Appendix: Extract from De Veritate
and Liberalism. The Conservative,
exemplified by Sr Waddelove, would have us believe that the only role of
conscience is to be conformed to the Official Teaching of the Church. The
Liberal would have the Official Teaching of the Church restricted to a
statement along the lines "anything that you find congenial is true for
"The essence of Liberalism is that the individual human being has the right to decide for himself the norms by which he will regulate his life. He has the right to be his own arbiter as to what is right and what is wrong. He is under no obligation to subject himself to any external authority. In the Liberal sense, liberty of conscience is the right of an individual to think and believe whatever he wants, even in religion and morality; to express his views publicly and persuade others to adopt them by using word of mouth, the public press, or any other means."To an extent, the position that Mr Davies sketches out as mistaken is actually right and inevitable:
The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves than by compelling each other to live as seems good to the rest.This species of freedom is defended by the Church.
"One who sincerely believes himself to be bound to practice some form of non-Catholic religion is in conscience obliged to do so..." [Fr Connell: Am. Ecc. Rev. #108, Oct. 1943]
"... no Catholic... may hold that the state would be called upon to impose the Catholic faith on dissident citizens. Reverence for the individual conscience forbids this, and the very nature of religion and of the act of faith. If these be not voluntary they are nought.
"It is a fundamental principle of Catholic theology that no one must ever be forced to act against his conscience either in public or in private .... (or) be prevented from acting in accordance with his conscience in private..."I suppose that the difference is that the liberal discounts the idea that there is an objective right and wrong which he should seek to come to a knowledge of. Instead (s)he claims the right to erect or construct or engineer as an artisan a personal ethical system or "truth". Whereas the objective realist agrees that it is necessary to decide what is correct, this is not a right to be striven for but rather a duty of which (s)he fears to fail in the discharge. Moreover, the objectivist uses the word "decide" in the sense that a scientist attempts to decide what is in fact the case rather than the sense in which Richard Gere in "American Gigolo" decides which suit and tie to wear after his morning work-out.
"It is true that Christian writers defended religious liberty; thus Tertullian said that religion forbids religious compulsion:Though the Apostles were sure that they should transmit the deposit of the Faith to posterity undefiled, and that any teaching at variance with their own, even if proclaimed by an angel of Heaven, would be a culpable offense, yet in the case of the heretics Alexander and Hymeneus, St Paul deemed that exclusion from the communion of the Church was a sufficient penalty [1Tim 1:20; Tit 3:10]. Christians of the first three centuries would never have thought to adopt any other attitude. Tertullian lays down the rule:'Non est religionis cogere religionem quae sponte suscipi debet non vi.'and Lactantius, moreover, declared:
"Humani iuris et naturalis potestatis, unicuique quod putaverit colere, nec alii obest aut prodest alterius religio. Sed nec religionis est religionem colere, quae sponte suscipi debeat, non vi." [Ad. Scapulam, c. ii]In other words, he tells us that the natural law authorized man to follow only the voice of individual conscience in the practice of religion, since the acceptance of religion was a matter of free will, not of compulsion.
St. Cyprian of Carthage, surrounded as he was by countless schismatics and undutiful Christians, also put aside the material sanction of the Old Testament, which punished with death rebellion against priesthood and the Judges:
"Nunc autem, quia circumcisio spiritalis esse apud fideles servos Dei coepit, spiritali gladio superbi et contumaces necantur, dum de Ecclesia ejiciuntur" [Ep. lxxii, ad Pompon., n. 4]religion being now spiritual, its sanctions take on the same character, and excommunication replaces the death of the body.
Lactantius was yet smarting under the scourge of bloody persecutions, when he wrote his Divine Institutes in A.D. 308. Naturally, therefore, he stood for the most absolute freedom of religion. He writes:
"Religion being a matter of the will, it cannot be forced on anyone; in this matter it is better to employ words than blows [verbis melius quam verberibus res agenda est]. Of what use is cruelty? What has the rack to do with piety? Surely there is no connection between truth and violence, between justice and cruelty.... It is true that nothing is so important as religion, and one must defend it at any cost [summâ vi]... It is true that it must be protected, but by dying for it, not by killing others; by long-suffering, not by violence; by faith, not by crime. If you attempt to defend religion with bloodshed and torture, what you do is not defense, but desecration and insult. For nothing is so intrinsically a matter of free will as religion." [Divine Institutes V:20]The Christian teachers of the first three centuries insisted, as was natural for them, on complete religious liberty, urging the principle that religion could not be forced on others: a principle always adhered to by the Church in her dealings with the unbaptised. However, the imperial successors of Constantine soon began to see in themselves as divinely appointed "bishops of the exterior", i.e. masters of the temporal and material conditions of the Church.
