The Church Teaches – and Judges – Consciences

Fr. Timothy Vaverek: dictates of conscience may be binding, but not all judgments are. We must be guided by the Magisterium.

The Diet of Worms in 1521 was an imperial council that was convened to decide the fate of Martin Luther. It was held in Worms, Germany. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V presided over the diet. It was a critical moment in the Protestant Reformation not because of Martin Luther himself but because of the fire storm his erroneous words on conscience released.  We are now again in a similar point in history.

He said these words when challenged about what he held as authoritative,

“Since then your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns or without teeth. Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason- I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other- my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”

Catholics are not a people of Scripture alone but of Tradition, Magisterium, and Scripture in concert.  All three must abide since they all come from the same source.  One can not contradict the other and this continuity through the Holy Spirit is what has maintained the Church for two thousand years no matter the cultural demands or personal opinions of leaders.

Luther, as a Catholic priest, elevated his personal conscience, based on his innovative use of Scripture “alone”, to stand against not just the priests, bishops, and pope of his time (we must admit that they may have been fallible in their personal opinions just like Luther) but he also elevated it against Christ’s Church and its 1500 years of infallible teaching. Today it seems we now have multiple “Luther’s” saying the same thing and the results will likely be the same. Disunity.

The issue isn’t that the Church hasn’t taught and declared infallibly on this topic it’s the fact that many now want to follow their own innovations like Luther.  As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, this is form of rupture and not continuity.  Elevating erroneous conscience improperly formed can only lead to disunity which was the result of the Reformation. If we separate ourselves from the teachings of Christ through his Church then we separate ourselves from the infallible magisterium.

The CCC is quite clear on this point and I recommend a slow reading and meditation on these paragraphs 1776-1802.

Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings. (CCC 1783)

This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.

Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct. (CCC 1791-1792)

It should be quite clear to any bishop that a discussion between a priest and a couple living in adultery should result in their conscience being informed by the teaching of the Church resulting in the removal of ignorance and the knowledge of their full personal responsibility of their sin.  Any other result indicates the priest did not share what the Church teaches or taught that it wasn’t binding.  Reason and truth should prevail in relation to conscience not lies to make someone feel better.

Source: The Church Teaches – and Judges – Consciences – The Catholic Thing


About Rob Brock

A Catholic convert with a fire for discipleship, catechesis, and formation that leads to transformed lives in Christ. View all posts by Rob Brock

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