Reflection on Article 1800 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, 1800.
Human beings must always obey the certain judgment of conscience.
Our human nature, as human beings, includes our rationality. We are rational animals. We are able to know the truth which sets us free from ignorance and irrational fears (cf. John 8:32). The judgment of conscience is an act of our intelligence that something is good and should be done or evil and should not be done or desired (or should be repented if already done…). There have been those throughout the centuries who have denied that there is such a thing as human nature, let alone any concrete instantiations of such. Steven Pinker (b. 1954) who teaches psychology at Harvard University has addressed this in his volume The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (New York: Penguin, 2003). While nearly two hundred pages can not be summarized here, let it suffice to say that the ideas of: John Locke (+1704) “blank slate”; Jean-Jacques Rousseau (+1778) “noble savage”; Rene’ Descartes (+1650) “ghost in the machine” as if our soul is within us but distinct from us; seem to have all been internalized by those who would deny that there is anything substantial to the idea of “human nature” which is so much a part of morality and our ability to make judgments according to conscience. We are not just beasts of the field or fish of the sea, but human beings and we ought to act accordingly. God has made us specifically to live a certain way.
That we are to obey the certain judgment of conscience implies many things: that we can submit (obey) to the certain judgments of conscience; that certain judgments can be made; that there is such a thing as conscience; that conscience can make certain judgments. Our ability to submit, that is obey (or not) involves human freedom. When we abuse our freedom we sin, refusing to do the good we ought to do, desire… Hopefully no one has forced you to read this. No one has forced me to write this. Free will is a bedrock of our very human nature made in the image of God who likewise freely created and redeems us (cf. Genesis 1:27). A skeptical age only allows for one truth, namely that there is no truth. Accordingly, if there is no truth there can be no true judgements, including moral judgments, of the quality of our acts and desires which is the stuff of conscience. As rational followers of Jesus Christ we are not skeptics but realists who recognize Him and His call to holiness to be the way, the truth and the life (cf. John 14:6). Our “yes” is to Him and our “no” is to sin, Satan, and the glamour of evil (cf. Matthew 5:37).
God bless you!
Father John Arthur Orr


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