"... as though it were not permitted to come forward as avengers of God, and to pronounce sentence of death!... But, say you, the State cannot punish in the name of God. Yet was it not in the name of God that Moses and Phineas consigned to death the worshippers of the Golden calf and those who despised the true religion?"This was the first time that a Catholic bishop championed a decisive cooperation of the State in religious questions, and its right to inflict death on heretics. For the first time, also, the Old Testament was appealed to, though such appeals had been previously rejected by Christian teachers. St. Augustine, on the contrary, was still opposed to the use of force, and tried to lead back the erring by means of instruction:
"We wish them corrected, not put to death; we desire the triumph of (ecclesiastical) discipline, not the death penalties that they deserve."St. John Chrysostom says substantially the same in the name of the Eastern Church:
"To consign a heretic to death is to commit an offence beyond atonement" [St Chrysostom: Hom., XLVI, c. i]and in the next chapter he says that God forbids their execution, even as He forbids us to uproot cockle, but He does not forbid us to repel them, to deprive them of free speech, or to prohibit their assemblies. The help of the "secular arm" was therefore not entirely rejected; on the contrary, as often as the Christian welfare, general or domestic, required it, Christian rulers sought to stem the evil by appropriate measures. Nevertheless, a thousand years later a very liberal attitude reigned in the remnants of the Byzantine Empire:
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached... God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death." [Emperor Manuel II Paleologus "Seventh Conversation with a Persian" (1391)]
has no rights":
and warn against mistaken and dangerous ideas.
seriously erroneous beliefs hazards eternal damnation.
in order to alert them to the danger they are in.
be opposed, to safeguard their intended victims.
in accordance with the admonition of the Magisterium hazard eternal damnation,
and should be excommunicated.
but the choice is always between recantation and death.
limited toleration to those aiming to propagate wrong ideas, if on balance
it seems that to be properly proscriptive would do more ancillary harm
than it could be expected to prevent.
there is unlikely to be a significant adverse violent reaction, as homosexuals are still a generally feared and hated minority.
"One who sincerely believes himself to be bound to practice some form of non-Catholic religion is in conscience obliged to do so; but this subjective obligation, based on an erroneous conscience, does not give him a genuine right. A real right is something objective based on truth." [Fr Connell: Am. Ecc. Rev. #108, Oct. 1943]If someone in error honestly believe themselves to be correct, they have a duty in conscience before God to attempt to subvert others to their mistaken viewpoint, but they have no right to do so. They cannot justly claim that others who oppose them, even by imposing constraints on them, do an injustice either towards them or towards the general population whom they wish to address. This principle is to be accepted not so much because it is the consistent teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium, though it is (as Mr Davies establishes in his pamphlet) but more because its negation is absurd.
The traditional teaching does however have one huge deficiency, the remedy of which does much to defuse the objections of a modern audience. This defect is simple. Inadequate allowance is made for the intellectual space that is required for faith to grow. The traditional teaching views the hierarchy of the Church as ultimately wise and knowledgeable, and the Magisterium certain and infallible on all matters. Similarly, it views the laity as ignorant. Hence, it asserts that they should be docile and entirely passive in receiving the teaching, admonitions and judgement of the Magisterium. The business of the laity is to do and believe what it is told. There is no need or place for question or debate The laity have no competence to do either. If something cannot be understood or seems to be wrong, it must nevertheless be accepted without hesitation as right: just on the basis of authority. Whatever comprehension is appropriate should later be sought over time in prayer. Anyone with good will can be expected to recognize the truth of the Magisterium's decrees more or less immediately.
Now in fact, all this is far from the case. For those who are not Catholics, the Magisterium has no particular credibility and commands little respect. This is first because there is no reason why the opposite should be the case, and second because the Magisterium has manifestly been mistaken on a number of significant matters and has generally not had the grace to face up to this. Hence it is not reasonable that non-Catholics should be expected to respond positively and enthusiastically to the Magisterium. They will rather require persuasion!
