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St. Petersburg State University
Faculty of Philosophy
St. Petersburg Philosophical Society
Council of Young Scientists
Department of Ethics
Department of the History of Philosophy
Center for Medieval Culture Studies
St. Petersburg Society for the Study of Cultural Heritage of Nicholas of Cusa
St. Petersburg Society of Martin Luther
International historical-philosophical seminar
"The history of conscience in the European thought"
in frames of "Days of Philosophy in St. Petersburg"
22-23 November 2013, St. Petersburg State University
November 22 (Friday)
Vasilievsky Ostrov, Mendeleevsakay Linia,5
Faculty of Philosophy, auditorium 24 (main hall)
11.00. - 12.30. - Lecture (Master Class) Prof. Marcia L. Colish (Frederick B. Artz
Ptrofessor of History emerita, Oberlin College, Lecturer in History, Yale University, USA):
"Synderesis, Conscience, and Their Medieval Transformations" (focuses on the recovery of the
synderesis doctrine from Jerome via Peter Lombard and its treatment in relation to conscience
and free will by scholastics through John Duns Scotus).
Prof. Marcia L. Colish: After teaching there from 1963 to 2001, Marcia L. Colish retired
from Oberlin College as Frederick B. Artz Professor of History emerita. Since then she has been
a Visiting Fellow, Visiting Professor, and Lecturer in History at Yale University. She has been a
Visiting Scholar at Harvard University and at the Weston School of Theology (1982), Etienne
Gilson Lecturer at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto (2000), and a Phi Beta
Kappa Visiting Scholar (2006-07). She holds a Ph.D. from Yale (1965) and an honorary D.H.L.
from Grinnell College (1999). The Yale Graduate School awarded her its Wilbur Cross Medal in
Ms. Colish's chief scholarly interest is the intellectual history of the Middle Ages,
particularly the fortunes of the classical and Christian traditions, as well as their pre-medieval
roots and carryover in early modern thought. Aside from Peter Lombard, 2 vols. (Leiden: Brill,
1994), recipient of the Haskins medal of the Medieval Academy of America (1998), the project
for which she received the Guggenheim Fellowship, her major publications include The Mirror
of Language: A Study in the Medieval Theory of Knowledge (Yale UP, 1968; 2nd rev. ed.,
University of Nebraska Press, 1983); The Stoic Tradition from Antiquity to the Early Middle
Ages, 2 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 1985; rev. Paperback ed., 1990); Medieval Foundations of the
Western Intellectual Tradition, 400-1400 (Yale UP, 1997; paperback ed., 1999; new printing,
2003; Italian trans., 2001; Chinese trans., 2009); Remapping Scholasticism (Toronto: Pontifical
Institute of Mediaval Studies, 2000); and Ambrose's Patriarchs: Ethics for the Common Man
(University of Notre Dame Press, 2005; paperback ed., 2005). Previously published papers have
been collected in Studies in Scholasticism (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006) and The Fathers and
Beyond: Church Fathers between Ancient and Medieval Thought (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008).
In addition to the appointments noted above, Ms. Colish has held grants from the
American Council of Learned Societies (1974, 1987) and the American Philosophical Society
(1998); a Writing Residency at the Rockefeller Foundation's Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio (1995);
and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities ( 1968-69, 1981-82), the
Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin (1975-75), the National
Humanities Center (1981-82), the School of History at the Institute for Advanced Study in
Princeton ( 1986-87), and the Woodrow Wilson Center (1994-95).
November 23 (Saturday)
Vasilievsky Ostrov, Mendeleevsakay Linia, 5
Faculty of Philosophy, auditorium 108
Dmitri A. Gusev (Assistant of Professor, Department of Ethics, St. Petersburg
State University): The forms and methods of interiorization of moral norms in the history of
Assoc. Prof. Elena V. Alymova (PhD, Assoc. Professor of the Department of
History of Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy, St. Petersburg State University) Oedipus’
Daimon as Paradigm (Sophocles Oedipus the King, vv. 1192 – 1194) - correspondence report
Prof. Marcia L. Colish (Frederick B. Artz Ptrofessor of History emerita, Oberlin
College, Lecturer in History, Yale University, USA): Seneca on Acting against Conscience.
Ercole Erculei (Ph.D. student in Philosophy, graduate assistant and tutor at the
Institute for Philosophy, Chair for Medieval Philosophy, University of Bonn): The Impartial
Rule of the Conscience: John Chrysostom's Reflections on "to syneidos"
PhD Marina Vitalyevna Rukavishnikova (Ph.D., Senior Lecturer of Moral and
Law Department, Shuya’ Filial of Ivanovo State University): Conscience in the understanding
of the authors of "Philokalia"
Assoc. Prof. Konstantin Bandurovsky (Ph.D., Associate Professor of Russian
anthropological school, the Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow): Conscientia
and synderesis in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.
Prof. Oleg Ernestovich Dushin (Doctor of Philosophy, Professor of the Department of
History of Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy, St. Petersburg State University): The Conscience and
will in the ethical doctrine of Duns Scotus.
Assoc. Prof. Mikhail Khorkov (Assoc. Prof., Dr., Senior Research Fellow, Department
of the History of Western Philosophy, Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Science): Selfconsciousness and conscience in the writings of Henry Suso and John Tauler
Natalia Eremeeva (student of the Department of the History of Philosophy,
Faculty of Philosophy, St. Petersburg State University): The conscience as the voice of God in
the teaching of Martin Luther.
Dmitry Gusev
The Forms and Mechanism of Moral Norms Interiorization in the History of Ethics
If you look at the history of ethics as an evolution of the concepts of morality, a
significant (and dominant) number of moral theories holds attempts to conceptualize forms of
internal moral norms, in other words, the moral norms internalization.
The concern is that, as a rule, moral norms, social obligations are described as external
entities in relation to the subject. The subject is aware of their existence, and in one way or
another she rationalizes her behavior in accordance with their requirements.
However, this scheme is not valid in the sense that the subject must somehow relate to the
external regulatory her inner desire to comply with its own understanding of the rules as those
that must be followed regardless of her own intentions or real pragmatic contexts.
Antique ethical thought in some ways anticipates Kant's idea of the necessity for the
moral imperative, which could be filled in the gap in the structure of moral action (or the
structure of moral judgment). Thus, Epicurus stated that the primary authority of the
consciousness is experience, and therefore the action is based on the personal experience of
pleasure or displeasure as the criterion of adequacy of what is happening with the subject.
Personal experience of pleasure, coupled with knowledge about the experience of enjoyment of
others, gives, according to Epicurus, the true understanding of a virtuous act, leading to the good
per se. Pleasure, interpreted as inter-subjective principle suggests a simple but effective scheme
of internalization of the experience of others in order to create the general principles of social
Another source of ideas on the topic of effective moral internalization is the philosophy
of David Hume. The moral sense, being a part of the experience, does not lead to action. Being
able to assess retrospectively the situation or action, it however lacks the ability to assess the
future. In addition, the Hume’s subject is devoid of any reliable knowledge about the presence of
identical moral feelings in others, and thus is trapped within their own experience. Hume tries to
overcome this gap by introducing the concept of "benefit" in which everyone rationalizes the
positive effect of moral acts. In comparison with Epicurus, Hume complicates the circuitry and
sensory dimension of subjectivity.
However, if we set the goal to systematize methods of internalization of moral norms, it
would appear that it is possible to allocate certain logic in the appearance of the various concepts
of internal regulatory mechanism. The logic of the development of ideas about ways of
internalization can be represented by four concepts.
1. Daimon (demon) Socrates. It is difficult to imagine that Socrates' question is about the
form of internalization. The figure of his "demon" is important as one of the first known in the
European tradition type of internal self-control. Socrates describes the demon: “Thanks to the
divine destiny from early childhood, I accompanied a genius - this is the voice that when he
heard me, always no matter what I was going to do, points me to back down but never to
anything does not encourage me”. It is clear that this is a rudimentary overconscious complex
entity capable of certifying that should be produced actions outside of the operational and local
needs of the subject. Is there a reference to external norms? Socrates himself admits that the
daemon passes the opinion and warning of the gods, which in itself testifies to the sending of a
broad regulatory context.
2. Conscience in the Medieval Christian tradition. Even for Augustine's conscience it
stands for the complex subject, in connection with which there are many interpretations of the
idea of conscience. On the one hand, it is independent mechanism for distinguishing what is and
what ought to be, independent of external factors and authorities. On the other hand, the
conscience must be developed; it is not purchased by the subject. The presence of conscience
becomes a feature of the Christian, and allows her to connect and harmonize the divine law and
her own actions. Conscience, unlike the demon of Socrates can control past decisions and future
actions. The general principle of conscience is to make sense of relatedness with the idea of a
specific action of Grace, that is, the context of God's will and plan.
3. Duty in modern European thought (especially in the philosophy of Kant). Duty as a
bonding mechanism of the moral sense, and the moral imperative (formal principle of action)
occurs at the boundary of the inner and outer. Kant derives in some way the values of the
Enlightenment, which is seeks for "the kingdom of the mind". So the question for Kant between
internal and external is removed due to the fact that the subjects of the action are the intelligent
beings. The differences in their actions are possible only in terms of the structure of the action,
but not the principle. The duty unites all rational agents.
4. Finally, the last step in the development of ways of internalization can be considered
the idea of responsibility. With the loss of faith in reason as the guarantor of the adequacy of the
subject’s act and the collapse of global values and normative systems, a situation in which the
return to an independent local and compact test principle of action (judgment) occurs.
Responsibility, coming from the field of law, copes with this task, while liberalizing actions of
the subject in relation to specific values and principles, but by introducing a global resonance of
the subject’s acts to external regulatory systems. As noted by P. Ricoeur, everyone is guilty of all
and responsible for everything.
Elena V. Alymova
Oedipus’ Daimon as Paradigm (Sophocles Oedipus the King, vv. 1192 – 1194)
In the proposed report I am concerned with the analysis of the tragedy of Sophocles
Oedipus the King in the perspective or rather retrospective of the concept of conscience which
being not appropriate to the full extent for the description of the moral attitude characteristic of
the Ancient Greek culture could be used as the starting point for the discussion of the
phenomenon so marked by significant worth for the Occidental Christian world that deserves a
careful comprehensive study which would not only treat the developed form of the concept in
question but would trace it down to the pre-forms or analogies which can be found in the
previous but closely related cultures.
The study of an important phenomenon is necessarily evolves in the historical context
which is constructed as a continuous tradition or to the contrary as an interrupted morphological
succession. The student of such a phenomenon can proceed in two different ways: or making
explicit the sameness or making explicit the difference.
So I intend to read the text of Sophocles against the background of the key concepts such
as μοῖρα, δαίμων, δόξα, δοκεῖν, εἰδέναι, ὁρᾶν, ἀλήθεια (destiny, daimon, appearance, to appear,
to know/to be aware of, to see/to understand, the truth). My contention is that the syntax of this
tragedy, the connection of the crucial events is designed according to the main idea of the
perception/seeing with the mind’s eye – the knowing of the Self. This idea can be viewed as
analogous although far distant of the concept of conscience.
I start to discourse from the verses 1192 – 1194 of the forth stasimon (choral song):
τὸν σόν τοι παράδειγμ’ ἔχων,
τὸν σὸν δαίμονα, τὸν σόν, ὦ
τλάμων Οἰδιπόδα, βροτῶν
οὐδὲν μακαρίζω
O, miserable Oedipus, having your destiny as a paradigm nothing mortal I pronounce
In the following part of the essay I put forth my explication of the plot fixing its crucial
points. This explication is to corroborate my idea according to which this tragedy cannot at all be
understood in the terms of the tragedy of fate but rather represents the concern of its author with
the problem of the knowing/cognition of the Self and the problem of identity intimately related
with the previous one.
My arguments are based on the study of the mentioned above key words in the context of
the tragedy and other contexts applicable to this discussion, for example, Plato who as I sustain
has taken up the same problem of the knowing/cognition of the Self and developed it in the
framework of his own philosophy.
I draw attention to the numerous ambiguities which can easily be traced in the text. All of
them are symptoms of the equivocal identity of the protagonist. At the same time the truth is
obvious practically from the very beginning but being so evident it isn’t being realized by
Oedipus who commits himself with confidence to the evidence of appearance (δόξα, δοκεῖν) and
the false conception of himself.
So the tragedy unfolds gradually as a series of movements from the False Self to the True
Self, from the possibility to see with eyes to the possibility to behold mentally being blind
physically. I call it the odyssey of Oedipus comparable with that of Odysseus himself and the
journey described by Parmenides.
The selfness of the protagonist is his destiny (μοῖρα, δαίμων). Oedipus is proceeding
forward trying to investigate the murder of Laios but simultaneously he is moving just in the
opposite direction – to himself. This movement takes place in his memory which serves as the
topos of personal identity. Similar is the movement of the time which at first sight is heading
forward but really is evolving to the past.
So I intend to demonstrate that the discussed tragedy presents «the poetically realized
content of the whole epoch» (Sergej Averincev).
Marcia L. Colish
Seneca on Acting against Conscience
According to ancient eudaimonistic ethics, we naturally seek the good, once we recognize
it. Bad ethical choices stem from incorrect intellectual judgments. This theory presents a
conundrum which ancient philosophers find hard to explain: How can our moral choices conflict
with what we judge to be good? The Stoics, too, are eudaimonists, and raise the stakes. The
Stoic sage, judging everything correctly, always acts in harmony with reason and nature. His
fixed intentionality toward the good makes him incapable of error or backsliding. The sage has a
consistently good conscience, a theme developed in particular by the Roman Stoics. And, since
they intellectualize the will, they face with heightened difficulty the question of how we can act
against conscience. One of them, Seneca, offers a solution, which he presents as compatible with
the claim that the Stoic sage makes the rational law of nature the law of his own being.
To the extent that other philosophical schools treat the problem of acting against
conscience they invoke akrasia or weakness of will, a doctrine rejected by the Stoics from
Chrysippus on up.1 Whether or not they subscribe to the monopsychism of the Ancient Stoa,
later Stoics agree that when we make bad choices, having misjudged evils or matters of
indifference to be goods, our will acts at full strength. This act of will is conscious, not absentminded or compulsive. Seneca does elaborate on the idea of weak assent.2 In adults, weak assent
reflects a sick mind that wavers indecisively between judgments and courses of action. It lacks
the certitude of the sage and needs constant reminders. Another source of weak assent is
developmental, reflecting the pre-adult mind in which oikeiosis has not yet matured into rational
assent and choice.
