REFLECTION: Primacy of conscience PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 09 September 2011 14:21


Conscience continues to be a hot issue among theologians and those who try to describe how our moral life should be. In the blogosphere, there is now a lot of discussion, often raising dust and emitting sparks that tend to darken and confuse people rather than enlighten and clarify.

There is even now a group of theologians who, reacting to recent scandals and other problems of the Church today, boldly propose ecclesiastical structural reforms that more or less are inspired by this so-called primacy of conscience.

Fine, but let’s look at things more closely. Offhand, at first reading, I already get the impression that what they are proposing does not amount to a further homogeneous development of our understanding of Church, faithful to the original, but rather a mutation, a heterogeous departure from the original, a different banana, so to speak.

Appeals to understanding, compassion and charity are made to sweeten the acceptability of these proposals. For sure, we all have to be understanding, compassionate and charitable, but all these should not depart from the truth, from faith, from Church teaching, and from Christ himself.

Our quest for Church development and Christian maturity should not abandon our duty to fidelity. To flow with the times, to adapt to the current situations should never be understood as having the right to transfer our anchor to another set of beliefs.

We have to be wary when we react to problems and issues simply relying on gut feel or instincts or the Pavlovian way that take in only the here and now and ignoring the eternal, the short-run and forgetting the long-run, the literal while setting aside the other deeper aspects and higher angles from which they should be viewed.

Sad to say, some of our local thinkers invoke this so-called primacy of conscience to support the view that people should be left on their own to decide what is good for them in terms of reproductive rights and health. They should not be told they are wrong when they opt to go into a contraceptive lifestyle. To them, that would not be respecting their conscience.

It’s obvious that our conscience plays an indispensable part in our lives. We always have to follow it, because right or wrong, it is the judgment we make whether the action we are going to do, are doing or have already done, is good or bad.

From there, we can readily see that our conscience does not operate in a vacuum. It is neither absolutely self-generated nor self-contained. It has to be conformed to a law which it does not invent, but rather only discovers. And it has the duty to uphold that law, know and live it better each day, protect and defend it, etc.

The primacy of conscience or the freedom of conscience should not be understood as the right for one to be absolutely left on his own when he decides, without giving him support, advice, clarification, and even correction from God through human instruments.

No one is free from God who is our Creator, and who establishes the original divine law that governs all of us. From this law springs the moral law that governs our human acts. No one is free from the human instruments and institutions God has made available to guide us.

Even in our political and social life, we immediately acknowledge the need for offices and officials with power and authority to help us live out our life as a nation. In our spiritual and moral life, the same thing happens. We need offices, officials, institutions, etc. with power and authority to guide us. We just cannot fence our conscience from them.

In one blog, I read a twisted interpretation of how the Catechism itself describes conscience. That it is “man’s most secret core and his sanctuary (where) he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths (1776),” is now taken to mean that no one can tell anything to anyone about what his conscience tells him, because conscience is supposedly an affair strictly between God and man.

Even the Catechism point on the need for the formation of conscience is understood as one undertaken strictly by oneself and his view of God. No one can teach him anything. So now, all consciences are correct. There can be no erroneous consciences!

This phenomenon reminds me of the scribes and Pharisees of Christ’s time. They were also intelligent and religious, but preferred to have their own views instead of acknowledging Christ as Redeemer.