Friday, December 28, 2007

Follow your conscience, sort of !

I really shouldn't read the Irish Times. Not even when the article is written by that nice Patsy McGarry.

He was close to giving me apoplexy today by drawing my attention to an article in the current (January 2007) issue of the Word magazine on the theme "what is meant by an informed conscience?".

I used to know what a pre-Vatican II "informed conscience" was - very much so. It was a wonderful concept which allowed the Roman Catholic Church to defend itself against the taunt of Protestants that it imposed its views on its flock willy nilly. "Not so", the Church would reply, "every Catholic is not only allowed but is obliged to follow his conscience."

"So", you might ask, "why are we not all Protestants, then?" Indeed, when I heard this line for the first time myself, that is precisely what I wondered.

Ah, but there is a catch, there had to be. And it lies in the definition of conscience for the Catholic. He is obliged to follow his informed conscience. "And what is an informed conscience?", I hear you ask. Well it is a conscience that is informed by the teaching of the Catholic Church. The Catholic is obliged to inform himself of the teaching of the Church, and not only that, but to accept it as a matter of obedience/discipline/faith, or whatever you're having yourself. So there is never any dilemma here. Pity the poor Protestants in their anguish. Martin Luther and Henry VIII sold them a bum product, designed to raise their adrenalin and cholesterol levels and all to no good purpose.

Anyway when Vatican II came along (40 odd years ago) it seemed to me that the pre-Conciliar Catholic position had eased up. You were only obliged to gen up on the Catholic position, in good faith, and then act on the basis of your newly informed conscience, so to speak. Mind you, there were still a lot of unresolved issues here for the Church's authority but the position seemed to be veering towards the human.

John XXIII was a nice man but he mistimed his exit to the other world very badly and left a half formed new theology for the traditional vultures to unpick, a gobful at a time.

And now we're back whence we came.

Fr. Twomey, in his Word article, gives a virtuoso exposition of the traditional informed conscience. The current formulation is neatly summarised in the axiom that to be a Catholic is to accept that the Church cannot teach what is wrong in itself.

Bottom line.

That's the sort of stuff that got it into trouble in the first place and has kept it skewered on the hook of Humanae Vitae for decades.

In the beginning was the Word, and it used to be a most readable and lookable at magazine produced to the highest aesthetic and production standards.

Maybe in keeping with this new-old theology it should now carry Divine Ads, such as for budding exorcists, which the Pope wants to recruit by the bucketful, to give the Devil a taste of his own pointed tail.

I joketh not. Check it out.

As they say in the cinema, I think this is where I came in.

1 comment:

Benny the Bridgebuilder said...

From the Irish Times letters column 29/12/2007:

Madam, - In recent years retired Maynooth professor Fr Vincent Twomey has been basking in the reflected glory of his former professor in Germany, Joseph Ratzinger, and even more so since his professor is now a higher eminence.

Speaking of the Catholic meaning of "informed conscience", he is quoted by Patsy McGarry as declaring that "for a Catholic to act against the clear teaching of the Church, once one knows what that teaching is, is to sin" ( The Irish Times, December 27th).

Apart from the arrogance of accusing a fellow-Christian of sin, Fr Twomey should explain whether or not the millions of Catholics are now in hell who for centuries were told by the Church that for married couples to have intercourse during menstruation was a mortal sin, or were told for 18 centuries that slavery was no a sin at all, until it was condemned as an abomination by the Second Vatican Council.

It is unlikely that Fr Twomey's former professor now has occasion to read The Irish Times, but surely he would be surprised that his former pupil seems not to have read his magisterial comment, as a highly respected and brilliant adviser to Cardinal Frings at the Second Vatican Council, when he summed up perfectly the teaching of the Catholic Church after the council.

He wrote: "Over the Pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one's own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.

"This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism." (Joseph Ratzinger in Herbert Vorgrimler, ed., Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, vol. V, p. 134).

If the Holy Father has told his former pupil that he has changed his mind, why has he not informed the rest of us? - Yours, etc,

Lower Leeson Street,
Dublin 2.

Good on ya, Fr. Seán, whoever you are.

Like I said, time to stop digging!.