This account raises the question of how we gain our rational moral norms in the first
place, on which both the Stoics and their modern commentators are inconclusive. It is agreed that
Stoic epistemology is basically empirical. Our hegemonikon or ruling principle directs sensation
as well as intellection, enabling us to make correct and firmly held judgments that derive initially
from sense data. This doctrine also applies to preconceptions and common notions. 3 In theory it
obviates innate or a priori ideas or self-evident principles. Yet, Chrysippus presents moral norms
as known innately. Commenting on Chrysippus, Josiah B. Gould observes, “Any assertions
concerning the origins of moral goodness-or genuine knowledge about good things and bad
things--can be but conjecture,”4 a warning rarely heeded. Some scholars see Chrysippus’
position as a momentary lapse in an epistemology that rules out innatism of any kind. 5 Others
see moral innatism as a standard and not an aberrant Stoic view.6 Still others accent the idea that
oikeiosis, with or without seminal reasons, develops into morally normative rational choice,
assisted by education, observation, examples, and analogous reasoning. What is innate, in this
view, is a moral potential, not fully-formed moral norms.7 Yet another approach accents the idea
Barbara Guckes, “Akrasia in der älteren Stoa,” in Zur Ethik der älteren Stoa, ed. Barbara Guckes (Göttingen:
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004), 94-122, refuting Richard Joyce, “Early Stoicism and Akrasia,” Phronesis 40
(1995): 315-35, who argues that Chrysippus supports akrasia. In support of Guckes’ conclusion is Justin Gosling,
“The Stoics and ἀκρασία,” Apeiron 20 (1987): 179-202, although he holds that the akratic state involves the
overwhelming of reason by passion, not weakness of will. Also in support of Guckes are Jean-Baptiste Gourinat,
“Akrasia and Encrateia in Ancient Stoicism: Minor Vice and Minor Virtue,” in Akrasia in Greek Philosophy from
Socrates to Plotinus, ed. Christopher Bobonich and Pierre Destrée (Leiden: Brill 2007), 215-47 and Jörn Müller,
Willensschwäche in Antike und Mittelalter: Eine Problemgeschichte von Sokrates bis Johannes Duns Scotus
(Leuven: Peeters, 2009), 155-93. Cf. Shadi Bartsch, The Mirror of the Self: Self-Knowledge and the Gaze in the
Early Roman Empire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), passim and esp. 242 n. 16, who equates akrasia
with choosing the lesser of two goods or the worse of two evils in Seneca. For the influence of akrasia as found in
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, see the contributions to Das Problem der Willensschwäche in der mittelalterlichen
Philosophie, ed. Tobias Hoffman, Jörn Müller, and Matthias Perkams (Leuven: Peeters, 2006); Akrasia, ed.
Bobonich and Destrée (as above); Weakness of Will from Plato to the Present, ed. Tobias Hoffmann (Washington:
Catholic University of America Press, 2008); and most recently Müller (as above), 109-55, 193-208..
E.g. Seneca, Ep. 95.37-41, 95.57-64, 102.28-29, in Epistulae morales, 2 vols., ed. L. D. Reynolds (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1965); De tranquillitate animi 1.4-17, 2.1-15, in Dialogorum libri duodecim, ed. L. D. Reynolds
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977) These editions of the Seneca’s letters and moral essays will be cited below unless
otherwise noted. On weak assent see Jula Wildberger, “Seneca and the Stoic Theory of Cognition: Some
Preliminary Remarks,” in Seeing Seneca Whole: Perspectives on Philosophy, Poetry, and Politics, ed. Katharina
Volk and Gareth D. Williams (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 89-94, 98.
For a recent standard summary, see Michael Frede, “Stoic Epistemology,” in The Cambridge History of Hellenistic
Philosophy, ed. Keimpe Algra et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 295-322; on Chrysippus, see
Josiah B. Gould, The Philosophy of Chrysippus (Albany: SUNY Press, 1970), 62-64.
Gould, Chrysippus, 170.
On the momentary lapse, see, for example, F. H. Sandbach, “Ennoia and Prolēpsis in the Stoic Theory of
Knowledge,” in Problems in Stoicism, ed. A. A. Long (London: Athlone Press, 1971 [first pub. 1930]), 28-30; on
the rejection of all innatism, see, for example, André-Jean Voelke, L’Idée de la volunté dans le Stoïcisme (Paris:
PUF, 1973), 43.
See, for example, Matt Jackson-McCabe, “The Stoic Theory of Implanted Preconceptions,” Phronesis 44 (2004):
323-47; John Sellars, Stoicism (Chesham, UK: Acumen, 2006), 76-78; Ilsetraut Hadot, “Getting to Goodness:
Reflections on Chapter 10 of Brad Inwood, Reading Seneca,” in Seneca Philosophus, ed. Jula Wildberger and
Marcia L. Colish (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, forthcoming).
See, for example, Voelke, L’Idée de la volunté, 61-65; Jackson-McCabe, “Stoic Theory,” 323-47; Giuseppe
Cambiano, “Seneca e le contradizzioni del sapiens,” in Incontri con Seneca, Atti della giornata di studi, Torino, 26
ottobre 1999, ed. Giovanna Garbarino and Italo Lana (Bologna: Pàtron, 2001), 51-52; Brad Inwood, Reading
Seneca: Stoic Philosophy at Rome (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), 207-301; Christopher Gill, The Structured Self
in Hellenistic and Roman Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 157-62, 164-65, 181; Sellars, Stoicism,
78, 107-9.
that the human mind is a fragment of the divine logos. This inner daimon, understood as a
tutelary deity or simply as natural human reason or our own best self, provides our rational moral
norms, making ethical development a non-event, in the most forceful statement of this thesis.8
The Roman Stoics do nothing to clarify this debate, since they offer support for all the
above-mentioned theories. They certainly fly their colors as eudaimonists. As Seneca puts it, “It
is impossible for anything to be good without being desirable. Thus, if virtue is desirable, and
nothing is good without virtue, then every good is desirable.”9 And, while the Stoics agree on
the good of self-knowledge, they elaborate in detail the daily examination of conscience. As
Brad Inwood puts it, “between Zeno and Marcus Aurelius there was no philosophy with a greater
capacity to act as a guide to the conscience than Stoicism.”10 This topic has drawn much
comment, reflecting the fact that Roman Stoics depict, and exemplify, self-examination in
diverse ways.11 Whether they commune with themselves or write to edify others, their
For the most extended defense of this position, see Anthony A. Long, Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002), 81-82, 101-2, 113-16, 142-72, 180, 186-88, 219-21, 225-27. Less extreme
versions of this “god within” position which accommodate it to seminal reasons or education or the force of moral
example include Ludwig Edelstein, The Meaning of Stoicism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), 85;
R. B. Rutherford, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 234, 237-39, 244; Rachana
Kametkar, “ΑΙΔΩΣ in Epictetus,” Classical Philology 93 (1998): 136-60; Robert F. Dobbin, commentary on his
trans. of Epictetus, Discourses, Book 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 117-18, 188-92, 206; Keimpe Algra,
“Epictetus and Stoic Theology,” in The Philosophy of Epictetus, ed. Theodore Scaltsas and Andrew S. Mason
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 32-55; William O. Stephens, Stoic Ethics: Epictetus and Happiness as
Freedom (London: Continuum, 2007), 38-40.
Seneca, Ep. 67.5, ed. Reynolds, 1:195: “fieri non potest ut aliqua res bona quidam sit, sed optabilis non sit; deinde
si virtus optabilis est, nullum autem sine virtute bonum, et omne bonum optabile est.” My trans. here and elsewhere
in this paper unless otherwise indicated. For the scholarly consensus on Stoic eudaimonism, see Edelstein, Meaning
of Stoicism, 1; John M. Cooper, “Stoic Autonomy,” in Knowledge, Nature, and the Good: Essays on Ancient
Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 228.
Brad Inwood, “Stoic Ethics,” in The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy (as in n. 3), 227.
Scholars have sometimes focused on the compatibility of the Stoic practice with post-classical approaches. Paul
Rabbow, Seelenführung: Methodik der Exerzitien in der Antike (München: Kösel-Verlag, 1954), 132-40, 169-79,
180-19 focuses on Epictetus as the primary source for, and comparandum with, Christianity as exemplified in the
Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. While simultaneously capitalizing on the cachet of Michel Foucault as a
public intellectual and flagging his limits as an interpreter of ancient thought, Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of
Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, ed. Arnold I. Davidson, trans. Michael Chase (Oxford:
Blackwell, 1995), 81-144, 179-205 also cites the influence of Stoicism on medieval monastic authors. For more
recent, and largely critical, estimates of Foucault’s “care of the self” as an adequate reading of Stoic practice, see,
for example, Arnold I. Davidson, “Ethics as Ascetics: Foucault, the History of Ethics, and Ancient Thought,” in The
Cambridge Companion to Foucault, 2nd ed., ed. Gary Gutting (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 12348; Wolfgang Detel, Foucault and Classical Antiquity: Power, Ethics, and Knowledge, trans. David Wigg-Wolf
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). On the other side of that debate, a critique of scholars who seek to
apply ancient thought to Foucault is provided by Paul R. Kolbet, “Athanasius, the Psalms, and the Reformation of
the Self,” Harvard Theological Review 99 (2006): 87-88. Other scholars, avoiding such applications, who place the
Stoic practice in a wider ancient context include Ilsetraut Hadot, Seneca und die griechisch-römische Tradition der
Seelenleitung (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1969); eadem, “The Spiritual Guide,” in Classical and Mediterranean
Spirituality: Egyptian, Greek, Roman, ed. A. H. Armstrong (New York: Crossroads, 1986), 436-59; Robert J.
Newman, “Cotidie meditare: Theory and Practice of the meditatio in Imperial Stoicism,” in Aufstieg und
Niedergang der römischen Welt, ed. Wolfgang Haase (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989), 2/36/3: 1473-1517, and,
expanding on the theme of ethics as “lived physics” in Epictetus and Marcus, Aurelius, Pierre Hadot, The Inner
Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, trans. Michael Chase (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1998), passim and esp. 95-96, 181, 215, 266, 274, 307-9. Accenting Stoic self-examination as therapy are
Rutherford, Marcus Aurelius, 13-21 and André-Jean Voelke, La philosophie comme thérapie de l’âme: Études de
philosophie héllenistique (Fribourg: Éditions Universitaires, 1993), 73-106. Focusing, unusually, on a Middle Stoic,
Christopher Gill, “Panaetius on the Virtue of Being Yourself,” in Images and Ideologies: Self-Definition in the
Hellenistic World, ed. Anthony Bullock et al. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 344-52, at 352 sees
in Panaetius an element of self-crafting with a “quasi-aesthetic” appreciation of the result. In idem, Personality in
Greek Epic, Tragedy, and Philosophy: The Self in Dialogue (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 175-239 and idem,
The Structured Self, 389-91, Gill stresses self-examination as a means of internalizing objective, and community,
values. While seconding Pierre Grimal, Sénèeque ou la conscience de l’Empire, 2nd ed. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres,
1979), 343-410 on the point that Seneca had a thorough grasp of Stoic physics, John M. Cooper, “Seneca on Moral
Theory and Moral Development,” in Seeing Seneca Whole (as in n. 2), 43-55 argues that Seneca failed to apply it
coherently to his ethics. In idem, “Moral Theory and Moral Improvement: Marcus Aurelius,” Knowledge, Nature,
and the Good, 346-68, Cooper criticizes Marcus as presenting an incoherent “providence or atoms” physics,
rendering his ethics incoherent as well. This view is challenged by Julia Annas, “Marcus Aurelius: Ethics and Its
Background,” Rhizai 2 (2004): 103-17. Perhaps the most idiosyncratic entry into recent discussions is Richard
individual style, genre, and Sitz im Leben condition their approaches. Sometimes they see
examination of conscience as castigating our moral failings, sometimes as approving our moral
successes. If the latter, they sometimes present self-esteem as its outcome, or as one of its
welcome if non-essential side-effects. The Roman Stoics also propose the praemeditatio
futurorum malorum, alerting us to the problems we daily face and the principles with which to
address them.12 They invoke a range of metaphors in describing these activities. Conscience is
sometimes our judge, censor, or interrogator. Sometimes it is the helmsman piloting the soul
through stormy seas. Sometimes our authors use therapeutic imagery, with self-examination as
an analgesic, an antibiotic, a palliative, a prophylactic, an upper, a downer, or a performanceenhancing drug.
These alternatives are rarely preclusive, even in the same writer. As a Roman emperor,
Marcus Aurelius gives a political gloss to the standard themes. While philosophy as a remedy
against ineluctable change and the fear of death is a commonplace, his preoccupation with this
issue reflects the view from the top. Death by assassination was an occupational hazard of
imperial office. And, Marcus spent half his reign defending the Danube frontier, witness to the
fall of warriors in their prime. It is pointless, he says, to revel in worldly power or to seek fame,
reputation, or the esteem of posterity. Citing a host of rulers, good and bad, he observes that the
main condition they share is that they are all dead and gone. 13 The absolute power the emperor
wields should not tempt him: “Take care that you are not turned into a Caesar” (me
apokaisarothes); do not act the tyrant, he adjures himself.14 Recognize that your authority
inspires envy, ambition, flattery, ingratitude, and disloyalty in those around you. Do not display
anger, caprice, or disappointment toward them, or lament the tiresome nature of court intrigue
and ceremonial.15 In citing exempla virtutis, Marcus bypasses standard figures in preference for
his own ancestors, who shouldered these burdens and mastered these temptations.16 Like them,
he says, he must bear and forbear, not seeking sympathy or appreciation.17 While the closest
Marcus comes to a term for conscience is “right reason,” (orthos logos), and while his
Meditations can be read as an extended example of the premeditation of future evils and the
examination of conscience, he specifically describes and prescribes both practices. The verb he
uses in discussing daily self-examination, exetazein,18 has a semantic range that includes both a
commander’s review of his troops, with the understanding that retribution for disciplinary
infractions will be as harsh and relentless as it is summary, and a magistrate’s interrogation of a
suspect, which may involve judicial torture. He reminds himself of his duty, and his internal
capacity, to act “manly and mature, a statesman, a Roman, and a ruler.”19
As a former slave, one of the anvils not the hammers of ancient society, Epictetus speaks
as a teacher showing his students how to examine themselves. His theme is the temptations he
thinks they face, and how to judge and master them by lowering their expectations and adjusting
their attitudes. He rarely alludes to his own temptations. The morning exercise envisioning
today’s problems includes our assessment of immediate past actions, considering how we fell
Sorabji, Self: Ancient and Modern Insights about Individuation, Life, and Death (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2006), 178-79, 182, 191-95; while noting self-examination in the Roman Stoics he treats it as an intra-psychic
process only in Proclus, at 249, 260-61. Here, and in idem, “Epictetus on proairesis and the Self,” in The
Philosophy of Epictetus (as in n. 8), 94-96, Sorabji tends to treat conscience in the Roman Stoics as self-awareness
We disagree with Wildberger, “Seneca,” 92-94, who argues that the praemeditatio is a prescription essentially for
the sick minds subject to weak assent, not a strategy by which the sage confirms values he already holds firmly.
Marcus Aurelius, Ad se ipsum libri XII 2.3, 3.2, 3.10, 4.3, 4.6, 4.19, 4.32-33, 4.48, 4.50, 5.23, 6.4, 6.15, 6.24, 6.36,
6.47, 7.6, 7.19, 7.21, 7.34, 8.3, 8.25, 8.31, 8.37, 8.44, 9.29, 10.8, 10.27, 10.31, 11.19, 11.28, 12,27, ed. Joachim
Dalfen (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1979). Marcus includes famous thinkers in this list as well.
Ibid. 6:30, trans. Robin Hard, Marcus Aurelius: Meditations and Selected Correspondence, ed. Christopher Gill
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 51.
Marcus Aurelius, Ad se ipsum 1.7, 1.8, 1.11, 1.16, 1.17, 2.1, 2.16, 5.1, 6.30, 7.26, 8.8, 8.9, 8.15, 9.27, 9.42, 10.9,
10.13, 11.18.
Ibid. 1.1-4, 1.14, 1.16-17, 4.32, 6.30.
Ibid. 1.16-17, 3.6, 6.13, 6.16, 8.8-9, 9.12, 9.30. On bear and forbear: 5.33.
Ibid. 4.3, 4.25, 5.11, 5.31, 11.1, 11.19; on right reason: 12.35. On self-examination, cf. Marcel van Ackeren, Die
Philosophie Marc Aurels, 2 vols. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2011), 1:212-87, 345-47, who prefers to frame this
notion as Selbstdialog, dialogue with oneself.
