Reflection on Article 1801 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, 1801.
Conscience can remain in ignorance or make erroneous judgments. Scripture reminds us that while the Lord calls us to perfection, only God is perfect (cf. Psalm 18:30; Matthew 5:48; Mark 10:18; Romans 3:10; James 1:17). With the Psalmist we pray: Acquit me, forgive me, cleanse me, of hidden faults (cf. Psalm 19:12). We are reminded how important it is to rightly form our conscience. Just because our conscience might remain in ignorance or make erroneous judgments does not mean it must remain in ignorance and error. With effort and help we can inform our conscience and correct errors. The world may say “there is no such thing as sin.” We worship beneath the Cross. We know the price of our redemption. Christ died for sinners, for us, to redeem us (cf. Romans 5:6-10; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Peter 3:18). We form our conscience rightly before His Cross, together with Sacred Scripture especially the Commandments (cf. Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21) and Beatitudes (cf. Matthew 5:2-12; Luke 6:20-23), the cardinal and moral virtues and vices, as well as the sure and certain teaching of Mother Church as Christ Jesus the Lord has commanded: He who hears you hears Me (cf. Luke 10:16; John 12:48). Some people might complain that “keeping the Commandments” and following the teachings of Mother Church is a “legalistic” form of morality. We should always recall, however, that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself warns us that we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees who were very conversant with the Commandments of God which He did not come to abolish but fulfill (cf. Matthew 5:17,20). The virtues and virtuous behavior correspond to our very nature, the way God made us, and are “internal” not from the “outside.” The Commandments of God likewise are “internal” written not merely on tablets of stone but on our very hearts (cf. Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).
Ignorance and error of conscience are not always free of guilt. While there is such a thing as invincible ignorance, there is also vincible ignorance. Personal culpability (responsibility) is less or non-existent in the case of insurmountable invincible ignorance of conscience. This sort is normally found in those who have particular mental defect(s), who may actually do or desire bad or evil things, but are nonetheless not responsible. Most of us, however, do not suffer from such acute forms of mental incapacity and are responsible agents who should “know better.” Bad habits and bad example tend to deaden the keenness of conscience, but we are responsible for our bad habits. Christ the Lord has come to set us free by imparting to us the truth, including moral truth (cf. John 8:32; 14:6).
God bless you!
Father John Arthur Orr


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