9, 2012 Martin Mallon
THE FORMATION OF CONSCIENCE
replying to a comment from Stephen on my article of last week, Call for
Reform, I realised that the reply was going to be that long that I decided
to make it this week’s article, as the topic, the formation of conscience, is
always worth a visit. In last week’s article the section of the Catechism
of the Catholic Church (CCC) that I linked was on The
Formation of Conscience and a summary of the means of forming a
conscience it gives is as follows:
1) The education of the conscience is a lifelong task.
From the earliest years, it awakens the child
to the knowledge and practice of the interior law
recognized by conscience.
Prudent education teaches virtue;
In the formation of conscience the Word of God
is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and
put it into practice.
We must also examine our conscience before the
We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy
aided by the witness or advice of others
and guided by the authoritative teaching of the
Institutional Church, and many others, only appear to notice point 8, and even
then they misinterpret it; the CCC here states that we are to be “guided” by
Church teaching, we are not to follow this teaching blindly or to be bound by it;
rather we are to be “guided” by it, “aided” by witness and advice from
others, “assisted” by the Holy Spirit and the “light for our path” is
the Word of God. The
authoritative teaching of the Church has its place in the formation of
conscience, but there are many other elements as listed above.
Second Vatican Council document on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium
et Spes, in Section 16, beautifully points out that God has written the
divine law in our hearts and conscience reveals that law:
the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon
himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and
avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this,
shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very
dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret
core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in
his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled
by love of God and neighbor…
must also remember that the teaching of an Ecumenical Council, Vatican II, is
more authoritative than Roman Curial documents, such as the CCC which is a
can hear the Holy Spirit at work in the phraseology of Gaudium et Spes “For
man has in his heart a law written by God… Conscience is the most secret core
and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his
depths.” Poetry, imagine, we are alone with God in our innermost being
where we hear his voice. How our God must love us to honour us in this way.
is a fulfilment of God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:26-28:
shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the
heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall
put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practice my
judgments. You will live in the country which I gave your ancestors. You will be
my people and I shall be your God.
most of us are in accord with Church teaching. It is normally with one or a few
of the non-infallible teachings that each of us has a problem. Teachings such as
those on contraception or second relationships and disciplines such as priestly
celibacy or women’s ordination. In these cases the onus is on us to inform our
conscience and, among other sources, consult Church teaching and explanations.
However, when we have done so we are duty bound to follow our conscience.
must always follow our conscience, but clearly it makes sense to inform that
conscience if we desire to know and carry out the truth. As the CCC states, “The
education of the conscience is a lifelong task” and not just a question of
reading Church teaching on a particular topic. The teaching of Vatican II, in Gaudium
et Spes, indicates the way forward as regards conscience, as the people of
God we should use our consciences and not just rely on Church teachings.