Ibid. 3.5, trans. Hard, 18.
short, so as to rectify or avoid our failings, an element typically part of the Stoics’ nightly selfexamination.20 Epictetus envisions those engaged in the evening practice as thoroughly wellinstructed. We use it to congratulate ourselves on a job well done: we have ignored matters not
under our own control and have resisted obstacles to our inner freedom. 21 The virtues Epictetus
accents are patience, abstinence, equanimity, and cooperation with others, virtues of private
citizens, not of rulers or politicians.
While he does at one point use conscientia to mean simple self-awareness,22 Seneca’s
handling of meditatio futurorum malorum and examination of conscience notably enriches the
Roman Stoic understanding of them. He adds a major distinction to the daily forecast of
problems. This exercise helps only the wise. Fools use it to stir up an irrational vice of fear of
future ills, to plan ahead on the fatuous assumption that current good fortune will continue, or to
procrastinate, postponing what they should do today. Maxims such as “He robs present ills of
their power who has envisioned their coming,”23 and “Blows foreseen strike us the more
feebly,”24 apply not to fools but to sages.
Seneca’s earliest and fullest description of the nightly examination of conscience occurs
in his De ira. This passage has received a consensus reading.25 There is more to be said about
Seneca’s treatment of examination of conscience here and elsewhere. Dismissing the idea that
anger is ever useful, he devotes most of De ira to uprooting it. All too aware of the damage
wreaked by the wrath of tyrants, he focuses not on assuaging its victims but on anger’s negative
effect on those empowered to express it. After presenting avoidance and cognitive therapies, he
offers his own self-examination as a model. The guide he cites is Sextius the Pythagorean,
although elsewhere he says that Sextius is a true Stoic even if he denies it. 26 Here is the oftquoted passage:
All our senses should be trained to endurance. They are naturally receptive to it if the
mind stops corrupting them. The mind should be summoned every day to render an account of
itself. That is what Sextius used to do. At each day’s end, when he had retired to rest at night, he
would ask his mind these questions: “What evil have you remedied today? What vice have you
resisted? In what respect have you improved?” Your anger will abate or be reduced if the mind
knows that it will have to answer to a judge each day. Can anything be finer than this practice of
examining one’s entire day? And, think of the sleep that follows this self-inspection, how
peaceful, deep, and untroubled it is, when the mind, its own observer and internal censor, has
taken stock of its behavior, whether to praise or blame. I make use of this opportunity and daily
argue my own case. When the lamp has been put out and my wife, aware of my custom, falls
silent, I scrutinize my whole day, recalling all my words and deeds, omitting and hiding nothing
from myself. Why should I fear any of my failings when I can say this to myself? 27
Epictetus, Discourses 4.6.34-35, in Discourses and Enchiridion, 2 vols., ed. and trans. W. A. Oldfather, Loeb
Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967). On Epictetus’ use of exetazein and its
cognates in the context of self-examination: Enchiridion 4.5, 5.11, 10.37.
Epictetus, Discourses 4.4.18. There is a strong scholarly consensus, shared here, on the importance of the theme
of moral freedom in Epictetus. Fort a recent overview see Myrto Dragona-Monachou, “Epictetus on Freedom:
Parallels between Epictetus and Wittgenstein,” in The Philosophy of Epictetus (as in n. 8), 112-35.
Seneca, Ep. 81.21. On Seneca’s use of the term conscientia see Pierre Grimal, “Le vocabulaire de l’intériorité
dans l’oeuvre philosophique de Sénèque,” in La langue latine, langue de philosophie, Actes du colloque organisé
par l’École française de Rome avec le concours de l’Université de Rome “La Sapienza,” Rome, 17-19 mai 1990,
Collection de l’École française de Rome 161 (Rome: École française de Rome, 1992), 141-59 at 144, 157-59.
Seneca, Consolatio ad Marciam 9.5, ed. Reynolds, 139: “Aufert vim praesentibus malis qui futura prospexit.”
Ibid. 9.2, ed. Reynolds, 138: “quae multo ante proviso sunt, languidius incurrunt.”
See, for example, P. Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, 81-125; on this practice in Epictetus and Marcus
Aurelius, idem, The Inner Citadel, 95-96, 181, 266, 274, 308-9; more recently see Gretchen Reydams-Schils, The
Roman Stoics: Self, Responsibility, and Affection (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 10, 18-20, 98.
Looking at this practice only as a form of positive self-assessment in loci such as Ep. 28.10 and Ep. 83.2 is
Catherine Edwards, “Self-Scrutiny and Self-Transcendence in Seneca’s Letters,” Greece & Rome 44 (1997): 29-30.
More dismissive of Seneca’s contribution to this practice is Paul Veyne, Seneca: The Life of a Stoic, trans. David
Sullivan (New York: Routledge, 2003), 75-76.
Seneca, Ep. 64.2.
Seneca, De ira 3.36.1-3, ed. Reynolds, 122-23: “Omnes sensus perducendi sunt ad firmitatem; natura patiens sunt,
si animus illos desît corrumpere, qui cotidie ad rationem reddendam vocandus est. Faciebat hoc Sextius, ut
consummato die, cum se ad nocturnam quietem recepisset, interrogaret animum suum: ‘Quod hodie malum tuum
sanasti? Cui vitio obstitisti? Qua parte melior es? Desinet ira et moderatior erit quae sciet sibi cotidie ad iudicem
The passage then continues. In a fictive dialogue with himself, Seneca forgives himself
but also enjoins himself to avoid the lapses disclosed by his self-examination. These are the
failings of a politician, who expects to be taken seriously by other men in public life and who is
aggrieved by their opposition, incivility, and failure to give him and his friends due honor.28 In a
word, this fictive self, unlike Marcus Aurelius, has not come to grips with the clash of egos, if
not of policies and principles, indigenous to this habitat.
Another feature of the De ira passage, not often noted, is that Seneca conducts his
examination of conscience in the supportive presence of his wife, not in solitude. Elsewhere he
portrays himself as consulting himself alone,29 and advises his addressees to do likewise.30 But
he also sees it as appropriate for friends--and friends alone--to entrust matters of conscience to
each other. “There are those,” he says, “who confide what is on their minds, which should be
told only to friends, to anyone they chance to meet. Others fear to confide matters of conscience
even to their dearest friends. If they could, they would not even trust themselves, burying their
secrets within.”31 Seneca certainly exchanges moral confidences with his correspondent
Lucilius. Where Epictetus guides others and does not report his own self-scrutiny, and where
Marcus advises himself alone, Seneca offers a range of personal and interpersonal settings for
the examination of conscience. And, while De ira presents him confronting temptations specific
to politicians, his later works suggest the appeal of abandoning the forum, withdrawing into
one’s conscience in order to meditate and to write as a form of public service. 32 Unlike Marcus,
Seneca presents the contemplative life as a viable alternative to arms and the toga alike.
Whether in the active or contemplative life, our goal is to possess a good conscience.
Seneca often describes and advocates this happy state. In response to the question--rhetorical or
actually posed by Lucilius--whence we derive the true good, he responds: “I will tell you: from a
good conscience, honorable counsels, and upright deeds, from contempt for Fortune, from a
tranquil and consistent life treading a single path.”33 The Senecan sage avers, “I will do nothing
on the basis of opinion, but all things for the sake of conscience.” Facing death calmly, he says to
himself, “I bear witness that I leave having loved a good conscience.”34 Good conscience
remains our internal possession even in situations preventing its outward expression; inner
intention is what counts. As with benefits extended and received with apparent invisibility,
Seneca observes, “If you ask what the point of a benefit is, what it renders back, I will answer: a
good conscience.”35 To be sure, like virtue itself, good conscience is self-sufficient. But in
addressing Nero, Seneca thinks it prudent to offer an added inducement:
While the true fruit of good deeds is the fact of having done them, and there is no reward
of virtues outside of virtues themselves, it is pleasant to examine and compass a good
esse veniendum. Quicquam ergo pulchrius hac consuetudine excutiendi totum diem? Qualis ille somnus post
recognitionem sui sequitur, quam tranquillus, quam altus ac liber, cum aut laudatus est animus aut admonitus et
speculator sui censorque secretus cognovit de moribus suis! Utor hac potestate et cotidie apud me causam dico.
Cum sublatum e conspectus lumen est et conticuit uxor moris iam mei conscia, totum diem meum scrutor factaque
ac dicta mea remetior; nihil mihi ipse abscondo, nihil transeo. Quare enim quicquam ex erroribus meis timeam, cum
possim dicere: . . . ” On the background to this passage, see, Janine Fillion-Lahille, Le De ira de Sénèque et la
philosophie des passions (Paris: Klincksieck, 1984), passim and esp. 2, 242, 263, 271; William V. Harris,
Restraining Rage: The Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2001), 220-23, 229-63.
Seneca, De ira 3.36.4-3.38.1.
Seneca, De beata vita 17.3-4; Ep. 83.2.
Seneca, De brevitate vitae 10.2; De tranquillitate animi 6.1; Ep. 16.2, 28.10, 118.2-3.
Seneca, Ep. 3.4, ed. Reynolds, 1:5: “Quidam quae tantum amicis committenda sunt obviis narrant, et in quaslibet
aures quidquid illos urit exonerant; quidam rursus etiam carissimorum conscientiam refomidant et, si possent, ne
sibi quidem credituri, interius premunt omne secretam.”
At greatest length in Seneca, De otio; see also Ep. 8.1.
Seneca, Ep. 23.7, ed. Reynolds, 1:65: “Dicam: ex bona conscientia, ex honestis consiliis, ex rectis actionibus, ex
contemptu fortuitorum, ex placido vitae et continuo tenore unam prementis viam.”
Seneca, De beata vita 20.4, 20.5, ed. Reynolds, 185, 187: “nihil opinionis causa omnia conscientia faciam;”
“testatus exibo bonam me conscientian amasse.” See also ibid. 1.19; Ep. 24.12.
Seneca, De beneficiis 4.12.4, ed. François Prechac, 2 vols. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1926-29), 1:110-11: “Eadem
in benefico ratio est: nam cum interrogaveris, respondebo: bonam conscientiam .” See also ibid. 4.21.5. Cf. Nancy
Sherman, “The Look and Feel of Virtues,” in Virtue, Norm, and Objectivity: Issues in Ancient and Modern Ethics,
ed. Christopher Gill (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), 61-63, 69-78, who argues that external expression of gratitude
always remains important in Seneca’s analysis.
conscience, . . . and so to say to oneself, “Have I not, of all mortals, been favored and chosen to
act on earth in place of the gods? . . . This very day, should the immortal gods require it, I stand
ready to render an account for the whole human race.”36
The other addressees in Seneca’s world have neither the global moral responsibilities he
assigns to Nero nor the flamboyant Neronian vices he seeks to curb. But he is well aware that
few enjoy a good conscience. He speaks tellingly of those who grasp the difference between
right and wrong but balk at applying this criterion to their own behavior. The fool refuses to
reflect on his past failings and to castigate himself for his false values and misspent energies
precisely because he knows that “all his deeds are under his own censorship.”37 In an extended
comparison between ethics as the art of living and other artes, Seneca argues that, while we can
sin involuntarily against the liberal or mechanical arts, our moral failings are voluntary. We sin
in full knowledge of right and wrong. We do not misjudge or disavow these norms but
deliberately will to exempt ourselves from them. Seneca gives a host of examples involving the
hypocritical rejection of filial, marital, personal, professional, and civic duties. Even when we
act in external conformity with these duties, we may be guilty of acting against conscience if we
do so with the wrong intention and in the wrong way.38
Seneca goes on to anatomize the features and psychic fall-out of bad conscience. Those
who act against conscience shun the light of day. 39 They shut out others in the effort to hide
their vices:
I will tell you how we can judge our morals. You will find hardly anyone who can live
with his gates open. Our conscience, not our pride, has installed gatekeepers. We live in such a
way that to be observed is the same as to be found out. What do we gain if we avoid the eyes
and ears of others? A good conscience calls in the crowd; a bad conscience, even in solitude, is
anxious and disturbed. If you do what is right, let everyone know it. If it is wrong, does it
matter if no one knows it, so long as you do? How miserable you are if you disdain such a
The jeopardy in which such people place themselves is aggravated by the knowledge that
their self-delusion, shame, fear, worry, and insecurity are self-inflicted:
Yet, so that you may know: an awareness of the good remains in the minds even of those
drawn to the worst villainy. They are not ignorant of what is wrong but neglect it. They all lie
about their misdeeds, and, if the outcome is favorable, they profit from it while hiding their sins
from themselves. A good conscience wants to come forward and be seen, but wicked deeds fear
even the shadows. . . . Why is this the case? Because the primary and greatest punishment for
wrongdoing is wrongdoing itself. . . Nonetheless, these secondary punishments follow close on
the primary ones: constant fear, terror, and distrust of one’s own security. . . . Let us agree: evil
deeds are flagellated by conscience, and conscience suffers the greatest torment because
Seneca, De clementia 1.1.1-4, ed. François-Régis Chaumartin (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2005), 2-4: “Quamvis
enim recte factorum verus fructus sit fecisse nec ullum virtutum pretium dignum illis extra ipsas sit, iuvat inspicere
et circumire bonam conscientiam, . . . ita loqui secum: ‘Egone ex omnibus mortalibus placui electusque sum, qui in
terries deorum vice fungerer? . . . Hodie diis inmortalibus, si a me rationem repentant, adnumerare genus humanum
paratus sum.”
Seneca, De brevitate vitae 10.2, ed. Reynolds, 251: “omnia acta sunt sub censura sua.” See also ibid. 10.5.
Seneca, Ep. 95.8-9, 95.37-41, 95.43-45, 95.57-64; see also Ep. 94.25-26. A considerable scholarly literature seeks
to weigh the relative importance of will and intellect in Seneca’s ethics. Rainer Zöller, Die Vorstellung vom Willen
in der Morallehre Senecas (München: K. Saur, 2003) looks ahead to later formulations of voluntarism and
intellectualism and also tends to systematize Seneca. Conversely, Inwood, Reading Seneca, 102-56, accents the
multivalence of voluntas in Seneca and warns against anachronistic readings. Voelke, L’Idée de la volunté, 17-18,
30-49, 90-95, 131-39, 161-70, 174-79, 189-99; Dobbin, comm. on Epictetus, Discourses, 220; Susanne Bobzien,
Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philoosphy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 250-313; P. Hadot, Philosophy as
a Way of Life, 84; and Veyne, Seneca, 64-65 argue for the primacy of the intellect over the will in Seneca.
Accenting the primacy of the will are Zöller (as above), 90-93, 130-53, 179-89, 233-54; and, reducing the self to the
will, Sorabji, Self, 44-45, 178, 181-85. A more balanced approach characterizes Paolo Impara, Seneca e il mondo
del volere (Roma: Edizioni Abete, 1986).
Seneca, Ep. 122.14.
