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I have collected various Catholic editorial headlines about this…

“The Catholic Church has always held to the primacy of conscience and taught that individuals must follow their consciences even when they are wrong…you should always follow your conscience.... Pope Francis on Saturday reaffirmed the “primacy” of using one's conscience to navigate tough moral questions in his ….Conscience takes priority over church teaching…Both the natural law and the Church have always upheld the moral necessity for each person to act in accordance with the dictates of his or her conscience.. 'It is never wrong to follow the convictions one has arrived at—in fact, one must do so.”

I do not understand this teaching. What Biblical or Catholic Tradition or natural law demands this teaching? The Catechism (#1782) and references to some Encyclicals seem to just repeat each other without a firm basis for this teaching. It seems counter intuitive and against right reason that everybody MUST do whatever they think is right despite a misinformed conscience, an erroneous conscience, a lax conscience, a dead conscience, and more. I understand the teaching that conscience should be formed rightly but how can Primacy of conscience be justified (even when wrong) above obeying certain teaching of the Catholic Church? I am not interested in theologians opinions, I am looking for firm and definitive teaching of Biblical, unanimous Church Tradition or natural law.

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    I don't think that this teaching implies one ought to follow a malformed conscience. Rather, what one ought follow is a properly formed and informed conscience.
    – jaredad7
    Aug 31 at 14:06
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    This is sometimes interpreted (wrongly) to mean that if your conscience says it's okay to sin, then it's not a sin, but that's expressly ruled out by Aquinas.
    – eques
    Aug 31 at 14:17
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    Since CCC is definitive church teaching (based on Bible, Tradition, AND Natural Law), reading the whole Article 6 on Moral Conscience actually answers your question already. My answer focuses on erroneous conscience, while the rest of CCC Article 6 (CCC 1776-1802) shows how conscience is God's voice (1776) which is why it's primary but for conscience formation (1783-1785) we need the accompanying virtue of Prudence (1784) and assistance of Holy Spirit, wise advice, and church teaching (1785). Aug 31 at 17:30
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    Please post a link to your quote for further analysis on our part.
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 2 at 20:23
  • Can anyone document the “Primacy of Conscience” outside of the CCC by quoting any Biblical passage or Pope or Encyclical or Catholic Doctrine or unanimous Church Tradition of the Fathers? Sep 3 at 14:33
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Short Answer

The question is:

How can Primacy of conscience be justified (even when wrong) above obeying certain teaching of the Catholic Church?

The Catholic church recognizes that people sometimes follows erroneous conscience because of certain ignorance, and therefore differentiates between vincible ignorance (which is blameworthy) and invincible ignorance (which is not blameworthy). Nevertheless, as CCC 1790 makes clear that conscience MUST be followed (part of the section IV. Erroneous Judgment, CCC 1790-1794):

A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

Long Answer

What follows is the explanation given in Chapter 5 of a textbook of Catholic Moral Theology Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues by Notre Dame professor of moral theology William Mattison who refined the book after teaching the course in 4 Catholic universities over 6 years. Although this is not official, I believe this explanation should be consistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Your question is best answered in connection with Prudence (Seeing and Acting Truthfully), which is covered in the first section of Chapter 5. The second half of this chapter (emphasis mine):

examines the meaning of a related term: conscience. This section will explain the meaning of the term and explain why the Christian tradition makes the radical claim that one must always follow one’s conscience. Nonetheless, that tradition has also maintained that one’s conscience can be in error, setting up the disturbing possibility that one may follow one’s conscience, and in doing so may actually be acting wrongly. Explaining how and why this is so, and how we can determine blame in such situations, is the last task for the second section of this chapter.

From the section Follow Your Conscience -- Always ! : (emphasis mine and my comment in square brackets):

The recognition that one can err in a judgment of conscience would seem to indicate that one should not always follow one’s conscience, but only when it is accurate. But this position actually makes no sense. One’s conscience is one’s most sincere judgment, in one’s heart of hearts, of what the right thing to do is. There is no getting underneath one’s conscience. Telling someone not to follow his conscience would, in effect, be telling someone to not do what he sincerely thinks is right. And this would make no sense. Hence, Christians have famously affirmed that one should always obey the certain judgment of one’s conscience 22 [CCC 1790]

Of course, the injunction to always follow one’s conscience, coupled with the realization that one’s conscience can be in error, sets up a disturbing possibility. One can follow one’s conscience, and in doing so honestly think in one’s heart of hearts one is acting well, and yet be acting wrongly. The reason the Christian tradition has maintained that people should always follow their consciences is largely due to a trust that they generally do indeed know what is right and wrong, even if they do not always act on it. But nonetheless, one can have, and act on, what has traditionally been called an erroneous conscience. In this situation one acts wrongly but “doesn’t know better.” One honestly thinks that one is acting rightly. The case of the slaveholder above is an example of an erroneous conscience—assuming he really thought that his actions were virtuous. This raises a further question: Is a person blameworthy for following an erroneous conscience?

