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Thoughts on Conscience and the E-Magisterium | Catholic Life

Thoughts on Conscience and the E-Magisterium

Catholics online hate conscience. We really do. It does not matter how much the Church tells us that conscience is important, we want to make up our own absolute rules for ourselves and each other!

My husband speculates that perhaps 25% of people should be affiliated with a religious order. That way they could have the order and strictness which they need imposed upon them through their religious order without feeling the need to impose it upon others. Since this is not the case, we have something like 24% of the population walking around without the structure that they need. And so they (we?) cope by sacrificing conscience in the name of truth, unity, fidelity to the Magisterium or many other seemingly good causes.

I am certainly one of those who suffers from a natural aversion from conscience and a strong inclination to have one universally applicable, fundamentalist truth.

And so I remind myself of Vatican II:

In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

In the past I have been accused of being overly scrupulous for posting about areas in which I am convicted of my need to more fully follow Christ. I was quite surprised because it was quite clear to me that my tendency was much more toward laziness than toward scrupulosity. But when my conscience directs me differently than another’s, it is quite natural for them to assume that my conscience must be in overdrive.

When faced with online debates among Catholics who differ on questions of conscience I try to recall the words of the catechism:

It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience. This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection:

If I am confused about the practical application of Catholic teaching in my daily life, it is most likely because I am spending too much time listening to others. Confusion and uneasiness are best dealt with by closing out the online pseudo-bishops and spending time in silence by myself. There is no point in me trying to convince others that it really is okay for them to space their children out a bit more for the sake of sanity, because I cannot know what only their conscience can tell them. And there is no point in me worrying about those who tell me to chill out and drink a Sprite, because they do not have access to my conscience.

What do you think? Have I just given up too soon in the quest to find that website filled with people who can give the absolute list of “just reasons” for using NFP?

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9 Responses to “Thoughts on Conscience and the E-Magisterium”

  1. Stephen M. Bauer 19. Jun, 2010 at 4:05 am #

    As presented, perhaps you are over-polarizing the concept of conscience? Conscience is not simply a matter of my own knee-jerk preferences, as opposed to the church’s. The church teaches that it is incumbant on every Christian to maintain an informed conscience. This requires effort–it may involve prayer, reflection, study, discussion, study of church and other teaching, and so on. That is the part that most people miss.

    The quote from Vatican II is fantastic. But how many people take conscience so seriously or are able to? I believe that you do. And I do not doubt that you personally engage in the serious formation of conscience. And I am going to assume that you already practice the interiority that the church speaks of. I think that you are an ultra consciencious, serious, responsible Catholic. Your post may be true for people like yourselves, but most people are not like you.

    Also, Newman writes that the church teaches for the general case. They know that each instance of something has it’s own specific circumstances. Newman states that it is impossible or the church to teach to, or even anticipate, the specifics of every case. That is why the
    church insists that the moral decision must be made by the person in the situation.

    Incidentally, I didn’t understand your last paragraph, the reference to “‘just reasons’ for using NFP?”

    By the way, America Magazine recently published this:


    • Rae 24. Jun, 2010 at 8:10 am #

      I thought quite a bit about your comment and tried to figure out where we’re not understanding each other. It finally occurred to me that perhaps you read this as saying that one’s conscience should override the teaching of the Church? When I wrote “E-Magisterium” I was referring to the almost rabid-Catholics online who like to tell others exactly how everything is supposed to be, as if there were no need for individual discernment about appropriate application. This seems to be a prominent feature of Catholic forums, facebook groups, blogs, etc. I suppose that it is only natural that those who have such black-and-white views are attracted to such places in order to hash out their absolutes.

      My major problem with what I have termed the “e-magisterium” is that they fail to recognize the complete truth of what the real Magisterium has said: we must form our consciences according to truth and we must follow our consciences as individuals.

      So the last question about finding the absolute list of just reasons for using NFP was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the multitude of people online who insist that there is widespread abuse of NFP in the Church (meaning that *too many* people are abstaining and avoiding pregnancy). Such people seek or offer an absolute list of “just reasons” to justify the use of NFP, even though the Church has clearly stated that this is for married couples to discern.

      That is a great article. Thanks for the link!

  2. Stephen M. Bauer 19. Jun, 2010 at 4:15 am #

    By the way, in my personal and psychological make-up, I, like you, am very bound to church teach and less bound to my own personal preferences. I am very interested in the subject of when it is permissible to follow one’s conscience against church teaching.

    • Rae 24. Jun, 2010 at 8:13 am #

      Would you like to write a post on when you think it is permissible to follow conscience against Church teaching? I’d love to exchange views on the topic! I am planning on writing a post about one of the main areas where I would almost certainly be at risk of violating Church teaching, should such a situation arise. I think that it is better for me to talk about myself in the concrete than to simply blather on about abstract justification. But I love reading what others have to say!

  3. Stephen M. Bauer 19. Jun, 2010 at 4:33 am #

    I hope I understood your post correctly. Upon looking at it again, I see that you desribe your self as more authoritarian (submissive) with respect to church teaching as opposed to having a need to evaluate and then freely accept a moral teaching.

    Needless to say, I enjoy your discussion.

    • Rae 24. Jun, 2010 at 8:14 am #

      Well, maybe I’m a combination? I have the need to understand moral teaching, but then my inclination is to shove it down other’s throats once it makes perfect sense to me! So I try to make a special point of respecting others consciences, even when I disagree with their conclusions.

  4. Joy 19. Jun, 2010 at 6:01 am #

    I think you are striking a good balance, looking to Church’s teaching for core framework and learned advice for how to apply, but understanding somethings when the voices seem to be in conflict you are going to have to ‘get quiet’ and discern what you believe to be right in this situation.

    • Rae 24. Jun, 2010 at 8:15 am #


  5. Melinda Tibbitts 22. Oct, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

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