1 TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION…………………………………………………… 1. BIBLICAL FOUNDATION……………………………………… 1.1Gen 2,16……………………………………………………… 1.2. Rom 2,14-15………………………………………………… 2. MORAL CONSCIENCE, A WITNESS TO THE TRUTH……… 2.1.

The misconceptions………………………………………… 2.2. Pope’s response…………………………………………….. 3. FORMATION OF CONSCIENCE…………………………….... 4. SOME CRITICISMS IN BRIEF…………………………………. 5. CONCLUSION…………………………………………………… BIBLIOGRAPHY…………………………………………………… 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 12 14 16 19

2 Introduction This encyclical, promulgated in 1993 on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord on the 6th of August, is a unique magisterial encyclical, first of its kind, devoted to the important issues in fundamental moral theology. It is thus a document of the highest importance. In the introduction the pope expresses his reasons for writing this encyclical. It is to exercise his teaching authority by confronting the crisis that has emerged and developed in moral theological reflection after the Vatican II. In Pope’s own words this encyclical is promulgated mainly for three reasons. Firstly with the aim of treating ‘more fully and more deeply the issues regarding the very foundations of moral theology’, foundations which are being undermined by certain present day tendencies1. Therefore this encyclical at the very outset recognizes that there is an urgent ‘situation’ in the field of moral theology in the Catholic Church that needs to be addressed and put right. This is in fact a crisis. Secondly the pope goes on to say that the encyclical has the intention of,
clearly setting forth certain aspects of doctrine which are of crucial importance in facing what is certainly a genuine crisis, since the difficulties which it engenders have most serious implications for the moral life of the faithful and for communion in the Church, as well as for a just and fraternal social life2.

Thirdly the encyclical also seeks,
to set forth, with regard to the problems being discussed, the principles of a moral teaching based upon Sacred Scripture and the living Apostolic Tradition, and at the same time to shed light on the presuppositions and consequences of the dissent which that teaching has met3.

Central to understanding this encyclical rests largely on understanding the ‘crisis’ that exists in fundamental moral theology. The crisis is a dissent from the traditional teaching on matters pertaining to the foundations of moral theology and from the authority of the Church magisterium as the interpreter of scripture and morals. The pope states that the crisis is “no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question

JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, on Certain Fundamental Questions of the Church's Moral Teaching. August 6, 1993, 5. In this statement the Pope recognizes the issues regarding fundamental moral theology in particular the problems arisen with regard to the public dissent on moral matters. This can be called the analysis of the problem (Veritatis Splendor will be cited hereafter as VS); 2 VS 5. The Pope intends to set forth the basic and central teachings on fundamental moral theology limiting itself to answering the most fundamental questions in this regard in the light of the scriptures and the living tradition. This can be called the catechetical intention of the encyclical; 3 VS 5. This statement clarifies the intention to make clear and set right the erroneous presuppositions in the field of fundamental moral theology with these teachings. This demonstrates the apologetic aspect of the encyclical;

3 of traditional moral doctrine, on the basis of certain anthropological and ethical presuppositions”4. Here the pope recognizes that this crisis is a crisis of detaching the integral relationship that exists between human freedom and truth. Thus the Pope states,
At the root of these presuppositions is the more or less obvious influence of currents of thought which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth. Thus the traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the universality and the permanent validity of its precepts, is rejected; certain of the Church's moral teachings are found simply unacceptable5.

Therefore, the encyclical is partly aimed at proving an understanding of the universal law and establishing the validity and existence of universal and permanent precepts, originating from natural law, which is included in the divine law, in the moral sphere. The moral theologians who dissent promote, at different degrees, that certain moral principles, which are true generally but at the occasion of applying them to concrete acts can be adapted and applied without strictly adhering to the precept or contrary to it, and still consider the act morally good. This idea is important to the study of moral conscience in the encyclical. Does the individual conscience have the supreme authority to judge categorically and infallibly decisions about good and evil?6 In such a sense, at the final counting, the conscience would have the responsibility as to how one should act at the particular concrete act, taking into consideration all options, even if it goes against the general precepts. This is in fact the perennial conflict between objectivism and subjectivism of the conscience. In the following chapters I will try to analyze these notions and in turn will present the Pope’s response to them. In the presentation of the seminar paper I follow an analytical approach to the idea of moral conscience enunciated by the Pope, not limiting myself only to the segment in which the Pope exclusively dedicates to the study of moral conscience 7 but expanding the scope to the entire encyclical without witch the argument of the Pope cannot be seen in clarity. The Pope starts with an exhaustive reflection on the biblical foundation of what is good and what is bad.