Seneca, Ep. 43.4-5, ed. Reynolds, 1:113-14: “Rem dicam ex qua mores aestimes nostros: vix quemquam invenies
qui possit aperto ostio vivere. Ianitores conscientia nostra, non superbia opposuit; sic vivimus, ut deprendi sit
subito aspici. Quid autem prodest recondere se et oculos hominum auresque vitare? Bona conscientia turbam
advocat, mala etiam in solitudine anxia sollicita est. Si honesta sunt quae facis, omnes sciant; si turpia, quid refert
neminem scire cum tu scias? O te miserum si contemnis hunc testem!”
perpetual anxiety whips and drives them on, so that they cannot trust in any guarantees of their
own safety.41
These malefactors operate in a state of conscious bad faith, acting against their own best
selves and against the norms of conscience that remain embedded in their minds. They cannot
escape knowledge of the truth of their situation and the fact that they have brought their own
punishment upon themselves.42
This picture of moral agents who acts against conscience still leaves open the question of
how such behavior can occur, absent akrasia or weak assent. How can acting against conscience
be squared with the Stoics’ reigning assumptions? Seneca acknowledges that the will can be
divided against itself: “Men both love and hate their vices.”43 In explaining how a good will can
occupy the same psychic space as a bad will, he reframes Chrysippus’ image of the rolling
cylinder. For Chrysippus, a cylinder necessarily describes a circular motion going downhill
when it is pushed. But whether or not it is pushed is a matter of contingency. 44 Seneca shift this
image from physics to ethics. And, unlike Marcus Aurelius, who contrasts the cylinder’s
inability to move itself with our own capacity to will moral choices, Seneca yokes this metaphor
to another Chrysippean example which he also changes, that of a runner who cannot stop
abruptly at the end of his course. Seneca’s runner cannot stop when he wants to stop not because
his passions overcome rational choice but as a function of his will. For, “just as one who,
running downhill, cannot stop when he wills to stop, but whose body impels him onward, its
momentum carrying him farther than he wills,”45 so ingrained bad will continues to motivate,
overlap with, and override both reason and good will.
In conclusion, we can gain a clear sense of the coloration Seneca brings to the topic of
conscience, and acting against it, by considering his treatment of a theme he shares with
Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, the idea that the world is a stage. As his pupil Arrian relates,
Epictetus urges us to recognize that we are actors in a play. The script and the parts assigned are
those provided by the playwright. The play may be long or short; we may be hired to play the
role of a beggar, a cripple, a ruler, or a private citizen. Whatever our part and however long the
play, our job is simply to perform with probity our assigned role.46
On this theme, Marcus Aurelius does not see himself as playing any role but that of the
hero, with top billing. His performance is controlled not by the playwright but by the magistrate
(strategos) who commissions and oversees the production. The play, and the hero’s part, may
have been written with five acts. But we should not object if the magistrate rings down the
curtain after three acts. Rather, as with death, whenever it comes, we should accept the play’s
abbreviation as a welcome reprieve from our obligations.47
Seneca also invites us to consider this theme at the point of death. Unlike Epictetus and
Marcus, his concern is not with who controls the production, the length of the play, or the
possibility that we may be assigned a range of different roles. The only character we portray is
Seneca, Ep. 97.1-16, ed. Reynolds, 2: 404-5: “Alioquin, ut scias subesse animis etiam in pessima abductis bona
sensum nec ignorari turpe sed negligi; omnes peccata dissimulant et quamvis feliciter cesserint, fructu illorum
utuntur, ipsa subducunt. At bona conscientia prodire vult et conspici: ipsas nequitia tenebras timet. . . . Quare? Quia
scelera prima illa et maxima peccantium est poena peccasse . . . Sed nihilominus et hae illam secundae poenae
premunt ac sequuntur, timere semper et expavescere et securitate diffidere; . . .hic consentiamus, mala facinora
conscientia flagellari, et plurimum illi tormentum esse eo quod perpetua illam sollicitudo urget ac verberat, quod
sponsoribus securitatis suae non potest credere.” See also Ep. 105.7-8.
Seneca, Ep. 97.15-26.
Seneca, Ep. 112.4, ed. Reynolds, 2:472: “Homines vitia sua et amant et oderunt.” Noted by Voelke, L’Idée de la
volunté, 172-75; Zöller, Die Vorstellung vom Willen, 44-45; Thomas Bénatouïl, Faire usage: La pratique du
Stoïcisme (Paris: J. Vrin, 2006), 100-105, 109-12.
The standard classical testimonia are Cicero, De fato 18.42-19.43 and Aulus Gellius, Noctes atticae 7.2.11-12. An
outstanding treatment of this topic is provided by Bobzien, Determinism and Freedom. See also Margaret R.
Graver, Stoicism and Emotion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 63-64.
Seneca, Ep. 40.7, ed. Reynolds, 1:106: “Quemadmodum per proclive currentium non ubi visum est gradus sistitur,
sed incitato corporis ponderi servit ac longius quam voluit effertur . . .” Cf. Marcus Aurelius, Ad se ipsum 10.33.
Graver, Stoicism and Emotion, 68-70 discusses the ancient report of Chrysippus on the runner given by Galen but
does not see the difference in Seneca’s handling of this theme. On this point Bénatouïl, Faire usage, 100-105
presents Seneca’s position accurately.
Epictetus, Enchiridion 17.
Marcus Aurelius, Ad se ipsum 12.36.
ourselves, and we are also our own drama critics. Whatever the audience reception, our selfexamination will judge whether we have attitudinized, or lied to ourselves, or portrayed
ourselves authentically, truly manifesting our inner convictions.48 For Seneca, being true to our
own conscience is the test of our moral character, a test which we can freely choose to fail. His
analysis of how we can act against conscience is indeed his own, and is a perceptive contribution
to the legacy of Roman Stoicism and to ancient philosophy as such.
Ercole Erculei
I. Introduction
The topic of the conscience doubtlessly represents a constant presence in the enormous
production of John Chrysostom: from the Homilies De paenitentia to those In Genesim, as well
as those De Lazaro to those In Matthaeum, the bishop of Constantinople reserves marked
attention for that inner unbribable judge, that innate voice distinguishing between the good and
evil, which God, in His philanthrôpia, has wanted to implant in the soul of every single human
being, and which has been usually – according to the platonic, the stoic and the Christian
tradition – named “conscience”.49 However, one would search in vain for a systematic handling,
a philosophic-speculative disquisition of this topic in his works, which are mostly – as well
known – homilies to the believers, discourses to a huge quantity of people, held by Chrysostom
in concrete situations of his pastoral activity and the life of the Christian community under his
leading: consequently, they not only show a marked occasional, almost extemporaneous
character, which he – through his immense rhetorical art – is able to combine with literary
excellence and refinery, but they also lack the typical complications, even quibbles of the
philosophic argumentation. In this regard, one of the best knowers of the patristic literature, C.
Moreschini, has written:
[…] John Chrysostom not only has no philosophical interest, but chooses only the most
widespread philosophical topics, and he barely skims them, when it happens to him to beckon to
philosophical topics; moreover, he constantly polemises against the philosophy.50
Nevertheless, I believe that neglecting Chrysostom’s reflections on to syneidos would be
wrong for historical-philosophical research, which – unlike Christian theology and religious
studies – has too long and often overlooked and even despised the (philosophical) relevance, not
only of his sermons, but also of the patristic production at all, apart from Augustine and –
partially – Origen. However, if one patiently gathers the several passages on the conscience
scattered in the mare magnum of Chrysostom’s production, the interesting, authentically
philosophic profile of a Christian theory of the conscience emerges, which appears to be worth
not only being compared at the level of the history of philosophy with the reflections of the nonChristian philosophers on the same topic, but also being discussed at the level of the theoretical
philosophy in the light of the contemporary ethical debates.
The aim of my paper is to try to offer an overview of Chrysostom’s ‘fragmented’ dealing
with the topic of the conscience, focusing more on the overall picture of such a mosaic than the
single pieces composing it. Moreover, I will attempt to insist, even if in the obvious limits of the
present paper, firstly upon the comparison between Chrysostom’s ethic proposal centered on the
role of to syneidos and the non-Christians tradition, and secondly on some theoretic impulses for
the contemporary ethic.
II. Impartial, incorruptible, compassionless: to syneidos and its role in the process of
A first element that cannot be not recognized reading Chrysostom’s passages about to
syneidos is his emphasis on its incorruptibleness, impartialness, even implacableness and
terribleness: unlike every other tribunal, no money, flattery, threat or deception knows this
Seneca, Ep. 26.5-6; see also Ep. 29.12.
Iohannes Chrys. In Genesim, hom. 5, c. 2. MPG 53. Paris, 1862. P. 50,26-33. Id. In Iohannem, hom. 14, c. 2.
MPG 59. Paris, 1862. P. 94,39-44.
Moreschini C. Storia della filosofia patristica. Brescia, 2004. P. 625 [trans. EE].
sleepless, nothing-forgetting accuser and judge from whom we cannot escape because we always
carry him around in our soul.51 Chrysostom finds an emblematic example in the words of King
Herod, who, upon hearing the miracles of Christ, said:
‘This is John, he is risen from the dead: and therefore do these powers work in him’ [Mt
14:2] So lively was the fear, so abiding the agony he retained; and none had power to cast down
the terror of his conscience [to deos tou syneidotos], but that incorruptible Judge [ho dikastês
ekeinos ho adekastos] continued to take him by the throat, and day by day to demand of him
satisfaction for the murder.52
The raw comparison of the conscience with a terrible executioner and torturer lacerating
and tormenting the soul of the sinner without any compassion or clemency is an image that
Chrysostom seems really to like, allowing him to directly connect the pains caused by the
conscience with the torments of the afterlife’s punishments in the hell: despite appearances, a life
in the sins is a life of sufferance, here on the earth and in the afterlife, while the life of the virtue
is characterized by serenity and blessed hope here and eternal joy after the death.53
Apart from these last typical Christian elements, the analogies and metaphors of the inner
charger/tribunal/judge/torturer are certainly not an original result of Chrysostom’s thought: on
the contrary, the echoes of non-Christian philosophers such as Philo of Alexandria and the Stoics
in these passages cannot be unheard.54 Nevertheless, the general frame in which they are inserted
by the bishop of Constantinople is the peculiar Christian conceptual constellation of the process
of metanoia, perhaps the most important psychological phenomenon and event in the Christian
life, the alpha and omega of Jesus’ preaching and the “Good News”, 55 and a theme Chrysostom
that truly holds dear, to which he has dedicated several specific sermons. Indeed, an authentic
metanoia/repentance as the painful repudiation of the own sinful past, as radical turning away
from evilness and conversion to goodness presumes the acknowledgment and convinced
affirmation of an objective moral horizon upon which the difference between good and evil
unmistakably shines. The true metanoia is not reflected by the simple regret about something
done in the past, but rather the grief over the evilness of the past actions and life in the light of
what is actually good. Therefore, such evilness must be acknowledged, as well as the good to
which one strives to convert. The existence in every single human being of an innate, impartial
and unavoidable judge who constantly condemns the committed sins and contemporaneously
remarks what the good is represents the best guarantee of the concrete possibility of every human
breaking free from the sinfulness and spiritual death: ultimately, the idea of a conscience as an
innate impartial tribunal in the interiority entirely assures the universality of the Christian
To this end, Chrysostom’s identification of the conscience with the unwritten, natural
moral rule, inscribed by God in all humans, and even those who have never known the written
rule of the Jews and the Christian “Good News”, is emblematic and permits him to avoid every
accusation of ethical fideism or lacking universalism, presenting the Christian message as an
explication and confirmation of the ‘already known’ in the hearts of every human being. Indeed,
God didn’t need to explain the reason of validity of the Ten Commandments, given that every
Iohannes Chrys. Epist. ad Olympiadem, ep. 13, s. 1c, ed. by A.-M. Malingrey. SC 13bis. Paris, 21968. P. 191-192.
Id. In Genesim, hom. 17, c. 1-2. MPG 53. P. 135,30sqq. Id. De Lazaro, c. 4, 4. MPG 48. Paris, 1862. P. 1011,46sqq.
Id. Ad populum Antiochenum, hom. 8, 2. MPG 49. Paris, 1862. P. 99,22-29. Id. In II epist. Ad Corinthios, hom.
28,3-4. MPG 61. Paris,1862. P. 393-396.
Id. In epist. II ad Corinthios, hom. 28, 4. MPG 61. P. 595,19-596,7 [trans. by T.W. Chambers, NPNF vol. 12.
Buffalo, NY, 1889. P. 411].
Id. Cat. ad illuminandos, cat. 1, s. 28, ed. by A. Wenger. SC 50. Paris, 1950. P. 122-123. Id. De sanctis
martyribus, c. 3. MPG 50. Paris, 1862. P. 649,50sqq. Id. Ad populum Antiochenum, hom. 16, 6. MPG 49. P. 170,58. Id. In epist. ad Romanos, hom. X, c. 3. MPG 60. Paris, 1862. P. 459,50-58.
Cfr. e.g. Philo Alexandrinus, De opificio mundi, (XLIII) sec. 128,9-14, ed. by L Cohn/P. Wendland. Philonis
Alexandrini opera […], vol. I. Berlin, 1896. P. 44. Id. De decalogo, (XVII) sec. 87, ed. by L. Cohn. Philonis
Alexandrini opera […], vol. IV. Berlin, 1902. P. 288. Id. De virtutibus, (XXXVIII) sec. 206,6-7, ed. by L. Cohn.
Philonis Alexandrini opera […], vol. V. Berlin, 1906. P. 330. Seneca L.A. Ep. mor. ad Lucilium, l. III, ep. 28, 9-10,
ed. by F. Hense. L. Annaei Senecae opera […], vol. III. Leipzig, 1898. P. 86. Ibid., l. V, ep. 43.4-5. P. 121.
Cfr. Mt 3.1-17; Mt 4.17; Mk 1.1-15; Lk 15.1-32; Lk 24,46-47; 2 Cor 3.16; 2 Cor 7.8-10; 2 Pt 3.9.
Cfr. Iohannes Chrys. De paenitentia, hom. VI, c. 5. MPG 49. Paris, 1862. P. 322,40sqq. Id. Ad Theodorum
lapsum I, s. 7, ed. by J. Dumortier. SC 117. Paris, 1966, P. 110sqq. Ibid., s. 17, P. 184-190. Id. Expositiones in
Psalmos, In Ps. 147, c. 3. MPG 55. Paris, 1862. P. 481-483.
human being – through their innate conscience – is already aware of the sinfulness of the acts
that the commandments explicitly forbid.57 Against such a background, it’s unsurprising that
Chrysostom recognizes in the conscience an internal way for the knowledge of God, which must
be added to the external – and for the ancient philosophy, more traditional – way through the
knowledge of the nature/creation.58
It’s worth lingering a little longer on the to syneidos – metanoia relation. Describing the
many “ways” (hodoi) of metanoia, Chrysostom insists upon the essential, indispensable role of
to syneidos for making a real treading on these paths possible to all human beings, even the most
infamous, repugnant, habitual sinner. The katagnôsis hamartêmatôn – defined as the “the best
way” of repentance – is unconceivable without the conscience as “inward accuser” and innate
knowledge of good and evil,59 as already seen, as well as the other hodos of tapeinophrosynê,
perhaps the most typical Christian virtue and spiritual attitude of all, which is indeed recognized
by Chrysostom as a direct effect of the tortures of our sinful soul by to syneidos. Moreover, even
the further paths of the contrite prayer to God for forgiveness and the bitterly crying of the own
sinfulness find their actual causa efficiens in the compassionless, impartial, terrible accusations
and condemnations of to syneidos. Therefore, to syneidos and its work is directly involved in that
painful “killing” (apokteinein) of the sins, which is the premise for an authentic “metanoein” as a
radical inner change of mind, heart and life, rebirth as a new person, purification from the
sin/evil, conversion to the good.
In this regard, I’d like to quote some exemplary passages:
[…] For it is like a golden chain; if one have hold of the beginning, all will follow.
