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St. Augustine on ‘the primacy of individual conscience’ October 20, 2010

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Basics, General Catholic, scandals.

St. Augustine struggled massively with his conscience on his road to becoming not just a faithful Catholic, but also a Saint and Doctor of the Church.  He remains one of the leading Catholic thinkers of all time.  But, for a very long time, St. Augustine could not reconcile himself with the Church because he had interests (and sins) that cut him off from the Church.  At least St. Augustine was honest – while these failings remained, he would not even try to become a member of the Church.  But he recognized how our thinking can remove us from the Light of Christ and cut us off from God’s Grace, whether we are “in” the Church or not.

From Confessions, Book VIII, Chapter 10:

These people want to be light, not in the Lord, but in themselves, because they think that the nature of the(ir) soul is the same as God.  In this way their darkness becomes denser still, because in their abominable arrogance they have separated themselves still further from you, who are the true Light which englightens every soul born into the world [Jn 1:9].  I say to them ‘Take care what you say, and blush for shame.  Enter God’s presence, and find there enlightenment……’

……when a man tries to make a decision, he has one soul which is torn between conflicting wills. 

From Book IX, Chapter 1:

But you, O Lord, are good.  You are merciful.  You saw how deep I was sunk in death (due to his unwillingness to accept Church doctrine – ED), and it was your power that drained dry the well of corruption in the depths of my heart.  And all that you asked of me was to deny my own will and accept yours.

For St. Augsutine, then, one could either conform one’s mind and heart to the Doctrine of the Faith, or remain outside the Church.  Unfortunately, because of the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Liberty Dignitatus Humanae and a phrase “the primacy of the individual conscience,” many Catholics have presently convinced themselves that it is quite noble and wonderful to reject Church Doctrine, if, after ‘prayerful’ contemplation and review of their conscience, they find that they just cannot ‘accept’ some aspect of that doctrine, the crotchal issues generally being the most popular sources if dissent.  St. Augustine would have found this unthinkable, and would have lambasted modern day dissenters in the same manner he lambasted the Manicheans.  It is impossible to form one’s conscience and arrive at a point outside the Doctrine of the Church if you are a faithful Catholic.  Much doctrine requires a positive assent, including those sexual issues that are so little followed today. 

But, of course, many Catholics have received very bad models in the form of wayward shepherds, who, for whatever reasons, have rejected the Faith themselves.  This was the crux of Cardinal-elect Raymond Burke’s speech, wherein he stated, “Man is tempted to view the magisterium in relation to his individualism and self-pursuit,” he told the large gathering of representatives belonging to the pro-life movement. Referring to the popularly known phrase “cafeteria Catholicism,” he called first and foremost on bishops to uphold the natural moral law, reminding them of Benedict XVI’s exhortation to bishops “to be aware of the challenges of the present hour and have the courage to face them.”  We will never have great adherence to the Doctrine of the Faith among the laity so long as there are numerous bishops, like Gumbleton and Mahoney and  McCarrick and many others, who publically either reject, or simply ignore, Doctrines of the Faith, and who provide cover for others who are even more bold.  This lack of leadership, this equivocation on the Faith and hobnobbing with public sinners like the Kennedy’s, is beyond a scandal, it is a grave sin.  We will not have unity in the Church and adherence to the Truths revealed by Christ until the leadership of the Church provides a strong example.  There is much pruning that will have to occur to get to that point.

So, uh, yeah, Burke’s speech has me kind of fired up.  I pray he is our next Pope.  Or Ranjith.  Or Arinze.  Or maybe Ouellet.  There’s getting to be a number of good choices.


1. FrDarryl - October 20, 2010

It’s always salutary to consult The Theologian, especially when so many dissenters take Blessed Newman’s thoughts on the subject out of context.

Let’s not forget the Holy Father qua Cardinal Ratzinger also had something to say – in Big D!


tantamergo - October 20, 2010

Thanks, Fr. Jordan! Perhaps I’m too narrow in my views regarding ‘religious freedom,’ but it does seem to me that the intent of Dignitatus Humanae, which on the face, does seem to grant great latitude, has been violated by these many people who use personal conscience as a reason to dissent from Church doctrine.

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