignatius
        It is not eccentricity on my part, tactless perhaps, but I will call a spade a spade.
        I agree with your last point when you say, ‘provides a salutary warning to those who must choose shepherds for the flock.’

  9. G.D. says:

    The last section in the 1st chapter clears it up. Yes, i agree with it in general. Except the idea that conscience is/can be ‘equated’ (same as?) subjective authority he says …. ‘ Whoever equates conscience with superficial conviction, identifies conscience with a pseudo-rational certainty, a certainty which in fact has been woven from self- righteousness, conformity and lethargy. ‘ …. which is correct as far as i can see; but that doesn’t ‘equate’ consciousness with the erroneous ‘self righteousness’ as he seems to say, he continues with …. ‘Conscience is degraded to a mechanism for rationalisation’ …. degraded/corrupted lessened, yes, agree; but then he clarifies with …. ‘while it should represent the transparency of the subject for the divine and thus constitute the very dignity and greatness of man.’ Which is saying it no longer does function as such. How does he reach that conclusion?

    If conscience is created in man as the ability to know (a ‘directive/guide’ for choosing) the Truth/Love (God!) by grace, how can it become equated (same as) with erroneous subjective self righteousness?
    Surely the moment that a person’s ‘subjective choice’ equated/identified conscience with self-righteousness, that would reject the ability for a ‘good’ conscience, they would no longer, ever, be capable of choosing any ‘good’ whatsoever. and so totally ‘cut off from’ God(?). As God is the ‘ground of being’ which holds all things in being, if a person were to do so, they would cease to exist(?).
    In ‘closing the door’ on God in such a way no existence (physical or spiritual) would be available to that ‘being'(?).
    ( For me both physical/spiritual are a continuum of life, not two separate states of existence ).

    No, erroneous self-righteous choices cannot be so all encompassing as to damage /obliterate/ reject the ‘good’ conscience’s presence in/availability to a ‘subject’.
    The Mercy & Justice of God are too great for that.

    Thus far …. chapter two may well change my perceptions!

  10. G.D. says:

    I have finished reading the tract, and can say i agree with the ideas and explanation of conscience wholeheartedly. Thank you, Quentin for the link.

    The only problem i have is he seems to indicate ‘Christianity’ is therefore the conclusion for all to come to acknowledge and embrace to enable a true conscience. (i may be doing him an injustice & wrong in that assumption).
    Without taking away any of the Truth of Christ’s Salvation for us, or of the ‘authority’ of Pope as described in the text, or the sacramental of the aspect of the Roman Catholic Church (to which i belong and cherish, which has given me my ongoing! journey of faith toward ‘knowing’ God; and literally, in more ways than one, life) i still find it perfectly feasible that anyone of any religion or none can embrace fully the …. ‘ inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. …’ and live in good conscience with God.
    Yes the church has a mission to protect and reveal that to all …. but so does every individual that responds positively to it.

    I have taken the liberty of copying extracts in order, which seem to be the important aspects of the text and hold together the meaning of conscience (devoid of the proslytising) ….
    (Apologies for the lengthy post!!)

    ” the centrality of the concept conscience for Newman, is linked to the prior centrality of the concept truth and can only be understood from this vantage point. …..
    conscience signifies the perceptible and demanding presence of the voice of truth in the subject himself. It is the overcoming of mere subjectivity in the encounter of the interiority of man with the truth from God. ….”

    “First, conscience is not identical to personal wishes and taste. Secondly, conscience cannot be reduced to social advantage, to group consensus or to the demands of political and social power.” ….. (and i would add religious imposition. Mea Culpa!)
    ….
    “conscience understood as a “co-knowing” with the truth. …. ”
    ….
    “….. there is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. … ” (and i would add an ability to know ‘Christ’ by other means than Christianity)
    ….
    “This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the godlike constitution of our being is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is so to speak an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears its echo from within. He sees: “That’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.” ….. (i would add intellectual knowing too).
    ….
    ” an antecedent basic knowledge of the essential constants of the will of God which came to be written down in the commandments, which can be found in all cultures and which can be all the more clearly elucidated the less an overbearing cultural bias distorts this primordial knowledge. …. ….” (so maybe i have done him an injustice?)

