Several Kinds of Conscience

One of the cool things about homeschooling is that I end up reading books which I might not otherwise have found.  For high school, my teenage daughter is going through the Seton Home Study School, which I highly recommend for homeschoolers who are looking for an organized curriculum.

One of the books that are used in 10th grade is Catholic Morality, by Fr. John Laux.  In covering this book with my daughter, we read a section on “conscience”, the different types of conscience, and how to properly form a conscience.

With the attack on the Catholic Church from the Obama Administration through the HHS Mandate (which requires Catholic colleges, etc to provide free of charge contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients) the passages on “conscience” from Catholic Morality came to mind.  This book, originally written in the 1930’s,  has both a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur.

From pages 19-20:

4.  We distinguish several kinds of conscience, –

a)  A true conscience speaks the truth; it tells what is truly right and truly wrong.  It is a genuine Echo of the voice of God.

b)  A false or erroneous conscience tells us that something really wrong is right, and something that is really right is wrong.  We may be to blame for this error or not; if we are to blame, our conscience is said to be culpably erroneous; if we are not to blame, it is said to be inculpable erroneous.

c)  If our conscience, whether it speaks the truth or not, speaks with assurance, without a suspicion of error, and its voice carries conviction, we are said to have a certain conscience.

d)  If our conscience has nothing definite to tell us about the goodness or badness of an action, it is called a dubious or doubtful conscience.  To doubt is to suspend judgement.  Hence a doubtful conscience is one that does not function.

5.  We are always bound to follow a certain conscience,  even if false or erroneous.  “All that is not from conscience,” says St. Paul, “is sin” (Rom. 14,23).  The reason is clear.  We are judged by God according as we do good or evil.  Our merit or demerit is dependent on our responsibility.  We are responsible only for the good or evil we know we do.  But knowledge and certainty come from a certain conscience.  Therefore, if we disobey a certain conscience, we make ourselves responsible.  A Protestant who is fully convinced that it is a sin to hear Mass or to speak to a priest would undoubtedly commit sin by so doing.

No authority, ecclesiastical or civil, can make it lawful for us to do what our conscience condemns as certainly wicked.  “God Himself can not make it lawful for a man to act against his own conscience, because to do so without sin is a contradiction in terms.” [AC: my emphases]

6.  We are never allowed to act with a doubtful conscience. – We must clear up the doubt before acting.  I am uncertain, for example, whether a person has paid me a debt which he owed me.  May I while in this frame of mind exact payment from him?  Certainly not; for in this case I would be equally as ready to do wrong as right.

We are bound to form our conscience with great care.  If we have serious grounds for suspecting that our conscience is erroneous, we are strictly obliged to look well into the matter.  We are bound to take all reasonable means, such as good and honest people do take when there is danger of offending God.  We ought to pray for light and consult others, who are more learned or prudent than we are.  If after that our ignorance cannot be overcome, it is plain that we are not responsible for the error into which we have fallen.

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