As far as Catholics are concerned, it is wrong for the hierarchy to dismiss the laity as ignorant and incompetent. In as far as this is true, it is undesirable, and largely the fault of the hierarchy for failing to educate them. It is unreasonable to ask for blind faith, when Catholicism prides itself on having a high doctrine of human reason and its relationship with faith. Honesty is a prime virtue and requires that doubts and difficulties are faced and addressed openly, though with an attitude of faith not cynical scepticism. Only by recognizing and making explicit our doubts can we come, with the Blessed Apostle Thomas, to the conviction of a mature faith based on an encounter with Our Risen Lord.
"This Vatican Synod declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs. Nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.Mr Davies remarks that this would all be compatible with traditional doctrine if either the words "or publicly" were omitted or "due limits" be understood as being determined by the objective common good. In fact, he points out that Dignitatis Humanae later says that they are to be determined by "public order", a much weaker and pragmatic criterion. In particular, the novel doctrine would seem to countenance objective injustices such as the sexual molestation of altar servers, so long as the practice was hushed up and didn't come into the public gaze and so result in riots (please excuse the irony).
Michael Davies goes on to establish that a variety of (liberal) modern commentators agree with him that the teaching of Dignitatis Humanae is novel:
"The star of the American delegation was John Courtney Murray whose chief function was to give the pedestrian bishops the right words with which to change some ancient doctrines without admitting that they were being changed." ["Paul Blanchard on Vatican II" (1966)]The famous liberal moral theologian Charles Curran has also said:
"As all recognize, the hierarchical magisterium finds change difficult and above all is most reluctant to admit that its teachings have been wrong and need to change. Perhaps the most significant change of the Second Vatican Council on a specific issue concerned the teaching of religious liberty. The major issue concerned not the teaching itself but the problem of change. How could the church teach in the twentieth century what it denied in the nineteenth? The problem was solved by a theory of development which claimed that the historical circumstances had changed so that the church was right in both centuries [J.C. Murray; in "Vatican II: La liberte religieuse", 111-147 Eds J. Hamer & Y congar (1967)]. I believe the unwillingness to admit that its teaching has been wrong constitutes the major reason why the hierarchical magisterium has not changed its teaching on artificial contraception. For all practical purposes Pope Paul VI admitted that in his encyclical Humanae vitae."I suspect that Dr Curran use of the word "solved" was ironic and that he no more believed that the "theory of development" expounded in french by Fr Murray in 1967 adequately explained the change of teaching than did Fr Murray himself, as quoted above speaking in English that same year.
The fact that the teaching of the Vatican Synod is novel and apparently contrary both to the overwhelming consensus of the Fathers and recent papal teaching does not necessarily make it wrong. The previous teaching was never defined. In any case, the change is mainly one of implementation and this might be justified by a change in circumstance.
Nevertheless, it seems to me that the novel teaching is incoherent. Quite apart from it contradicting what I have already described as "logical and sound", in practice the treatment of those who make no claim to be part of the Roman Jurisdiction is uncritically affirmatory, while that meted out to dissidents who do claim to be part of the Roman Jurisdiction is authoritarian and cruel. This suggests that the underlying motivation is insincere. The policy seems to be to show a gentle and tolerant face to outsiders: in order to build up their confidence and trust, then once they have been captivated by this seductive spell and become Catholic, to impose the most severe discipline. After all, someone who has just made such a huge and significant decision is hardly going to admit that they were wrong just afterwards! The hysteresis of faith will trap them.
The treatment of homosexuals recommended by the Magisterium to civil authority is particularly revealing. For some reason, while Islam; Buddhism; Voodoo and Scientology are to be tolerated, because they are religions, and their adherents accorded full civil rights - including the rights to indoctrinate and adopt children - homosexuals should be denied most civil rights, because they are supposed to have adopted a life style that is disordered! In fact, children need no more protection from homosexuals, who have as such no motivation to "convert" anyone to anything, than from left-handed people! Contrariwise, it would be easy to put together an argument in favour of protecting children from religious fundamentalists of all kinds: including Secularists and conservative Catholics!
"If I am obliged to bring religion into after dinner toasts (which indeed does not seem to be quite right) I shall drink to the Pope, if you please - still, to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards"has been wrongly used to vindicate a "do as you like" attitude, which Newman would never have endorsed.