    ” the new anamnesis of faith which unfolds, similarly to the anamnesis of creation, in constant dialogue between within and without……” (by ‘new’ i take it he is referring to the historical Jesus?)
    ….
    ” it is the power of memory of the simple faith which leads to the discernment of spirits …. ”
    ….
    ” All power that the papacy has is power of conscience. It is service to the double memory upon which the faith is based and which again and again must be purified, expanded and defended against the destruction of memory which is threatened by a subjectivity forgetful of its own foundation as well as by the pressures of social and cultural conformity. ….. (here i would say some of religious belonging are guilty of this ‘subjectivity’ too. And question why Jesus never formed his ‘band’ into an institution, and produce ‘institutional converts’ when he walked the earth?).
    ….
    ” It is the longing for a truth which doesn’t just make demands of us but also transforms us through expiation and pardon. …..”
    ….
    ” Aeschylus puts it, “guilt is washed away” and our being is transformed from within, beyond our own capability.” (an ancient Greek!) ….. then he adds …. ” This is the real innovation of Christianity.”
    (I would have liked him to say of Christ). ……… (Apologies for the lengthy post!!).

  11. John Nolan says:

    John Henry Newman was arguably the greatest theologian of conscience in recent times. A pity that those who simply equate conscience with private judgement do not read him, or, worse still, quote him out of context to support their erroneous views.

    Talking of which, I notice Nektarios has popped up again with his anti-Catholic rants. I’m surprised no-one has challenged his castigation of Pope Francis as a ‘wicked leader’ ‘who has just forgiven and absolved 2000 pedophile (sic) priests’.

    For the record, I believe the present papacy to be acutely dysfunctional and divisive. However, I can find no evidence to support Nektarios’s ‘news’.

    I used to frequent El Vino’s in Fleet Street. Opposite that celebrated watering-hole were the premises of the ‘Protestant Truth Society’ . I contemplated that oxymoron over many a glass of claret.

    • G.D. says:

      Now now John, be nice … I like Francis’ approach by the way … no surprise there, eh!

      • John Nolan says:

        Ah, G.D., if you understand what Francis’s approach is, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din! Is setting bishop against bishop, and cardinal against cardinal, and doing his best to sow confusion, part of this approach?

        One hears disturbing reports of a ‘toxic atmosphere’ in the Vatican, with a culture of bullying and intimidation percolating downwards. Peremptorily dismissing Müller (hardly a conservative, but an intellectual heavyweight) and relying for advice on the likes of Fernandez and Spadaro (who gleefully tell us what he is really thinking) raise serious concerns.

        Yet I’ll still defend him against ‘fake news’ peddled by heretics. Nice doesn’t come into it.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Nolan

      I will let you into a little secret, I am related to the Newman family through marriage. I have read some of John Henry works too.
      Here is another little secret for you, all of my forebears going back generations were Roman Catholics from Ireland and Scotland.
      I can agree with what you say, ‘For the record, I believe the present papacy to be acutely dysfunctional and divisive.’

      I will be away over the next day or so, visiting Catholic relatives.

      I mused over why the Roman Catholic Church, and others, are the way they are as you describe? I discover they have something in common, that is, they have ceased to be a Church as in Acts 2 and become a religious institution, with all the implications of that.

      • G.D. says:

        John,
        i don’t claim to ‘understand’ Francis’ approach, just like the feel of it, and it seems genuinely to stem from love of God. Not perfect by any means.

        The wranglings amongst the hierarchy, and lower ‘ranks’ (all the way to a pleb in the pews such as me) are also beyond my understanding; i suspect it’s to do with people being set in their ways and not liking a different approach to ‘governing’.

        Differences must be aired and expressed of course, and in good conscience not let go of lightly. But to use underhand gossip, politic & bullying etc is not something i relish, or would expect, from ‘godly’ people; from parishioners to Pope.
        Alas, as you indicate, that type of ‘wrangling’ is all to rife; ever has been & will be i guess. Sadly.