4 5

VS 4. VS 4. The statement, “The traditional doctrine regarding the natural law and universal and permanent validity of its precepts, is rejected” illustrates the reasons for Pope’s argument for seeing this ‘situation’ as a crisis; 6 Ib. 32; 7 Ib. 54-64;


1. Biblical foundation One of the most significant and noteworthy aspects of the encyclical is how the Pope bases his arguments on the scriptures. This is particularly important in an era where moral matters are exceedingly looked upon solely on anthropological grounds. The Pope makes a point here that moral theology is truly theology where it finds its source in the revealed truth of God and Jesus himself confirmed that this revealed truth cannot be altered or changed according to different circumstances over the centuries. The Pope’s approach to the encyclical is scriptural and Christological as is advocated by the Vatican Council II as the model for moral theology.8 Even if all the details given in the encyclical is not pertinent as such to the study of moral conscience I would consider some important meditations of the Pope on the scriptures that has a bearing on his teaching on moral conscience. The meditation on the scripture passage taken from Mt 19,16-26 is particularly important to the study of moral conscience in view of its formation 9. Its purpose is “to bring together the essential elements of revelation in the Old and New Testament with regard to moral action”10. The young man’s question is about morality, not on specific moral actions but on the totality of his being, his existence as a moral being. In Jesus’ answer, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments”11, we discover how God alone is the absolute goodness and how entering into His life means to keep the commandments. Here the Pope notes that there is a connection between entering into eternal life and keeping the commandments. Thus only God is able to answer the question about what is good and evil, the fundamental moral question. Therefore what is good and evil is not discovered but revealed by God; thus the Pope states, “What man is and what he must do becomes clear as soon as God reveals himself”12. For Jesus, observing the Ten Commandments is the first step in the journey towards freedom13. But the pope notes that man alone is
8 9

Second Vatican Council, Optatam Totius, 16; VS 6-24. 10 VS 28; 11 Mt 19,17; 12 VS 10; 13 Ib. 13;

5 unable to take the next step, to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect, which is a requirement in the scriptures, thus needs God’s grace14. Thus following Christ is the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality15. The pope indicates here that even in matters pertaining to moral conscience human reason is capable of helping the judgments made by the conscience only up to a certain limit and thus cannot be used as the sole and only criterion for understanding the activities of the conscience. The human reason is limited and serves the divine grace. At times God can make demands on His own right, which may seem absurd to the arguments of the reason, as with the example of the seeming absurdity of the crucifixion of Jesus. The Pope draws from the important aspect of faith with regard to the conscience citing St. Paul, “Christ dwells by faith in the heart of the believer”16. This prompts the believer to conform to the Lord. In other words this means to accept the judgments of the correctly formed conscience, to act in accordance with Christ, is the effect of grace, which is the active presence of the Holy Spirit in us17. 1.1. Gen 2,16 As the pope has already noted earlier there is an intrinsic connection between human freedom and divine law. The genuine freedom is in fact a manifestation of the divine image in man, and for this reason God willed to leave man “in the power of his own counsel”18. In this way man has the capacity to seek God on his own accord and to freely arrive at the full perfection in his search of God19. In this, human freedom is so sacred that it renders the human conscience a particular dignity, because in man’s conscience his freedom and the law of God meet each other20. But as Cardinal Henry Newman noted, “Conscience has rights because it has duties”21, the moral conscience acquires authentic right to correct moral judgment22 when it obliges to form itself according to the universal
14 15