Because if thou confess thy sin as one ought to confess, the soul is humbled. For conscience
turning it on itself causeth it to be subdued;60
And for what purpose has God put within our mind [en tê dianoia] a judge [kritên] so
ever watchful and vigilant, I mean conscience? It is impossible that any judge [dikastês] among
men should be so indefatigable as our conscience is. For judges in worldly affairs are sometimes
corrupted by money, or weakened by flattery, or dissemble because of fear; and many other
things there are that destroy the rectitude of their decision; but the judgment-seat of conscience
[to tou syneidotos dikastêrion] never yields to any of these influences; but whether you offer
money, or flatter, or threaten, or do any other such thing, it utters still an impartial sentence
against the schemes of sinners; and whosoever commits iniquity, himself condemns himself,
even though no one else should accuse him. And not once, nor twice, but even frequently, and
through one's whole life, it continues to do the same; though much time may have intervened, it
never forgets what has happened. At the moment when sin is committed, and before its
commission, and after its commission, conscience constitutes itself our accuser; but chiefly after
the commission. For at the time of committing the sin, being intoxicated by the pleasure, we are
not so sensitive; but when the affair is passed, and has reached its conclusion, then, especially
when all the pleasure is exhausted, the sharp sting of repentance is felt. […] let us destroy the sin
which has proceeded to deeds, by confession, and tears, and self-condemnation. Nothing is so
great an antidote to sin as condemnation and repudiation of it with penitence and tears.
Condemning thy own sin, thou dost put off its yoke.61
Marking a significant difference from the epicurean ideal of avoiding and eliminating the
pain in the body (to algein kata sôma/to algoun) and the trouble in the soul (to tarattesthai kata
psyche/to lypoumenon) as the highest form of pleasure and last aim of the human life, 62as well as
the stoic condemnation of the lypê as irrational passion/false opinion wrongly claiming the
presence of an external kakon, and, among the different species of lypê, the metamelia,63
Chrysostom doesn’t hesitate to encourage the development of a positive attitude for the
Id. Ad populum Antiochenum, hom. 12, c. 3-4. MPG 49. P. 131,34sqq. Ibid., hom. 13, c. 3, P. 140,47sqq.
Id. De Anna, sermo 1, 3. MPG 54. Paris, 1862. P. 636,10sqq.
Id. De diabolo tentatore, hom. 2, c. 6. MPG 49. Paris, 1962. P. 263,22sqq.
Id. In epist. ad Hebraeos, hom. 9, c. 4. MPG 63. Paris, 1862. P. 80,62sqq. [trans. by F. Gardiner, NPNF vol. 14.
Buffalo, NY, 1889. P. 412].
Id. De Lazaro, c. 4, 4. MPG 48. P. 1011,46sqq. [trans. by F. Allen. London, 1869. P. 100sqq.]. Cfr. Id., In
Matthaeum, hom. 6, 8. MPG 57. Paris, 1862. P. 72,49sqq. Ibid., hom. 14, 4. P. 221,30sqq.
Cfr. Epicurus, Epistula ad Menoeceum, sec. 127-131, ed. by H. Usener. Leipzig, 1887. P. 62-64. Id. Sententiae
selectae, sent. III, ed. by H. Usener. Leipzig, 1887. P. 72. Ibid. sent. X. P. 73.
Cfr. SVF III 391-394; 563; 565; 567.
tremendous pain that to syneidos causes in us through its charges/condemnations/tortures:
without such a pain, no moral change, no turning away from the evilness, no conversion to the
good – and therefore no achievement of salvation/eternal happiness – would be possible.64
Indeed, the crucial point for Chrysostom isn’t and cannot be the attempt to avoid every form of
pain and inner sufferance, but rather how to fruitfully deal with it: in the case of the obstinate,
stubborn sinner, such a sufferance remains infertile and useless, simply becoming the premise for
further sufferance in the afterlife; by contrast, in the case of the sincerely repenting sinner, it is
the inner impulse for the beginning of a new, virtuous life, becoming the premise for eternal joy
in the afterlife.
II. Bad and good conscience: to syneidos as a source of either infelicity or happiness.
In the preceding paragraph, I’ve tried to point out the reasons of Chrysostom’s insistence
on the ‘cruelty’ of to syneidos: its harshness, its merciless impartialness indeed warrants the
authenticity of the repentance and the humility of the repenting sinner, avoiding a pernicious
clemency, false indulgence, arrogance during the moral judgment of oneself, as well as the
perseverance in the treading on the ways of metanoia, which he emblematically defines as a
However, such a heavy load, such an oppressing torture could become dangerous: under
the enormous weight of the painful condemnations of the “bad conscience”, the sinner may risk
suffocating rather than beginning a new life. The painfulness of the process of repenting, which
finds its causa efficiens in to syneidos, risks becoming desperation, as the case of Judas tragically
shows.66 This is the reason for Chrysostom’s inciting to always connect the pricks of conscience
with the hope for the realizability of a radical moral change of the own life, for the achievability
of moral rebirth and eternal happiness in the afterlife, even by the worst sinner, and subsequently
the trust in the divine love/mercy and the church as the legitimate instance for forgiving the
sins.67 If one briefly thinks of the famous Kantian question “What may I hope?”,68 and his idea
that “just as the moral principles are necessary according to reason in its practical employment, it
is equally necessary according to reason in its theoretic employment to assume that everybody
has reason to hope to obtain happiness in the same measure in which he has rendered himself
deserving of it in his conduct” –69 this is Kant’s answer to the question “if I conduct myself so as
to be deserving of happiness, may I hope thereby to obtain happiness?” –,70 then it’s particularly
significant at the philosophical level Chrysostom’s pointing out that such a trust and hope aren’t
simply unjustified, they aren’t arbitrary and irrationally castles in the air, subjective projections
in the future of the own desires: on the contrary, the sinner, who day-by-day fights against
himself and his sinful habits, who day-by-day involves himself in the acts belonging to the
dimension of the satisfactio operum and especially in the works of charity, in that love of the
neighbour, which is a further way of repentance,71 is rationally justified, legitimated by his
praxis, by his way of life, in his hope, in his trust. Feeling the pricks of conscience – treading on
the paths of metanoia – being justified in the Christian hope and trust in God’s mercifulness and
the universal achievability of the eternal happiness – avoiding false indulgence as well as
desperation, all such elements form an organic whole that is nothing other the Christian life on
this earth, and can be summarized in the passage from the bad to the good conscience, or more
precisely, in the constant effort of transforming the own conscience from the condition of being
Iohannes Chrys. In Matthaeum, hom. 14, 3-4. MPG 57. P. 221,24sqq.
Id. Ad Theodorum lapsum I, sec. 17,70-73. SC 117. P. 188-190.
Ibid., sec. 9,1-5. P. 122-124. Id., De paenitentia, hom. I, 3. MPG 49. P. 282,11-34. Id. Ad Demetrium de
compunctione I, c. 2, MPG 47. Paris, 1863. P. 397,1sqq.
Cfr. Id. Cat. ad illuminandos, cat. 1, s. 28. SC 50. P. 122-123. Id. De paenitentia, hom. I, 2-4. MPG 49. P. 279284.
Kant I. Kritik der reinen Vernunft. AA III. Berlin, 1904. P. 522,34 [B 833].
Ibid. P. 525,19-26 [B 837]. [trans. by F.M. Mueller. New York, 21922, URL:
accessed 27.10.13)], [italics EE].
Ibid. P. 525,14-15 [B 837]. [trans. by F.M. Mueller, cfr. supra].
Iohannes Chrys. De paenitentia, hom. III, 1. MPG 49. P. 293,7sqq. Id. De diabolo tentatore, hom. 2, c. 6. MPG 49.
P. 264,2sqq. Id. In epist. ad Hebraeos, hom. 9, c. 4. MPG 63. P. 81,19sqq.
“bad”, a source of torture, charge and condemnation, to the condition of being “good”, i.e. the
humble yet firm consciousness of having done what should be done.72
The bad – good conscience distinction represents a further heritage of the Stoicism,73
whose presence – especially of the doctrine of the adiaphora, the ideal of apatheia and ataraxia
of the sophos – is particularly evident in Chrysostom’s description of having a good conscience
as a source of serene acceptance of the present situation in the earthly life, as an inner
detachment from the external goods of richness, honour, celebrity, even the own life, as a real
source of cheerfulness (euthymia), joy (chara),74 mirth (euphrosynê):75 the good conscience can
guarantee us an “endless”, daily feast (heortê) in our soul,76 because happiness doesn’t depend
on the nature, but rather – belonging to the soul’s realm – on our dianoia, where God puts within
the “so ever watchful and vigilant” judge of to syneidos (cfr. supra). Hence, our happiness as a
result of good conscience depends on us, our free choice, our will to purify ourselves from the
sinfulness, in this way making possible the transformation of the bad conscience into the good
one, which can be considered as the formula of a fruitful metanoia, as best summarized by the
following passage:
And just as the roots of trees are bitter in themselves, and yet produce our sweetest fruits,
so, verily, godly sorrow will bring us an abundant pleasure. They know, who have often prayed
with anguish, and shed tears, what gladness they have reaped; how they purged the conscience;
how they rose up with favourable hopes! For as I am always saying, it is not the nature of the
things, but our disposition, which is wont to make us sad or joyful. […] for in the one case, there
is the necessity of nature [physeôs anankê]; in the other, the whole is seated in the power of
choice [epi tê proairesei].77
It would be unnecessary to devote further words to the topic of the bad conscience and its
inescapable torturing of the sinner, if the bishop of Constantinople didn’t connect it by himself
with another important thesis of a non-Christian philosopher, i.e. the platonic idea that “doing
wrong is fouler than suffering it”, well explained by Socrates during his dialogue with Polus in
Plato’s Gorgias.78 In this regard, it’s worth quoting a fairly long passage of Chrysostom’s
commentary on Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy:
For if any one will examine carefully, he will perceive the great bitterness of injustice,
not to those who suffer it, but to those who practice it, and to these more than to the others. And
let us not speak of things future, but for the present of things here. Hath it not battles, judgments,
condemnation, ill will, abuse? What is more bitter than these? Hath it not enmities, and wars, and
accusations? What is more bitter than these? Hath it not conscience continually scourging and
gnawing us? If it were possible, I could wish to draw out from the body the soul of the
unrighteous man, and you would see it pale and trembling, ashamed, hiding its head, anxiously
fearful, and self-condemned. For should we sink down into the very depths of wickedness, the
judging faculty of the mind [to kritêrion tou nou] is not destroyed, but remains unbribed. And no
one pursues injustice thinking it to be good, but he invents excuses, and has recourse to every
artifice of words to shift off the accusation. But he cannot get it off his conscience. Here indeed
the speciousness of words, the corruption of rulers, and multitudes of flatterers, is often able to
throw justice into the shade, but within, the conscience has nothing of this sort, there are no
flatterers there, no wealth to corrupt the judge [ton kritên]. For the faculty of judging [to
kritêrion] is naturally implanted in us by God, and what comes from God cannot be so
Cfr. Id. In epist. ad Romanos, hom. X, c. 3. MPG 60. P. 459,50-58. Ibid. hom. XII, c. 7. P. 503,50-57. Id. In epist.
I ad Corinthios, hom. XXII, c. 4. MPG 61. Paris, 1862. P. 186,36-43. Id., In epist. ad Ephesios, hom. XIII, c. 2.
MPG 62. Paris, 1862. P. 96,52-63.
Cfr. e.g. Seneca L.A. Ep. mor. ad Lucilium, l. I, ep. 12.9. P. 30. Ibid., l. V, ep. 43.4-5, P. 121.
Iohannes Chrys. In epist. ad Romanos, hom. I, c. 4. MPG 60. P. 400,33-38.
Id. De sancta pentecoste, hom. I, c. 2. MPG 50, Paris, 1862. P. 454,50-455,8.
Cfr. Id. In Kalendas, 2. MPG 48, Paris, 1862. P. 956,1-11. Id. De anna, sermo 5, 1, MPG 54. P. 670,7-16.
Id. Ad populum Antiochenum, hom. 18, 3. MPG 49. P.185,55-186,11 [trans. by W.R.W. Stephens. NPNF vol. 9.
Buffalo, NY, 1889, P. 462].
Plato, Gorgias, 475c.
Iohannes Chrys. In epist. II ad Timotheum, hom. 5, c. 3. MPG 62. Paris, 1862, P. 628,11sqq. [trans. by P. Schaff.
NPNF vol. 13. Buffalo, NY, 1889. P. 494].
There is a remarkable difference between Plato and Chrysostom’s justification of doing
wrong being worse than suffering it: while the philosopher of Athens identifies the legitimation
of such a thesis in the “being objectively more shameful/ugly” (aischiston) of committing a
crime/having a vicious soul/being unjust yet explicitly rejects the possibility that it could be
based on the painfulness felt by the wrongdoer,80 by contrast the bishop of Constantinople,
inheriting the Stoics’ thematization of the pricks of conscience, of the peacelessness of the wrong
doer and the purity of conscience as source of joy,81 stresses the extreme sufferance of the
wrongdoer, caused by the implacable, incorruptible, compassionless inner judge of to syneidos,
as well shown in the quoted passage: the greater ugliness/shamefulness at the objective level
finds a precise correspondence in the greater “bitterness” (pikria) of doing wrong than suffering
it at the level of the subjective feeling.82
Concluding this paragraph concerning the bad and good conscience, I’d like to add
another brief comparison with the non-Christian philosophy and particularly once again with the
Stoics, due to the chance to mark a further meaningful difference with the perspective of
Chrysostom despite the several similarities. Indeed, the bishop of Constantinople can offer the
sinners a well-defined, multilevel model for transforming their bad conscience into a good one,
i.e. for repenting, for coming back to a new life, i.e. a paradigm of how to fruitfully deal with the
sufferance created by to syneidos. On the contrary, the Stoics – especially the Old Stoa – have to
face big difficulties in delineating the stages of a possible moral progress and a fruitful
confrontation with the inner sufferance caused by the pricks of conscience. Due to their monistic
psychology, which knows no further power in the soul as a possible contrast against the logos
degenerated in passion,83 due to their ethical radicalism, which recognizes nothing between the
absolute vice and the absolute virtue and consequently undermines the existence of the
traditional intermediate space for moral progress,84 due to the lack of every preliminary
“readiness” (to pareskeuasthai) on the part of the phaulos for the reception of rational
discourses,85 the possibility of a consistent theoretical conception and a full-fledged description
of the passage from being a phaulos to being a sophos appears heavily jeopardized: indeed, a too
deep abyss seems to divide the phauloi, suffering under metamelia and the other passions, and
the sophoi – supposing that someone of them has really existed –86 in their apatheia and
absolutely moral perfection.
III. The importance of listening to the moral didaskaloi
There are two further topics introduced by Chrysostom during his dealing with the theme
of to syneidos that I’d like to mention in the present paper: firstly, the idea of the human being as
a self-determining, autonomous, free being; and secondly, the essentiality of the relation with the
other humans for the best acknowledge of good and evil and the individual moral progress.
The first topic has been already touched on when I sketched Chrysostom’s thought
concerning the good conscience as a source of happiness and how the purification/transformation
of the conscience only depends on our free will.87 In this way, he inherits the cornerstone of the
Christian anthropology and ethical reflection since Origen, i.e. the portray of the human being as
a self-determining, free being rather than a determined, natural being, whose moral quality and
happiness actually depends not on the biological constitution, not on the society and its
influence, not the availability of external goods and not any other external factor, but rather on
its boulê, on its synkatathesis, on its prohairesis – put simply, on its free will.88 This is also the
case because the paths towards the virtue and happiness are accessible to everyone: one only has
Plato, Gorgias, 474c-477e.
Several references in: Chadwick H. Art. “Gewissen”. // RAC, vol. 10. Stuttgart, 1978. P. 1025-1107, here: P.
1049-1050. Cfr. Reiner H. Art. “Gewissen ”. // HWPh, vol .3. Basel, 1974. P. 574–592, here: P. 574-578.
Cfr. supra. Cfr. Iohannes Chrys. In epist. ad Romanos, hom. XXIII, 3. MPG 60. P. 613,9sqq.
