Beyond Blurred Phrases-Paragraph 303

This article is the second part on the controversial paragraphs in the latest Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”.

The aim of such a writing is to further clarify the matter and to ensure that the faithful understand that such a paragraph seems not to square with what Catholicism has always thought on conscience and thus seeks to invent the so called “creative conscience”, which is a heresy all together.

Paragraph 303 of Amoris Laetitia states (1): Recognizing the influence of such concrete factors, we can add that individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage. Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace. Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.

In St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor n. 56 does not sees the role of conscience as being an interpreter and emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object.

(2) A separation, or even an opposition, is thus established in some cases between the teaching of the precept, which is valid in general, and the norm of the individual conscience, which would in fact make the final decision about what is good and what is evil. On this basis, an attempt is made to legitimize so-called “pastoral” solutions contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium, and to justify a “creative” hermeneutic according to which the moral conscience is in no way obliged, in every case, by a particular negative precept.

No one can fail to realize that these approaches pose a challenge to the very identity of the moral conscience in relation to human freedom and God’s law.

The issues raised with regards to paragraph 303 have been put into perspective in the closing statement on the 5th doubt written by the Dubia (which seeks clarification on such matters):

(3)“Do not commit adultery” is seen as just a general norm. In the here and now, and given my good intentions, committing adultery is what God really requires of me. Under these terms, cases of virtuous adultery, lawful murder and obligatory perjury are at least conceivable.

This would mean to conceive of conscience as a faculty for autonomously deciding about good and evil and of God’s law as a burden that is arbitrarily imposed and that could at times be opposed to our true happiness.

However, conscience does not decide about good and evil. The whole idea of a “decision of conscience” is misleading. The proper act of conscience is to judge and not to decide. It says, “This is good,” “This is bad.” This goodness or badness does not depend on it. It acknowledges and recognizes the goodness or badness of an action, and for doing so, that is, for judging, conscience needs criteria; it is inherently dependent on truth.

References:

  1. Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 8 pages 234-235 paragraph 303
  2. Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, n. 56
  3. Seeking Clarity: A Plea to Untie the Knots in “Amoris Laetitia” (Dubia document) Doubt number: 5

 

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