The short answer to this is, it depends on why one’s conscience is erroneous. If one should have known better, then one is blameworthy for following an erroneous conscience, even though the person really did not know better. This ignorance is called vincible ignorance, since it is conquerable if someone is duly attentive and conscientious. Yet if one could not have known better, the ignorance is called invincible ignorance (unable to be conquered), and one is not blameworthy. An example may help make this distinction.

Say you are driving down a road and are pulled over by the police. The officer says you were speeding, doing 45 in a 30 mph zone. You could respond that you did not know the speed limit, so you should not get a ticket. But, of course, you are going to get a ticket. As a driver, it is your responsibility to know the speed limit, to keep an eye out for signs and drive accordingly. Note that the assumption here is that you truly are ignorant, and not lying to the officer. You really thought, in your heart of hearts, that the limit was 45 mph, and acted accordingly. Here is a simple example of following your conscience when it is an erroneous conscience. The ignorance is vincible, and you are morally responsible for not knowing better.

But perhaps you were paying attention, and the last sign you saw did indeed read 45 mph. Since the road did not significantly change, you assumed that was still the limit. It turns out, there was a sign marking the change to 30 mph, but when you drive back out of frustration to see if you were truly inattentive, you find the sign was knocked over in an accident. Indignant, you take pictures of the spot, go to court on your hearing date, and explain the situation to the judge. Now note, you were still speeding and violating the law. The question is not whether you violated the law—you did. The question is whether you are accountable, or blameworthy, for that violation. In this case, you truly had no way of knowing the law. You acted sincerely out of an erroneous conscience. You acted wrongly, but are not blameworthy since the ignorance was invincible.

What this language of vincible and invincible ignorance provides is a way of evaluating situations where people are acting in good faith but doing morally wrong things. A perfect example would be the slavery example. Surely slavery was wrong then, as it is now. ... As the slavery case makes clear, a lack of moral responsibility certainly does not mean one is acting rightly.

This discussion of slavery and the question of vincible/invincible ignorance prompts two observations before closing this section. First, the fact that slave owners several centuries ago seem to have genuinely thought they were acting rightly raises some humbling questions about our own contemporary societal practices. What are the things we do today that instrumentalize and victimize people—ourselves included—even though we do not see it? And should we see it? ... The question is whether we are doing things we sincerely think are good, but which actually corrupt us, others, and society as a whole.

Another point revealed by the slavery example is that the point of moral theology is not determining whether we can praise or blame someone. This is important, for sure. But it is possible to act wrongly, even if one is not blameworthy. If acting wrongly simply meant being blameworthy, this would make no sense. But as we know from chapter 1, acting wrongly means acting in a manner where the genuine happiness of ourselves and others is impeded. This is certainly true in the slavery example. Even if slaveowners in the year 1700 were not blameworthy, they would still be inflicting enormous harm on other people (the slaves), themselves (by being deprived of seeing, serving, and enjoying the dignity of these people right before their eyes), and society. ... Therefore, though determining blame is an important exercise for us who have freedom and are responsible for our actions, it is not the primary point of moral theology. The main goal is, as Socrates said, to live well.

From the final section Concluding Thoughts:

The basic insight of this chapter is that an accurate, or truthful, grasp of the way things are is necessary in order to act well. The true precedes the good. We cannot act rightly if we do not see rightly. Your conscience is both the general capacity to know whether acts are good or bad, and the concrete determinations on various occasions of whether specific actions are good or bad. You should always follow your conscience, because your conscience tells you what you truly and honestly think is the right thing to do. However, since your conscience recognizes, rather than determines, what is the right thing to do, it is possible that in following your conscience you are doing what is wrong. This is called an erroneous conscience, and you are blameworthy for it if you should have known better (vincible ignorance) but not blameworthy for it if you could not have known better (invincible ignorance). This is why a good formation of conscience is so important, so that we can make accurate judgments about what is right and wrong, and live accordingly.

Of course, one can have a well-formed conscience and thus know what is truly right and wrong, and yet still not act on that knowledge. Prudence is the virtue that enables us not only to see rightly what is right and wrong, but also to act rightly based on that knowledge. If you have a well-formed conscience, it is possible to not be prudent. But it is impossible to be prudent without having a well-formed conscience. Though prudence is just one of the cardinal virtues, one that enables us to do practical decision-making well, it is actually preeminent among the cardinal virtues, because without it we cannot effectively live out temperance, justice, or fortitude. The virtuous person must be prudent in order to be able to see rightly and act accordingly.