She rightly points out that Newman also said that the "dictate" of conscience "in order to prevail against the voice of the Pope, must follow upon serious thought, prayer and all available means of arriving at a right judgement on the matter in question" also that the conscience must be convinced not just that it is allowable to ignore the Magisterium, but that it would be positively harmful to obey its command or accept its teaching. "Unless a man is able to say to himself as in the presence of God, that he must not and dare not, act upon the Papal injunction, he is bound to obey it and would commit a great sin in disobeying it". Newman was quite clear that what people often claimed as a right to conscience was nothing more than a pretence to the counterfeit "right of self-will". [Newman: "Certain Difficulties felt by anglicans in Catholic Teaching" II 261,258,250] On the other hand, she does a disservice to Newman when she asserts that he believed the standard conservative dogma that the litmus test of a true religious spirit was obedience.
She further points out that conscience can never set what is objectively right and wrong. Justice is not malleable. As my first quote from Michael Davies' pamphlet implies, the individual has no no right to decide for himself what is right and what is wrong, though I would add that he has the duty to seek to discern it. Nevertheless, Sr Waddelove correctly admits that conscience must always be obeyed, even when it is somehow misguided. She then states that we have two means of discovering what is just: the Natural Law (but she then passes over this, in haste) and Divine Revelation. She then equates the latter with the Magisterium and then suggests that Holy Mother Church makes solemn declarations on faith and morals which are to be taken as the voice of Christ Himself. She then glibly asserts that this constitutes sure guidance for the formation of conscience.
In this Sr Waddelove ignores or underestimates the importance of:
This is, of course, an immoral "cop out". It is quite possible for someone to opt out of their God-given personal responsibility to judge right from wrong and then to act justly, from sloth. To such a person, unquestioning conformance to the Official Teaching of the Magisterium is the easy, painless, stress free option. Such a person sins, perhaps mortally, even when they believe and do what is objectively right, because their motivation is at heart negligent and imprudent.
Sr Waddelove concludes her article by quoting Pope John Paul II
"God who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments" [Veritatis Splendor #35].She then correctly interprets this as meaning that God is not, then, laying down arbitrary rules to make life difficult or demanding for us, any more than the Church is, but rather, out of love, teaching what is intrinsically good for us, what will benefit us and lead to eternal beatitude. Of course, she fails to recognize (in her use of the word "is") that although the Magisterium should intend only to propose what is objectively good for (wo)men, as determined by their internal constitution and potential, sometimes in fact it get this wrong.
If Newman had believed regarding conscience what Sr
"In its 'Declaration on Religious Freedom', Vatican II taught that 'in forming their consciences the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the church'. When that text was first proposed, a number of bishops noted the obvious:
An attempted resolution
"The Apostle says that they who have the law written in their hearts enjoy the testimony of a sound conscience. And this seems to compel us to consider what it is the Apostle calls conscience, whether it be some element distinct from the heart and from the soul. For of this conscience it is elsewhere said that it condemns and is not condemned, and judges a man but is not judged, as John says in the words: 'If our conscience condemn us not, we have boldness towards God'. And again Paul himself says in another place: 'For our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience'.Conscience as reason, has no option but to adhere to its first two elements, using the data they provide as its premises. However it is necessary to criticize all premises: even instinctive ones. It may be that the instinctive response is inappropriate in modern circumstances (e.g. the curling-up response of the hedgehog to the bright headlamps of the approaching car). Further, it might transpire that a learned response is not at all correct! Just because there is a consensus in one's family, tribe or religious group on some ethical question (e.g. capital punishment, slavery and polygamy are OK: but usury, cross dressing and incest are not) doesn't mean that the form this consensus takes is correct. Finally, I know from experience that it is easy to produce feelings of guilt, simply by accusing someone of mischief. When I was an child, I remember some incident of wrongdoing at school involving the contents of a cupboard. The teacher who was trying to identify the culprit confronted the whole class with what had happened, and I remember feeling very sheepish and guilty: though I was entirely innocent. Similarly, many feelings of guilt and shame associated with sex are inappropriate reflexive responses induced by social taboos and arbitrary decencies.