Cfr. Vegetti M. L’etica degli antichi. Roma-Bari, 72002. P. 225-230.
SVF III 536, 539.
SVF III, 682.
SVF III 657, 658, 662, 668.
Cfr. supra, par. II.
Cfr. Kobusch T. Der Begriff des Willens in der christlichen Philosophie vor Augustinus. // Wille und Handlung in
der Philosophie der Kaiserzeit und Spätantike, edd. by J. Müller, R. Hofmeister Pich. Berlin-New York, 2010. P.
to want to tread on them. Hence, it’s noteworthy how Chrysostom’s reflection on to syneidos and
more generally his Christian ethics are characterized not only by a strong universalism/antielitism but also a marked anti-intellectualism: the ‘implantation’ in us of the conscience by God,
as an innate awareness and constant reminding about the moral rule removes any excuse
regarding our sinning. We surely don’t sin due to the ignorance of the good, but rather because
we don’t hear what our conscience tirelessly says to us, and we don’t hear because we don’t
want to listen.89 Consequently, we are fully responsible for our actions and moral character,
because we are free to either listen or not to the accusations and condemnations of the impartial
tribunal in our soul, i.e. the voice of our conscience. To this regard, Chrysostom emblematically
writes in his Homilies on Genesim:
Do you see, dearly beloved, how God created our will independent [autexousion], and
just as we lose our footing if we don’t take care, so too we observe what we need to, provided we
have a mind to be on the watch? I mean, what was it, tell me, that coerced this man [= Cain] into
making his confession? Nothing other than conscience, that judge who is proof against influence
[ho dikastês ekeinos ho adekastos]. You see, when he fell into indifference and thus put into
effect his devil endeavor, immediately conscience raised its voice in accusation of the magnitude
of his sins and the extent of the punishment he thus rendered himself liable to. […] The loving
Lord, you see, appointed us a prosecutor of this kind who would never rest but would constantly
be at hand to raise his voice and demand punishment for our sins.90
The topic of the listening – something whose importance and even primacy Chrysostom
defends against the traditional (and intellectualistic) priority of seeing –91 allows a direct
connection with the second theme that I want to mention here: the relation with the other human
beings. Indeed, listening to the voice of the own conscience, the voice of God in us, the
examination and the purification/change of oneself don’t imply an individualistic, atomistic
withdrawing into oneself; they aren’t solipsistic processes carried out in a status of separation
and indifference to the other human beings and their opinions. On the contrary, Chrysostom
points out that the conscience as a moral teacher should be inserted in a plurality of didaskaloi,
who are – in addition to the nature, the creation in its totality –92 the relatives, the friends, the
community, etc. around the single human being: 93 their moral judgments, their reproaches are
the best help for keeping vigil our dianoia, our conscience, as well as awaking the habitual
sinner from the status of insensibility and inner death into which he has fallen through the
accumulation of the sins.94 The charitable bond with the other human beings doesn’t mean an
indifference to the moral quality of the other person, to his salvation and happiness: the love of
the neighbour may and sometimes must express itself in the readiness to reproach as well as to
be reproached, always with the aim of the common salvation and eternal happiness.
Thinking once again of the stoic perspective and the importance of the conscience as an
inner tribunal in their ethical theory, a supplementary point emerges as a distinguishing factor in
comparison with Chrysostom’s perspective: for the Stoics, the other human beings, the relatives,
the society with its institutions, etc. are very far away from being considered as something worth
of being listened to, as didaskaloi, as teachers, sources of the moral rule, flanking and – in the
case of the worst sinners – even substituting to syneidos. On the contrary, they are phauloi,
sources of spreading scientific and moral folly, wrong opinions and bad customs, those
responsible for the perversion of the logos in the children and the generation of the illnesses of
the passions.95
IV. Conclusion
Thus, behind the apparent fragmentariness of Chrysostom’s passages on to syneidos, one
can actually discover the main coordinates of a well-defined theory of the conscience as the
Iohannes Chrys. In Genesim, hom. 5, c. 2. MPG 53. P. 50,26-33.
Ibid. hom. 20, c. 3. P. 169,57sqq. [trans. by R.C. Hill. The Fathers of the Church, vol. 82. Washington DC-New
York, 1990. P. 41].
Cfr. Mayr F.K. Art. “Hören”. // RAC, Bd. 15. Stuttgart, 1991. P. 1023-1111, here: P. 1090-1091.
Cfr. supra, par. II.
Iohannes Chrys. Ad populum Antiochenum, hom. 13, 4. MPG 49. P. 141,15sqq.
Id. In Matthaeum, hom. 27, 4. MPG 57. P. 349,24sqq. Id. In epist. ad Ephesios, hom. 9, 4. MPG 62. P. 74,24sqq.
Cfr. SVF III 228, 229, 229b, 231, 232.
fulcrum of a Christian life. The single elements of the mosaic composed by Chrysostom may be
certainly considered and analyzed as heritages of famous, widely spread topoi of the
philosophical tradition before him, especially of the Stoics’ ethics; nevertheless, they assume a
very different meaning and an own profile, if considered from the perspective of the whole final
image delineated by them, i.e. the moral proposal of a Christian way of life centered on the
experience of the metanoia and the task of the purification from sins.
However, I cannot adequately conclude my paper without paying further attention to
some aspects of the afore-sketched reconstruction of Chrysostom’s reflection on to syneidos,
which, in my opinion, are particularly relevant from a theoretic point of view and could represent
its strong points in an eventual ‘dialogue’ with the actual ethical problems.
Firstly, it’s remarkable how Chrysostom succeeds, even if often in an indirect way, in
delineating a pronounced voluntaristic ethics and anthropology: what we are, our moral
character, our happiness or infelicity depends on our free will, on what we have freely chosen.
Indeed, listening to the external and the internal didaskaloi as well as the concretization of what
they indicate us to do actually depends on nothing other than our will, which emerges as the only
premise and the actual impulse for moral change and progress.
Secondly, such a recognition of the free will as the actual causa efficiens of what we are
is the best guarantee for the ethical universalism that Chrysostom so strongly remarks in
occasion of the description of the ways, the paths of the metanoia, as well as their accessibility
for everyone, a consequence of the presence in everyone, Christian or pagan, holy or the worst
sinner, of the incorruptible, inescapable impartial judge of to syneidos, i.e. the moral law.
Consequently, Chrysostom’s ethics centered on to syneidos emerges as an interesting attempt at
organic connection between universalism, anti-elitism, anti-intellectualism and voluntarism, a
position that reveals its strength in its capability to avoid the risks of ethical fideism, even
irrationalism, as well as elitist intellectualism.
Thirdly, there’s a further risk that Chrysostom’s reflection on to syneidos is able to
escape, which is always a possible yet unwelcome ‘companion’ of the moral proposals strongly
stressing the role of the own conscience as an inner voice about the knowledge of good and evil:
the solipsism, the atomistic (and in last analyses) nihilistic subjectivism as an unpleasant
backside of the critical potentiality of the appeal to the own conscience as a decisive principle
and ultimate justification of the own acting against the conventional, socially established good
and evil. In the name of the own conscience and of the good that one only knows in the own
interiority, not only one can rebel against the social institutions, customs and their concept of
good and evil – with the most famous example certainly being the Antigone – Creon conflict
described by Sophocles in his tragedy and excellently interpreted by Hegel as the conflict
between the eternal, unwritten, natural law and the written, positive law –,96 but also one can feel
justified in the committing of the worst, deplorable acts: a terrorist can appeal to his conscience
as an apology and attempt at exculpation its bloodiest, inhuman acts. Through the recognition of
the other, concrete human beings and the institutions around the single person as didaskaloi at
the same level of the interior didaskalos of the conscience, both worth being listened to,
Chrysostom’s ethics possesses a sort of internal antidote against the risks of solipsism, nihilistic
subjectivism and fanaticism, as well as moral positivism. Indeed, on the one hand one has to be
ready to criticize the socially established good through listening to the voice of the own
conscience; on the other hand, one has to be ready to be awakened from an eventual insensibility
to the goodness caused by the sins, to be shaken free from the own mental lethargy and deafness
to the voice of God in us through listening to the indications, even reproaches of the other human
beings. According to Chrysostom, natural and social/positive law cannot contradict each other de
jure, just because they are both “teachers” of the same, identical, moral good, which is nothing
else than God himself; therefore, we have the duty to try to integrate, to harmonize, to reconcile
them, i.e. to control which one of the two has de facto been hindered in a particular situation
from the explication of its function of being didaskalos, source of knowledge of the moral Truth.
Marina.V. Rukavishnikova
Cfr. Hegel G.W.F. Vorlesung über die Philosophie der Religion II, ed. by E. Moldenhauer, K.M. Michel. HW 17.
Frankfurt am Main, 1986. P. 132-133.
Conscience in the interpretation of writers of Philokalia.
Unquestionable veracity, love for truth, coordination of actions with their theoretical
cognition are the fundamentals of clarity, sharpness and vigour of conscience and
conscientiousness. Alternatively, proclivity to lies and discordant actions and convictions is the
basis for aberration, obtrusion and distortion of conscience. Any individual may have different
manifestations of conscience at different times, i.e. certain individuals may be aware of it or not
and its voice may be true or false. Thus apostle Paul mentions frail conscience or mistaken or
idols’ conscience in his Letters, therefore it would be erroneous to admit the assumption which
holds that every person has their conscience which bears complete and well-organized moral
law, same moral content, so in case of aberration people should refer to their own conscience.
Although each person has the possibility to adjust their conscience and be governed by its right
and clear regulations.
Conscience as a benchmark of spiritual life is contingent with one of the leading
movements of Orthodox life and austerity as means of formation of body and spirit.
Person’s inner readiness is of paramount importance as without virtuous will there are no
virtuous deeds. Virtuous deeds have the power as proof and external manifestations of good
intentions and good dispensation of soul.
Conscience is a regulator of the inner world and the gravity centre in inner readiness of a
Philokalia evaluates conscience by comparing it with shame. A sinful person is ashamed
of himself. A sincere heart (soul) guards people against sin.
1. Shame as the result of passions, pride. It is shameful for some people to confess.
2. Shame for self salvation. It is shameful to violate moral commandments.
Person's expectation of shame can restrain from reprehensible acts. Shame can have
social value—people can be ashamed of other people. It is possible to avoid that feeling if we
follow the voice of conscience. Conscience is closely connected with shame in Philokalia. The
violation of these regulations triggers shame. Such an interpretation did not exist in ancient
times. Shame as a special mechanism of spiritual life controls repentance.
The term ‘Conscience’ appears in the Bible starting with the times of Apostles, in synodic
translation of Gospel it is mentioned only once.
The absence of the word ‘conscience’ in the New Testament has a clear explanation in
theological books as Gospel has its very essence and the Book the Good tidings, the good tidings
of truth and the good tidings of the Holy kingdom.
Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern) mentions that the notion of conscience the apostle Paul
borrows from psychology. He interprets this as a religious and epistemic notion and it means the
notion of God, who our existence brings us to.
As can be said from the above, spiritual and moral freedom of man involves moral efforts
to master conscience to transform its passionate state through moral development of the soul into
a virtuous life; each passion has its opposite virtue: pride –humility, greediness-mercy, lustchastity, cowardice-patience, anger-long-sufferance, hatred-love.
The heart of man has a lot of thoughts and it in dire need of guidance or mentor, and
mind (helmsman) and conscience (castigator and mentor) can perform such roles. According to
its connection with conscience the heart is viewed as courteous and fierce. Conscience is the
heart’s role. Spirit and heart are the means of communication with God and conscience is the
utmost principle of the Holy Spirit which governs, supports and confirms it.
Spiritual and moral combination of conscience and heart is possible with genuine
awareness of mind. Living, active and delicate sobering of mind leads to good intentions of
conscience, which points out our call and goals.
Mean and desecrate conscience is a biased judge as the role of conscience in spiritual and
moral life is of a judge of our actions and thoughts. Conscience, mind and heart are closely
connected with other virtues in the ethics of Philokalia. Conscience is called a contender as it
always resists our malicious will and reminds us that we should have done and if we do
something wrong, condemns us.
Conscience makes an integral part of man and it is closely connected with other parts.
Four animals which carry the chariot represent the powerful mental faculties of soul: eagle – the
king of birds-will, lion-wild animals-conscience, donkey-meek animals-mind, man who is above
all creatures – the power of love. The flight of will is a sharp-clawed conscience-meek mind and
above all the all empowering love. Conscience inspired mind and warns the heart and it is in the
process of sobering. It is closely connected with all the parts of soul, but it is also a child of
The aim of all these acts of conscience is to change man for the better and show him the
way to good. If the conscience does not condemn the spirit, both spirit, soul and body are
flawlessly connected in their moral respect. Alternatively, man experiences shame and disgrace
from saints. If conscience condemns, man is free of freedom as when there is a person who
condemns, there is a person who is condemned, while when there is condemnation, there is no
freedom. The beginning of spiritual and moral life is hidden in a harmonious coordination of all
the parts. Thoughts of the heart, which are restrained by fear, are governed by mind (helmsman)
which gives hope to the soul so that it could purify its passions. Conscience plays a pivotal role
of a castigator and mentor, which ensures spiritual love, actions for the sake of love, and spiritual
life of the soul
Conscience is also important when it comes to the formation of motivational ethics. It
defines the significance of evaluation of thoughts, the reasons of actions through awareness and
repentance to form firm outlook. Formation of motivational ethics is based on a well-developed
system of thoughts, motives-action-repentance-result:
The phenomenon of conscience is determined as a spiritual and moral fact which is
realized as confession and repentance as ontological facts.
Conscience is a means of distinction of good and evil, it is characterized as a strategic
category of moral consciousness which has a complex hierarchal structure.
Conscience performs three functions which have their on functions and aims which
correspond to the role they play.
The basic characteristics of this phenomenon are:
Internal moral law-authority of conscience.
Castigator and judge – merits of conscience.
Freedom of actions through moral choice — executive function.
As can be seen from the above, Philokalia is a practical incarnation of world outlook
based on interiorization of the phenomenon of conscience. It also embraces all aspects of our life
ranging from household chores by cooperation with others to the specific features of relations
with God.
Ethics plays a leading role in understating of the world. The defining motive is to
upbringing of conscience, spiritual and moral perfection unlike the understanding of upbringing
as a form of transition of knowledge.
Bandurovsky Konstantin
Сonscientia and synderesis in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas
Medieval philosophers used two terms speaking about conscience: «conscientia» and
«synderesis», the word which usually is not translated on one of the European languages, and
which is closer to our understanding of conscience, though it is not identical. Medieval thinkers
could not come to the consent about, whether is synderesis action, ability, skill or «habitual
ability», whether it concerns to a will or reason part of soul, whether it concerns to ratio superior
or ratio inferior, to parts of the soul turned to God and to a material world (the division which is
going back to Augustine of Hippo), whether it is inherent in any person and whether it can go out
in someone, how necessary character synderesis reconciles with a free will and, at last, what
place synderesis occupies in the general system of our ethical abilities and in legal system, etc.
These discussions become less intense during the subsequent periods, and though this word is
seldom used now in ethical discussions, a number of considerable modern moral philosophers
(e.g. Agamben and MacIntyre) and theologians (e.g. cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) feel requirement
to use this word.
