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Christian Moral Reasoning O O'Donovan : The Ways of Judgement T H E L O N G E S T PAR T - C H R I S T IAN C O N S C I E N C E Conscience in the Christian tradition had been a consistently discursive self-consciousness - a roomy mental space of reflection / deliberation about the redemptive goodness of God. Conscience was memory in responsibility, the workshop of practical reason, a formal rather than an efficient or final cause. Insofar as it laid claim to authority, it was simply the believer's authority to reach decisions reflectively rather than accept decisions made for him by others an authority conceived dialectically is response to that of the church to give moral counsel. But the sovereignty of conscience imported a kind of peremptory immediacy, cutting short deliberation and negotiation. The modern conscience, in Butler's well known phrase, magisterially exerts itself. And with this it changed from a guarantee of freedom into a tyrant. The rational agent was left helpless before the voice that came from nowhere and could be mediated by no rational argument.
- The peremptory conscience was a mythical embodiment of inarticulate certainties buried in the depths of the psyche. BIBLICAL BASIS The term conscience enter the New Testament through Paul. Its occurrence is preponderantly in the Pauline letters and literature from Paul's sphere of influence. It has been suggested plausibly that Paul took the term up from his Corinthian correspondents, though the verb and noun occur occasionally in the Septuagint. First and most simply, conscience is used as a noun of action, meaning awareness with an object such as God / Sins /
the Idol / an Incident of Public Concern. On another possible understanding of 1 Cor 10:29a - oneself / another.
- It often has an overtone of knowledge shared between one person and another, as when Sapphire was complicit with Ananias or when others know of one's act and character. Secondly, there is a reflexive sense, still as a verbal noun - self-awareness, an especially moral self-awareness. It is used for the awareness of guilt (1 Cor 4:4) an experience that my be portrayed as having a witness to one's acts, or of being reproved. At no point in the New Testament does conscience have a directive role, instructing us how to act. This changes in the Greek Patristic Literature which frequently speaks of conscience as an instructor. John Chrysostom speaks of two instructions - creation without and conscience within, the latter murmuring suggests as to all that is to be done. The implication is usually that the conscience gives general moral instruction, rather than the particular. Occasionally, conscience says do this in particular, but only as the last point on a train of moral reasoning, for conscience is 'a warmer and a brighter reasoning'. Conscience and reason can be treated more or less as equivalent. Its content is in fact nothing else than the natural law - repeatedly referred to in this connection. The introduction of a directive function does not lessen the reflective function of conscience. It opens the mind and its reason to examination makes us clear to ourselves; by it the soul is laid bare; it illuminates secret proceedings. It is the repository where our records are kept. Inaccessible to other humans, it is represented as the wilderness where the psalmist of Psalm 55:7 longs to flee and be at rest. Its deliveries about ourselves afford security against the hostile judgments of other.
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- The conscience is where we judge ourselves before judging another, the site at which we receive reward and punishment, and find assurance of true penitence and pardon. Sometimes in the Greek tradition, conscience is conceived as an addition to our human rational capacities, something divine, placed in our minds by God. In that case the conscience is always good and the danger lies simply in stopping it up, as the Philistines did to Jacob's Well. More normally, and in the West, conscience is a human faculty within the mind, and sometimes a synonym for the mind itself. Jerome introduces it as the fourth and most authoritative part of the soul, which corrects the rational /
appetitive / passionate parts when they go wrong. Reflection is return to our conscience - it is the stomach of the inner man. In this life of thought the conscience may be either good or bad. We pray to be found with it unstained in the last judgment. In summary, the patristic idea of conscience was that of an inner space created within the seat of human agency, the heart. It is captured by Ambrose's observation that 'David the prophet taught us that we should go about in our heart as though in a large house; that we should converse with it as with some trusted companion. Conscience is our selfopening to the probing interrogation and challenge of an encounter with God.