To an extent, conscience as reason can be applied to other data, such as the merely physiological. However, to deduce ethical conclusions from premises such as "it is necessary to breath in order to live", extra-scientific value judgements have to be recognized, such as "it is good to live" and "it is bad to coerce another rational person": hence, "it is wrong to strangle someone". The American (atheist) philosopher Ayn Rand has proposed that the single ethical premise required is simply "being is good". I am very sympathetic towards this view, but I am not convinced that it has been adequately established or elucidated. In any case, it is not possible to deduce any ethical conclusions about, for example, particular sexual behaviours from a simple observation such as that "the physiological basis for the existence of gender is reproduction".
by the first human beings, as a direct result of what seems to have been
a divinely engineered act of rebellion.
"In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience... 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" [Gaudiem et Spes #16]Conscience may justly be challenged by external agents and is inevitably buffeted by the appetites. However, because it is the faculty that decides (to the best of its ability) what is right, the will should follow its conclusions in all circumstances. On occasion, conscience may decide that it is incompetent to determine what is right and that it is prudent to trust the judgement of some expert authority: but this is no less an exercise of its own jurisdiction "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice" [The RUSH song "Freewill", lyrics N. Peart]. However, it is not right to take this as a general stance, for that negates the whole God-given purpose of conscience: moral autonomy and personal responsibility.
"He that never changed any of his opinions never corrected any of his mistakes; and he who was never wise enough to find out any mistakes in himself will not be charitable enough to excuse what he reckons mistakes in others. We are only so free, that others may be free as well as we. Conscience without judgement is superstition."I remember as a young man offering God my free-will: asking that I should just do what God wanted, automatically. This was quite wrong. It wasn't even the experience of the God-Man Jesus Christ. He had two wills: one temporal and human, the other eternal and divine. As a man, Jesus did not have certain knowledge, but had to rely on faith as we do. In the end, his human will necessarily conformed to his divine will, because superabundant grace was always present in his human soul. Still, doing what was right was often a painful struggle. We see this especially in the garden of Gethsemene. Any notion of "self-oblation" that involves a destruction of the self or an enslavement to God is profoundly un-Christian. With God's grace, we must each find our own way of taking on, participating in and so realizing the form of Christ. This cannot be mechanistic, neither is it passive. It is a struggle to give birth. Divinization brings each of us close to the heart of God, makes us sharers in His Nature: conforming our pattern of life to Justice. However, the diverse characters of the saints (compare the simplicity and docility of St Bernadette of Lourdes with the subtlety, sophistication and intransigence of St Athanasius of Alexandria!) make it very clear that there are as many ways of "imitating Christ" as there are disciples.
Sometimes we ignore the conclusions of our conscience and instead follow the impetus of base appetite. Generally, this is because we are inadequately convinced of the truth of our ethical conclusion (we do not have episteme: sure intuitive knowledge), and the allure of what seems to be easy thrill or safe comfort is only too apparent. Every time we do this, we reinforce our tendency to unrealistic "wishful thinking" and lower the value we give to objective right and wrong: the rational expectation of weal or woe. In doing so, we become more like irrational beasts, captivated by unthinking instinct and appetites. Even when the conclusion of our conscience is mistaken, we do ill to disobey it: for exactly this reason. We never can tell when our conscience is mistaken: so whenever we ignore it, we always rebel from rationality.
The self-oblation of St Ignatious Loyola
Whatever I have and posses you have given to me.
To you I restore it wholly, to you I utterly surrender it for your direction.
Give me only the love of you, with your grace, and I am rich enough:
Nor do I ask for aught besides." [St Ignatious Loyola]
This seems to contradict what I have said, yet it is a prayer which I have valued and used for many years. I suppose the key word is "direction", which can be taken to mean control as in the diktat of a tyrant or command of a superior officer (remember that Ignatious had been a serving soldier before receiving his vocation to found the Jesuits). However, it does not have to be taken so. Direction can just as easily signify expert advice and guidance, and the import of the prayer is then not a plea to have one's autonomy destroyed but rather an expression of willingness to freely serve God out of love and confidence and also (and more importantly) to put into God's healing care the whole of one's being: as a sick patient accepts the direction of a physician.
If his own conclusions differ, it is much more plausible that he is mistaken
out of ignorance or sin, than that the Church is wrong. However, when a
Catholic's own conclusions impress with such troublesome weight as to overturn
this presumption: dissent is not only proper, but an inescapable
duty before Almighty God.
