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FUMARE

Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cum scire

My post from yesterday on "Pope Giuliani" got me thinking more about conscience--what it is, its proper formation and how it has been understood. The intent of yesterday's post was not to engage in an exhaustive treatment of conscience , but rather to point out--by way of example--what Chesterton would call the "thoughtlessness of modern thought." Today, I submit a selection from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. In 1991, Ratzinger gave an address to the College of Cardinals entitled "The Problem of Threats to Human Life." This is a document that should be in every Catholic's arsenal to provide the intellectual framework to combat the dominant culture of death. In light of my post of yesterday and as the politicians ramp up their campaigns, I submit this particularly timely and important passage to our readers from the mind of the reigning Pontiff:
A second reason which explains the extent of a mentality opposed to life appears to me to be connected with the very concept of morality that is widespread today. Often, a merely formal idea of conscience is joined to an individualistic view of freedom, understood as the absolute right to self-determination on the basis of personal convictions. This view is no longer rooted in the classical conception of the moral conscience, in which (as Vatican II said) a law resounds which man does not give himself, but which he must obey, a voice which ever summons him to love and to do what is good and to avoid what is evil, and which when it is necessary says clearly to his heart: do this, keep away from that (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 16). In this conception, which belongs to the entire Christian tradition, conscience is the capacity to be open to the call of truth that is objective, universal, and the same for all who can and must seek it. It is not isolation, but communion: cum scire in the truth concerning the good, which brings human beings together in the intimacy of their spiritual nature. It is in this relationship with common and objective truth that conscience finds its justification and its dignity, a dignity which must always be accurately guaranteed by a continuing formation. For the Christian this naturally entails a sentire cum Ecclesia, and so, an intrinsic reference to the authentic Magisterium of the Church.

On the other hand, in the new conception, clearly Kantian in origin, conscience is detached from its constitutive relationship with a content of moral truth and is reduced to a mere formal condition of morality. Its suggestion, "do good and avoid evil", would have no necessary and universal reference to the truth concerning the good, but would be linked only with the goodness of the subjective intention. Concrete actions, instead, would depend for their moral qualification on the self-understanding of the individual, which is always culturally and circumstantially determined. In this way, conscience becomes nothing but subjectivity elevated to being the ultimate criterion of action. The fundamental Christian idea that nothing can be opposed to conscience no longer has the original and inalienable meaning that truth can only be imposed in virtue of itself, i.e. in personal interiority. Instead, we have the divinization of subjectivity, the infallible oracle of which is conscience, never to be doubted by anyone or anything.
[emphasis mine]

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