Forming Your Conscience

Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D.

Blessed John Henry Newman once wrote on a “miserable counterfeit of conscience” that promotes the right to self-will. Newman sought to reinforce that we cannot overlook revealed moral truths.

Catholics are often told to follow their consciences on matters involving sexual morality, but the same advice is not given to those who harbor racist attitudes, and deny an obligation to help the poor.

So, why is this? I guess what they’re asking first, is about forming your conscience, and also, at this point in time, are there certain positions that one can work with in conscience, and other ones that one can’t be open to working with?

Forming Your Conscience with Amoris Laetitia

The question is good, and allows for a clarification of Amoris Laetitia, which requires a clarification forming your consciencebecause it could be abused. So, just in essence, I think it’s paragraphs 403 to 406 there, where conscience is set out along with pastoral guidance within the internal forum.

You could give such a loose interpretation to that, that you really would mislead people with the respect of the intention of Christ. So, the important clarification is, “Look, in order to appeal to conscience, you have to have two conditions in place before you can make the appeal.”

Conforming Your Conscience to Christ

You have to make sure your conscience is formed, that is to say, formed by what? Formed by the revelation of Jesus, and the teaching of the church.

If you don’t know what Jesus said, if you don’t know what the Church has said, if you haven’t tried to form your conscience to correspond in some sense to divinely revealed truth, then for all intents and purposes, your conscience is nothing more than your self will.

I can say right now, if I had no formation of conscience, I might just really feel good about mass-murdering of Martians. “I just don’t like their color, I think, you know, that green, you know. You just got to take them out of the gene pool, and I feel great about it. My conscience says, ‘Okay.'”

But what would Jesus say about killing Martians? Let’s suppose they have a soul.

What would Jesus say about taking the lives of people who are technically innocent? What would the Church say about this?

Vis-a-vis the various issues that the questioner brought up, the three quick things that are of real relevance here, are yeah, the Church has spoken on all of these issues. And Jesus has spoken on all of these issues, and that’s why the Church has spoken about them, and for all intents and purposes we do have to take up those issues.

We do have to form our consciences, not only by looking at what the Church says about specific issues, but at what Jesus and the Church say about the range of moral and doctrinal issues that were, as we call it, divinely revealed Tradition.

Clarifying Amoris Laetitia

Amoris Laetitia needs clarification, to prevent a kind of an abuse of what I would call unformed conscience.

It should not be read as supporting moral relativism and subjectivism of the will, that is to say, by an unformed conscience sort of getting out of control.

A Catholics’ conscience is not supposed to undermine Jesus’ will, or to deviate from a Christian moral standard.


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