"Naturally, one could solve everything by saying that it is enough to obey the Vatican. I, however, can not share such a simplification: if one decides to accept uncritically all that the Magisterium tells him (supposing that the Magisterium does indeed always tell him what to do), such a person does nothing other than assume unto his own conscience the 'argument of authority'. He may indeed do this, but then he must know too that Saint Thomas considers such arguments of authority to be very week and ill - 'Argumentum auctoritatis est infirmissimum'.Thomas Aquinas addresses this subject.
"To the third objection (that any prelate would be superior to his subject and so should be able to expect automatic obedience): it must be said, that, even though a prelate is superior to his subject, however God, to Whose commandment the conscience binds, is greater than a prelate."There is no question here of taking an easy option. If dissent doesn't seem a more troublesome task than conformance, then it is suspect. The dissent that allows one to eat steak on Friday is a sham: no more than self gratification. The dissent that allows one to use contraception because it makes one's own life easier is also immoral. For dissent to be anything other than harmful, it has to be birthed in pain and fire, otherwise it will lead to cynical scepticism and a loss of all faith. Dissent based on a consciousness of an injustice done to some individual or group because of the imposition of some mistaken doctrine or practice is a different matter. This is a matter of charity for the victim(s) of injustice. It is a prime duty for every person of good will to defend victims of injustice: even if the perpetrator of the injustice is the Magisterium itself! It must be remembered that "Error has no rights" and this is as applicable to the case when the Magisterium is in error as to that when a private individual is mistaken.
The Magisterium has a responsibility to respect the conscience of individuals, simply because it has a responsibility for the welfare of all. Concern for the "Common Good" can only be based on a concern for the good of the individual, and central to this is a healthy, active and respected conscience. For the Magisterium to act in any way that violates the conscience of an individual is immoral. This does not mean to say that the Magisterium has to respect or tolerate error. The duty to proclaim the authentic Apostolic Tradition involves delineating what is right from what is wrong, as best can be done: and those who freely associate themselves with anathematized doctrine in conscience, thereby exclude themselves from the visible unity of the Roman Jurisdiction. Of course, they may have good (though inadequate) reasons for making the choice that they do and so be subjectively innocent of serious sin.
An interesting question arises. What about the issue of ordaining women to the Apostolic ministry? I have made it clear elsewhere that I believe there is no rational basis on which the present doctrinal position can be sustained. It is incoherent. Clearly, then, it is unfair to those women who aspire to the Apostolic ministry to deny them this means of service, but is it an injustice towards them? I'm not sure. On this basis alone, I think it would be difficult to recommend any kind of campaigning dissent. Indeed, because it would undoubtedly be harmful to ecumenical prospects with the Eastern Orthodox Church for the Roman Jurisdiction to ordain women, a case can be made out for this issue to be "left on the back burner" for the time being. Still, I suppose an injustice is being done to the laity as a whole, for they are suffering as a result of being denied pastors who would be able to serve them well. Moreover, the recent papal letter which tried to stifle all debate on this matter upped the stakes. The issue now is not whether a woman can be made a priest, but whether it is right for the Pope to forbid all Catholics from questioning a matter that has not been defined. Clearly, this is a matter of sufficient gravity to merit explicit challenge!
What of the case when an individual rebels from erroneous Church teaching because they have an intuition that it is wrong, but have not properly thought this through and to an extent acts precipitously? Objectively they act justly, and the Magisterium is wrong to impose its error on the faithful. Nevertheless, the individual should have paid more respect to the Teaching Office before deciding to dissent. Yet, in fact they were right in their informal conclusion and the actions that flowed from it, and it was wrong that they were ever put in the position that they were. Has the individual in question:
acted virtuously: in accordance with the Natural Law, which they instinctively obeyed, in a "child-like" manner; rather than respecting a normally trusted voice which on this occasion spoke falsely?
A society where Christian conscience is no longer alive loses its bearings; it no longer knows where to go, what it can do, what it cannot do, and ends up in emptiness, it fails. Only if a living awareness of the faith illumines our hearts can we also build a just society. It is not the Magisterium that imposes doctrine. It is the Magisterium that helps enable the conscience itself to hear God's voice, to know what is good, what is the Lord's will. It is only an aid so that personal responsibility, nourished by a lively conscience, may function well and thus contribute to ensuring that justice is truly present in our society: justice within ourselves and universal justice for all our brothers and sisters in the world today...