- The difficulty with patristic conscience is the absence of reflection on the relation of this inner discourse to the Paschal mystery. The application to the conscience of the death and resurrection of Christ, as in Hebrews and I Peter, drops out of sight, so that the encounter with God often seems to be removed from the trinitarian field of vision that characterises patristic theology otherwise. A considerable change occurs in the scholastic discussions. As Potts noted, they are only remotely attached to Scripture - to which we may add that they have a very narrow base in patristic tradition. Absent now is all mention of encounter with God. Conscience is discussed as a human function, exclusive moral and primarily directive, by which the mind grasps and applies moral principles. It is divided into two correlated aspects :
2. Conscientia Consignee is a discursive process of thought starting in universal principle and concluding in actual judgment. It is, as such, both fallible and corrigible. The Scholastic conclusion that the mistaken conscience binds without excusing amount to this - to exercise the faculty of moral judgment implies being subject to moral obligation, but a sense of moral obligation does not always correspond to objective right. A mistaken conscience binds because conscience maidens - that is what the exercise of conscience is, and if it did not lay us under obligation, it would not be conscience.
- The phenomenon of the mistaken conscience is to generate a subjective obligation at odds with the real relations of right and wrong - that is what an erroneous conscience does, and if it did not lead us to do wrong, it would not be erroneous. The problematic element in the legacy of scholasticism was the separation of the moral conscience from the devotional heart. And there was a further move that was to prove ambiguous: to credit its a priori grasp of moral first principles with a necessity like that of the reason's acceptance of logical first principles. Error, they were inclined to think, arises only in secondary, contingent judgments about what is good in fact.
- Our fundamental moral apperceptions can be faulty in the way that the appetitive power as opposed to the intellective power can be faulty - by being too weak / holding back in suspense.
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With Luther interest in the conscience swung back from the prospective exercise of practical reason to the retrospective experience of guilt, which afforded an opportunity for a striking recovery of its theological and soteriological content. The deliveries of the conscience were now the judgments of God. What Baylor calls the new object of conscience is God's simultaneous condemnation and justification of the person as he stands before God. In this, there are two features to notice :
1. Conscience has extended its focus once again to include the encounter with God
2. The self to which the conscience turns, and with which it identifies itself, is an eschatologically unified self / a spirit that transcends the body and the mind in an immediacy of non-discursive worship. With God and salvation restored to it, conscience now ones beyond reflection - it dissolves into the immediacy of faith. In sixteenth century Protestantism, then, the conscience resumed its place in Christina language about salvation; biblical langue about the conscience washed in Christ's blood and raised from the death in his resurrection became current again. The primary theological use of the concept of conscience did not persist. The Scholastic limitation of conscience to the objects of practical reason was soon reasserted, but with a perilous difference : Immediacy, having attached itself while the conscience attended to the last things, clung to it when it returned to human practical concerns. Here, then, were the conditions under which the morally directive conscience became peremptory. Jeremy Taylor : Joined the scholastic conception of the conscience with that of the immediate presence of God. The synthesis is achieved by describing the conscience as God's deputy. Classical talk of conscience as God unto us is edifying, but not literal, Taylor thinks.
- The conscience is an aspects of God's providential government : 'God is in our hearts by his laws; he rules in us by his substitute, the conscience'
- On the one hand, the conscience is an element of the created mind, not the Holy spirit within it. It is we who speak to ourselves in the deliverers of our conscience, which is 'our mind thus furnished with holy rule and conducted by a divine guide'.
- On the other hand, conscience is not, as in the scholastics, an ordinary human mental function like the others; it has an exalted intermediary status as God's watchman and intelligencer - the hint of angelology in this description should not be missed. Yet this mediatorial role is not related to the mediation of Christ. Conscience is the image of God; and reflects the Trinity as compounded of memory, understanding and will; but this is the immanent, not the economic Trinity.
