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I72 Christian Ethics Conscience 173

view of the Bible and of Vatican II (GS 34, 57, 67), then concrete situation are to be judged. The moral faculty then
conscience appears object-oriented. Certainly the particular task formulates a judgment, which is called the dictate of conscience
which falls to each one within this great work is only known or also simply conscience (as in the expression ..antecedent
to him alone in his heart. But the contribution to be made conscience").
in the realization of the common work must ultimately stand Conscience in this sense is defined as an ultimate, practical
in the service of *the fulfilment in history of the divine plan" judgment on the morality of a concrete action, commanding
and the unfolding of the creator's design (GS 34). This directs to do what is good and to avoid what is evil. It is called i
man to a task outside of himself and signifies for conscience practical i\tdgment, because it is related to the ..praxis" of
an orientation toward the object and the actual world of being. the moral activity. In most cases this judgment is not reflexive
The moral law is inscribed in the hearts of men. This but spontaneous. The judgment of bonscience is expressly
inner law is not simply identical with the moral laws and reflected upon especially in instances of doubt or of resistance
precepts in the handbooks of ethics and moral theology. No and disobedience to the dictates of conscience.
doubt, the formulated norms are an essential help in the Conscience is called an ultimate, practical judgment in
formation of conscience. Yet the norms of the manuals only contradistinction to a practical judgment of speculativ-e nature.
stake out a framework of moral obligations, as already explained The first concerns a person's concrete action in a concrete
earlier. The moral good in is variety and richness is much situation; the second formulates general moral principles con-
more than what general laws can express. *Not everything ceming the morality of human actions in the abstraci without
that is morally gmd for the individual is already concretely relation to the concrete activity of a person here and now.
set forth in the general moral norm of an ethics derived from The principles and norms collected in moral handbooks or
being and essence, even if it also cannot contradict this norm catechisms are practical judgments of speculative nature.
and depart from the moral order in which God's will in
The dictate of conscience contains a double element. The
principle is made known."l Precisely under this aspect men
first element is the judgment on the morality of a concrete
and women are called to self-reliant definition of the moral
action-yhich .a person intends to'perform or- has performed
demand, which can be called creative in a good sense.
Moreover one has soberly to reckon with the possibility that
or which he intends to omit or has omitted. This judgmeni
moral norms formulated by men can be subject to imperfections,
can be erroneous, because conscience may judge i line of
which perhaps personal conscience has to set off and to conduct to be right which is objectively wrong and vice versa.
corr@t. Not every judgment of conscience which departs from
The second element is the command and obligation that what
an external moral norm is an erroneous conscience, albeit an has been recognized as good must be done br should have
invincibly erroneous one. Certainly dissent from a moral norm been donO, and what has been recognized as evil must be
commonly, upheld requires a high degree of responsibility. omitted or should have been omitted. This obligation is
The question will be given more attention below. categorical. It is not only always right to follow it, it is
obligatory to do so.
III. Conscience as practical moral judgment
Just as the faculty of conscience is not merely a collection
of pre-existent moral ncirms, so the concrete judgment
-moial of
l. conscience is not merely an act in which general
Concept of the dictate of conscience norms
are applied to a concrete action here and now. True, such an
'The faculty of conscience goes into action when the application also takes place, but it is always accompanied and
morality of a concrete line of conduct, which a person wants completed by a person's fundamental awareness of-his or her
personal destiny and individual calling in the service of the
to follow or has followed, and the moral obligation in the
intentions of God and the plan of creation. Even the general
' R. S.h lund, Schdpferisches Gewissen (Freiburg: Herder,
1990'), 77.
moral laws are formulated under the influence of this awireness
which men have of the purpose and meaning of their lives
'i, 174 Chrktian Etlics Conscience 175
ll and ihe world at large. It is for that reason that the general The perplexed conscience and the judgments of the tax and
lr laws can appeal to the corsciences of men, because ultimately scrupulous conscience ire species of the erroneous conscience.
t the laws have been formulated under their inspiration and The perplex and lax conscience will be dealt with separate-
rli control. ly -below. The scrupulous conscience is less an erroneous than
I a sick conscience. Scrupulosity is the persistent, gnawing,
t, 2. Divkion of conscience unreasonable fear that one has offended God or is about to
do so. The scrupulous person is in constant dread of sin
t, Conscience can be anlecedent or cotlsequqnr. It is called where there is none, or of grave sin where there is only
if antecedent if the judgment on the morality of an action and veniil sin. The roots of this state of doubt and fear are not
the obligation to perform or omit it is passed before the action primarily of rational character; they are above all to be sought
is trans6ted into ieality. The antecedent conscience commandg in disturbed emotions. Vaguely the afflicted person himself
exhorts, permits, or forbids. Conscience is called consequent feels that his doubts are futile and should be despised; but
't; if it evaluates a deed already done or omitted. The consequent he is unable to escape them. If need be, it may be advisable
I conscience approves, excuses, reproves' or accuses. to refer the afflicted person to- a' psychiatrist. Frequently
Conscience canbe certain or doubtful: A certain conscience however psychiatric help is not available or feasible. In such
passes judgment without fear of enor. For moral certainty it cases the priest can try the supportive kind of help which
iufficei thit all reasonable fear be excluded. Thus a person the more traditional methods have advocated. He then will
who is convinced that he has paid back the 200 dollars he endeavour to inform himself about them.l Fortunately the
problem has lost much of its urgency today. Together with
owed to his friend has a certain conscience. An absolutely
the elimination of legalism in moral and ascetic theology in
certain conscience howdver can still be erroneous. For example,
recent decades, the instances of scrupulosity have become
if the debt is paid in instalments, it may still be true-that much rarer.
