The Church teaches that Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful, first in a primal sense and over time by being taught. It formulates its judgments according to reason in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator for humanity. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are continuously subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin from the age reason on—many prefer their own judgment and reject authoritative input. An erroneous conscience is always a distinct possibility established by false teaching in conflict with the innate sense of right and wrong (the true good) installed in every human being. Many are taught to believe what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right, particularly in today’s universities. (CCC 1783) modified.
It is fair to ask what is “authoritative” input? Ever since the Fifteenth Century it appears that all religious authority has been questionable.
For those who have taken the time to enquire into European history, Christendom was the name given to a system dating from the fourth century by which governments upheld and promoted Christianity, by and large through the Catholic Church. “In its historical sense, the term usually refers to the Middle Ages and to the Early Modern period during which the Christian world represented a geopolitical power that was juxtaposed with both the pagan and especially the Muslim world. In the traditional Roman Catholic sense of the word, it refers to the sum total of nations in which the Catholic Church is the established religion of the state or to those with ecclesiastical concordats with the Holy See.”
(Wikipedia) Europe was a theocracy as was the Muslim world. In 70 CE the theocratic Jewish State had been dispersed throughout the known world by the Romans.
“Early Christianity was a religion spread in the Greek/Roman world and beyond as a first-century Jewish sect, It may be divided into two distinct phases: the apostolic period, when the first apostles were alive and organizing the Church, and the post-apostolic period, when an early episcopal structure developed, whereby bishoprics were governed by bishops,” and bishops governed by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, as the successor of St. Peter: (Matthew 16: 18)
“The post-apostolic period concerns the time roughly after the death of the apostles when bishops emerged as overseers of urban Christian populations. Early Christendom would close at the end of imperial persecution of Christians after the ascension of Constantine the Great and the Edict of Milan in AD 313 and the First Council of Nicaea in 325,” over which he, an unbaptized 2catechumen, presided over the first session. The experience of his conversion is well worth reading.
“According to Malcolm Muggeridge (1980), ‘Christ founded Christianity, but Constantine founded Christendom.’ Canadian theology professor Douglas John Hall dates the ‘inauguration of Christendom’ to the forth century, with Constantine playing the primary role and Theodosius I (Edict of Thessalonica, 380) and Justinian I secondary roles.” (Wikipedia) modified
“Writings attributed to the Apostles circulated among the earliest Christian communities. The Pauline epistles were circulating, perhaps in collected forms, by the end of the 1st century CE. Justin Martyr, in the mid 2nd century, mentions ‘memoirs of the apostles’ as being read on ‘the day called that of the sun’ (Sunday) alongside the ‘writings of the prophets.’ A defined set of four gospels (the Tetramorph) was asserted by Irenaeus, c. 180, who refers to it directly.”
“By the early third century, Origen may have been using the same twenty-seven books as in the present New Testament canon, though there were still disputes over the acceptance of the Letter to the Hebrews, James, II Peter, II John, III John, Jude and Revelation, known as the Antilegomena. Likewise, the Muratorian fragment: (the oldest known list of the books of the Bible) is evidence that, perhaps as early as 200, there existed a set of Christian writings somewhat similar to the twenty-seven-book NT canon, which included four gospels and argued against objections to them. Thus, while there was a good measure of debate in the Early Church over the New Testament canon, the major writings are claimed to have been accepted by almost all Christians by the middle of the third century”
“In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of the books that would become the twenty-seven-book NT canon,” (Wikipedia)
“The visible unity of the Church of Christ is the root of all our belief, after the existence of God, the claim of Christ as our teacher, and the fact that Christ did found a Church. All else (including the papacy) we believe because the Church of Christ teaches it, relying on Jesus’ promises to her. But we cannot get any further toward knowing what the Church teaches till we know what the Church is. The whole principle of believing the teaching of the Church goes by the wayside if we admit the possibility that the Church may consist of a group of separate communions, all teaching something different.”
(Adrian Fortescue: The Early Papacy (p. 58). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.)
“The Church is the Body of Christ, through the Spirit and his action in the Sacraments. (CCC 805) modified: The Church is the Body of which Christ is its head; she lives from him, in him and for him; he lives with her and in her. (CCC 807) modified: The church is believed to be ‘a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’” (CCC 810) modified.