Ib. 17; Ib. 19; 16 Eph 3,17; 17 Ib. 21; 18 Sir 15,14; 19 Ib. 34; 20 Cf. GS 16; 21 H. NEWMAN, A Letter Addressed to His Grace the Duke of Norfolk. Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching, Longman, Green and Company, London, 1868-1881, vol. 2, 250. 22 This is the ‘right of moral conscience’;

6 truths23. In this sense human freedom is not absolute but conditional, conditional in the sense, it seeks its absoluteness in God. Without God there is no absolute freedom. Conscience is not an absolute judge of its own, but seeks its dignity in its formation in the precepts given by God. Using the imagery of the creation story, the pope explains that man has freedom up to some extent according to the original plan of God. That is why God gave Adam and Eve to enjoy a great extent of freedom in the Garden of Eden, but limited by the fact that they were commanded not to eat of ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. This means that only God has the power to decide what is good and what is evil 24. This refutes the idea that human reason alone is enough to decide what is good and what is evil. The Pope goes on to say that the Scriptures clearly refutes the idea of a purely reason-alone-law excluding the involvement of God, which constitutes a human morality, which lays down norms for his moral judgments (conscience) depending solely on reason. But this is erroneous because by the use of reason man participates in the divine law and it is not for him to establish the natural law, whose author is God alone25. Thus, conscience, where man’s human freedom meets God’s law, derives its dignity in the conformity of its judgments according to the divine law. This means conscience is integrally connected to following the precepts of the natural and divine law. 1.2. Rom 2,14-15 This famous passage, which has been used to describe moral conscience by the scholars over the centuries, is used by the Pope to refute another error regarding the understanding of moral conscience. The Pope notes how St. Paul uses the term ‘witness’ to explain the activity of the conscience. Conscience is a witness to the truth but not the truth. It is a witness to the truth in that it ‘informs’ the person of the rightness or the wrongness of an act in a concrete situation. It does not ‘decide’ on behalf of the person as to what the person must do. The decision belongs to the person and not to the conscience26. Thus the

23 24

This is the ‘duty of the moral conscience’; VS 35; 25 Ib. 36; 26 Ib. 57;

7 Pope reiterates that moral conscience is a judgment and not a decision27. This takes us right into the centre of the encyclical’s argument on moral conscience. 2. Moral conscience, a witness to the truth28 The present crisis which the Pope speaks about has implications to the understanding of moral conscience. Even before his treatment on conscience as a separate topic the Pope already in his explanation of the law makes a reference to the problem regarding moral conscience,
The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and “being at peace with oneself”, so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment29.

The Pope makes it clear that moral conscience and truth are inseparably linked. It does not mean that conscience is always true but means that conscience has to conform to the truth always as a matter of principal. The correctness of conscience cannot be measured by a sense of ‘being at peace’ with oneself30. For the Pope the interpretation of moral conscience can be different when one sees the interpretation of truth differently31. He states,
As is immediately evident, the crisis of truth is not unconnected with this development. Once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its primordial reality as an act of a person's intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now. Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others. Taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature32.
27 28

Ib. 59; Ib. 54-64. 29 VS 32; 30 This recalls the idea of a famous moral theologian, Charles E. Curren, who states, with regard to the criterion of measuring the truthfulness of a judgment of the conscience, “…but the most adequate criterion in my judgment is the peace and joy of a good conscience.” Cf. C. E. CURREN, The Catholic moral tradition. a synthesis, Georgetown university press, Washington, D.C. 1999, 186; 31 For example, if one sees universal truths which are generally valid but alterable and adaptable in applying to concrete situations, moral conscience then becomes the vehicles of this adaptation; 32 VS 32;