The Church offers us the encounter
with Christ, with the living God, with the Logos who is Truth and
Light, who does not coerce consciences, does not impose a partial
doctrine but helps us ourselves to be men and women who are completely
fulfilled and thus to live in personal responsibility and in deeper
communion with one another, a communion born from communion with God, with
The free conscience is always prior to the Magistetrium. The Logos enlightens every (wo)man that lives - if only they do not turn away from the Divine Light present in their souls. While the Catholic conscience has a clear general duty to defer to the Magisterium in filial respect - expecting it to speak impartially of Justice and Peace, in conformance to the Apostolic Tradition, and confident that it will provide bread and fish not a stone and a snake - in the end it is for the conscience to decide whether the voice that it hears is that of the Good Shepherd, who loves the sheep and would give his life for them; or of the hireling, who has no concern for their welfare but only his own personal, partticular and immediate safety.
Whenever the Magisterium discovers that it is having to coerce free consciences, it must stop and re-examine what it is about. In that day, it should question whether it is really about the Father's business - or whether it has mixed its dough with the leaven of the Pharisees and is occupied with binding burdens on the backs of those weak mortals whose wounds it should be binding up and annointing with wine and oil.
It is only possible to persuade someone of something if one treats them with respect. This is exactly what one should mean by "liberty of conscience". Attempts to indoctrinate or coerce are apt to alienate anyone subject to such abuse - even if the attempt is well intentioned. Treating someone with respect involves an unfeigned desire to understand their opinions, views and beliefs. Quite apart from other considerations, it is hugely advantageous to be able to empathize with someone and with their world view when trying to persuade them of something different. Authentic evangelization can only be a two-way learning process. The fact that "error has no rights" doesn't mean that those in error may not graciously be accorded liberties to which they have no just claim in order to seduce them to the truth.
When I engage in respectful dialogue with a protagonist whom I believe to be in error, it is not necessary to suspend my conviction that they are wrong. Neither is it necessary to suspend my own orthodoxy. It is necessary, however, for me to freely admit that:
"Indeed when I observe that Moses, a prophet filled with God, to whom God spoke face to face, received advice from Jethro, a priest of Midian, my mind grows bewildered, so great is my surprise. For the Scripture says, 'So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he said unto him'. He did not say, To me God speaks; what I am to do is told me by a voice from heaven; how shall I receive advice from a man, a man who is a Gentile, a stranger to the people of God? No, he listens to his voice, and does all he says, and gives ear not to the speaker but to his words. This shows that we also, if we chance any time to find something wisely said by the Gentiles, should not straightway reject along with the status of the speaker also the things he has said; nor, because we have the law given by God, ought we to swell with pride and to reject the words of wise men, but rather to do as the Apostle says, 'Proving all things, holding fast that which is good'." [Origen:This is an attitude of open-ness rather than triumphalism. It does not deny the objectivity of truth, nor faith in the Gospel, nor confidence in the teaching authority of Holy Mother Church. It simply admits to the finitude and provisionality of all human understanding, no matter how solidly God inspired!
UnbelieversI suppose that in practice the Church's modern policy is appropriate when dealing with people of no definite religious convictions. Perhaps a bit more conviction in the truth of the Gospel is to be desired. Certainly, a good deal more importance should be given to evangelization in Western Europe.
InfidelsIt is not possible to avoid the syllogism that if error is error then it must be harmful. From this, the general conclusions of the traditional teaching follow. However, as I have already intimated, it is itself an error to coerce others, except in emergency, even for their own good! Hence, for the Church to act with hostility towards protagonists of other faiths is generally counter productive. Debate, discussion and dialogue is a more appropriate response. This is the best way of encouraging the adherents of other religions to consider the intellectual case for Catholicism. On the other hand, even the appearance of prayer in common (as at Assisi) is to be avoided, because this countenances the idea that another religion is equivalently valid. While it is praiseworthy for the faithful to be warned of what is understood to be wrong with for example Islam, Buddhism or Shinto: it is profoundly inappropriate to condemn adherents of non-Christian religions as damned, and the positive values and aspects of these traditions should be readily and enthusiastically acknowledged.
JewsThe Jews are a special case, given that Catholicism originated from Judaism and has much in common with it. Rather than single the Jews out for special vilification and persecution, as has been the Church's official policy for many centuries, they should be singled out for special honour. The Church can expect to have a lot to learn from Judaism, in particular regarding ethics and the doctrine of grace.