the person is misaken and that only 150 dollars have been
paid. The doubtful conscience on the other hand is uncertain In ethical discussions today a strong stress is often laid
on the distinction between moral goodness or badness and
ionceming the morality of an action. Therefore it suspends moral rightness or wrongness. This distinction corresponds
its judgmJnts; or it passes judgment but- with reasonable fear with the traditional distinction between a certain conscience
of irriig. Thus a youth who doubts whether -it- is right for (which judges something in firm conviction as morally good
him to &e a controversial movie has a doubtful conscience. or evil, whereby it can err) and a right conscience (which
Conscience can be right or erroneous according as the correctly judges something as morally right or wrong). What
practical moral judgment agrees or disagrees with- the objective is morally good must noi necessarily be mbrally right, and
norms of morality. Tfre peison who jrgdges that it is not rigltt vice versa. If a daughter believes that she has to deny child
to get a divorce dimply because his wife is no longer beautiful abuse before the court because the accused is her father, then
has- a right conscienie. An erroneous conscience is either she does something which on account of her inner belief is
invincibf or vincibly so. The invincibly erroneous conscience morally good; but objectively morally wrong.
is inculpabte, sinci the person has n9 awareness of the
possibiliiy of error. If Hindus believe they may nd eat the IV. Stages in the development of conscience
meat of iows, their conscience is erroneous frorn a Christian
point of view. But for the Hindus this error is invincible, A distinction.must be made between the evolving con-
5i*" tfr"ir retigion teaches them that cows are sacred- Thei science in childhoo4 which is predominantly an authoritarian
vincibly errondus conscience on the other han{ is culpable, - l{.;
becausl with some good will its error could be correcte{ very good and helpful treatment of scrupulosity in G.
Hagmaier/R Gleason, Courcelling the Catlnlic (New York Sheed and
e.s. if a white iudse is aware that he too uncritically accepted Ward, 1964), 145-173. For some basic moral principles in guidance see
thE testimony df iAouUtful witness against a black defendant' H. Jone; MoralTheology, 1963, nr.9l.



Conscience 177
176 Christian Ethics
mature' adult form the child's value patterns and ideals. Imitation and identifichtion
conscience or a "must-conscience-, and the*ought-co11iep9"' play a role in the development of conscience which is at least
;i"d;;;, *hi"h can G qualinia p an
equal to that of commands and prohibitions, and probably
i; tr ;t*Li itpo.t"n"" ih"t on the- wav to adulthood the
"f into the superior to them. I

authoritarian "r,tt" "hild'd"uelops Thus the early stage of conscience is formed, which is
of the
ought-conscience grown-up' matule person'
frsonaf due to the internalization of parental and social rules and
Some authors speak of superego instead of
t"t.inof6gy. T" readily- exposed ideals.l Inasmuch as these rules are in harmony with the
s"i..[e.--Ho*"u",,6i. .mote term child's true nature, they contribute substantially to the formation
i"'*it".J"*tanding, since for FrJud, who introduced.the
unauthentic-:Ifi: of an authentic conscience. But if they disregard the child's
r"p"i"l", mis is eiientially an oppressive'. real constitution, they give rise to kinds of "superegds" and
r,il"t""t"'"f the human psyche, whereas the musl-consclence
"personas" which do violence to and suppress. the true per-
il;;;-;t il therefbrL genuine srage in the development
accordingly sonality. Furthermore the must-conscience is inclined to limit
;? ;d;;.i. rt *t ttt" terni
or"' o uOipt superego
basically. a prin; the moral obligations to certain areas, i.e. to those areas which
il;;il;;;,ion thatand the sup'erego,..although
*st!.11. has a oositive and are covered by the parental and social norms. The other areas

;ili;;i censorship cohtrol,

appear to be morally indifferent and left to a person's free

lli""ri"r"i'il;;it;' l; ;';;;ionutiti"'' In ihildren' the

on the wav to discretion, which is a legalistic contraction of the moral /J'
lffi;*'3';; u'ptiti,iu" iil:
but necessary staee
t^:qo finctions pmitivel y obligation. The imitation of examples, though, can transcend
gen ui ne conscience. in' ua"G, this framework, but can after all not fully compensate for
relieve us from
when intelrated lnto a mature conscience to
-1ry, i'
matters which this inadequacy.'