        But there is also the consideration about the ‘Papal Office’ having the ‘authority’ for the final say?

        You know my penchant for ‘eclectic ways’; i don’t see why ‘battle lines’ must be drawn and fought for. Not advocating ‘anything goes’ mind you … just … ‘As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons’.
        As was Gunga Din amongst the battle; and the bullying of the ‘comrades’ he was serving.

  12. John Nolan says:

    G.D.
    I agree, and your last paragraph is particularly telling.

  13. John Candido says:

    I am sure that I have given everyone and especially you John Nolan, enough rope to hang my ‘heretical’ neck by with this post.

    This quotation from Cardinal Newman about the human conscience looks at what obstacles and difficulties it faces in its exercise.

    The quotation contains a lot of rigour in and of itself and lots of cautious qualifications which the subject matter of conscience no doubt needs.

    I could not due to the space involved taken in SS use a larger quotation of conscience from the same ‘Letter to the Duke of Norfolk’.

    I have some difficulty understanding the 19th century English that Newman uses in the final paragraph of this quotation.

    Can anyone elucidate what it means exactly?

    Cardinal Newman states,

    ‘Conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself; but it is a messenger from Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representatives . . .’

    ‘When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all . . .’

    ‘It becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them.’

    ‘Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will . . .’

    ‘Conscience is not a judgment upon any speculative truth, any abstract doctrine, but bears immediately on conduct, on something to be done or not done . . .’

    ‘Hence conscience cannot come into direct collision with the Church’s or the Pope’s infallibility; which is engaged in general propositions, and in the condemnation of particular and given errors . . .’

    ‘Since then infallibility alone could block the exercise of conscience, and the Pope is not infallible in that subject-matter in which conscience is of supreme authority, no deadlock, such as is implied in the objection which I am answering, can take place between conscience and the Pope.’

    ‘(Dif. ii, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, ch. 5, 1875)’

    The above quotation is taken from,

    ‘Newman, John Henry. The Quotable Newman: A Definitive Guide to John Henry Newman’s Central Thoughts and Ideas’, (page 65). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

    • John Nolan says:

      John Candido

      It means exactly what it says. The key passage is this:

      ‘Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will …’

      In other words, self-will or private judgement is not conscience as Christians understand it. Nineteenth century English is clear enough, and benefits from a lack of obfuscating jargon which is the stock-in-trade of 20th century social scientists.

      Perhaps you have immersed yourself too much in this jargon, to the extent that plain English is almost a foreign language to you. I wish I had Newman’s eloquence, but at least I try to express myself clearly, and usually succeed in doing so.

      • ignatius says:

        John Nolan,

        I think JC means the last paragraph:
        “‘Since then infallibility alone could block the exercise of conscience, and the Pope is not infallible in that subject-matter in which conscience is of supreme authority, no deadlock, such as is implied in the objection which I am answering, can take place between conscience and the Pope.’”

        I can’t fathom it out either so, if you so wish, please avail us of your interpretation

    • pnyikos says:

      My problem is with the false dichotomy of the following paragraph:

      ‘When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all . . .’

      Speaking only for myself, I do try to do my duty to God, but sometimes I am faced with a choice of literally following words of Jesus like, “Do not judge, lest you be judged” and following his example, as when he was highly judgmental of the scribes and Pharisees, and of the “Jews” in John 8. When I know someone is being deceitful and/or hypocritical, I have no qualms about accusing him or her publicly.

      • John Nolan says:

        pnikos

        Where’s the dichotomy? Newman is standing up for the Christian understanding of conscience as opposed to the secular/philosophical (mis)use of the term, prevalent in his century and ours.

  14. ignatius says:

    John Nolan,

    I think JC means the last paragraph:
    “‘Since then infallibility alone could block the exercise of conscience, and the Pope is not infallible in that subject-matter in which conscience is of supreme authority, no deadlock, such as is implied in the objection which I am answering, can take place between conscience and the Pope.’”

    I can’t fathom it out either so, if you so wish, please avail us of your interpretation

  15. G.D. says:

    Basically conscience ‘rules the roost’. The Pope & Church are under the authority of conscience; and not infallible in themselves.