...

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  • @chrisgriffin The only part I didn't address is "Conscience takes priority over church teaching." Where did you get this quote so we can establish the context? The only context that this makes sense is when 1) the church teaching does not have enough specificity, 2) difficult issues with no clear cut answers (like war), 3) the decision involves teachings from multiple areas that one has to prioritize. Because conscience comes directly from God, God supplements, clarifies, and possibly make exceptions to a church teaching (which may have been imperfect to begin with, in difficult cases). Aug 31 at 15:41
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That

The Catholic Church has always held to the primacy of conscience and taught that individuals must follow their consciences even when they are wrong

is what Pope Gregory XVI calls, in his encyclical on Liberalism and Religious Indifferentism, Mirari Vos §14, an

absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it. “But the death of the soul is worse than freedom of error,” as Augustine was wont to say.21 When all restraints are removed by which men are kept on the narrow path of truth, their nature, which is already inclined to evil, propels them to ruin. Then truly “the bottomless pit”22 is open from which John saw smoke ascending which obscured the sun, and out of which locusts flew forth to devastate the earth. Thence comes transformation of minds, corruption of youths, contempt of sacred things and holy laws — in other words, a pestilence more deadly to the state than any other. Experience shows, even from earliest times, that cities renowned for wealth, dominion, and glory perished as a result of this single evil, namely immoderate freedom of opinion, license of free speech, and desire for novelty.


21. St. Augustine, epistle 166.
22. Ap 9.3.

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  • I think this is conflating two ideas: liberty of conscience (the concept that the ability to follow conscience should be free of social/political constraint, which is an aspect of modernism/indifferentism) and primacy of conscience (the concept that the reasoning of the conscience must be followed, which is a question not of political/social authority but of ethics)
    – eques
    Oct 4 at 21:26
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In Charles Rice's Fifty Question on the Natural Law he asks "How can it be right for the Pope to tell me what the natural law means? Don't I have to follow my conscience?"

The TL;DR; answer is "yes, but...", then he dives into principles.

I think that is applicable to your question because you're asking why it is always right to follow your conscience.

In defining what conscience is, he quotes Veritatis Splendor:

Conscience is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil.

So conscience is an application of moral teaching, it's not something outside of you. So it's not transferable to other persons, it's not something you can ask hypothetical questions of like "If I found a hundred dollar bill in a grocery store parking lot and my conscience told me to pocket it, would I be right in following my conscience?" You simply can't ask that question because your conscience is with you now not later.


Professor Rice gives some other good points on conscience as it relates to the natural law and I encourage you to pick up the book. I'll just summarize them for completeness:

  1. Form your conscience

  2. Follow your conscience if it is clear

  3. Never act on a doubtful conscience.

A clear Church teaching that contradicts with your conscience (like contraception) would be hard to justify acting on a doubt against (a well formed conscience would know about the Church teaching against contracption). But an unclear Church teaching (like the necessity of vaccination) seems as though it is definitely possible to act on your own conscience if, it is clear. And given the choice:

"If the mind is in doubt, therefore, we must either refrain from taking action or resolve the doubt"

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  • +1 clear and straightforward. One follow up question. If we are faced with two morally right choices (for example, whether to get married or to join monastery), what part of our soul is involved: is it the same conscience with moral judgment, another part of the soul, or something else? Is conscience part of reason? Aug 31 at 20:40
  • @GratefulDisciple I'm not sure those are two morally equivalent choices. St. Paul and Our Lord both favored the chaste single life, but not for everyone. In that case, the soul's power of discernment. St. Thomas wrote: "Properly speaking, conscience is not a power, but an act. " which is something even I can understand. "Conscience is a pronouncement of the mind" newadvent.org/summa/1079.htm#article13
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 1 at 3:26
  • Can anyone document the “Primacy of Conscience” outside of the CCC by quoting any Biblical passage or Pope or Encyclical or Catholic Doctrine or unanimous Church Tradition of the Fathers? Sep 3 at 13:49
  • vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/travels/1997/documents/… @chris do a site search of vatican.va using google and you'll see a few instances of primacy of conscience. But this one is good. St. JPII ties in the primacy of conscience to "What profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul"
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 3 at 13:58
  • @– Peter Turner- thank you! 1)”the martyrs...– Papal letter about St. Thomas More. 2)"the most intimate centre and sanctuary of a person, in which he or she is alone with God, whose voice echoes within them" -GS, 16. Martyrs yes, but no Catholic doctrine says Primacy of Conscience for all human beings including the wicked and those with “seared conscience “which is what the CCC says. Sorry to repeat myself but the CCC is not infallible and it was unfair to delete and lock my post if the CCC is fallible and no one has presented anything to verify absolutist Primacy is Catholic doctrine. Thanks Sep 3 at 21:10
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Primacy of Conscience is taught because not to do so would amount to contradictions or else will to power (by elevating the will above reason).

