Conscience - Ave Maria Press

In the classic Disney movie, Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket is
chosen by the Blue Fairy to be Pinocchio's "official"
conscience. He agrees to his post as, "Lord High
Keeper of the Knowledge of Right and Wrong,
Counselor in Moments of Temptation, and Guide along
the Straight and Narrow Path."
Do each of us have a “Jiminy Cricket” as our conscience to tell us right from wrong?
NO!! Conscience is NOT an inner voice within us that is separate from who we are…Rather, it is a
reflection of our being:
Conscience is not what we have, it is something we are.
It is the operation of the intellect.
“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has
not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice ever
calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil,
sounds in his heart at the right moment….For man has in his
heart a law inscribed by God….His conscience is man’s most
secret core and sanctuary. There he is alone with God voice
echoes in his depth.” Vatican II, Gadium et Spes
To define and clarify…
Conscience: a judgment of reason whereby
the human person recognizes the moral
quality of a concrete act that he is going
to perform, is in the process of performing,
or has already completed.
Conscience refers to our entire being as
creatures who desire to turn towards
goodness and truth.
It is NOT an inner voice that
goes untouched, unexamined
and undeveloped.
Conscience IS molded by our
environment, but must be
evaluated against TRUTH when
making a decision.
Conscience IS NOT a feeling, it is an act
of the intellect and will that must be
examined against truth before final
judgment can be made.
The Latin root for the word “conscience” means to know.
It deals with our acts of judging based on our KNOWledge of right and wrong,
Conscience vs. “Consciousness”:
• Consciousness refers to a general awareness of ourselves, other people and our
• Conscience refers to our awareness (consciousness) of right and wrong,
The job of the conscience is to evaluate
whether or not a particular act is good
or evil, and to advise accordingly.
Again, Conscience is not a
feeling; it is a practical
judgment; an operation of the
intellect that must be examined
against TRUTH.
“Conscience enables one to assume responsibility for the acts performed.”
Review of the Moral Act:
There are three basic components for determining whether an action is moral or immoral:
1. The object chosen
2. The intention (the “end”)
3. The circumstances surrounding the action
“A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end,
and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even
if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting ‘in order to
be seen by men’).
The object of choice can by itself vitiate [corrupt] an act in its entirety.
There are some concrete acts– such as fornication– that it is always
wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will,
that is, a moral evil.” CCC 1755
Conditions that Lessen Guilt…
“Violence is an external force applied by one person on another to compel that person to perform an
action against his or her will.”
• “Fear is a disturbance of mind resulting from some present or imminent danger.”
• “Concupiscence is the rebellion of passions [emotions] against reason.” It is the tendency of
human nature toward evil.
Ignorance is lack of knowledge in a person capable of possessing such knowledge. There are
two types of ignorance:
Vincible Ignorance is that which can and should be dispelled. For example, if someone thinks it might be wrong not
to eat meat on Fridays in Lent, but purposely never asks a priest or a friend about it, then he still commits sin if he
eats meat on those days.
Invincible Ignorance is that which cannot be dispelled. In other words, someone is ignorant of his own ignorance.
“We can sum up by saying that invincible ignorance eliminates the moral responsibility for a human act; vincible
ignorance does not eliminate moral responsibility, but may lessen it.”
Divisions of Conscience…
True (correct) vs. Erroneous
• True (correct): one which indicates correctly the
goodness or badness of a moral conduct
• Erroneous: one which falsely indicates that a good
action is evil, or an evil action is good
Certain vs. Doubtful
• Certain: one which dictates a course of
action in clear terms without fear of
• Doubtful: one which leaves a person
undecided as to the proper course of
**We must always follow a certain
A person with a false conscience may/may not be guilty of an evil act
depending on whether his ignorance was vincible or invincible.
Did he try to know the truth and yet remained in error?- invincible; he
is innocent.
OR Was he negligent in seeking the truth or tried NOT to seek the truth?vincible; not innocent
Lax vs. Scrupulous
• Lax: forms moral judgments on insufficient
grounds; may be persuaded that great sins are
• Scrupulous: when someone sees evil where
there is none
When our conscience is honestly and correctly formed, we MUST follow it in every circumstance!
But, in order to follow our conscience, we must always seek to FORM our conscience…
Steps to help our conscience grow and be attuned to God’s will.
1. Find the facts.
2. Examine your motives.
3. Think of the possible effects.
4. Consider alternatives.
5. What does the law have to say?
6. What is the reasonable thing to do?
7. What does your own experience and that of other people say about the issue?
8. What would Jesus have done?
9. What is the teaching of the Church?
10. Pray for guidance.
11. Admit that you sometimes sin and might be wrong.
12. After all of this, follow your conscience. “Everyone who knows what is the right thing to do
and does not do it commits a sin.” James 4:17
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