Moral Conscience

The Aboriginal Vicar of Christ

[Who made you do it?]



Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed... Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.
- CCC1778

Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil... When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.
- CCC1777


Formation -- How & Why

On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life...Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.
- Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae) by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965

The layman, at one and the same time a believer and a citizen of the world, has only a single conscience, a Christian conscience; it is by this that he must be guided continually in both domains.
- Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (Apostolicam Actuositatem) - 18 November 1965


7 Categories of Error in Formation

Sources of error: - CCC1792

1 - Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel,

2 - Bad example given by others,
Athlete or Rock Star Role Models doing Drugs, etc.

3 - Enslavement to one's passions,
It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience. - CCC1779

Drunkeness - 1 Cor. 6:9-10

Drunkeness is a mortal sin when it deprives a man of his reason. The drunkard defiles the image of God in his soul. Every other sinner is able when dying to call on God for mercy, for he still has the use of his reason. Not so the drunkard. If he dies in his drunkeness, he is utterly incapable of making an act of contrition or calling on God for mercy;
- The Mission Book of the Redemptorist Fathers, pgs. 421-422

4 - Assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience,
Heresy of Relativism - no eternal truths - "what do YOU think?"

In the "Conference of Abbot Moses", Cassian observes: "By no other vice does the devil so lead a [man] on in order to hurl him headlong to destruction, as when he persuades him to disregard the counsel of his superiors and trust to his own judgment and decision."
(Collationes, II, c. II. PL 49, col. 541)

It is this same "leaning on our own judgment" forbidden by Proverbs that led St. Bernard to say regarding those who had become disgruntled about the commands of their superiors: "If you begin to grieve at this, to judge your superior, to murmur in your heart, even though you outwardly fulfill what is commanded, this is not the virtue of patience or obedience, but merely a cloak for your malice."
(Sermo III, de Circumcisione, n.8. PL 183, col. 140.)

If there is to be one and the same understanding between the members and the head, it is easy to see whether it is more reasonable for the head to agree with the members or the members to agree with the head. Whatever I do I try to do it as working for the Lord - and not Men, knowing that it is from the Lord that I receive my inheritance as a reward. (Colossians 3:23-24)

5 - Rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching,
Protestant Heresies - Guarunteed Salvation, Faith Alone, etc.

If your judgment and the obligations of obedience conflict, you can have no true peace and tranquillity in your soul, so you "prowl about, looking for someone to consume". This is why the Apostle, wishing to safeguard the spirit of unity, the binding force of every society, is so much in earnest when he urges all of us to be of one mind and one heart. (Romans 15:15, I Corinthians 1:10, II Corinthians 13:11, and Phillipians 2:2) He knew that if the faithful agreed in will and judgment, they would be a mutual and unfailing help to one another.

6 - Lack of conversion and of charity:

7 - Conscience can be blinded by habitual sin
- Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) by His Holiness Pope Paul VI On December 7, 1965

"I say to you, that whoever commits sin, is the servant of sin." - JOHN 8:34

"A sinful act often reiterated becomes a habit, habit engenders necessity, necessity becomes impossibility, impossibility is the mother of despair, and despair finishes its work, and seals its own damnation." - ST. BERNARD in Consideratis



Conscience includes the perception of the principles of morality; their application in the given circumstances by practical discernment of reasons and goods; and finally judgment about concrete acts yet to be performed or already performed.
- CCC1780

The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.
- CCC1783

Clinton's Dilemma -- "Conscience enables one to assume responsibility for the acts performed."
- CCC1781

Man is sometimes confronted by situations that make moral judgments less assured and decision difficult. But he must always seriously seek what is right and good and discern the will of God expressed in divine law.
- CCC1787



Some rules apply in every case:

- One may never do evil so that good may result from it;

- the Golden Rule: "Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them."

- charity always proceeds by way of respect for one's neighbor and his conscience: "Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience . . . you sin against Christ." Therefore "it is right not to . . . do anything that makes your brother stumble."
- CCC1789



THERE ARE still even now, through the mercy of God, many persons who live a Christian-like life, who keep God's commandments, and who do not willfully fail in any one of their duties; and if you do not know this, I am not astonished at it, since Elias thought that he was left alone when God said to him, "I have left me seven thousand men, that have not bowed their knees to Baal."

This example ought to convince us that there are still some amongst us who keep themselves unspotted from the world, and who imitate the early Christians. As for you, my brothers, if you have not as yet reached to that pitch of perfection; begin at least with the wish to aspire to perfection, cut off all inclination to do evil, resist the torrent of example, and do not think of doing any good, unless you set to work in a right and lawful way.
- ST. CHRYSOSTOM, Homily on Matthew 6

JUDGE NOT, and you shall not be judged, says the Savior of our souls: "Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned " (Luke 6:37)
No, says the holy Apostle (1 Cor.4: 5), "Judge not before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart."
Oh, how displeasing are rash judgments to God! The judgments of the children of men are rash, because they are not the judges one of another, and therefore usurp to themselves the office of our Lord. They are rash, because the principal malice of sin depends on the intent of the heart, which is an impenetrable secret to us. They are not only rash, but also impertinent, because every one has enough to do to judge himself without taking upon him to judge his neighbor.
- ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, Introduction to the Devout Life


Bible Texts on Moral Conscience:

Witness in man - Proverbs 20:27; and Romans 2:15

Accuses us of sin - Genesis 42:21; 2 Samuel 24:10; Matthew 27:3; and Acts 2:37

We should have the approval of - Job 27:6; Acts 24:16; and Romans 9:1; 14:22

The blood of Christ can purify - Hebrews 9:14; 10:2

Keep the faith in purity of - 1 Timothy 1:19; 3:9

Of saints, pure and good - Hebrews 13:18; and 1 Peter 3:16,21

Submit to authority for - Romans 13:5

Suffer patiently for - 1 Peter 2:19

Testimony of, a source of joy - 2 Corinthians 1:12; and 1 John 3:21

Of others, not to be offended - Romans 14:21; and 1 Corinthians 10:28

Ministers should commend themselves - 2 Corinthians 4:2; 5:11

Of the wicked, seared - 1 Timothy 4:2

Of the wicked, defiled - Titus 1:15

Without spiritual light, a false guide - Acts 23:1; 26:9


Selected Bibliography

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Holy Bible - NRSV

Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae)

Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (Apostolicam Actuositatem)

Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes)

The Mission Book of the Redemptorist Fathers

ST. BERNARD's "Consideratis"

ST. CHRYSOSTOM's "Homily on Matthew 6"

ST. FRANCIS DE SALES' "Introduction to the Devout Life"


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