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.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 20--Conscience as Judgment

CONSCIENCE IS NOT ONLY A WITNESS of God, a dialogue between man and God, but it also has the nature of judgment: a moral, practical, imperative, and normative judgment about the good. It is a judgment, one might add, subject to scrutiny, for at the end of time, the eschaton, God through Christ judges the secrets of men. It is an error to view judgment as a mere arbitrary, autonomous "decision," ultimately a whim, a caprice, a matter of choice. There is an inextricable link between the judgment of conscience and the good, and this necessarily links judgment to truth: truth about the good. And conscience's link to the truth about the good is its anchor. Hence man's freedom is inextricably linked with the truth about the good, and conscience is the intimate faculty by which the truth about the good is applied through a judgment by a man about a particular act.

John Paul II identifies the "precise nature of conscience" as a "moral judgment about man and his actions, a judgment either of acquittal or condemnation, according as human acts are in conformity or not with the law of God written on the heart." VS, 59. Since the judgment is moral it follows that it deals with a realm outside the mere utilitarian or expedient. It is a judgment about what is right, what is good, and not a judgment about what is efficient or of great utility. The efficiency, utility, or expediency of an act is measured by a calculative faculty different from the judgmental faculty of conscience.

The fact that conscience deals with the moral realm does not mean that conscience is something impractical. In fact, the opposite is the case. The moral judgment of conscience is a "practical judgment, a judgment which makes know what man must do or not do, or which assesses an act already performed by him." Conscience has both a "looking forward" aspect and a "looking backward" aspect, and so it judges both prospectively and retrospectively. Conscience is both epimetheal and prometheal.* Whether looking forward or looking backward, the same standards are applied by conscience, for it is a judgment about whether a concrete, specific act is consonant with the good. The judgment of conscience, then, is the application of law to a concrete situation.

[Conscience] is a judgment which applies to a concrete situation the rational conviction that one must love and do good and avoid evil. This first principle of practical reason [to love and do good and avoid evil] is part of the natural law; indeed it constitutes the very foundation of the natural law, inasmuch as it expresses that primordial insight about good and evil, that reflection of God's creative wisdom which, like an imperishable spark (scintilla animae [spark of the soul]), shines in the heart of every man.** But whereas the natural law discloses the objective and universal demands of the moral good, conscience is the application of the law to a particular case; this application of the law thus becomes an inner dictate for the individual, a summons to do what is good in this particular situation.

VS, 59. It is apparent that the concrete, specific, "here and now" practical judgment does not disdain the universal natural law, but confirms it in its specificity: "The universality of the [natural moral] law and its obligations are acknowledged," by a judgment of conscience, "not suppressed," in the judgment of conscience. VS,59.

"La Conscience" by Lionel Le Falher

Since the judgment of conscience is moral, practical, and based upon the application of law in a particular case, it follows that it has an "imperative character," so that "man must," in a moral sense, "act in accordance with it." VS, 60. Man is, of course, free to act against the judgment of conscience, but he is not free to escape the result of such act:
If man acts against this judgment or, in a case where he lacks certainty about the rightness and goodness of a determined act, still performs that act, he stands condemned by his own conscience, the proximate norm of personal morality.
VS, 60.

It is critical to be aware that the judgment of conscience is linked to an objective truth, one ultimately founded upon God. With conscience, we are dealing with a scintilla of God, a spark of God, as it were, which is markedly different from a will-o'-the-wisp, and ignis fatuus, or foolish fire.

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. 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 accepts. "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 behavior."***

VS, 60.

The judgment of conscience can haunt: It can both excuse and accuse. The judgment of conscience sometimes rubs our insides raw: "Out, damned spot; out, I say," though the rubbing off of the blood guilt incurred by disobeying one's conscience is not so easily rubbed off without repentance and a turn to the only One with the keys of mercy. The furies of conscience, then, irritate: but they are not meant to lead us to neurosis, or, in grave matters, to despair. The furies of conscience are meant to drive us into the arms of the merciful God
The truth about moral good, as that truth is declared in the law of reason, is practically and concretely recognized by the judgment of conscience, which leads one to take responsibility for the good or the evil one has done. If man does evil, the just judgment of his conscience remains within him as a witness to the universal truth of the good, as well as to the malice of his particular choice. But the verdict of conscience remains in him also as a pledge of hope and mercy: while bearing witness to the evil he has done, it also reminds him of his need, with the help of God's grace, to ask forgiveness, to do good and to cultivate virtue constantly.
VS, 61.

And so it is that John Paul II concludes:

Consequently in the practical judgment of conscience, which imposes on the person the obligation to perform a given act, the link between freedom and truth is made manifest. Precisely for this reason conscience expresses itself in acts of "judgment" which reflect the truth about the good, and not in arbitrary "decisions". The maturity and responsibility of these judgments — and, when all is said and done, of the individual who is their subject — are not measured by the liberation of the conscience from objective truth, in favor of an alleged autonomy in personal decisions, but, on the contrary, by an insistent search for truth and by allowing oneself to be guided by that truth in one's actions.

VS, 61.

John Paul II next addresses the issue of conscience and error, a matter we reserve for our next posting.
*Epimetheus (from Greek, Ἐπιμηθεύς, which means "hindsight" or "afterthought") was brother to Prometheus (from Greek, Προμηθεύς, which means "foresight" or "fore-thought") were Titans, sons of Iapetus. One could only look forward, the other could only look backward.
**The choice of "scintilla animae" is interesting. As Michael Crowe points out in his book:
The term scintilla also has an interesting history. Literally it means a spark or particle of fire. In a transferred sense it can mean a fragment remaining of something that is compared to fire; or it can mean a germ. The transferred senses is of very respectable classical antiquity. Cicero, for example, speaks of the scintillae of virtue in children. . . . St. Jerome . . . had given the example in speaking of scintillae conscientiae [the spark of conscience]. But it was not until the thirteenth centurty that the uncertainties of terminology involved between synderesis, conscience, ratio superior and scintilla were resolved. For St. Thomas the scintilla conscientiae is synderesis; not alone because it is the purest part of conscience but because it files above the conscience as the spark does over the fire . . . . In parallel senses one also hears of a scintilla rationis (in Peter Lombard, for example) and even scintilla animae. It was because of abuse of this latter term by the German [pantheistic or near pantheistic] mystics Suso and Eckhard that the nomenclature finally fell out of favor."
Michael Crowe, The Changing Profile of Natural Law (The Hague: Martinus Nihoff, 1977), 129. It is obvious that John Paul II perceives an intimate link between human conscience and God.
***The encyclical quotes the Encyclical Letter Dominum et Vivificantem (May 18, 1986), 43: AAS 78 (1986), 859; It also references the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 16 and the Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 3.

No comments:

Post a Comment