Saint Thomas Aquinas

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ignorance, Conscience and Vatican II

Ignorance, Conscience and Vatican II
By Matthew J. Bellisario 2011

Today there are two prevailing mindsets that have virtually pervaded the thoughts of many Catholics in the modern age, leading to two dangerous dispositions, both leading men into the abyss of hell. The first is the notion that ignorance is bliss, and therefore everyone is OK as long as they are ignorant. The second notion is one that insists that a persons' conscience, no matter how ill-formed or formed it may be, trumps any moral teaching Christ may teach through His Church, or the Natural Law. These two fallacies comprise a two headed monster of mythical proportions, and it seeks to devour as many souls that willfully indulge in its existence. This enemy seeks to devour the soul coming and going. The first head seeks to justify keeping men ignorant of the truths of God, and the other seeks to justify man ignoring that truth once he comes upon it. Most claim that the Vatican II documents and post Vatican II documents teach such things, yet this appears not to be the case at all.

The first head of the beast that many Catholics seek to be devoured by is that ignorance is the magic carpet ride to heaven. If people are not fully informed about the Catholic faith, then we should leave them ignorant, because God would never send an ignorant person to hell, right? Not exactly. Ignorance comes in many forms, most being from a person's will. In other words, God seeks to grab the attention of man by grace, which many men willfully choose to ignore, therefore making them morally culpable for that which they do not know. This is usually the case with most people in the world today, since most are not invincibly ignorant of Christ or His one and only Church. Most men who are ignorant have heard but have not investigated, and of course only God would ultimately know the heart of a man, but the point is, ignorance itself is not a golden ticket that you find that gets you into the great chocolate factory in the sky. What is worse than a person's ignorance to the moral truths of God however, are those that want to leave those who are ignorant, regardless of the reason, in their ignorance, leaving them to continue on in their sinful acts. Fr. Romanus Cessario wrote quite rightly, "Some persons even speak about leaving people in ignorance in order to avoid causing them qualms of conscience. To adopt this kind of approach to the moral life results in encouraging others to live a lie" (Sex, Lies and Freud 2007) This of course is not in accord to an authentic Catholic ethos. Jesus told us to proclaim the Gospel to the entire world, not leave men in ignorance of Him in order that they might have eternal life. One other problem that is often forgotten, is that even if a person is not culpable of their evil action, the action remains an evil one, and an evil is committed regardless. Should we stand by while an innocent child plays with a loaded gun? "It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good." (Veritatis Splendor #63)

The second head that seeks to destroy souls on this two headed monster is that of the freedom of conscience, which of course is closely attached to the other head. If you can't get them with the first lie, then feed them a second. This lie is the mentality that one is always justified in their actions, despite what Christ teaches through His Church, because their conscience tells them it is OK. They often quote St. Thomas Aquinas in their rebellion, which more often than not, seek to justify their rejection of one of the Church's teaching regarding sexual morality. Contraception is often justified by the so called , "conscience clause." This clause has been the vehicle used by many Catholics to justify using artificial means to sterilize the conjugal act. I once took a course in a diocesan program which educates catechists and future diaconate candidates where the professor, a priest, taught this to his students, and many of them are now teaching in many Catholic parishes. This again is not an acceptable position for any Catholic to take, for a Catholic is bound to inform their consciences of what Christ and the Church teaches regarding morality, and then follow it.

St. Thomas makes it clear in his work that there is a responsibility for man to inform his intellect to gain knowledge so that he or she can make proper moral decisions in life. Man has a duty to not only seek the truth, but once he has found it, he has a duty to follow it. So for example, a Catholic who has been informed of the Church's teaching on contraception, yet uses the "conscience" escape clause to commit an immoral act, is still responsible for their action. Their conscience has been informed, yet they do not use the virtue of prudence to act morally. The person knows how they should act, yet they are driven by their passions rather than their formed conscience. This is the case with many in the Catholic Church. Most know the Church's consistent teaching on this matter, yet despite this they act rebelliously towards their conscience, not in accord with it. While they freely reject their informed conscience however, they blindly propose that they are following their "conscience." The result is that those who engage in such are living a lie.

Finally, it must be addressed that many people have invented this conscience clause out of the Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae. They quote, "A sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man, and the demand is increasingly made that men should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by a sense of duty."  Yet they ignore what follows in the very same document. "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined upon you" (Matt. 28: 19-20). On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it." "This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power." "It is in accordance with their dignity as persons--that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility--that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth." It seems to me that those who have hidden behind the so called "conscience" clause will have some serious questions to answer before the dread judgment seat of Christ.

We must as Catholics be vigilant against this two headed monster which seeks the ruin of souls. Ignorance is not bliss, and it is not the magic carpet to heaven, and likewise, an informed conscience which ignores the truths of God which are evident in nature and through Christ's Church is not free to ignore these truths. The ignorant must be instructed so that the consciences of men are informed rightly so that they may live a life that is ordered towards God. "In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church. [Cf. Pius XII, radio message, March 23, 1952: AAS 44 (1952) pp. 270-278] For the Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origins in human nature itself." (Dignitatis Humanae #14)

1 comment:

Alexander Greco said...

What often gets missed by those who invoke the "conscience clause" is that when the Church teaches that we must always obey our conscience, it is referring to the 'certain' conscience. This goes back to your mention of prudence. If the person is not prudentially certain (there still exists the prudent fear, not the mere theoretical possibilty, that what is choosen is wrong), then he must not act. As you've indicated in your example of the sexual sins, the Church's teachings on these matters are very clear. I would find it exceedingly difficult for anyone to have a certain conscience to continue to act against the Church's teachings, especially on a continuing basis. It would be different in like an emergency medical situation where the doctor confronts the patient or his family with two medical procedures, one ethical and the other not, and the patient chose the unethical procedure abiding by a certain conscience against the advice of a mere bystander who warned the procedure might be unethical. This is far different than engaging in a continuing contraceptive or homosexual relationship.