8 The Pope makes a point that if universal validity of truth is lost then moral conscience will assume unnecessary power not only to judge an act but even decide what is good and evil. The truth thus becomes subjective. In other words truth is not dependant on circumstances. The truth is the truth always and everywhere as Jesus, as the author of all truth is true yesterday, today and forever33. In the debate on moral conscience and personal freedom the Pope recognizes a conflict between universal truths and personal freedom. Over the years this is a conflict the moral theologians have towards the Church’s teaching on unalterable truths.34 The Pope begins to explain explicitly the moral conscience by stating certain misconceptions that are prevalent in the present theological circles. I would briefly state the problems that the pope refers to and then give a brief exposition about how the pope seeks to correct these errors. 2.1. The Misconceptions - Moral conscience is creative: There is a complexity to conscience, which is combined to psychology, emotions, social and cultural environment. In this regard, one’s individual conscience is supremely important, as stated by the Vatican Council II, the conscience is “the sanctuary of man”, where man hears God’s voice. This voice of God however does not lead one to meticulously follow the universal precepts but forms a creative and responsible acceptance of the personal tasks entrusted to him by God35. In other words using the voice of God man in his conscience decides responsibly here and now what to do and what to avoid. - Natural law is a guide and not always binding: Moral conscience is not to be reduced to applying certain moral principles to individual cases, in other words moral conscience is not a mere syllogism. This is because these general moral norms o universal truths cannot cover entirely all the individual and concrete acts with all their uniqueness and particularities. These general precepts can be a very good guide or can be used for a

Cf. Heb 13,8. For example ‘adultery is a sin’ is a universal truth which is true at all times and at all circumstances. The conscience is incapable of going against it. 34 In fact this is the conflict on ‘moral absolutes’. A synopsis of the theological debate on ‘moral absolutes’ can be found in William E. May,s Introduction to Moral Theology. Cf. W. E. MAY, An Introduction to Moral Theology, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Indiana, 1994, 107-138; 35 VS 55;

9 correct assessment but the individual person has to decide here and now what to do in his conscience36. In other words one’s personal freedom takes precedents over universal truths. - There is a double status to the truth: There is a double status to moral truths. That is to say on the one hand there are general universal truths which are valid in general and on the other hand there are the norms of the individual conscience. Therefore there can be some exceptions to the general truth, permitting in truth and in good conscience what is evil intrinsically37. In fact the final decision is taken by the conscience. In concrete pastoral situations these exceptions become visible and these exceptions are given as pastoral solutions38. Therefore the conscience is not obliged to accept always the negative precepts39 in the universal law40. - Moral conscience forms a decision which renders moral maturity: It is not only a judgment. By freely deciding in concrete situations man becomes morally mature. Man becomes mature only by making these decisions in freedom. Interference limits this freedom. At times teachings enforced by the magisterium on human conscience is a hindrance to this freedom, thus for moral maturity41. 2.2. Pope’s response - The author of moral conscience is God Himself: The crust of the problem regarding these understandings of the moral conscience is that they assume to moral conscience an ‘authority’. The Pope says that one’s moral conscience has its dignity by the simple fact that it is the witness to God’s voice in man. Using St. Bonaventure’s teaching the pope says that it is like a herald of a king who makes known the kings message42. Can the herald change the message of the king? No. Likewise the judgment of the moral conscience is always in accordance with the divine law. It does not altar the divine law in particular situations, in which case it would be going against its capacity to be a witness to God’s voice. The Pope states,
36 37

Ib. 55; For example, adultery as an intrinsically evil act can have some exceptions and can be good at times; 38 For example, allowing divorce in a pastoral situation; 39 For example, do not commit adultery. 40 VS 56. 41 VS 55; 42 Ib. 58;

The judgment of conscience does not establish the law; rather it bears witness to the authority of the natural law and of the practical reason with reference to the supreme good, whose attractiveness the human person perceives and whose commandments he accepts43.

For the Pope there is no idea of creativity on the part of the conscience not that it can’t go against the natural law but because a rightly formed conscience does not go against the natural law. By nature moral conscience is a witness to God’s divine law. - Moral conscience gives a practical judgment: The moral judgment of the conscience is a practical judgment. It “makes known what man must do or not do, or which assesses an act already performed by him”44. Therefore the moral conscience acts before and after a concrete act. This judgment comes from the most basic rational conviction that one must do good and avoid evil. This first principle is part of the natural law. Therefore in each concrete act one can, without error, deduct that conscience always judge towards doing good and avoiding evil. Moral conscience never goes against this basic principle. Bohr writes,
This basic inclination of conscience to know and appropriate value, the good (synderesis)45, becomes very practical and concrete, when in the words of Vatican II, it tells us “inwardly at general orientation to the good along with my personal ‘knowledge’ of what is right and wrong, flowing from who I am, my character, produces a practical judgement of reason in a given, concrete situation.46