Thomas Aquinas bases his reasoning about synderesis at the general understanding of
movement (it is understood not only as moving, but also as change, transition from the
potentiality to the actuality). It demands some basis, some immovable foundation. It is a
universal principle which is applied on a wide range of things, from physical movement (so the
argument begins with physical movement in the beginning of the article «Is synderesis ability or
habitus» from «Comments to Sentences»), to proofs of existence of God in which from the fact
of existence of moving («it is obvious that the Sun moves»), changing and casual things Thomas
goes back to necessity of existence motionless and invariable First Mover (God). The human
discursive reason, whether it be theoretical or practical, is unlike divine or angelic intellect, is
passing from one understanding to another, without being capable to capture all entirely. Such
movement is possible, however, from a certain starting point, the certain necessary basis, which
itself is not resulted from discourse or proofs; without it intellectual activity would be
impossible. But though the human intelligence is essentially distinct from angelic, the ladder of
nature is arranged without ruptures, each steps adjoin to other and the higher part of the lowest
step appears a lowest part of the higher (the concept of Pseudo-Dionysus Areopagitus). Thus, in
the higher part of our intelligence there is a certain relationship with angelic intelligence, ability
to perceive certain truth by complete intuition, though in an imperfect way - these intuitions are
much poorer, than intuitions of angels, and though they have aprioristic character, open not at
once, but in the course of experience (but they are not deduced from experience). These
axiomatic intuitions also underlie intelligence activity, being foundations from which the
theoretical reason conducts the proof, and the practical reason leads to acts. Thus, Thomas
Aquinas compares activity of theoretical and practical intelligence - both of them can conduct a
strict reasoning. Ability of reason to comprehend first beginnings also is called synderesis, which
is as a seed plot (quasi seminarium), in which seeds of all ethical actions are concluded. All other
moral principles find out in synderesis a uniform root.
The main principle of synderesis is: «it is necessary to search and make the good, and to
avoid evil» (just as the main principle of theoretical reason is: «every whole is more than his
part»). The duty of synderesis is to grumble on harm (remurmurare malo) - in this respect it is
close to that we now call «conscience». In «Comments on the Sentences» there are mentioned
also other postulates of synderesis, such as «it is necessary to obey divine instructions, etc.»
Within the limits of construction of ethical and legal system, however, the first formulation
works, and divine instructions arise only on the second step. This principle is obvious in itself,
and as «obvious in itself», it opens for everybody, and not just for wise man as it occurs to
principles which are clear in self, but not for us. It is innate to our mind from light of active
intelligence; it is some kind of a spark and just as the spark is the purest part of fire; synderesis is
the highest part in judgments of practical reason.
However, though this first law does not demand proofs, demonstrative deducing from
other laws (indemonstrabile est), it also has the base - concept of the good (fundatur supra
rationem boni). First principle of any knowledge is based on that thing which is initially seized
by reason of any person (in apprehensione omnium cadunt) – being or existence, which the
reason learns first of all in the course of knowledge of any other thing. The first axiomatic
position of theoretical reason: it is impossible to consider something existing and non-existing
simultaneously. The being considered by practical reason, is learnt as the good (the good is
converted with the being, is the being in certain aspect, namely, as comprehended by practical
reason). But the practical reason is connected with activity it establishes the appropriate purposes
of our actions and intentions. Thus, the good is considered as «thing is wished by everybody»,
and from this already there is a first law: it is necessary to make the good and to avoid the evil.
Then the other laws (the second level laws) arise from this first law, according to a
certain order of the «natural propensities». First of all each substance wishes to keep itself in
compliance with the nature, from what instructions to preserve a life follow. Other propensity is
to support our species and to breed, from what instructions concerning marriage and education of
children follow. The third propensity is connected with our rational being, and the reason orders
to support a social life, to aspire to true, especially concerning God and to avoid ignorance. Then
there are instructions of the third level. Unlike the previous instructions which are based directly
on synderesis and natural propensities and are clear to any person, they are not so simply
deduced and demand «careful studying by wise men» or are expressed in divine instructions, like
in Ten Commandments. At this level we face to set of empirical laws of a human society, the
numerous instructions which are growing out of historically developed cultural practice which
not always can be deduced from the first principles. However we can analyze these numerous
instructions, distinguishing original laws deduced from the first principles, from casual variations
or those positions which are not laws, and is faster corruption of laws. Original laws should
correspond to the justice; laws inappropriate to justice are not virtues of the law. Some
instructions have optional character. For example, there is a general instruction of the natural law
according to which everyone who commits crime should be punished, however what punishment
is necessary, is frequently defined by existing customs and is not deduced directly from first
The system of a practical reasoning comes to the accomplishment with the practical
syllogism. Thus, we can build complete system of ethical and legal instructions based on
axiomatic concept synderesis.
That, in what degree Aquinas’s practical reasoning is demonstrative, depends in many
respects on our criteria demonstrability, and on that, how much our reasoning keeps away from
initial principles and enters into the sphere of the empirical facts. However it is clear that
Thomas Aquinas pursues an ideal of severity and demonstrability and constructive discussion of
any problem is possible within the limits of its ethics in a rational context. Within this limits
there is problematic of inaccuracy in our practical judgments, in particular so-called «dilemma of
mistaking conscience» or «dilemma of mistaking reason».
Division conscientia/synderesis is used for the decision of the first question. As
synderesis is habit of primary axiomatic principles, we cannot be mistaken in any way. However
it is necessary for us to apply these indisputable universal judgments on concrete circumstances.
Errors are possible because of an incorrect estimation of circumstances (and circumstances in
which we operate, are very diverse, difficult and inconsistent), because of deviations in a
reasoning happening under the influence of passions or emotions. The person always operates in
concrete circumstances, realizing the concrete near purposes, and selecting concrete means in
which he can be mistaken. The principle synderesis appears very important. First, he allows us to
be discharged of a situation, to postpone the realization of a special purpose which is represented
to us as a good by our reason, conscience and will (which can be mistaken). Then we ask a
question: whether this our desire seeming to us as a good, is corresponds to the good in general?
This principle says: «do so that your concrete action will be agreed with the universal law», like
a categorical imperative of Kant says: «do so that the maxima of your will could become the
general law».
The dilemma of mistaking conscience (reason) is whether it is necessary to obey
mistaking conscience (reason)? To obey it means that the person will sin, to do not mean to go
against conscience. We, modern people face to this paradox especially sharply. We know, how
often conscience deceives us, how it is easy to us to deceive conscience, how often people do
terrifying acts, without testing the slightest remorse, without knowing, and without wishing to
know. They justify these acts, saying that «everybody do so» or that the person to whom we have
made harm, is extremely vicious and has deserved this or that these actions are directed on the
highest good, like John say; «There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think
he's doing God a favor» (John 16: 2).
Therefore reutilization of the concept of synderesis is quite essential problem realised by
some modern thinkers and theologians. So, cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict
XVI) urges to return to Aquinas’s division of conscience/synderesis in his essay «Conscience
and truth», noticing that conscience frequently acts as a protective cover of our subjectivity in
which the person can hide himself from the reality. Such position leads to conformity. Ratzinger
notices that nazis carried out all evil deeds with fanatical conviction and full confidence of
cleanliness of the conscience. But, fortunately, synderesis is a spark which cannot die away in
any person, whatever vicious it was that gives to us an optimistic prospect.
Oleg E. Dushin
Conscience and will in the ethical teaching of Duns Scotus.
In the current discussions on the theological doctrine of Duns Scotus is held a clear
rethinking of his role and importance in the history of European metaphysics. However, the
important thing is that the moral philosophy in its Christian dimension is a unique experience of
personal experiences, personal vocation and responsibility. Duns Scotus just wanted to show
opposites of spiritual life of people as subjects of morality. His concepts of will and the right
reason, conscience and synderesis acquired a special place in the European ethics. The themes as
the moral vocation of people, recognition of the differences of strong-willed intentions and
dispositions, understanding the invariance of our activity and the diversity of principles that have
been deployed in the teachings of Duns, of course, are the actual issues of modern ethical
research. In this sense, the medieval Christian moral doctrine opens powerful strategies
internalization of morals and the incorporation of ethical values and standards of behavior in the
European socio -legal disciplinary space, identifying all possible nuances of sinful passions of
man and at the same time defending his moral and spiritual strength. However, the specifics of
Eastern Orthodox moral theology as a practice of monastic asceticism is given experience of
emotional distress and realized at the level of feelings and moods, while the Western European
scholastic moral theology, beings ars demonstrativa, focused primarily on the priorities of the
rational-volitional dispositions, which implies strict clarity of thought and will’s preferences.
Moreover, during the thirteenth - fourteenth centuries, the medieval "school" university science
develops and approves ethics as scientia practica. Prominent role in this process was played by
John Duns Scotus.
In an effort to identify and explicate the concept, reconciling and synthesizing approaches
thinkers of his time, John Duns Scotus resorted to really "thin" logical and metaphysical
distinctions. In particular, it applies to his interpretation of the relation of will and intellect in the
process of formulation and implementation of an act of moral and ethical behavior of the person.
However, it can be confidently said that the ethical disposition of the will in his interpretation is
a priority. He directly states that any possible action refers only to the act of will. The fact that
intellect, engaging knowledge, does not have the freedom that is inherent in the will. In the
process of learning intellect falls under the leadership of "nature", whereas will have the unique
opportunity of choice. Thus, the will determines the possibility of freedom of human activity
otherwise we would have been completely subordinated to the necessity of nature. However, it
does not mean that the will is in Duns irrational nature that its decision is not determined by
reason and not reducible to any reasonable requirements and regulations. It is the highest active
principle, and it differs from all other rational faculties, so it does not apply the definitions and
general propositions, which are used in relation to all the other possibilities. It sets its perfection,
its specific disposition in human nature. The will is free and it is not subject to the dictates of
external things that determine the cognitive activity of the intellect.
And yet this kind of peculiar disposition of the will as an active creativity and its
perfection in comparison with the mind does not override the need for "collaboration" with its.
Morally right action depends, according to Duns Scotus, on the several fundamentally important
objective circumstances (adequacy of purpose, place, time, etc.), only then it is possible to talk
about the goodness of the act. However, the first is that will has to match to the right reason
(ratio recta). Thus, recognizing the special status and priority of will in interpretation of
procedure of moral action, Doctor Subtilis does not deny the scholastic syllogistic and rationaldiscourse knowledge as a prerequisite to develop the strategy of our moral behavior.
Medieval philosopher admits that will "cooperates" with the mind not only in the choice
of moral behavior, but it is actively co-working in the process of cognition. The point is that by
participating in the process of learning will can get experience of pleasure, and hence will as a
top agent strengthens this process, whereas knowledge in which there is no genuine pleasure,
weakens and stops. The requirement of positive emotional experience relevant moral acts is the
condition of the moral virtues.
With particular emphasis on the will as the most sophisticated and creative top priority in
the structure of human abilities and strategies of moral behavior, Duns Scotus reveals its inner
dynamics through an explication of its basic tendencies affectio commodi and affectio justitiae.
The will, which has the fundamental freedom of choice, contains a certain kind of movement and
development, which are realized through the motivating of her inclinations. In this context, Duns
Scotus, offers a very interesting perspective of explanation of the process of volitional election,
referring to the immanent forces of will. He does not consider the will as only source of sin and
damnation. Man is capable of moral actions. The will is able to make a positive virtue when it
takes a final decision but it means that it is responsible for all the moral and practical results of
ongoing operations.
The inclination to justice explains why man is capable of acts beyond his rational benefits
and advantages. In this sense, people might be tempted to acts which exceed the scope of his
narrow selfish interests. He can break the proverbial chain of various external conditions and
circumstances. We start from the contingent situation of our actions, but we can break this
situation through the movement to good as such. Therefore, the inclination to justice is the
foundation of freedom of will. In this perspective, this inclination coincides with the
requirements of the “right reason” (ratio recta).
The natural goodness, which is achieved by action under the propensity to use (affectio
commodi), is not moral goodness in full sense, it is only necessary but not sufficient condition,
but the inclination to justice (affectio justitiae) provides adequate direction corresponding to the
highest good going beyond all natural determinants. In this regard, our inclination to advantage
does not give us the opportunity to realize a truly free choice. By acting in this way, we will not
be able to go beyond the requirements and standards of social morality, we are still subject to
many life circumstances, all sorts of calculations and calculation of benefits, which will limit us.
Thus, only inclination to justice controlling the motivational mechanism of our inclination to
advantage directs us to a truly objective good.
In the framework of interpretation of synderesis and conscientia Duns Scotus proposed
that synderesis inclines us to act justly and to oppose evil. In this regard, it relates to intellect and
is defined as “habitual knowledge of the principles that have always right” (habitus
principiorum). Intellect, in turn, accepts these principles directly by the terms of themselves. In
fact, it is the self-evident moral postulates. Will, drawing closer to the "right reason" through
inclination to justice, tends to follow these standards. Conscience is presented as a “habit of
relevant practical conclusions” (habitus proprius conclusionis practicae), it determines the right
choice and so is the “stimulus to good”. It bears much of the responsibility for the formulation of
correct judgments in moral activity. It acts as an active ingredient, which is claimed whenever a
person begins to think about his actions, being in a certain situation, dictated by a variety of
circumstances. Duns is well aware that we are implementing various strategies of moral activity,
and aims to demonstrate the different schemes of explications of our behavior, given the
numerous concepts of his contemporaries, taking something, but also criticizing and refuting
some of them. Thus, in his definitions of understanding moral perspectives of human activity
reveals a much more nuanced thought and conceptual possibilities for ethical theory, than in the
general requirements of universal moral philosophy of the Modernity.
Summing up, it is necessary to stress once again that in the recent studies of historiophilosophical literature, Duns Scotus takes on particular disposition not only within the
scholastic discourse of the Middle Ages but also in the general fate of European metaphysics. It
should be noted that his concept will opens interesting and promising possibilities for explicating
of contemporary ethical studies. In this sense, the study of the cultural heritage of the Past is
determined not only by the desire to keep the truth, but also the inescapable desire to open up
new horizons of Present times.
Mikhail Khorkov
Self-consciousness and conscience in the writings of Henry Suso and John Tauler
There is no German word gewissen (conscience) in the works by John Tauler. In the
German texts by Henry Suso this word is not found too. The phenomenon of conscience is
described here by the verb gewîzen and its adverb forms. On the other hand, the Latin term
conscientia is incorporated into the German texts by Suso and Tauler in its unchanged form.
Meanwhile, the verb gewîzen and participle gewîzet originally do not represent “conscience”, but
specific cognitive functions, namely related to the self-recognition or deep inner awareness of
something, for example, of the other people, of the motives of their actions and sins. That means
that from a cognitive point of view, the conscience should be a special act of self-knowledge, or
spiritual knowledge by means of which the human soul knows itself, for the majority of the
German medieval theologians, spiritual authors and mystics, who wrote their texts in German
medieval dialects.
According to Tauler, the conscience (conscientia) is, above all, an indicator of the
condition of a fundamental connection between man and God that never breaks because the
relationship of creation and the creator – metaphysically speaking – cannot disappear. The
conscience shows how much a person is close to God and how far it removed from Him. In this
sense, it is rather an ontological than a moral category. It operates at the very bottom of the
human soul (selengrund) to assess human behavior from the perspective of whether it leads to
God or deviates from the focus on Him. In this sense, the conscience operates incessantly.
The remoteness of man from God is demonstrated by his bad conscience. Therefore, the
purification of conscience is a necessary condition for the return movement of the human soul to
God. It is not surprising that the thesis of the need to purify the conscience has become a
common place in the Tauler’s sermons and is repeated many times in various combinations.
But much more attention in his sermons Tauler pays to detailed description of how the
conscience works in the soul when communication of man with God is defiled by sin.
