Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 18--Created Conscience or Creative Conscience?

IT WOULD SEEM THAT THE "law of the heart," the heart's yearning for freedom, and what Pope John Paul II calls the "'heart of the person," his moral conscience through which the natural moral speaks to man, would have an intimate relationship. And so they do. Unfortunately, it is an intimate relationship that is modernly misunderstood.

In fact, one's understanding of conscience is at the heart of one's understanding of the relationship of freedom and law: and this would suggest that errors in understanding conscience either stem from misunderstandings on the relationship of freedom or law, or that errors in misunderstanding the relationship between freedom and law stem from misunderstandings of the role of conscience. So pivotal is conscience in the moral life.

Modernly, errors between freedom and law, specifically errors which exalt freedom "almost to the point of idolatry," result in man usurping the role of creator, thus leading to a "'creative' understanding of moral conscience," VS, 54, an understanding which "diverges from the teaching of the Church's tradition and her Magisterium," which is to say, it departs from the Words of Christ Jesus, the Word of God. Modern definitions of conscience ascribe to it a creative role to the point where it becomes not so much conscience, but an anti-conscience, something which bedevils conscience, a devil in the mind.

Based upon what seems to be a legion of justifications seemingly pastoral and humane, some modern theologians--unidentified in name by the Pope--enlarge the role of human conscience at the expense of law, of norms, of precepts. In general, these theologians tend to deprecate the role of law, norms, or precepts, and tend to ascribe to conscience a "creative" role, as if conscience ought to be considered the source of norms, precepts, or law, and not the faculty in man by which he recognizes the law, norms, or precepts as extra-consciential. Conscience is thus creative and free from God's law expressed in norms and precepts, and not created and submissive to those norms and precepts. Conscience is accordingly not seen as playing an adjudicatory role (applying pre-existing law to existing exigencies), but rather as a sort of legislative role (creative law to fit existing exigencies). Understanding conscience as the faculty of decision rather than the faculty of judgment, conscience becomes for these theologians the tool by which man in his autonomy crafts for himself laws of his own making rather than a faculty by which man can assess his prior acts or his prospective acts in conformity with those precepts, norms, or laws which may be found already given man either in his created nature, or in Divine revelation.

Clearly, such a notion of "creative conscience" suggests that conscience creates moral norms, and implies an autonomy of conscience from any law. In fact, some of these theologians suggest that only by making moral decisions "'autonomously' would man be able to attain moral maturity," as if venturing on one's own apart from God and his law were in fact acting in accordance with God's desire for mankind.

It follows that these theologians take a dim view of the Church's role in teaching applicable moral norms. They view the Church's teaching role as stifling this individual creative conscience, in limiting authentic autonomy, and in causing conflicts of conscience which ought not exist.

All manner of means are used by these theologians to "soften" the Magisterial role or pronouncements short of rejecting them wholesale. Commonly, these theologians ascribe to the Church's teaching sort of general guiding value, with at best a pastoral but not dogmatic or commanding role, and always subject always to the exceptions of an individual conscience. The situation envisioned by these theologians would be analogous to a situation whereby the legislature passed a law whereby the executory or judicial official enforcing the law retains the absolute discretion to enforce or not enforce the law. It is doubtful in such a case whether that law would be law at all, since it is not ultimately binding upon the official. Thus the Magisterial role in guiding conscience is essentially demoted to an irrelevancy. Conscience's rights are absolute over and against the voice of the teaching Church and, ultimately, given the role willed by God for the Church, over the law of God itself, indeed over God himself (for in God there is no distinction between Him and His Eternal Law). "No one can fail to realize," the Pope states, "that these approaches pose a challenge to the very identity of the moral conscience in relation to human freedom and God's law." VS, 56.

This description of conscience, as the creator of values, as the faculty or source of complete human autonomy, as an internal legislator rather than internal judge, despite the velvety words used by these theologians, is not conscience, but is more like the devil in one's mind.

These theologians, like Milton depicted Satan and his mind, see human conscience as:
. . . [H]e who now is Sovran [Sovereign] [and] can dispose and bind
What shall be right . . .
. . . .
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
. . . .
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.*
This sort of false depiction of conscience tells God and His Church what Manfred said in Lord Byron's poem by that name:
Thou hast no power upon me, that I feel;
Thou never shalt possess me, that I know;
What I have done is done . . .
. . . .
The mind which is immortal makes itself
Requital for its good or evil thoughts,
Is its own origin of ill and end,
And its own place and time; its innate sense,
When stripp’d of this mortality, derives
No colour from the fleeting things without,
But is absorb’d in sufferance or in joy,
Born from the knowledge of its own desert.**
What is involved here is a re-definition of man, and a re-definition of God. In fact, it is a revolt. It is a replay of what occurred in the Garden of Eden, where man seeks, shrouded in words like "creative," "pastoral," "feeling," "psychological complexity" and so on, to shrug off the law of God as relevant to his day-to-day activities.

In fine, it is non-serviam redux.

*John Milton, "Paradise Lost," Book 1.246, 254-55, 261-63.
**Byron, "Manfred," III.iv.146 ff.

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