- Moral conscience obeys the objective norms of the universal law and does not decide for itself: In response to the argument that moral conscience has the capacity to decide what is good and what is evil, the Pope says that in each conscience it is given intrinsically to obey the objective moral norms. The moral conscience does not decide but obeys and makes known. The Pope states,
Conscience is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil. Rather there is profoundly imprinted upon it a principle of obedience vis-à-vis the objective norm which establishes and conditions the correspondence of its decisions with the commands and prohibitions which are at the basis of human behaviour47.

- Moral conscience has an imperative character: This response is for those who say that conscience is not always binding. Using St. Bonaventure the Pope argues that the
43 44

Ib. 60; Ib. 59. 45 St. Thomas Aquinas makes reference to synderesis in his Summa Theologiae IIa-IIae, 10.4, a,2. He identifies faith with synderesis on the level of the supernatural life. It is an innate inclination to know and do the good. Since God is the supreme Good synderesis is equated to faith by the fact that it calls us to the supreme Good. 46 D. BOHR, Catholic Moral Tradition, Wipf & Stock publishers, Oregon, 1999, 178; 47 VS 60;

11 judgements of the conscience have a binding force as an edict of a king has a binding force48. It has the authority of God, who is the truth. This obedience is obedience to the truth indicated by universal and objective law. The dignity of conscience lies precisely on the fact that it testifies to the truth. The Pope says,
The dignity of this rational forum and the authority of its voice and judgments derive from the truth about moral good and evil, which it is called to listen to and to express. This truth is indicated by the ‘divine law’, the universal and objective norm of morality.49

Man stands condemned if one acts against the judgement of the conscience or acts when in doubt about the rightness of an act. - Moral conscience is the proximate norm of morality: This response is against those who say that there is a double status to truth. The Pope says that it is the ‘proximate norm’ of morality50. The Pope states,
The judgment of conscience states ‘in an ultimate way’ whether a certain particular kind of behaviour is in conformity with the law; it formulates the proximate norm of the morality of a voluntary act, ‘applying the objective law to a particular case’.51

The universal law is the remote norm and in conscience it becomes the final precept for us here and now. This proximate norm of moral judgment is traditionally known as syneidesis.52 It does not add or reduce anything from the universal law, but brings it closer to us. There is no double status of the universal truth but rather only two stages of the same truth. The knowledge of universal Good and Value 53 become here and now through our practical judgment of the conscience54. - It is an internal dialogue: There is an internal dialogue of man with himself, which is a dialogue with God as well. Moral conscience opens up man to God’s voice, his law. Therefore there is no dichotomy between hearing God’s voice and making a judgement in accordance with it. They always go together. There cannot be one God’s voice and another judgement contrary to it. Again the Pope reiterates the importance of understanding the role of the conscience as a herald of God’s voice. Its judgements are in conformity to God’s laws. Because in man’s conscience he hears God’s voice. Thus the
48 49

Ib. 58; Ib. 60; 50 Ib. 59; 51 Ib. 52 St. Thomas Aquinas introduces Syneidesis in his Summa Theologiae, Ia, 79.12, 13, esp. ad 3. Syneidesis is the application of practical faith to the decisions of everyday life. 53 Synderesis; 54 Syneidesis;