ilffis;;?;lA; ft"-thlvH;"e5r i.rptancc
convention cul1f As the child grows older and progresses towards adulthood,
;;; ;F*dr iegi ti ma;Iy' oeieimi'iea 9r i'^l the must-conscience is to give way to the mature ought-con-
In thl v[w of many psychologiss' the musl-consqence
rTt-rylt-o:l: science.2 The ought-conscience is no longer primarily sustained
of ttie c-t itA euotuo oui o'i patentil commands' often accomparu€s by fear of punishment and extemal imitation. Rather it originates
;;d';;"hibiiions. Some form of punishment
ioutt" does not know lvfr fe from the conviction of the inner value of the moral obligation,
il;tJ'.";;;;;dt. Th;.itiiJ "r thingg' tfe complies with the from the inner law of a person's nature and the divine calling
must or must not aL l"*in as spelled out in that centre of the human person which is
oarents' He spon-
oilltt-U"iu*. they are prescribed his knowledge'-
h9 a person's true self. Emphasis has shifted from, imitation and
taneously submits to theii competenc€.and 1nd
parental and social iontrol to personal responsibility. There
;;;i;" iuu,"puniitt'nlnt if heasdisobevs' Although
far as the parents' remain many "musts" in adulthood, but they spring now from
i"i,i.rry't"umission'is'i"na"t"a.only the extemal a sense of duty to build and not to tear down one's personalily
;;ffii reaches, trt" "tirO giadually.;interiorizes- and norms even
.f u"thoiity and fol'iows their orders
' A, ,lr"s the "superego' stage of conscience, which is primarily
when he is alone. formed in early childhood through the child's relation to the parents, is
given to
Mor" ,o"ntly however greater attention is also of distinguished from a more developed stage of conscience based on con-
*,ro nr
the rule imitntion
of imitation ,"Jia?ntincation
and ion in the formation ventional morality, which is formed in interaction with the social group.
This then is followed by the third stage of the ought-conscience. This
--t RM..cula, Reason $ith (NewYork P,alli:t^Pi:.:i
Informed b-y thre€fold division is based on the theories of J. Piaget and L. Kohlberg
, (see G. Grisez, Tlie Way of the Lord Jesng vol. I. Chicago: Franciscan
-Y 1::^t: -*f:'1:*" ;*t:l
t e8 e), 2 8. I n t he. sa me i'i"v'p-;i{

H,lil'L'ii,il,}iif iil';il..s; ii' neJos"'vi '3lHl;i Herald, 1983, 89f). The superego stage of conscience and the conscience
guided by convention are however both forms of the authorilarian con-
*f; J:t'ltiXl,ill:.iiii
without it.
jff;f#:"GffiF;ilFi*m jl:ll'*
1l'" :!9."i:n:,.1: science, and their limits seem to be substantially of the same nature.
2 According to Jean Piaget the lransition from rhe "heteronomous'
re lation to later
rdtsr o"i"r"p"**i ir. iot*itlg"'- f:ig:::tl"T
n reralron
i t he
rrrc "lttt"iiiii tilGhi;h moment"
at ttreiighi to the "autonomous" conscience occurs at about seven yean of age in
a Dennanenl prison or the
ii;;" ;'il
b r, ;i" rn *.' ul^don : d' c haiiman' te 6' rz L\' normal children.
Conscience L79
r78 Christian Ethics
self. It is by no means necessary that they should experienge
common good and
and from a sense of responsibility for the conscience as a foreign body, because from childhood on the
for the kingdom of the lord' mclral demands of the social environment have been absorbed
between an
Fundailentally there can be no opposition (Ihe and interiorized. Yet ultimately these people do not live from
''adult conscience and the "musts" of moral law' qugt- the depth of their soul, but do what ofhers expect of them.l
g;;.i;; t*i"nt reflects the moral law of the
conscience to the There are many stages possible in the transition from
;;il;iri.i-n.t tfi. tit olit:tl'lqun
oi ttt" law is to exDress and
abiliti& and the divine
authoritarian to mature conscience. Perfect ,maturity of con-
what one ought to ;U science, such as realized by those saints who were only ruled
."iri"J' ;g.ti." in pti#pte itre aautt person will acknowledge by St. Augustine's principle "Love and do as you will", is
Iil-'S"t"or" ln ttre-'tuni the imperativ.e of his own striving
certainly rare. It makes part of authentic adulthood self-critically
even though he may
;;.;dt'h;"n arrd-Ctrristian adulthood' to acknowledge what has remained infantile in oneself and
be clearly aware th;'-i*p"rfections in its formulation and
how far short one's spiritual stature falls of the full adult
thus of the correctiont fl"
'must introduce into it' To be -in stature of Christ..This will make a person all the more ready
principle hostile unO- oppo*a. to evell law may safely
At tirnes however to listen to what the law can provide as a help and correction
i""rio'.r.a inrattiuteilgn of immaruriiy."t
-*tt"r" the deeper ought-conscience of one's own views and unreliable leanings.2 Such acceptance
there will "n U"",
as inadequate' of the law is not immature submission proceeding from fear
,".t!niz.s the norms of the must-conscience and external constraint, but is approval resulting from the
and that all the *o;;; tht mtre deficient
"$ liT1ltl,g
formarion of the must-consqence.
insight into one's limitations and from the knowledge that the
i;i;ril have influenced thesimply be grounde4:" I clealgr moral laws are fruits of the experience and common work of
The modifieA norm-muy many generations. However once a person has sufficiently
iniigtti-una tne transition to it may ensue without greater
formed his conscience by attending to the law of nature and
can at times
conflicts. But the a.tu.fl*tnt from the old bonds e'g' of grace, by purifying his intentions and gathering solid
;il;;;pi"o *itt "onsiderableiU6t"a, pain and euilt feelings'
ego-ideal. information, there comes a moment when he rhust be able to
- is dealing ;ilh';;*pty- ftom the must-conscience to
if- one unar;hentic
rely on his own conscience, because no mere legality can
No, alwayJ the transition sufficiently answer God's personal call and invitation.