“The end of Christendom came about because modern governments refused to ‘uphold the teachings, customs, ethos, and practice of the Catholic Church.’” Realpolitik in conjunction with upcoming scientific discovery engendered conditions for secular autonomy and an atomizing of religious beliefs preempting the Church’s historic authority. Too often the Institutional Church herself lost sight of her sacred origins and sacramental ministry as some of the “surrogates of Peter” and other ordained religious leaders committed to a misunderstood “Kingdom of God” competing with the worldly powers.‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ (John 18: 36) This came out in the open with the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire in 962. Any affront to the Church became an affront to the power of God.
“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. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.” (CCC 1784)
“Benedict XVI, asserted that: ‘Christianity has understood itself as the religion of the Logos*, that is, as the religion according to reason,’ referring to John 1 usually translated as ‘In the beginning was the Word (Logos).’ Thus, he said that the Christian faith is ‘open to all that is truly rational,’ and that the rationality of Western Enlightenment ‘is of Christian origin.’”
“* Logos: In Christology, the Logos ‘Word; ‘Discourse,’ or ‘Reason’ is a name or title of Jesus Christ, believed to be the pre-existent, second person of the Blessed Trinity by most Christians.’” (Wikipedia) modified.
“In the formation of conscience the Word of God (Jesus) is the light for our path, we must assimilate his teaching in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.” (CCC 1785)
Since we have long emerged from the Middle Ages, “Catholic theology sees conscience as the last practical ‘judgment of reason which at the appropriate moment enjoins [a person] to do good and to avoid evil.’ The Second Vatican Council (1962–65) describes: ‘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, tells him inwardly at the right movement: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law, and by it he will be judged. His conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There, he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.’”
“Thus, conscience is not like the will, nor a habit like prudence, but ‘the interior space in which we can listen to and hear the truth, the good, the voice of God. It is the inner place of our relationship with Him, who speaks to our heart and helps us to discern, to understand the path we ought to take, and once the decision is made, to move forward, to remain faithful’ In terms of logic, conscience can be viewed as the practical conclusion of a moral syllogism whose major premise is an objective norm and whose minor premise is a particular case or situation to which the norm is applied. Catholics are taught carefully (or at least use to be) to educate themselves as to revealed norms and norms derived therefrom, so as to form a correct conscience. Catholics are also to examine their conscience daily and with special care before confession. Catholic teaching holds that, ‘Man has the right to act according to his conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience by any authority. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.’”
“This right of conscience does not allow one to arbitrarily disagree with Church teaching and claim that one is acting in accordance with conscience. A sincere conscience presumes one is diligently seeking moral truth from authentic sources, that is, seeking to conform oneself to that moral truth by listening to the authority established by Christ to teach it. Nevertheless, despite one’s best effort, ‘It can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed’ … ‘This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility’… ‘In such cases, the person is culpable for the wrong he commits.’ Thus, if one realizes one may have made a mistaken judgment, one’s conscience is said to be vincibly erroneous and it is not a valid norm for action. One must first remove the source of error and do one’s best to achieve a correct judgment. If, however, one is not aware of one’s error or if, despite an honest and diligent effort one cannot remove the error by study or seeking advice, then one’s conscience may be said to be
invincibly erroneous. It binds since one has subjective certainty that one is correct.”
“The act resulting from acting on the invincibly erroneous conscience is not good in itself, yet this deformed act or material sin against God’s right order and the objective norm is not imputed to the person. The formal obedience given to such a judgment of conscience is good. Some Catholics appeal to conscience in order to justify dissent, not on the level of conscience properly understood, but on the level of the principles and norms which are supposed to inform conscience. For example, some priests make on the use of the so-called internal forum solution (which is not sanctioned by the Magisterium) to justify actions or lifestyles incompatible with Church teaching, such as Christ’s prohibition of remarriage after divorce or sexual activity outside marriage, the use of contraceptives or the approval of abortion, etc.”
“The Catholic Church has warned that: ‘rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching … can be at the source of errors in judgment in moral conduct.’ An example of someone following his conscience to the point of accepting the consequence of being condemned to death is Sir Thomas More (1478-1535).”
“A theologian who wrote on the distinction between the ‘sense of duty’ and the ‘moral sense’ as two aspects of conscience, and who saw the former as some feeling that can only be explained by a divine Lawgiver, was Blessed John Henry Newman. (1801-1890) A well known saying of his is that he would first toast to his conscience and only then to the pope, since his conscience brought him to acknowledge the authority of the pope.” (Wikipedia) modified
Recommended: On Conscience: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 1991; a clear and concise look at conscience in today’s Catholicism
Saturday of week 31 in Ordinary Time: 2018
(Saint Leo the Great, Pope, Doctor )