12 Pope states, “In this, and not in anything else, lies the entire mystery and the dignity of the moral conscience: in being the place, the sacred place where God speaks to man.”55 - The link between freedom, truth, law and conscience: Moral conscience derives its dignity from its conformity to the truth and this truth is God’s divine law, which is internally connected to one’s true freedom. Man’s freedom and truth, which is God’s law, meet each other in the moral conscience of man. The Pope says, “The relationship between man’s freedom and God’s law is most deeply lived out in the ‘heart’ of the person, in his moral conscience”56. The Pope says that God left man “in the power of his own counsel”57, which is an indication of man’s freedom and rationality. But man has a very serious obligation “to seek the truth and to adhere to it once it is known”58. This power, resting in man, seeks freedom by seeking the truth. Seeking the truth and conforming to it are not limitations but rather the way to true freedom as Jesus himself says “the truth will make you free”59. The Pope says that the truth is not a creation of human freedom, i.e., man does not create the truth. This truth is derived from God’s law. He continues, “Human freedom and God's law meet and are called to intersect, in the sense of man's free obedience to God and of God's completely gratuitous benevolence towards man”60. There are different classifications of the law, namely positive law, revealed law, natural law, new law and old law, but “these and other useful distinctions always refer to that law whose author is the one and the same God and which is always meant for man”61. All these factors finally meet each other in man’s moral conscience. 3. Formation of conscience The above mentioned explanation of the Pope makes it very clear of the importance of a well formed conscience. The simple problem is if moral conscience has dignity and is imperative in nature, and if it is a witness to the voice of God in man and is in conformity to the natural law, how can the conscience be erroneous?
55 56

VS 58; Ib. 54; 57 Cf. Sir 15,14; 58 VS 34; 59 Jn 8,32; 60 VS 45; 61 Ib.;

13 In order to answer this question the pope makes reference to three types of consciences, namely, ‘good conscience’, ‘invincibly erroneous conscience’ and ‘vincibly erroneous conscience’. A good conscience is directly in conformity with the objective moral norm as it is.62 Invincibly erroneous conscience is derived by invincible ignorance. Invincible ignorance is ignorance which the subject is not aware and is unable to overcome by himself. In this case man is not condemned by following the erroneous judgment of the conscience, thus making him inculpably erroneous. On the other hand, vincibly erroneous conscience is derived by vincible ignorance. Vincible ignorance is ignorance which the subject is not aware and is able to overcome by himself. This type of ignorance occurs due to lack of care to seek what is true and good. In this case man is condemned by following the erroneous judgment of the conscience, thus culpably erroneous.63 In case of an invincibly erroneous conscience, the conscience does not lose its dignity. This is because the conscience derives its dignity from its conformity to the truth. The Pope says, “in the case of the erroneous conscience, it is a question of what man, mistakenly, subjectively considers to be true”64. In such an instance the subject had not deviated from the truth, even after taking all the care to seek the truth, but acted in the truth he mistakenly and subjectively believed to be true. It’s an action based on the truth. But even in this case the evil does not cease to be an evil because it is against the truth, but the agent who committed the evil is imputable. But this is not the case in vincible error. It diminishes the dignity of one’s conscience. The Pope says,
Conscience, as the ultimate concrete judgment, compromises its dignity when it is culpably erroneous, that is to say, ‘when man shows little concern for seeking what is true and good, and conscience gradually becomes almost blind from being accustomed to sin.’65

This puts the formation of conscience as a high priority for everyone. Quoting Mt 6,22-23 on the eye as the lamp of the body the Pope equates formation of moral conscience to the eye sight and without a proper formation of the conscience its judgement, which is equated to the body, will not be sound. When the formation of conscience is sound the whole of moral judgments will be correct. The formation of conscience is to be bent
62 63

Cf. 1Tim 1,3. VS 62; 64 Ib. 63; 65 Ib.;

14 towards Jesus and not towards the world. The Pope warns that to be of this world can mislead the formation. He says,
Saint Paul exhorts us not to be conformed to the mentality of this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our mind (cf. Rom 12:2). It is the ‘heart’ converted to the Lord and to the love of what is good which is really the source of true judgments of conscience.66

With regard to the formation of the conscience, the knowledge of God’s law is certainly necessary but not sufficient. Making a reference to St. Thomas’ idea of wisdom67, The Pope says that there is an aspect of ‘connaturality’ between man and the true good.68 Connaturality is a sense for the divine things. Thus the Pope further states that such a connaturality is rooted in one’s virtuous attitudes, prudence and other cardinal virtues of faith, hope and charity.69 In the formation of conscience the Christians have a great help in the Church and her Magisterium. Since the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth the faithful are obliged to follow the definite teachings of the Church in forming their conscience. She is at the service of conscience.70 4. Some criticisms in brief The Pope utilizes a dual approach to conscience in the encyclical. In some passages the Pope proposes the teaching of moral conscience closer to a “neo-scholastic account of conscience as the exercise of practical judgment upon a specific action.”71 In some other passages the Pope presents moral conscience in line with Augustinian anatomy of conscience presenting conscience as prone to human weaknesses.72 The encyclical wards off carefully a subjectivistic approach to conscience. The reason recognizes rather than creates the judgments to be adhered to in a particular situation.73 The encyclical acutely refute any idea that the individual has the authority to fabricate goods in a practical judgment. Even in specific cases universal norms have to be applied. These qualifications
66 67

