Conscience in Newman-Ratzinger

I just saw a blurb on a discussion on conscience tonight, and it reminds me to say a word on Amoris Laetitia. If I am not mistaken, AL is a bone of contention in large areas of the Church because it seems to confront objective orthodox teaching, like the divorced-re married cannot be in the state of grace, with the slippery slope of “if it seems OK to you, do it.”  Using Ratzinger and Wojtyla as guides to Newman on conscience, I would hasten to say the notion of “good” comes from the experience of living well…, or trying to live well. I.e. living according to who one really is.

John Paul II begins his post Vat II treatise on moral theology (Veritatis Splendor) with Christ asserting that “God alone is good.” And since we are made in the image and likeness of God, and God as Person (s) is radical self gift to Other, we are good insofar as we are out of self trying to be in relation to others. This sense of goodness is a consciousness from within.  But notice that this consciousness is an experience of an objective being which is my ontological self. So we are beyond the discussion of objective-subjective. My subjective consciousness of the good is grounded in my experience of myself as objective self-gift.  Hence as a person lives a life of self-giving, he lives with  the consciousness of “being good”- even if he has committed an act that is objectively evil.[1]  And so, even if a person has committed an act which is morally evil, the person continues living and being loved by God and capable of doing good by gifts of self. And so, can improve –little by little. He can get better and better even though he be in a “state of objective sin” until finally he becomes conscious of the good. That is the formation of conscience that is aided and abetted by God’s loving affirmation and doctrinal clarifications. Thus the guilt of an erroneous conscience lies primarily not in bad doctrine but in being turned back on self and living for self.

Ratzinger presents conscience as anamnesis, a remembering in act who we are as images of God and it is lived metaphysical anthropology (self-gift) that stimulates that anamnesis. It is not the Magisterium of the Church In fact, it is conscience as memory that is the gound of the Magisterium, and that is why Newman wanted to toast conscience before he toasted the Pope after his conversion. Ratzinger says “that the true sense of the teaching authority of the pope consists in his being the advocate of the Christian memory. The pope does not impose from without. Rather, he elucidates the Christian memory and defends it.” Without conscience, there would be no papacy.

To understand Pope Francis, we have plumb deeper into the reality of conscience as grounded ontologically and objectively and his understanding of “discernment.”


[1] The conversation with the Samaritan womans comes to mind: objectively living with one who is not her husband, yet speaking with forthright sincerity with Christ about the truth of herself. She is commended by Him, and  goes on to evangelize the town of Sikar (cf. John 4).

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