God Loves Justice and Hates Iniquity — So We Shall Not Despair

If Catholics forget these truths we will become like ”sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal,” and we will be empty-handed and defenseless in the upcoming final battle.

Detail from Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel
Detail from Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel )

God defends truth and rights — “He has loved justice, and hated iniquity” (Psalm 44:8). The Word of God is truth. Conscience is our guiding light to reach truth. It is our interior compass — indeed, our dignity as humans.

Yet in public affairs the role of conscience has lost its previous status in judging innocence and guilt, or right and wrong. At least that is the impression one may have wherever one lives in the Western world today. Nevertheless, both in minor and greater decisions we follow — or should follow — the rules of conscience. But what is conscience and what are the rules conscience has to follow? 

Conscience and rules are equally important for all our human decisions, whether we acknowledge their existence or not. Not to pay serious attention to this fundamental fact, or even to deny it, is to step away from understanding reality. It may harm the individual reason and (on a larger scale) fragment society, since society is made up of individuals and individual consciences. Conscience is reason, but reason in humans is unreliable because of original sin. Rules are conclusions drawn from reason but will be meaningless in the absence of nature.

Only very few have studied conscience and virtues, nature and natural law during the last part of the 20th century. Servais Pinckaers and William E. May are two eminent theologians from the last century; Pierre Manent is still contributing to Western philosophy from Paris today. Their work helps us to realize that without nature, there can be no law — and without the new law of the Gospel of Christ there can be no rules, and therefore no morality. 

Indeed, Manent says in Natural Law and Human Rights that modern philosophy has rejected the concept of nature. And Nietzsche, according to Hannes Nykänen, has radically refused conscience, thus reminding Western culture of Martin Luther’s understanding of reason and free will. It is with this backdrop in mind that we can understand the objections against Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae (1968) and John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor (1993), which uphold the law of nature and practical reason. 

If there are no absolute moral norms then there cannot be any moral teaching based on nature. As a consequence the whole of human and societal sense collapses and we will see the beginning of a falling apart of “core states” (highly-developed nations). The state means order based on law and justice but if citizens feel betrayed by the state in their expectations of security, education, climate control and health care there will develop a common feeling of distrust. 

One could perhaps sum up the modern distrust by quoting Pierre Manent in “Natural Law and Human Rights” when he said that the Catholic Church in Western Europe ”had to confront a radical contestation of the proper legitimacy and internal meaning of State and Church.”

In some countries, people are much concerned and there is an ongoing discussion about the future of democracy. Sweden still firmly believes in democracy but fears organized crime is shaking the rule of law and order and creating alternative societies. Sweden is waking up to an unwanted and unexpected situation due to a generous immigration policy over time. In some sense our country fails to provide integration in society for migrants in spite of the best intentions. 

Decisions and politics cannot govern society on our short-term opinions because they need law and law needs conscience. Conscience, in opposition to convictions, has the power of divine law, of the law of nature and the law of the New Covenant between man and God in Christ Jesus. He is the Divine Redeemer and King of the Universe. If this is not what people will believe, we are all facing a situation in the world where technology will take over the place of true religion and replace it with illusions and utopia. 

It is only when we have let the light of natural law and the law of the Gospel pass through our personal opinions and convictions that we can begin our road to salvation. We shall gain our eternal life, or lose it, depending on the rules of conscience that inform us about right and wrong. God defends truth and justice — ”He has loved justice, and hated iniquity,” as we saw earlier in Holy Scripture (Psalm 44:8).

The golden rule of Catholic moral teaching is that no evil may be used to obtain a possible good thing as a result of an action. This thinking has been abandoned in favor of consequentialism and utilitarianism, as can be seen in modern bioethics and in regard to the indissolubility of Christian marriage. The popes have the last stand in the battle between good and evil. Conscience must be formed by their teaching or otherwise sin will not be understood and sacramental confession misused. 

It is, I believe, the process of reducing the human and societal importance of human conscience that causes most of the ethical problems in today’s society. Now if the Church becomes more like ”sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal,” as St. Paul has it (1 Corinthians 13:1), we will be empty-handed and defenseless in the upcoming final battle. But we will never be dependent on violence or any single bullet. We have conscience as the most valuable gift of God to live the Kingdom of Christ in this world and be given everlasting bliss in the heavenly world to come. 

Natural law is a sort of hidden treasure at our disposal. It will help us to keep healthy core states and work for a flourishing future — particularly in the area of marriage and family, which may fall under the influence of ”liberal” values!

”Marriage,” says Pierre Manent, ”is the crucial institution of a human world organized according to natural law.” He notices that ”marriage no longer acknowledges the complementarity of the sexes or the natural foundation of family life. Transgenderism continues this rejection of the very idea of human nature and an authoritative natural moral law, where sex is radically separated from ’gender.’”

True enough, but we shall not despair!