    Conscience, as that of which St. Basil speaks in terms of “the spark of divine love which has been hidden in us”, is infallible – that *subject-matter* (of conscience) is infallible, is of supreme authority – in which, the Church and the pope are ‘NOT INFALLIBLE’.
    …. ‘‘Hence conscience cannot come into DIRECT COLLISION with the Church’s or the Pope’s INFALIBILITY” when it is proclaimed as such (which as i understand it isn’t that often?) because conscience (*subject matter* of) is in line with conscience (as ‘judgements’) of general propositions & particulars when rightly proclaimed, solemnly. …….

    Not saying i agree necessarily as it is a SEEMINGLY ‘paradoxical twist’ (cop out?) but that’s the way i read it. And have no problem with allowing the ‘paradox’ to be. Always remembering ‘teaching’ is not to be considered ‘infallible’ because it is from sources that are NOT INFALLIBLE in THEMSELVES.

    For me, as indeed Card. Ratzinger states in his text, it gives an individuals ‘subjective judgement’ (also NOT INFALLIBLE!) the last say – for good or ill! (Seriousness in seeking Truth taken as a priori).

    Which, again to my way of seeing, is all subjected to the Mercy & Love of God. (Which is the Justice of God too?).
    Love & Mercy as supreme over, and containing, all of the meandering intellectual explanations. Needed and interesting as they are, they are only symbols directing toward or away from that Divine Spark.
    Better to listen to the ‘Spark’ itself hidden in the text, and in the heart.

  16. John Nolan says:

    Ignatius

    Reading Chapter 5 of the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (the whole of which is a rebuttal of a pamphlet written by WE Gladstone) I don’t think it needs interpretation from me or anyone else. I would have thought that a paragraph beginning ‘Since then …’ can only be understood in relation to what went before.

    Selective quotation is easy, but it is an enemy of truth.

  17. ignatius says:

    However I have had another look at it:
    ““‘Since then infallibility alone could block the exercise of conscience, and the Pope is not infallible in that subject-matter in which conscience is of supreme authority, no deadlock, such as is implied in the objection which I am answering, can take place between conscience and the Pope.’”
    Here is my version:

    The only thing which can overrule conscience is infallibility. But infallibility, pretty much by definition, does not apply to matters where the conscience is the supreme authority. This means that there can never be deadlock between these two forces since they never in fact collide.

    • G.D. says:

      Nothing can overrule Conscience (the voice of God. Noun) it alone IS infallible (adjective). (C)Conscience only is infallible.

      Subjective (personal) conscience is never infallible. Never the less Subjective conscience is, for that subject, the defining word; for good or ill.

      As the medium of Church and Pope is through subjective conscience(s) it’s not infallible. Unless it is pronouncing the voice of God which is infallible.

      The individual’s subjective conscience is paramount for themselves. It’s up to them to decide IF the Church & Popes conscience is in consensus with the Infallibility of Conscience (C).
      They never collide because infallibility only applies to (C)Consience.

  18. John Nolan says:

    Ignatius

    More or less. The Church’s (and the pope’s) infallibility is manifest in general propositions and in the condemnation of ‘particular and given errors’. Conscience, which is a ‘dutiful obedience to what claims to be a divine voice speaking within us’, does not sit in judgement on speculative truth or abstract doctrine, but ‘bears immediately on conduct, on something to be done or not done’. It is a practical dictate by which we judge, here and now, what to embrace as good or avoid as evil. Newman here quotes St Thomas Aquinas.

  19. John Candido says:

    ‘The magisterium or the teaching role of the Community Church is responsible for the guidance of the community. It cannot deal in detail with the life decisions of every single living soul over which it legitimately exercises its charism of teaching.’ (galerimo)

    ‘The only thing which can overrule conscience is infallibility. But infallibility, pretty much by definition, does not apply to matters where the conscience is the supreme authority. This means that there can never be deadlock between these two forces since they never in fact collide.’ (ignatius)

    Thank you to both galerimo & ignatius in equal measure.

    You have both clarified the issue of an inviolate informed human conscience for me in a much sharper relief than any of my own efforts could ever do.

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