Father, why do you constantly emphasize conscience?
Fr. Jan Kaczkowski
Conscience, not just for me, but for the Church, is the most important standard of morality, though we sometimes forget this. This needs to be properly understood.
But how? Sometimes we hear that everyone has their own conscience and should consider matters according to it.
Here I could do a whole lecture on conscience, that we have consciences that are correct, incorrect, mistaken, invincibly erroneous, vincibly erroneous, wide, narrow – these are the categories of conscience in moral theology. Would you really like to hear about this?
Maybe you could say something about this in plain language?
I’ll try to do it in one thought. In the conscience, which is the most intimate sanctuary of God’s encounter with every person, we hear His voice. This voice is that natural scratching which sometimes does not gives us peace. God acts in our lives mainly through the conscience. God is of course, powerful, all-encompassing, but in this He is humble, that He has stowed away in the voice of our conscience. That is why we are never allowed to violate our conscience, which I’m afraid, happens to us all.
What is violation of the conscience?
It is opposition to the moral imperative, which says in you: do good, avoid evil. Benedict XVI went further and said that in the conscience of every person there are written some archetypes of the commandments. The Holy Father compared this to Plato’s Cave. Plato assumed the existence of an ideal world and of a real world. Man has been excluded from the ideal world, for which he longs, in his own body, that is in the cave. Between him and the wall of the cave there burns a fire, which we understand as being the source of knowing truth, goodness and beauty (the transcendentals). Between man, the fire, and the wall are passing divine ideas. Man, as he is chained, cannot see the fire or the ideas. He does however observe the shadows on the cave wall. Looking at the shadows he remembers he once belonged to the ideal world. Pope Benedict says exactly the same of the archetype shadows of the commandments. If we were to summarize them we would say: assume, there exists a world beyond reality, supernatural, intangible; assume there exists something beyond the world of the senses (1st, 2nd and 3rd commandments); do no harm, value family and respect friendship (4,5,6,7,8,9 and 10). All these values are shared by Hindus, animists and Christians. And also by some agnostics and atheists. The commandments awaken in us a longing for the ideal world, and so we try to come closer to them.
Violation of the conscience is behaving in a way that opposes this longing that is within us.
Let’s call in some specifics, for example the value of family. Are we to close our eyes to the fact that these days families are transforming, breaking up, being recombined with different members? Such families are also valuable, but do they have in them that original brilliance? One of the moral principles says that we must refrain from action, if we have something that raises doubt. Then, you need to carefully try to understand it, go back to first principles. And then, we reach either a certainty to be able to go forward, with what we recognized in our consciences, or with conviction give it up. In the event of urgency, it should be the most probable option and not the convenient one.
As a Catholic I am not ashamed of the conflict of my subjective judgement with objective external standards, such as the Gospel and the teachings of the Church. I don’t always manage to hear my conscience well. I need such standards because I am weak.
We, Catholics, should conform our consciences to the teachings of the Church in such a way as to not violate the conscience. And if there are doubts – despite our sincere, earnest efforts – and they continue, then we are obliged, with extreme caution, to follow the voice of our conscience. This does not mean that later it won’t turn out we were mistaken, but the error was at that time, to return to theological jargon, it was an invincible error.
It all seems very fuzzy.
How are you so sure that the shadows of the commandments are the conscience and not cultural codes?
God also works through psychology and education. Let’s not remove God so severely from this world. Gratia supponit naturam, grace is based on nature. If a student doesn’t learn, and calls on the Holy Spirit, well then, how is He to help, He has nothing to work with. God very rarely acts contra naturam.
Will your faith collapse when scientists find an area in the brain responsible for mystical feelings? When it’s confirmed that this faith is merely a part of the brain? Or if someone opens our skull and stimulates an area responsible for the feeling of God, is this evidence of the non-existence of God? No, it would only be evidence of God who so miraculously created us through evolution, that he planned the feeling of Him through emotion. He also planned for us a cultural code so as to behave ethically.
God is very gentle. From one side you see a great tension, which I like a lot in theology – God, the Unmoved Mover. As some wishing to show-off in sermons say: “Lord of time and Lord of history, the One who acts above our matrix, who in one glance sees the beginning of history and its end. A personal God, the elusive Absolute, who is not even a person, and functions in the manner of a person, because if He was a person, it would limit Him, He would no longer be limitless, absolute”. God functions in the manner of a person, that is He enters into relationships. He enters into relationships with me, with you, with everyone, because only between persons is there the possibility of relationship.