Reflection on Article 1799 of the Catechism

My dear parishioners,
Peace! Under headings of Judgment, Formation, Choice in Accord, Erroneous Judgment and In Brief, the Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses “conscience” in twenty-nine passages. Here we consider CCC, 1799.
That we have the ability to choose right or wrong, good or evil, is shows us the power and ability of conscience as well as the freedom which we enjoy as human beings. When we choose poorly, what is wrong or evil, and act accordingly we abuse our freedom and sin.
Right judgments of conscience conform with reason and the divine law. Reason is another way of speaking about our ability to know and to think. God, in whose image we have been made, is all knowing and in Sacred Scripture is referred to as being wise, all knowing and even reason Himself (cf. John 1:1; Romans 16:27; Hebrews 4:13). Some, following John Calvin (+1564), believe that our human nature is so fallen as a consequence of Original Sin that our natural ability to know, to think, to reason has been destroyed (total depravity of man). Pope Saint John Paul II (+2005) following Pope Pius XII (among others) has reminded us that the human spirit soars like a dove on the wings of both faith and reason (cf. Fides et ratio, 14 September, 1998; Humani generis, 12 August, 1950).
Erroneous judgements of conscience depart from both reason and divine law. Law, human, divine or ecclesiastical, is an “ordinance of reason” (cf. Summa Theologiae I-II Q. 90, A. 1; as cited by Leo XIII Libertas praestantissimum (1888) and CCC § 1951). As followers of Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life (cf John 14:6), we all have a grave duty to defend natural and supernatural truths (cf. HG, 9). While the sad consequences of Original Sin (suffering, death, ignorance, and a tendency to do evil/concupiscence) do make it more difficult for us to know the truth, including the moral truth of the good or evil of some deed(s) or desire(s), the gifts of grace, faith and revelation, together with the sure and certain teaching of Mother Church can allow us to have “a firm certainty” and “freedom from all error” in our judgments of conscience (cf. HG, 3). If we disregard the Decalogue or Ten Commandments we will make erroneous judgments of conscience. If we disregard the Natural Law we will make erroneous judgments of conscience. If we doubt that we can know the truth and that the truth will set us free it will be difficult, if not impossible, to follow the Lord Jesus to Heaven (cf. John 8:32; 15:5). While the “new atheists” (Sam Harris (b. 1967), Richard Dawkins (b. 1941), Daniel Dennett (b. 1942), and Christopher Hitchens (+2011)) deny it, Holy Mother Church does not place any opposition between the truths of faith and reason because all truth comes from and leads back to God, the first truth (cf. Summa Contra Gentiles I, ch. 1).
God bless you!
Father John Arthur Orr

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