- Conscience is 'in God's stead to punish and to reward' but not to redeem or console. The scholastic parallelism of ratio and synderesis opens up here in a gulf between conscience and faith : Faith tells us why, conscience tells us what to do. We are presented with a voice in the soul that immediately / simply, apart from reason, without appeal to the Gospels, commands us in the name of God, and sanctions its commands with torments of anxiety and fear. The discursive character of conscience, preserved in the patristic conception by the image of space and in the scholastic treatment by the discursive progression from synderesis to conscience, has now disappeared.
- Instead, we hear a half mythical voice whose authority the moral-sense philosophers would have us enforce upon ourselves in tribute to that ancient precept, Reverence thyself.
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MODERN MAN Modern man is distinguished by sudden eruptions of raw moral certainty, moments of moralistic and ideological judgement which permit no reflective or deliberative interrogation. These moments aside, modern man is distinguished by a resolute self doubt.
- Moral certainty is located on the horizon of thought and action; it is a goal, an ideal constantly deferred. What we most commonly see when we look at the modern subject is not the clarify of immediate knowledge, but laboured detachment, the ascetic subjection of the self as an object of scientific description.
- Modernity is known by its reflectivity, yet this is not the reflectivity that Christianity shaped. It is not informed by an inner dialogue with God, but in the struggle to get to the core of things. Kierkegaard understood this well reflection, he believed, had turned into reflective stagnation and it was the essential form of despair.
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Christian Moral Reasoning R J Smith : Conscience and Catholicism T H E NAT U R E AN D F U N C T I O N O F C O N S C I E N C E - S T AQ U I NAS Aquinas built upon / is indebted to earlier philosophical & theological schools for his though on conscience. Aquinas is Smith's starting point for two reasons :
1. His stature as a theologian and his significance within the Roman Catholic tradition is virtually unparalleled
2. In the course of examining the moral life, he most systematically addressed the topic of conscience several times. These reasons set him up as a central figure / historical starting point for any significant contemporary theological discussion of conscience. Although conscience frequently took on subtly different meanings with a variety of connotations within these different contexts, there remained a threat of continuity in all of them : namely, the innate, distinctively human characteristic of knowing the first principles of practical reason. These first principles embody and reveal the fundamental orientation of the human person conveyed in the imperative : 'Do and pursue the good; avoid evil'. A distinction has been made in the tradition between the concept of synderesis and conscience. While a definitive judgment regarding the source of this distinction is as yet incomplete, it need not concern us. The fact that the distinction is a significant part of the tradition is sufficient warrant to continue to use it and study the meaning of it and the relationship between the two. C O N T E X T F O R AQ U I NAS ' U N D E R S TAN D I N G O F C O N S C I E N C E
1. Human Rationality Aquinas' theology can be rightly understood only in light of his anthropology, which emphasises the rational capacity of man. Following Aristotle, Aquinas views the human person as a unitary being endowed with both a body
& rational soul. It is reason that distinguishes human beings from other animal creatures - reason is our crowning glory. The human is a psychological-physical unity for whom knowledge beings with experience. Rational nature that is particular to human reflects and contains within it the wisdom of the Creator. The imago Dei is a strong theme in Aquinas' theology. In addition to reflecting the Creator, and because it derives its very existence from God, every aspect of creation is inclined toward the nature end that has been given to it by God. This tendency or propensity of creation to move toward its end is what Aquinas understands as, and labels natural law.
2. Natural Law & Eternal Law Natural law, which is known to all people by virtue of their rationality, must be seen in its relationship to God's eternal law. Through eternal law, God moves and directs all things to their natural end and human beings to their final end in the beatific vision. The eternal law is nothing else than the plan of the divine wisdom considered as directing all the acts / motions of creatures.
- Copleston : The eternal law is thus the plan of divine wisdom directly all things to their attainment of their ends. For Aquinas, it is not possible for mere creatures to read the mind of God in order to discern the enteral law. However, through our rational nature, humans are able to know the natural law through reflection on their experience. Each and every person possesses an innate drive toward the achievement of their end which is the good.
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