Primacy of Conscience simply means the conclusions of the conscience must always be followed. It's important to note that does not mean the actions are good in themselves.

Conscience binds but it does not excuse (paraphrasing Aquinas)

  • it binds: "Since conscience is a kind of dictate of the reason... to inquire whether the will is evil when it is at variance with erring reason, is the same as to inquire 'whether an erring conscience binds.' ... since the object of the will is that which is proposed by the reason, as stated above (Article 3), from the very fact that a thing is proposed by the reason as being evil, the will by tending thereto becomes evil" (Summa Theologiae, Ia IIae Q19 A5) In other words, violating conscience amounts to your will doing something that you have reasoned to be evil, which makes your will evil.

  • it does not excuse: "If then reason or conscience err with an error that is voluntary, either directly, or through negligence, so that one errs about what one ought to know; then such an error of reason or conscience does not excuse the will, that abides by that erring reason or conscience, from being evil. But if the error arise from ignorance of some circumstance, and without any negligence, so that it cause the act to be involuntary, then that error of reason or conscience excuses the will, that abides by that erring reason, from being evil." (Summa Theologiae Ia IIae Q19 A6) In other words, if you should have known something was evil, it's still a sin (vincible ignorance). If you couldn't have known it was evil, it's not a sin (invincible ignorance). Incidentally, this aligns with the requirement that a mortal sin requires full knowledge and consent of the will.

Why not conditionally follow conscience?
Some interlocutors including the OP for this question insist that conscience should be only followed when well-formed or should not be followed when it concludes something (intrinsically) evil or not by sociopaths or by people who lack prudence or people by people prone to irrational thoughts.

The problem with this is conscience is an act of reason. Thus, you have no way to conclude on your own that your conscience is wrong. You have no internal means to question the rationality of the conclusion of your conscience; if your conscience were to truly conclude something intrinsically evil, how would you be able to rationally conclude it was wrong? If you can recall that the thing you are reasoning about is gravely immoral, your conscience hasn't concluded and thus you aren't bound.

But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the "creativity" of any contrary determination whatsoever

This does not contradict primacy of conscience. Aquinas particularly include intrinsically good and evil actions in his discussion about whether an erring reason binds. Conscience doesn't excuse, so primacy of conscience doesn't amount to a "get out of hell free" card. This doesn't overrule the concepts of vincible vs invincible ignorance per se. There is no category of evil such that we can conclude with absolute certain every instance amounts to a mortal sin on the part of the agent. To what extent they should have known is something only God can truly know; we can only speculate on generic or particular cases. Aquinas implies, for example, that adultery cannot be done via invincible ignorance of the precept (but allows for invincible ignorance on account of the circumstances).

To violate conscience and act contrarily necessarily means doing what you want rather than what you have concluded to be good. It means choosing to do what you have concluded to be evil. This would put the person at odds with themselves (intellect vs will).

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I answer according to VERITATIS SPLENDOR and EVANGELIUM VITAE and DIGNITATIS HUMANAE. I now quote the CCC from Vatican.va website:

CCC 1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. (no footnotes, no documentation, no references, completely unsubstantiated).

CCC 1800 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. (no footnotes, no documentation, no references, completely unsubstantiated).

These two passages could easily be misunderstood as undeclared Catholic doctrine since it contains two absolutist statements… [all] “human beings’ and “must” without any Pope, Encyclical, Church Counsel or Sacred Tradition as source. The CCC is not infallible and cannot declare doctrine on its own.

To the contrary:

“In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life”. DIGNITATIS HUMANAE #3. (obeying conscience is conditional upon coming to God)

"Conscience is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil. VERITATIS SPLENDOR 60 (conscience cannot be made the complete and total arbiter of a person to decide what is good and what is evil)

“With this imagery, Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone. The man is certainly free, inasmuch as he can understand and accept God's commands. And he possesses an extremely far-reaching freedom, since he can eat "of every tree of the garden". But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil", for it is called to accept the moral law given by God”. VS #35 (man must 'halt before" the moral law given by God, rather than be subject to the idea that he must obey his conscience, because he does not have the power to decide what is good and evil).