the adult ougttt-.on'.tilnt" ii tutcessfully
effected' Phfsi,gf'
go together'
i"iff".t""f uiA t*uf adulthood a personal conscience'
do not necessarily
The B. The'binding force of conscience
One person .u".".d, in forming
teariea irom others he is able to
ir*.[[-."0-uufufi.-toai and conviction' I. The certain conscience
incorporate u, purioittit own inner attitude
Totheoutsider,upoton-*noseconscienceisthusself-reliant l. A certain conscience must always be obeyed when it
will create ttre i#pression tttut his moral and
in a harmonized commands or forbids. It may always be followed when it
comes straight ft"#il;;;;tt uno roots
l'9t itt permits something. Paul states that "whatever does not proceed
retationship.s with his fellow-men are
;;;;;;;iily:asis of principles and regula- from faith is sin" (Rom 14:23). According to the context, he
blocked by mechl"i""i
remain 'l
But it is different with people whots consciences F- th. characterization of rhe developed and undeveloped adult
Their moral behaviour
autnoiitarian and do nor reach maturity' ccrscicnce, cf. R. Egcnterand P. Matussek, Faith, Freedom and Conscience
;'iil;;;;;';'1il;d;; ;;i"r of principre with rittre warmth
of .conscience remarn a
(Dublin: Gill and Son, 1967, ll8f; compare pp.9l and ll5).
2 The prohibition, existing in rnany states, of lhe sale of firb weapbns
;;"li;!. For them the demands
i;r;ig"-6dy, .*,"rnui o'-"u"n in opposition to the true'
"f without spccial licensc is based on the cxpcriencc that private pcrsons
oflen do riot know how to handlc them prudcntly. The same is irue of the
- prohibition of the salc of narcotics.
Sin, Liberry and law' l' c' 102'
' L."t. Monden,
180 Christian Ethics
Conscience tgl
means to say that every action which is not performed with anxieties and render it intolerable. God
does not command
the certain conviction of its rightfulness is sin the impmsible.
The reason for the principle is that conscience is that Only in a few cases is wide moral certainty
appropriate faculty of man which tells him what his moral, namely, where a value is so importanl insufficient,
tnut noi-,";;;-;;]i'lr,
duties are. Conscience as the sense of right and wrong in risk can be taken to. damage it;'"j.'*n."-,-rti'r"""";";F
man is the necessary cons€quence of a divine plan for the leading personality rs of gr-eat i*portun""'il';;J;&ft"
world and of a purposeful world order. For neither the order good (in which case one rirt ca' in
not onry ong but three
of nature nor the divine plan can be realized without a sense physicians), or if at the visit of ;A;;g;
head of state mulriDte
in man informing him about the place falling to his lot in precaurions are taken to guard uguinst"any
the world and the role he has to fulfil in it. Through the
mediation of conscience everybody gains the necesslry insight 3. The invincibry erroneous conscience must troilo*ea
into the laws he is to respect in the qrder of creation and -just the s:rme as a certain .oni"irn""';i;hl";igh,i-d#f.;"
the tasks he is to fulfil in the service of God's plan for the he who lies to heln a neighbour oui
world. [t is the competent and indispelrsable guide given to oi'u diffi;;lt),,
man to discem his vocation and moral obligation. Therefore
that ro do so is an act
laudable act of fraternal -:t
;l.rfur, ";;;;; a
iciually does perform
cfrariti;--lni,frouiO h" ;"i;;;;;;ry
to disobey this faculty is to disobey the moral order, is to to. his erroneous conscience he;;i;
disobey the will of Go4 and this is sin. ,t". G ii";;rl;d
whoever rhinks rhat it is a sin r. Jt'"rh
says it sins, although, as a mattei oi.
2. the certainty required for the judgments of conscience fu"t, ,f,l' ._p'r*.;;i;
not sinful in itself.-
generally need not be a srict moral certainty, but a wide Paul's statement that ..whatever does not proceed
moral certainty is sufficient. faith is sin- actuaty-refers to u" from
Strict moral certainty excludes any reasonable fear of conscience. In the
Roman communirv th;;; ;;;e-Lrl"c1'ri"ians"ironlous
error. Strict moral certainties are the assumpions that pmple that the use of miat ano *in;
who berieved
will not kill arbitrarily, that Catholic priests or Anglican ;;;;;"tt'was
14:2-21)- paur asserrs that those-who judge
forbidden (Rom
ministers baptize validly, that the apostles Peter and Paul met ttut
no food is "unclean".wele ,igfrt. nJl-t[" food;is-'unl#; roictiili"",
death in Rome; the opposites ivould contradict the normal for any one who thinks it un8i.un;
behaviour of rational beings and the assured rules of historical a man "is condemned,^.if G;, M:14), and such
_he eats, because he does ;J;;;
verification. Wide moral certainty is accompanied by a slight from fairh" (Rom l4:23y, rn r toriiiiriin, g, paur
yet negligible fear of error, because the possibility of error a.similar problem. It concerns the meat f;*'pu;;; examines
is of linle probability. The assumptiors that physicians will which was offered for sare in tt" puuric markets. ;;;;ffi;
act responsibly and with competence or that drivers will Arthoush
respect the basic traffic rules are wide moral certainties. Wide
j!1.lle-l, knowtedge is that tt.r" aie-n; ::rf,o'iIa#H;::
rnar rnere rs norhins against eating meat
moral certainty is equally the supposition that an action cannot sacrifi-ces, nevertheiess-ttrose *ho"tiiinr,-
froil .u"n raira.iJus
be pernicious and can therefore lawfully be performed if .u"r, meat forbiddc.l
would sin if thev ate it. ..Their
being weak, is
several competent moral theologians regard it as licit, although
(I Cor t:7). Tlre uftirrt""onr.i"n..,
unJ decisive measure of
others are of a different opinion. The wide moral certainty morality is rherefore, according ro paul's.t*i
could also be characterized as a very high probability. It has subjective conscience, even if ifjudg;;;ongly.