Ib. 64; T. AQUINAS, Summa Theologiae, II-11, q. 45, a. 2; 68 VS 64; 69 Ib. 70 VS 64; 71 J. J. CONLEY, Moral Subjectivity. Anatomy of Conscience. A reading of Veritatis Splendor, in J. J. CONLEY - J. W. DOTERSKI (ed.), Prophecy and Diplomacy. The Moral Doctrine of John Paul II. A Jesuit Symposium, Fordham University Press, New York, 1999, 43; 72 Ib.; 73 VS 54;

15 “place conscience within the proper dialectic between truth and freedom, with the encyclical designates as the key framework for authentic moral reflection.”74 This is almost an intuitionist understanding of conscience. The conscience, according to the Pope, not only recognizes God but God’s voice resounds in the conscience. 75 In this sense the Pope’s presentation of moral conscience is not syllogistic76 but rather “an interior response to the immediate interpellation of God.”77 However the problem regarding the Pope’s idea of conscience is that it does not fully explain how moral conscience gives judgments to the complex concrete situations of morality. It is not clear as to how one can be sure that one’s conscience is correct. Even though the Pope alludes to the connatural knowledge of the universal goods which are applied with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the practical realm this is not very clear. Conscience is a more complex reality than can be explained philosophically. The Pope initiates the discussion basing on sacred Scriptures but later leans more on philosophy than Scripture.78 The pope’s stress on formation of conscience is correct but it implies a great deal of stress on knowing each and every aspect of moral law. For an ordinary person this can be hard or even impossible. Instances of vincible ignorance are great. Some theologians see in Veritatis Splendor an attempt to suppress conscience and move towards the power of magisterium on moral matters.79 In this regard, this problem of the theologians, it needs to be noted, is not necessarily regarding the teaching of the encyclical on conscience but on the magisterium, which the encyclical presents as at the service of conscience. 5. Conclusion In conclusion the encyclical Veritatis Splendor can be summarized in the following manner. In moral conscience man hears the voice of God. This voice is the attraction of love, of the good. It invites us to act according to our nature, to do good and avoid evil by
74 75

CONLEY, 43; VS 58l 76 A syllogistic approach adheres to an idea that conscience is not more than applying universal norms to a concrete act. 77 COLONEY, 44; 78 Cf. B. FIORE, Response, in J. J. CONLEY - J. W. DOTERSKI (ed.), Prophecy and Diplomacy. The Moral Doctrine of John Paul II. A Jesuit Symposium, Fordham University Press, New York, 1999, 50; 79 J. HOOSE, Conscience in Veritatis Splendor and the Catechism, in C. E. CURREN (ed.), Conscience. Readings in Moral Theology, Paulist Press, New Jersy, 2004, vol. 14, 89;