Heretics and SchismaticPolicy should be based on the hope of winning back "the separated brethren" to full communion with the "One Catholic Apostolic Roman and Evangelical Church" rather than on the fear of the harm that could result from the spread of error. The latter danger can be most easily addressed by educating the laity, not intimidating them! If the Church had true courage in Her convictions, then She wouldn't be so keen to use threats of damnation to dissuade her ignorant children from repudiating Her jurisdiction nor violence to coerce those who have once left, back into Her fold.
It should be admitted that the Catholic Church is a far from perfect participation in the ideals of the "Body of Christ" and "Kingdom of God". Equally, it should be clearly admitted that many who reject the Catholic faith or Roman jurisdiction have excellent (if never adequate) grounds for doing so, and are in good faith. The typical evangelical protestant may be a lot closer to God than his Catholic contemporary: whether (s)he be lay (wo)man, or hierarch.
Ecumenism is a necessary aspect of the evangelism of non-Catholic christians, for many reasons, such as:
DissidentsThe most difficult case for the hierarchy to deal with is that of dissidents within their own jurisdiction. This is because dissidents directly challenge hierarchical authority. The fear of the priest is always that the trouble-maker he is opposing might just turn out to be prophetic and enunciating the judgement of God! To an extent, the difficulty is of the hierarchy's own manufacture. Dissidents often are constructed by the hierarchy's own unwillingness to engage in dialogue with the rest of the Church. If a person or group comes to realize that their voice or need or experience is being discounted in a matter that is important to them then they have no choice but to dissent. This involves either public protest or private reservation.
Take the example of "Women Priests". The present discipline could have been continued while polite and restrained debate went on. While important, this issue is not urgent: unlike many others which the Magisterium studiously avoids addressing. There was no justification for the recent papal attempt to impose uniformity of thought without the bother of infallibly defining exactly the point at issue. This might have (in prudence) involved consulting at least the rest of the hierarchy, if not the wider Church!
Take the example of "Contraception". Paul VIth went to the trouble of constituting a commission to report on this subject, and then disregarded its conclusions. This turned the majority of the laity (I suspect) into de-facto dissidents and did incalculable harm to the credability of the Magisterium.
Take the example of "Homosexuality". For almost two thousand years the Magisterium of the Church remained silent on this subject. For substantial periods of time ecclesial attitudes were either tolerant or affirmatory. Why did it suddenly become necessary for Rome to enunciate such derogatory judgements? Does the Church need a group to vilify? Now that it has decided it can no longer target Jews, Witches and Muslims, has it identified homosexuals as the most convenient "whipping boy"?
There is no need for me to set out here the sensible path of action, as this has been done for me in great detail and with much wisdom, by the late Cardinal Bernadin.
Before another word is said on the subject, let it be noted at once that no Catholic holds or may hold that the state would be called upon to impose the Catholic faith on dissident citizens. Reverence for the individual conscience forbids this, and the very nature of religion and of the act of faith. If these be not voluntary they are nought.before himself saying that
It is a fundamental principle of Catholic theology that no one must ever be forced to act against his conscience either in public or in private (unfortunately this principle has not always been respected in the history of the Church). It is equally true that no one be prevented from acting in accordance with his conscience in private (providing that no breach of the natural law is involved). [M. Davies, 1980]I suppose that by "breach of the natural law" Mr Davies inaccurately means to refer to objectively evil acts that infringe the well-being or rights of others and do not have their consent: e.g. murder; abortion; rape; torture; enslavement; brain-washing or robbery, rather than acts such as smoking tobacco; suicide; contraceptive sexual intercourse or masturbation!
This means that the most repressive measures open to a Catholic State are to deny dissidents any right
Of course, some of these measures would serve little purpose and others would be counter productive. In practice it might be better to employ very much gentler measures.
It would be illegitimate to deny dissidents the right:
In my opinion, the only sensible measure would be to restrict the style and position of buildings dedicated to dissident use so as to make them unobtrusive. If the State were to act to protect its citizens from all perceived "wrong ideas", then healthy political free speech, science and philosophy would be under serious threat. Innovative and imaginative insights in most fields of human endeavour are too often first rejected by the establishment as wrong-headed, subversive and dangerous!
question is interesting, on the Conscience. This is just part of article
Five of Question 17.
De veritate, q. 17 a. 5 ad 1
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