One’s best judgment as to what in the circumstances is the morally right thing to do. Conscience is:
As such, it is not a feeling. Feelings are not judgments and can be very misleading. Nor is it a decision. A decision involves deliberation and is an act of the will. Conscience is in the intellect, as the word indicates (con science: from the Latin ‘scire’, to know). It is a judgment, but also one’s best judgment, not about what is expedient, or what will create the conditions that will maximize my comfort level. Rather, it is one’s best judgment on what is the morally right thing to do.
Character Moral: from the Latin mores: character. Moral Identity: the kind of person one is or has made oneself to be. Morality is not about choices that promise to bring about an external state of affairs most conducive to the quality of life one desires for oneself or others.
Rather, it is about the making of character. We determine our character, our moral identity, by the free choices that we make, and our very destiny is determined by the kind of persons we’ve made ourselves to be. Your character is more intimately yours than anything else you may have.
Character vs. Personality Character is not the same as personality. You can have a great personality, but depraved character, like serial killer Ted Bundy on the left. You can also have a grumpy, or bland personality, but saintly character. Much of our personality is determined, either inherited or environmental. But character is entirely ours.
Choice (the relationship between what I choose and what I am) doing & being I choose to lieI become a liar (even a nice liar) I choose to stealI become a thief (even a nice thief) I choose to killI become a killer (even a nice killer) I choose to gossipI become a gossip (yes, even a nice gossip)
Man is an artist who sculpts his own moral identity, the kind of person he is or is becoming. By my own choice, I become either a good person, orientated towards God, who is the Supreme Good, or an evil person, disorientated with respect to the Supreme Good.
Prudence Conscience: Another word for prudence (the mother of the virtues). the virtue which rightly directs particular human acts toward a good end. It is the application of general or universal principles to particular situations. Because that is the case, one must know the most general principles of the natural moral law.
Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law and by it he will be judged. His conscience is man's most secret core, and his sanctuary.... Through loyalty to conscience, Christians are joined to other men in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships. Gaudium et Spes 16
Law Divine law Natural law Civil law Canon law There are different kinds of law
Law Divine law Natural law Civil law Canon law Civil law is founded upon natural law Natural law is a participation in divine law, but is naturally known Church law is rooted in an understanding of divine law and the historical situation of the Church.
Divine Law Divine Law is that which is enacted by God and made known to man through revelation. We distinguish between the Old Law, contained in the Pentateuch, and the New Law, which was revealed by Jesus Christ and is contained in the New Testament.
Canon Law Canon law (Church law) is the body of laws and regulations made by or adopted by ecclesiastical authority, for the government of the Christian organization and its members. It comes from Christ, who said to Peter: “Receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven: what you bind on earth is bound in heaven, what you loose on earth is loosed in heaven” (Mt 16, 18)
Civil Law Civil law: man made law. Can be just or unjust, depending upon how it squares with natural law. I.e., one must be 18 in order to vote, 19 in order to drink, one must drive on the right side of the road, etc.
Natural Law Cicero writes of the natural law: “Natural law is right reason in agreement with Nature...it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting.... we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and for all times, and there will be one master and one rule, that is, God, over us all, for He is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge.”
Civil and Natural Law Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail: “Now what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. …”
Prudence (conscience) is the application of general or universal principles to particular situations. Because that is the case, one must know the most general principles of the natural moral law.
General Conscience A natural understanding of the basic and most general precepts of Natural Law. Good is to be done, evil is to be avoided. We have a natural understanding because we have a natural knowledge of the good and a rational ability to draw out their basic implications.
Beautiful Works of Art Man is inclined to behold the beautiful. Beauty captivates us, whether it is beautiful music, a beautiful sunset, a beautiful painting, a beautiful face, or a beautiful life.
Play Man is a maker. He loves to produce or make things. He likes to build, to play (games/sports), to create, to recreate, simply for its own sake. Making and play are intrinsically good.
Friendship We are inclined to establish relationships on the basis of common qualities and common interests.
Marriage/family Man is inclined to marry, to give himself completely to another, to belong to another exclusively and permanently in one flesh union that is open to the begetting of new life.
The Common Good of the Civil Community Man is a social and political animal. He enters into relationship not only with friends, but with the civil community as a whole.
Integrity Man is inclined to seek integration within himself, an integration of the complex elements of himself, to bring about a more intense unity within himself, namely 1) an integration between truth and his acts, 2) his actions and his character, as well as 3) his will and his emotions.
Religion Man aspires after what is higher than him because he is aware of his thirst, among other things. He beholds his own finitude and the finitude of creation. He aspires to what is beyond the temporal to the eternal.
So I naturally know that harming others is bad, contrary to the good. I have a natural knowledge of the good (life, truth, play, beauty, friendships, the common good, integrity, marriage, religion). I see my life as a good I see others as another me (I am a human kind of being). The Most General Precepts of Natural Law
I know that I am essentially the same kind of being as other human persons (essentially equal) I naturally know that what I would not like done to me, the other would not like that same thing being done to him/her. I.e., deceived, alienated, slapped, etc. I naturally know that I ought not to do to another what I would not want done to me (golden rule). Or, do unto others what you would have them do unto you.
Hence, I naturally know that I ought to seek the truth, that is, seek to know what is truly good, whether my judgments are in accord with the truth or not. I also know that I learn, that I have been mistaken I know that truth is something larger than me That I am not the measure of what is true and good I may choose to ignore this demand for the sake of a more comfortable existence. If I do so, I know I am responsible for it.
Do not harm others: one ought not to do anything that harms the common good. Do not do to others what you yourself would not like done to you. I ought to seek the truth of what is right and wrong and not make myself the measure of what is true and good. The Most General Precepts of Natural Law
God is to be loved above all things (See Rom 1, 14f). One ought to honour one’s parents If marriage is good, one ought to revere the marriage bond One ought not to do anything that harms the common good. One ought not to take what rightfully belongs to another One ought not to lie One ought not to envy the good of others Things must be used, not loved. Persons must be loved, not used.
Although we know the most general precepts of natural law, we do not naturally know the more specific precepts of natural law and how they apply in concrete situations. This involves effort, study, human reason, experience, foresight, and understanding of human nature, a more intense study of natural law, etc. Conscience must be formed.
The search for truth... must be carried out in a manner that is appropriate to the dignity of the human person and his social nature, namely, by free inquiry with the help of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue. It is by these means that men share with each other the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in such a way that they help one another in the search for truth... It is through his conscience that man sees and recognizes the demands of the divine law. He is bound to follow this conscience faithfully in all his activity so that he may come to God, who is his last end. Therefore he must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Dignitatis Humanae 3
Erroneous Conscience Since conscience is one’s best judgment about what is the morally right thing to do, here and now, one is obligated to follow it, even if it is erroneous. One’s conscience may be erroneous through no fault of one’s own. I.e., “I did not know In Vitro was wrong. No one told me, and I thought I had a duty to have children. I saw that as the only option and thought it would be sinful not to pursue it.” Or It may be erroneous through neglect, a free decision not to pursue the truth, for fear of what one may discover.
Formation of Conscience A Catholic conscience is formed by the study of Scripture (interpreted by the Church) Tradition (the teachings of the great doctors of the Church, the Fathers, the lives of the saints) the teachings of the Magisterium (Church councils, encyclicals, etc). the study of natural law
However, in forming their consciences the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature itself. Dignitatis Humanae 14
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