also been termed *prudential certainty-. A .;fih;ii;;
I ^,
Wide moral'certainty is sufficient for licit operation in nor a.tways hetd rhis principte with
the general conditions of life, because frequently only this "9.lTI:,*ft",.h::t"-qy !.s
certainty can be obtained. Always to require strict moral
ll!,"'L::-:].p-qf I-'^FF'"i.".";q;i#'.",';:;."ii""#illjfi
,hi r,isrory ;iil,[ ;;;;;];"ii;l;,dHJ^ .X,Tl
i::'#lf :119 r, Gewiss'en
iui,iiii itiii,iiiffi i\i,i:::l fi;T;:::
certainty for lawful actioll would burden life with many Brti:!!s:
Conscience 183
182 Christian Ethics
certainly be a work of charity to find a way of removing it.
of this doctrine canpit"tistot in the words of Chris' which
be found *If And where the erroneous conscience even threatens fundamental
he addressed to the yoy were blind' you would goods and rights of others, one is obliged to oppose it firmly
il;;;;,; tl" q,al).-ttrut i., iirhe Pharisees were unable
-i,on.i-ing prevent
the injustice within the scope of the possible.
to detect their the person of Jesuq they
-ei"ureO Thus if a religious fanatic believes that he ought to kill a
ili;-L fior iin; bit as i matterof fact their
erroneous' and representative of his religion pleading for tolerance, then the
consciences *.r" noi-i'*in"ibry but.vincibly police can and must hinder the potential murderer, if they
ii'"lirrri-,lty *"t" responsible for their wrorrg-doing' . come to know about his intentions, and take him into custody.l
, The inner reason foi the axiom is that a certain conscience'
as eood or bad' Note that the unavoidable cannot be sinful, even though
even if it erroneoui;:'p6;i iomettrins one falsely believes it to be a sin. Thus a gravely ill daughter
proposes it as one's'rirolat bUtigation and is
the-will of God'
iudsment of con- does not sin if she cannot travel to the funeral of her father,
iJ"Jitou"y this certain, ttrougfr erroneotrs even if she thinks she has by this gravely offended against
science would |n"un io"oi*'#,i ;Fl
is believed
"urji"ci'iuely the duty of filial love.
as one's moral duty ft Gff;*ill; therofori
it would signify.
to follow the certain II. The vincibly erroneous and lax conscience
Were man not entitled and bound
(l) The vincibly erroneous conscience cannot be followed
or uny itutttnotttty decision' on the other hand'
as a legitimate rule of action. Conscience is vincibly erroneous
;h;;*ibility -io if it dawns on man that his moral outlook might not be
i;; frb;ilitie h'is certain ionscience he acts in a wav entirely sound or if he is aware of being carelJss and ir-
tirrr.t i" occasional erors' to bqt realize responsible in his decisions. Thus a physician may have
i,iili"lJ'g".c "p*; "f*nat is evit. Although rhere is.a
una'to-uioia examined a patient only hastily with the result that he is not
;i.['"f Juiectiuety *-ng o*ryions, it is remote; while it is able to make a responsible diagnosis. With such a state of
theiudgments of conscience were simply dis- mind a person is not allowed to act or to appease himself,
i;;il;-;;;1d;;;;i of the wrong generalization that since he would voluntarily expose himself to the danger of
-- -il;
co"nscience is unreliable' committing error and sin.' i
possibility of erroneous judgments of conscience Before a pgrson with a vincibly eroneous conscience can
should howevemul" *un caurious-in
his decisions and open act, he must first remove his doubtful state by searching after
;ih;;;ki or otneis- r"p""iotty in clse of fanatic convictions the truth. If he is not able to do so for the moment, he must
exists' Whoever
irt"'i*."Aiate oangei.J blind'preposqession postpone the action, or he must follow the safer line of action.
il;;;-;;"r" tt'ii't'" iihitin*iudg'nents
tiltti u state
of mln4 has th9
conscience- with If a motorist doubts, whether he may still drink another glass
urgent duty to of wine, the safer altemative is not to drink another one.
;ril';;'Yet after having one has the rigtt and.dutv.toto
"*u*in" donJ what is in one's power
(2) Akin to the vincibly erroneous conscience is the
:ffi;;" ;;;; decisiSn, dulled or lax conscience. The lax conscience is inclined, on
iliif;*";;;, also in instances of invincible ig- insufficient grounds, to judge a thing to be lawful which is
norance' "onr"i*e sinful, or something to be a light sin which is actually a
As far as the eroneous consclence f ottprs
( is conceme4 . grave one. In a light-minded and sometimes frivolgus way
[t can .-
on" t,*'in piin"ipre'io iop."t their honest convictions.