16 fulfilling the law written within our hearts. The basic principal of this law is to love God and neighbour. This call to become more specific and concrete as it directs man here and now to do this or shun that. By these practical judgments of conscience, involving the exercise of our knowledge and freedom, we respond to value, we enflesh our relationships of love and mature according to God’s plan, and we grow “in Christ, the last Adam.”80 Conscience is thus the human faculty of responsibility and discernment through which we answer God’s loving call within the very depths of our being and then live our that call by enmeshing this law of love in all the practical decisions of our everyday lives.81 As we saw in the general introduction the purpose of writing Veritatis Splendor is to answer some serious questions regarding the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church regarding fundamental moral theology and thereby put forward clearly the teaching of the Church on important principles regarding fundamental moral theology. Against this context there is the problem of dissent which questions the validity of absolute norms on one side and universal application of the divine law or the natural law on the other side. This dissent questions how universal moral norms are true always and everywhere without exceptions. They use the uniqueness and autonomy of moral conscience to argue that the final judge of the universal norms in a concrete situation is moral conscience and the moral conscience can decide here and now what course of action to be taken, even if it goes against the general universal precept. The encyclical tries to bring to light that moral conscience has no creative capacity in it to change anything from the natural law, because the moral conscience functions as God’s herald who is the author of the Divine law and the natural law. Moral conscience is the proximate norm of the natural law and it derives its dignity in its conformity to the truth. There is absolutely no clash between moral conscience and natural law. But the moral conscience can be erroneous due to invincible ignorance and vincible ignorance. In the case of invincibly erroneous conscience it diminishes the dignity of the conscience. Therefore, formation of the moral conscience is extremely important and the Church as the teacher of the truth is a great help in this regard.

80 81

BOHR, 170; VS 55;

17 Even though the encyclical is defensive and philosophical in its exposition of the idea of moral conscience it can be said that it has shed light on a number of issues regarding the understanding of moral conscience. Basing on the Word of God is highly commendable. The entire idea of conscience in the encyclical is that conscience cannot go against the truth, which is unchangeable and true forever. Even though some highly regarded theologians have seen this encyclical as too authoritative and exclusive which seem to encroach into the freedom of man, the Pope himself says, “This is so not only because freedom of conscience is never freedom ‘from’ the truth but always and only freedom ‘in’ the truth.”82 The Church does not create truth, but only brings to light what is already the truth. Therefore it safe to assess that the encyclical presents tath the basic principles taught in Veritatis Splendor should go into forming one’s conscience and anyone who dissents from her teaching does err vincibly in their conscience. However, let me conclude with two contrasting statements. On the one hand Jayne Hoose states,
There seems to be an emphasis within Veritatis Splendor on the suppression of conscience and a move to power toward the Magisterium. …What is problematic is that, if one adopted the teaching of Veritatis Splendor, the result for a Christian of such a search would mean not only submitting to the truth that is ‘the new law’ of the gospel, but submitting to the particular way in which it is interpreted by the Magisterium. This seems to be a departure from the Vatican II.83

On the other hand Germain Grisez states on the dangers of dissenting from the teachings of the encyclical has this to say, Theologians who have dissenting from the doctrine reaffirmed in this encyclical now
have only three choices: to admit that they have been mistaken, to admit that they do not believe in God’s word, or to claim that the pope is grossly misinterpreting the Bible.84

At the end the Pope presents moral conscience as the voice of God on the one hand and on the other as prone to corruption of misinformation and human-social weaknesses. But a well informed and formed conscience can give subjectively a testimony to the truth. Moral conscience is the voice of God heard in a human heart to give a judgment to a moral act.

82 83

VS 64; HOOSE, 89; 84 G. GRISEZ, Revelation versus Dissent in The Tablet, October 16, 1993, 1331.


Bibliography BOHR D., Catholic Moral Tradition, Wipf & Stock publishers, Oregon, 1999. CONLEY J. J. - DOTERSKI J. W. (ed.), Prophecy and Diplomacy: the Moral Doctrine of John Paul II, A Jesuit Symposium, Fordham University Press, New York, 1999.


CURREN C. E., The Catholic moral tradition: a Synthesis, Georgetown university press, Washington, D.C. 1999. ____ (ed.), Conscience: Readings in Moral Theology, Paulist Press, New Jersy, 2004, vol. 14. FLANNERY O. (ed.), Vatican Council: II The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, St. Paul’s Publications, Bombay, 1998. GRISEZ G., Revelation versus Dissent in The Tablet, October 16, 1993. JOHN PAUL II, Veritatis Splendor: on Certain Fundamental Questions of the Church’s Moral Teaching, Vatican Press, Vatican City, 1993. MAY W. E., An Introduction to Moral Theology, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Indiana, 1994. NEWMAN H., A Letter Addressed to His Grace the Duke of Norfolk: Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching, Longman, Green and Company, London, 1868-1881, vol. 2.

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