Metaphorical brilliance and expressiveness of his language reach their maximum strength and
depth in these passages. For example, in one of his sermons Tauler compares the work of the
conscience in the human soul with the act of chewing:
«Nu nemen wir S. Bernhartz wort. Als wir lipliche spise essent, so kúwen wir zem ersten,
und denne sinket si nider in den lichamen senfteklich. Was ist dis kúwen? Sprach S. Bernhardus:
'wenn wir Got essen, so werden wir von im gessen; so isset er uns.' Wenne isset uns Got? Das tůt
er wenne er in uns unser gebresten straffet und unser inwendigen ogen uf tůt und git uns ze
erkennende unser gebresten; wan sin essen das straffet die consciencie, das bissen und das
kúwen: als man die spise in dem munde wirffet um her und dar, also wirt der mensche in dem
straffende Gotz har und dar geworfen in angst unde vorchte und in trurikeit und in grosse
bitterkeit, und enweis wie es im ergan súlle»; Pr. 60c, ed. Vetter «qui manducat meam carnem et
bibit meum sanguinem, in me manet et ego in eo» (Ion. 6, 56), S. 294, 19-30 (Sermon on Corpus
Christi Day, Ion. 55-58).
I think that it is hardly a coincidence that such a strong physiological, carnal savory
gastronomic metaphor is used by Tauler in his sermon on the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi.
Colorful bodily imagery does not contradict in this case to the spiritual purpose of the preaching,
but, on the contrary, leads to it. Because the main task of preaching, namely to prepare people to
the central event of the Liturgy, the Eucharist, unifying human beings with God, represents in
this metaphor in its essence both bodily and at the same time sublime spiritually. The most
important point here is that the both aspects (bodily and spiritual) are inseparable in the
Eucharist, and each of them is impossible without the other. And, more importantly, they both
operate on the human person directly and without any intermediation.
Therefore it is no accident that the discourse on conscience is closely associated for
Tauler with the Eucharistic context. In general, it is the most frequent context of the use of the
word conscientia in the works by Tauler. Unfortunately, it was consciously or unconsciously
overlooked by Protestant interpreters since the time of the Reformation. Actually, to allow the
voice of conscience to speak in the soul, to hear it, and then, realizing his own sinfulness, to
purify the conscience, – all that is necessary, Tauler believes, only for one purpose – to be
properly prepared to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, that means to be prepared for the
immediate unity of the believer with God. Exactly for this unity you must first confess your sin
(it is a kind of justification of the sacrament of confession), followed by purification of
conscience (repentance), and only after that – to take God in your mouth and to find unity with
Him (the sacrament of the Eucharist).
Some Tauler’s texts demonstrate even deliberately frequent use of the term conscientia in
the passages, where the Eucharistic context is particularly important. This feature is especially
characteristic of the sermon number 16 of the Corin edition, which is not included in the edition
by Fetter. It is also interesting that in the 15th century Dutch translators drew their attention to
this sermon and wanted to include it in their collections of Dutch translations of the sermons by
Tauler. There are preserved at last two codes with its full text and a number of fragments in other
But more important is the noticeably change in the frequency of the use of the term
conscientia by translation of the Tauler’s texts from German into Dutch. The use of the word
conscientia in the Dutch translation becomes more frequent because of the selection of
appropriate sermons and of additional inserts into the text. The reasons for this transformation of
terminological frequency explains an anonymous compiler, which uses for this purpose the Latin
language, perhaps because of its neutrality with respect to both languages – German and Dutch.
According to him, the frequency increases due to the specific transfer of German text by Tauler
into Flemish dialect: «isti sermones magis correcti secundum linguam flamingam» («The
sermons are mostly corrected respectively to Flemish language», ms. Koninklijke Bibliotheek te
Brussel, No. 2283/84 (Cat. II, 1167), f. 60v).
The increase in the frequency of use of the term «consciencie» by translating of the
German Tauler’s sermons into Dutch can be illustrated by the example of two manuscripts from
Utrecht and Ghent, containing the Dutch version of the Tauler’s sermon number 16 which is
devoted to the Eucharist (numeration according to the Corin edition, which is based on the
Vienna manuscript ÖNB 2744). In connection with our subject there are two points in this
sermon which are interesting to us: 1) high density of the use of the term consciencie which is
quite atypical on the whole for the texts by Tauler; 2) conceptual connection of conscience and
the sacrament of Eucharist (it could explain n. 1).
Summarizing the characteristics of how Tauler understands the concept of conscience, we
can say that according to him if a human person wants to prepare himself properly for the
Eucharist, the action of conscience must be connected with the inner work in his soul, not with
any external action. The main thing in this case is not the working power of the soul, but its
determination to turn away from anything which is not God Himself. Tauler claims that the
Deity is always present in the soul as a “spark” (funke) which never disappears and does not rest,
until it returns to God. Therefore, the essence of the human soul is fundamentally united with
God, that means, it is not one with Him in the sense of identity, and certainly not in a pantheistic
sense. They are united from the point of view of the ontology of creation, because there is an
indissoluble and indestructible unity between the Creator and the creature despite all their
essential difference, and there can be no mediation between God and His creature. For Tauler, as
far as for Meister Eckhart, this fundamental thesis is the source for all his reflections on the
ground of action of conscience in the human soul.
An inextricable link between the degree of purity of conscience and the sacrament of the
Eucharist is also evident in the writings of Henry Suso, from which both German and Latin texts
are survived – in contrast to Tauler, who was his Dominican con-friar from the same province,
but from the other, Strasbourg, convent. As in Tauler, the Eucharistic context of the use of the
term conscientia is one of the most frequent in the works by Suso. Sometimes in addition to the
Latin conscientia and German forms of the verb gewissen he also uses derivatives of the verb
conscire in the Latin text of Horologium Sapientiae, obviously, by analogy with the usage of the
German equivalent words which are used in his German texts. This is hardly surprising when we
remember that the text of Horologium Sapientiae is, in fact, a Latin version (though not
verbatim) of the German work by Suso entitled Büchlein der Ewigen Weisheit (The Little Book
of Eternal Wisdom).
Thus, the nature and specificity of the use of the term conscientia in the works of John
Tauler and Henry Suso demonstrate their kinship in certain theoretical concepts. The central
element of their understanding of conscience is the idea that it is a metaphysical and ontological
category, and not a moral category par excellence. The central value and the important role of
conscience in the way of man to God are determined by the initial bond between man and God:
when a person is removed from God, the conscience reminds her of it. Therefore conscience is a
form of human self-knowledge, as it is evident from the etymology of the German word
gewissen and from the understanding of the Latin term conscientia by the German authors of the
Middle Ages.
The context of using of the word conscientia in the writings of Tauler and Suso
demonstrates its close conceptual link with the theme of the Eucharist. At this point, the deep
spiritual metaphysical notions of conscience as incomprehensible activity of the foundation of
the soul are connected to the practical purpose of the preacher – to prepare the congregation for
the communion. Finding their “middle way” of understanding of the conscience between
sophisticated theory and immediate practice, Tauler and Suso do not forget about the first aspect,
and surely not at all about the second one, wherein they, in fact, not divide them. Apparently,
this “middle way” leads after many centuries of interpretation to the modern understanding of
conscience, which can be described, on the one hand, as a key instance of autonomous moral
judgment, and, on the other hand, as a spiritual and metaphysical category of special kind which
is central to the contemporary understanding of human personality.
Eremeeva Natalia
Conscience as a voice of God in Martin Luther’s doctrine
Luther’s understanding of conscience became stronger early, in the beginning of his
activity as Christian thinker and Reformer. Closely connected with the doctrine of justification
by faith, Luther’s conception of conscience plays an important role in Protestant tradition. The
report is dedicated to understanding of conscience as a voice of God in human beings. From one
side, conscience is a passive part of human nature, pure possibility. From another side,
conscience acts an active role of outward phenomenon, a provider of Law or grace.
The understanding of Luther’s views is rested upon his specific interpretation of
individual religious experience in the connection with the fact that Luther belonged to German
mystic tradition. Meister Eckhart said about human as about “flesh”, and he meant everything of
man under this word, except “Grund”. Martin Luther said the same about flesh, but he said that
this flash cannot be justified by Law. Some investigators of German mysticism conclude that
human being, according to Eckhart, has some powers to turn out its own sinful practice to take
care of itself and finally, the powers let to undergo the birth of God in the abyss of soul. It may
do conclusion from some texts that der Grund was not corrupted by the original sin. We know,
Martin Luther always denied the similar thought hardly as Pelagianism. Nevertheless, this
understanding of German mysticism is not enough. It is important to emphasize the possibilities
of human being are not connected with its activity, but, in opposite, with the possibility only to
undergo passively. German mystics say about the place in the human soul to be the most suitable
for God in the case of the sameness. It is “der Grund der Seele”, the bottom of soul, inner man
etc. Nevertheless, if we take the words of Rheine mystics about total passivity and
Abgeshiedenheit to mean no more except to receive God in «pure inner», then we can recognize
more well-grounded succession of the ideas of German mysticism in Luther’s doctrine. He said
sharply that this passive possibility is in human nature. In this case, we can say that Luther like
Rheine mystics did not keep strong interest for studying of powers and posses of soul. The
human has nothing except the possibility to receive God in. More than that, the possibility is
given to the human as a specific human sign and it cannot be merited by any activities. So that is
a conflict with own self, and it is specification of German mysticism at first. Then Luther took
the problem in his works. In Russia A. Losev opened that marked side of German mysticism.
Luther as Meister Eckhart said about the place of God in human being too. It is a heart in the
same mystic meaning. For Luther heart, soul, reason are the same in this activity – he names it is
faith. Faith is a basis, a foot, a foundation and a spring of all spiritual gifts. Indeed, no human
activity can help person to be chosen for salvation. Salvation, justification is exclusively primate
of God and belongs to Him. The human cannot even recognize total own depravity without
before granted grace of God. The human has nothing own to recognize sin and to repent of it.
Especially it is important to understand in the question of faith. Human is passive. Therefore, this
specific state of the personal relationship between human and God was never known before in
the Middle Age.
In terms of Christian anthropology, Luther’s doctrine of conscience is characterized by
determined rupture from scholastic realizing of synderesis and, further, from any variety of
synergetic. It is impossible to say scholastic spirituality not to be mystic. German mysticism is
near by Dominican tradition intellectually (Meister Eckhart was a Dominican), and it means it is
near by Thomism and scholasticism, and, in addition, by speculative spirituality too. But Luther
made a rupture with Aristotle scholasticism and aggravating the doctrine of Abgeshiedenheit by
German mystics. Liberum arbitrium, according to Thomas, is based on the dialectic cooperation
of will and reason. Prudentia makes freedom of human being because human can chose good
things by its own nature. God helps will to find its true nature by His gifts. But Luther was
hardly disagree. It was harmful opinion according to him. In this case, the scholastic division
between conscience and synderesis stopped playing important role in works of later Luther.
What is more, the whole understanding of the human being makes unproductive another classic
scholastic opposition: will versus reason. So true Christian righteousness is total passivity when
God acts in human. According to this doctrine, God can give man a real basis to rest upon it–
true human substance. It is a faith again and it becomes human nature instead any flesh. Faith is
a substance, a place when man can stand with both his feet, affectus et intellectus, taking off
every sin and death. Henceforth human is not characterized as what is this in Quidditas, but as
what is this in waiting. Luther took the understanding from the Holy Bible, where St. Paul said
about creature, i.e. matter, as Luther commented, waiting with hope. Luther understands where
the human is rested by hope and reason is the substance of one. Faith becomes a fundamental
ontological category occupying human judgment as full as emotion, making human experience
of hearing the conscience to be a voice of God. We cannot think about faith without God, in this
case Luther often says “substance of faith” in the same meaning as “substance of God” or about
faith and righteousness as the same. It is understandable for German mysticism. In the same
course Luther’s doctrine of good works has relationship with Eckhart’s meaning of good will.
Good works will come after faith as love will come in good will after Abgeshiedenheit. Faith
grasps a man in total and so structure of moral action must be changed too.
Instead the division between conscience and synderesis in Protestantism another
conception of conscience comes. Conscience is a sort of phenomena dealing with deep moral
feeling as so as intellectual recognizing grace and sin. A lot of different conceptual moments can
be opened in the borders of one text of Luther literally. First of all, conscience is a “demon
tormenting us”. From the other side in the same text we find that conscience has opposite spring
– God, namely, conscience is a voice of Law. We understand the opposition as Law forms
conscience to disturb us in spite of Law is good and holy. It is realizing of sin and feeling of sin
in the same time induced by active work of God. Law demonstrates sin and in this case, it is
connected with sin becoming sign of sin in society as so as in private conscience.
But times come when conscience says another message about forgiveness and
justification for Jesus Christ. This conscience has radically another nature, according to Luther –
he proclaims that it does not deal with Law and righteousness of flesh. What is it? What is
conscience in these opposite interpretations? Luther sharply emphasizes that conscience is a
voice bringing suffer or comfort depending on it provides Law or Evangelium. Conscience can
bring both of then in different moments of human life. Luther teaches to understand the dialectic
problem because it is a hard work in our daily activities. Why is it difficult? Because we must
ask conscience about it, but conscience is an outward phenomenon as active work of God and an
inner passive human place to wait for God in the same time. More than that, Luther understands
conscience in whole as well as he understands human being. Even the opposites of flesh and
spirit are not productive in this understanding. The radical view is a basis for Luther’s doctrine.
The view is emphasized polemically against any of spiritual “enthusiasm” taking place in his
times. Spirit for Luther is only Holy Spirit illuminating and renewing human. The Spirit may be
given by only one way – from Evangelium (sola Scriptura). Everything except is flesh without
any activities for good. So conscience by its own nature is flesh and it needs justification and
transformation to become voice of God in human being. Luther says about conscience as about
“our heart” and “consciousness” enduring active works of God that is strikes like lightning. In
this course we may understand Grund and “shrine of God” in heart meaning conscience as the
same place for God where He acts.
After it passiva contritio comes and only then grace comforts human. Further, in
Lutheran orthodoxy varieties of orders of salvation were built, where regretting, penetration,
humility and justification were disposed in different sequence. But Luther was less subtle in
terminology and he was closer to German mystics in lexicon in this question. Christian
consciousness must die for Law and for everything connected with Law. The Dead or
“abgeschieden” is the most suitable place for Christ. Unity of human and Gottheit changes in
Lutheran doctrine to unity of Christ with conscience. That is the same German tradition, because
Luther says about the unity in the same mystic terms of “abyss”, “darkness” or “fog of faith” in
our hearts where Christ is real especially in the darkness. This understanding must be
emphasized – mysticism is a basic condition for Christian life according to Luther. It is a
sequence from German mystic tradition through Luther’s doctrine in European Protestantism.
Unity of Christ with conscience is not a figure of speech but real fact, unio mystica, and Christ is
Who forms our faith.
In this context, we must conclude that Luther transferred German mystic concepts to
ethic anthropological sphere. Unio mystica for him is not a problem of pure existence but
decision to moral side of human being. Luther’s views that conscience is the place where sin and
grace closely connected all the time cannot be explained “mathematically”. Luther deprives a
human soul of substance, so marking conscience is Judge of God and in the same times His
justification to be granted us for the sake of Jesus Christ. But in Luther’s words a protestant is
not so gloomy as pietistic portraits draw. Law disturbs us but it is good because conscience
wakes up. Then Holy Spirit brings to conscience a new word saying about grace, making a new
reason and new will. And voice of conscience becomes a voice of grace determining a place of
human being in this world and its eternal life.
In the history of European philosophy, Immanuel Kant made his doctrine of conscience
closely connected with Luther’s understanding of conscience. In generally, a moral portrait of
our contemporary European in the context of protestant culture is impossible to draw without
paying attention to inner personal experience of communication with the condemning conscience
like with something alien to own human nature.