U"iJ"i*UfE to tol"rut. an erroneous gRinjon u$-t9-ry,?l:I' \""1195 Premier Rabin was shot in Tel Aviv, "by order of God",
Iti,i'i]iit;; ;''-; not particularlv
t1; through the student Yigal Amir, who regarded Rabin's consent to Pales-
lilllo'i'," iJ*'.i"ri ;;;rd'iuu* qYl:' i:J':p:*'j;* il'
il,,"' d;";;i';;;';";fi. wourd i"":; .tg^i1*
tinian autonomy as treason. Had the police known about the intentions of
the sludent, rhey would have had the right aird the duty to place him under
ui i' mostrv the case'T":,,1i
senous it wilr detention.
184 Christian Ethics
Conscience 185
the lax does not face up to the gravity of the of generosity
"o*.i"n""A businessman, for examplg may regard
rnoral obligation. 1$ in the sp-iritual life.r Th_is compensarory
supersession is intended to'divert attention
the defrauding of huge tax amounts as a light matter only rrom th!-u"*iir-
and some cheating in the quality of his goods as normal,
ingness to live up to one's t-"
uo"uiion. A crient with these
"tepidity scrupres'- tries to outuin-iro*
lawful business practice. ' assurance that he has not reaily offended
tt" spirituar guide the
A person who is of lax conscierrce has the general and r,lr',r*r
duties, which is true with regard t" itr" a"r""illonroi"a',
grave obligation to reform this state of mind, since it exposes not with regard to the deepJr lack of faithfulness. u",
him to the danger of sin and since it must, as a rule, be Th;;;i;
in spite of possible approval uy tr," piiert .""^"ii;;;;;
considered as vincibly erron@us. He must pay much more ". The treatment
counselee's deener self will not be at peace.
attention to doubts that occur to him than others need do, of this type- of scrupulous un*i ,nli'Urlng to consciousness
and he may not readily disregard them as mere scruples. But the secret lack of generosity by an'undeis;;i;g;^;;i;,
if such a person is unaware of his state of conscience and sincere conversation, rrre tr6uuieJ penon
does not recognize, even in a general way, the malice of an his unrest is an invitation to i*t'"irunge of rearize that
action or his duty to make further investigation, his conscience a rnore faithful answer to the"eall of divlne heart and to
must b regarded as invincibly erroneous and he would be ;r;;;';il; ;;
excused from sin in this particular case. Nevertheless the lL.^ :pi*t*lory conscience is the pharisaic
great imrlortance to small "o,i"i"n"",
l,_Tno matters (cf. things and makes light of
causation of this state of mind may well have been accompanied serious Is 5:20).
by guilt. It can result from the refusal to search for and
rico 're the truth. This *The
free refirsal which prevents the proper III. The perplexed conscience
knowledge is culpable. goodness or evil of the person
do therefore not begin with the moment in which conscience . . trq perplexed conscience is a type of erroneous
has spoken and do not depend only on obedience or dis- which, in a conflict_ of duties, feir's sin in whativei*.-h;i;;
obediince to its judgment; they extend to the very elaboation
it makes. A widowed.mother, *f,o tusllceiu"a muny'b;;;fii;
of its judgment and depend on its obedience or disobedience llor,l friendly family whose fatheihus caused a car crash
to the truth."l
or wntcn she was a witness, will easily find herself
in tfre
conflict between the obrigation or gruiit,ioe to trei
A lax conscienoe is usually the resuli of lukewarmness and the. obligation to te[ Ihe truth i; ;;un, where
in the service of Go4 as depiaed in the bmk of Revelation as a witness.
ste ii-c;t"o
3:15-20. Christ counsels the lax members of his Church to In such instances, if the decision can be delayed" one
buy from him the remedies for their lukewarmness. These postpone the action in order to obtain
remedies are a re-vitalization of religious life and faith in and deliberate on it. But if the decision .unnot
Go{ the probing of corscience and repentance, and zeal in be postooned.
one must choose what appears to be ttre ressei
doing good workS. God himself announces his visitations as eiil-J.-l-ii
ir impossibte. to settti - eittrei;i ;h" attematives.
a remedy. The antithesis to a lax conscience is the tender lT:
oDseryance of these
presupposed, there is no question
conscience or the delicate conscience, which is characterized loJm:
of formal sin, since it is im'possibis f;;'ti," p"r.on ro es@pe
by a clear and vigilant discernment of the good.
