Reading in Good Conscience
Praise from Father Richard John Neuhaus is high praise indeed.
Here’s what Father Neuhaus has to say in the January issue of First Things about the new book by Legionary Father Thomas Williams, “Knowing Right from Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience” (with thanks to The Catholic Conscience blog, which posted Father Neuhaus’s comments in an entry Jan. 3):
“You may have run into the claim that the Catholic teaching on conscience is really quite circular: You must act according to conscience; your conscience must be rightly formed in accord with truth; the Church teaches the truth,” writes Father Neuhaus. “Thus the upshot is, critics say, you must do what the Church tells you to do, and so much for all the fine talk about conscience.”
Continues Father Neuhaus, “There is indeed much confusion about conscience. Some think of conscience as a little built-in moral regulator that scolds you when you do wrong and commends you when you do right. Much like the cute cartoons in which a little angel is seated on one shoulder and a little devil on the other. Others confuse conscience with sincerity. To act in conscience is to determine your deepest feelings on a matter and to act accordingly. Rather, conscience is a God-given capacity and desire to seek the truth and, working together with the gifts of reason and will, to act on the truth.”
“What then is the role of the Church’s teaching?” Father Neuhaus asks. “The answer has to do not so much with conscience as with faith. If one believes that, as Jesus promised, the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit in her teaching, the Church is an indispensable source of truth, including moral truth. If one does not believe that, one is, to that extent, not a Catholic Christian. Conscience does not establish truth — whether by automatic moral monitor or by sincerity of feelings — but enables us to discern and respond to truth. It is not simply a matter of doing what the Church tells you to do. It is a matter of acting in conscience, in the hope that one’s conscience is formed by truth.”
“These are among the questions very deftly and persuasively treated by Fr. Thomas Williams in his new book, Knowing Right from Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience,” Father Neuhaus writes. “Reading it is time spent in good conscience.”
— Tom McFeely