(3) A particular variety is the compensatory conscience. --l Adrl."=van Kaam speaks of
Through a bothersome preoccupation with small and quite .'rife-guirt". This guirt does not refer
to one or orher incidental tia_nsgression. It-resultrfro;; d.i;r;il;i';
innocentdetails of morality it attempts to conceal a fundamental Ti:.ryid,lg
one's pe.rsonar catr. Accoroingit iiii
iifr';,"iiipi"[,-.,r::li:fi :iJ:'{:lti:!:;t:Eifil,t*xH#ff
t G. c*i, L c. 136. :f:;ll*o:olq_':lulr"',
bur ii;;; ail
.;f ;;.r
g.- in resitesq aissi paii ng il""t,il;,
;#;f r;ilffi tffi:1"".;
186 Christian Ethics
an ethical doctrine (e.g. whether the killing of a tyrant may
both alternatives of the perplexing situation loge.ttter' Impos- sometimes tie lawful);
latter deals wirtithe lawfulness o?
iiuiiiti lack of freedoni however preclude sin' an action to--be performed here and now (e.g. whether it is
-1"* guide for such instances is the rule that
A further precepts
lawful to kill this particular tyrant here and iow).
of natur"f &din"rily precede precQPts of pcitive.ecclesias- I

tical and civil law, supposing that the -moral gray1ry ot.lne Nornts for action with doubtful conscience
conflicting preceps rs approximately-the same' tlence lr a
;;i;;E &iie,il by praiep of the-church to,pungl
by charity to stay with a crttlcally slcK
basic principle reads: In a practical
-The doubt about the
Mass and bound of an action one may noi act. The reason is that
be prefened to the
."ii*t. the obtieati6n of cliarity shouldIurthermore by actrlrg with a doubtful conscience, a person would
;bii;;ii." of the- ecclesiastical. precept'
merely probable
himse.lf to the danger of injustice and sin, and that irelfl is
*niEfr ur" certain prevail over thbse which are rnJustice and sin. Therefore a hunter who doubts whether what
- doubtful
-il; aiming at is an animal or a man, is guilty of homicide
as a'type of if
ferple*bO conscience is classified of the two
he kills, even if it tums out that he slei an animal.
conscience, because objectively only oqrg Action in insrances of a doubtful conscience is regulated
"r.onlou, ourig"ti;' c1n-be. Sinaing' ft *9{9-"gil1g::i
;;;fii"ht by the following rules: The action must be postponeE until
ffi;;;;;e ,h" i,;J; gi o.* ir mai,wer" ""9{Y}tlYll
all he can
c.ertainty- can be reached. practical certainty-can be gained
i;;A;;lli'uinoing ouligations, of which after /iregtly py solving rhe doubt through refleciion on ttE case
fulfil only one. in the light of general principles,-through consultation of
Such conflicts more readily occur in individuals who
are . expe$ and--pertinent books, through clarifilation of the facts,
for with the moral-norms' However this qT,^Tl etc. The effort one is obliged to make in order to acquire
iilri,oA--i-i'ri.-p.ttibiti,ithatevenlheelg:t131l-111-:.Ti:: certainty ii to be measured-by the importance of the values
dme time be in a state aprudencl forbids
.^ narticular conflict of duties
which are
'excessive to be safeguarded. us to devote
^.o.,ailino obligation in a particular
6 th" prevailing nhliontion attention and research to trivial matters because thii
iiif,[. The iommEntaries of ihe Catholic bishops' con- . would rob us of the spirit of joy in doing good and, most
i"r"#"t on the encyclical "Humanae Vitae' corrceming. the of all, because it would'greatly iramper the Tulhlment oirnor"
l-riin.i"f ;;; of birth control can serve as an illusration. urgent and more important. duties.ri
If the doubt cannol be solved directly - but only then -
IV. The doubtful conscience one..may attempl to gail practical certainty indirectly by the
' application of rhe so-called reflex princijtes. fhes6 d6 not
conscience is doubtful if it is in a state of unceftainty sglve the theoretical doubt about the'existence of a law, right,
as to ifri ta*futness or obligation of an action' whether or fact (e.g- whether an accused person is guilty); but certainty
lonoien." Jr.p"nO, its judgmlen,'- or whether it inclines to is obtained as to what one may or musi do here and noi
iia", Uut wittr the fear-that the contrary might equally (e.g.
""" -in doubt presumption favours the accused). The reflex
principles will be dealt with in detail in the next section.
be true.
The doubt may either concem the existence of a law and If there is no time or possibility to solve the doubt" one
'i;;bir; (iubium iaris) or the- existence of a fact must opt for the safer alternative, lhat is, one must favour
factb. Tite question whether therapeutic -abortion is the altemative which excludes the danger of sin and injustici
iawful ii a douh conceming a principle, whil$ the quesuon m_ost cerrainly. Hence if somebody do-ubts whether thj drue
whether the growth in the uterus of a sick woman ls a tumour LSD is allowed he may not rake-it. If no safer side can bE
..'i-'lttilalJ. a"uut concarning the existence of a fact'
Another distinction is that beiween speculative q{ practical H*i ng, The'l-a' ofcfirisr, .vor. r, rgff-, r7z.
OouUt.-.rn" former is concerned with the theoretical
truth of
Corccience 189
r88 Chrktian Ethics
The other reflex principles specify more in detail where
disceme4 the situation amounts to a perplexed conscience' in doubt presumption stands. They are the following:
and the person may choose whatever alternative seems best l. In doubt, the condition of the possessor is the better.
to him. (ln dubio melior est conditio possidentis.)
C. Formation of a certain conscience by means of 2. In doubt, favour the accused; or: crime is not to be
presumed, but to be proved.
reflex principles
3. In doubt, presumption stands on the side of the
I. Nature and varieties of reflex principles
4. In doubt, stand for the validity of the act (e.g. the
Reflex principles are rules of- prudence which do not validity of the matrimonial bond cf. CIC 1060, or
solve a dou'bt concerning the existence of a law, moral the validity of an examination or an appointment to
oiinciole. or fact bv intriniic or extrinsic evidence, but only an office; however doubtful contracts are usually not
upheld by civil law.)
inO"ui. ur to *h"r", in cases of insoluble doubt, the greater
;i"h; E usually to be found and the lesser evil to be feared' 5. In doubt, amplify the favourable, restrict the un-
iide ttrerefore is to be favoured as long as- the favourable. (Favorabilia sunt amplianda, . odiosa
A""Ui p"itittt The principles-are gained by inference.from restringenda.)
tti .o.ron circumitances of such cases and the ordinary In doubt, presumption stands for the usual and the
iruoo"ninnt of life, from general experience and observation' ordinary; or: follow daily and ordinary experience.
il'i;i;;l?-"i u"tuit evideice, reflex principlts
the give sub- (8.g. in doubt whether an apparition is miraculous
,iaiury *r"tions, which will not in all instances do justice to or a mere imagination, the latter is to be assumed.)
ilil;tG;oncemed, but which ?t l?ut gu1ante?.'h"t"ill!: 7. In doubt, favour the custor4ary and hitherto approved. t
maiority of cases injustice is avoided and the rights of those 8. A doubtful law does not oblige (lex dubia non
are safeguarded best. If, e.g', in a court case two obligat), i.e. presumption stands for liberty.
;;;G-;I"i. ttrewere iame estate' the salest solution would be
frua if one side able to procure intrirsic evidence of his With regard to the last principle, "a doubtful law does
;;;;;tht; by submitting unequivocal.documents' But if no not oblige', it must be noted that this principle can be applied
-the lawsuit will often be settled by
p"ii-i, luid to do so, only in instances of common doubt, i.e. when tho law is
Ioot'ication of the rule'of prudence: in doubt, the condition doubtful among the very experts. If an undisputed law is
;f'th" p"..essor is the betier, i.e. of that possessor whg
lt rn solely doubtful to a particular person in a particular case,
Dresent'lives on the land, cultivates it or actually uses
then such a doubt must be dealt with like a doubtful fact;
another way. This principle will not-always.$o
justice toih:
e.g. if a man doubts whether it is lawful to help his ftiend
oarty which is not in possession; and the arbitration theretore in stealing some articles from a car repair shop. To instances
i.rliri-i"urioi"iy. But according to gomr-non experience,otten the
gained is the right one more of doubtful facts the following rules apply:
solution of the d6ubt thus (l) If there is a risk of serious spiritual or temporal
than not. lnrm (be it to oneself, to anotlur person or to a cornmunity),
The most comprehensive of the reflex p-rinciples, to which which one is obliged to avoid by an indubitable law, the
all ttre others can be reduced, is the rule: ln doubt we inust
.tunOton that side where preiumption stands, I J. Crii"del arrives at this rule: *To depart from customary and
understood as a conjectur" .s to where in cases of doubt
hitherto moral action, without thc support of weighty reasons, is irrespon-
sreater rieht commonly lies and the lesser injustice is to be
sible- (J. Griindel, Normen in Wandel. Miinchen: Don Bosco Verlag, 1980,
Feared. Tfis side is supposed to be within his rights untll the 122); likewise B. Schiiller in Christlich glauben und handek, ed. by K.
truth of the contrary is Proved. Demmer and B. Schiiller (Diisseldorf: Patmos, 1977r,282.
r90 Christian Ethics

safer alternative must be chosen. Therefore one may not enjoy

even the rare pleasure of the narcotic heroin because of the
great and immediate peril of addiction with all its ruinous
effects. A hunter may not shoot in doubt whether the object
is an animal or a human being. In administering the sacramentg
one must decide in favour of the opinion that safeguards the
validity of the sacrament with certainty.
(Il) If there is only question of the honesty of an actio4
where no risk of serious spiritual or temporal harm is involved,
one is not bound to opt for the safer alternative. Tlrcrefore
if one doubts whether one may cross a property, whether
there is a sacred holy day with the obligation to go to Mass,
whether a watch offered for sale is smuggled, one is not
obliged to follow the safer way and to make a detour round
the property, to attend a Mass or to decline the possibly
smuggled watch. The reason is that no serious damage is
to be feared, even 'if the contrary should tum out to be true.

n. The systenrs of probability

The side where presumption stands is usually to be
favoured, as long as the contrary is not proved. A man is
presumed to be innocent as long as it is not certainly proved
that he has committed a crime. The condition of the possessd
is the better, as long as there is no certain proof for the right
of the contesting other side.
Yet especially conceming the principle "a doubtful law
does not oblige" a controversy exists whether liberty can
always be favoured as long as the law is not morally certain,
or whether reservations are called for and liberty can only
be favoured when its side is more probable or at least equally
probable compared with the case for the obligation of the
law. This controversy led to the systems of probability, in
tradition less felicitously called *moral systems-, i.e. the
systems of rigorism, probabiliorism, aequiprobabilism, prob-
abilism and laxism, which caused many passionate altercations
among moral theologians in the past, especially during the
lTth and lSth centuries. It has cost the moral theologians
much effort and thinking. The dispute does indeed concem
not a merely peripheral problem, but the significant question
after the greater right of the law or of liberty. ln the.coune