"God willed to leave man in the power of his own counsel, so that he would seek his Creator of his own accord and would freely arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God". VS #38. (man is given his own internal “counsel” in order to cleave to God).

“When conscience, this bright lamp of the soul (cf. Mt 6:22-23), calls "evil good and good evil" (Is 5:20), it is already on the path to the most alarming corruption and the darkest moral blindness”. EV #24 (conscience can be corrupt and in the darkest moral blindness therefore cannot be lawfully obeyed).

“The legal toleration of abortion or of euthanasia can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscience of others” EV #71 (direct and complete rejection of any claims of respect of conscience of others who wrongly regard abortion).

“through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron” 1 Timothy 4:2 (obviously and quite apparently a person with a “seared” conscience should not follow his conscience.)

None of these three Encyclicals state the absolutist “Primacy of Conscience” that I can find and nothing intimating it.

Conclusion:

The CCC should be rephrased to communicate ‘All humans must obey their conscience conditioned upon, and if, their conscience is properly formed.”

Addendum:

The CCC (and a previous poster) also omitted a critical item regarding the proper limitation of conscience:

“But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the "creativity" of any contrary determination whatsoever”. VS #67. (conscience is rejected completely when supporting intrinsic evil. The differentiation between vincible and invincible ignorance disappears when the resulting act is intrinsically evil i.e. abortion. The intrinsically evil actor will be judged as such).

I would have thought the “doctrine” of Primacy of Conscience would have been questioned long ago based on these quotes from these three Encyclicals.

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  • "All humans must obey their conscience conditioned upon, and if, their conscience is properly formed" And how does one in the moment (where a moral decision is to be made) recognize a defect in the formation of the conscience in order to act contrary to the conscience morally?
    – eques
    Sep 8 at 15:04
  • "disappears when the resulting act is intrinsically evil i.e. abortion. The intrinsically evil actor will be judged as such" Says who? Are you saying that anyone who does an action that is intrinsically evil will go to hell assuming they do not repent (of an action they conceivable don't know they have to repent)?
    – eques
    Sep 8 at 18:15
  • According to VS conscience does not excuse the intrinsic evil of abortion, they are culpable. Sep 8 at 21:15
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    The only thing I'm able to safely assume from silence is that someone has better things to do than argue with me.
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 13 at 21:42
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    Silence is Golden, I prefer not to get in a disagreement here, but no I do not agree this post as it shows no conclusive evidence to support it’s conclusions. Once again I will ask you to please post a link to your quote in the above question for further analysis on our part: “The Catholic Church has always held to the primacy of conscience and taught that individuals must follow their consciences ....”
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 13 at 21:59
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“If a person feels with a certain conscience that they must murder another person, then they must murder that person”.

“A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were to deliberately act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and make erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed. CCC 1790” “So, we can see that Father Miller and Bishop de Roo are not in error when they highlight the primacy of conscience in Catholic teaching”. DR. BRETT SALKELD, Archdiocesan Theologian, Archdiocese or Regina, https://archregina.sk.ca/blogs/31427/3945/2015/10/conscience-or-church-teaching

I answer that Primacy of binding conscience debate is based upon whether or not CCC1790 and 1800 are true or false. I answer they are false on five counts. Remember that the CCC does not claim infallibly and not indefectibility nor entire completeness nor perfection in language and form of expression. The Catechism is said by Pope John Paul II to be a “sure guide to the Faith” and the Pope welcomed many suggested changes to the first edition and included some of them in the second edition. The quote “The Pope himself promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church, thus it contains no errs in either faith or morals” which is a claim of infallibility for the CCC, is untrue. Canon 749 §3 says ‘No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.”

First count: CCC 1790 ‘A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself.” CCC 1800 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. I reply, no footnotes, no documentation, no quotes, no references, no citations, therefore completely unsubstantiated. The passages are not endorsed by any Pope, Encyclical or Church Council or Sacred Tradition. No Pope, Encyclical, or Church Council nor Sacred Tradition has ever declared this. Thus these passages cannot be considered correct Catholic teaching.

Second count: Passage 1790 and 1800 wrongly declare undefined doctrine. These two passages could easily be, and have been, misunderstood as undeclared Catholic doctrine since it contains two absolutist statements… [all] “human beings’ and “must” without any Pope, Encyclical, Church Counsel or Sacred Tradition as source. The CCC is not infallible and cannot declare doctrine on its own. Canon 749 §3 says ‘No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.”

Third count: These two CCC passages misunderstand/misinterpret the concept of binding of conscience to mean something the Church never teaches. The actually Catholic teaching conditions primacy/binding of conscience upon a person when they come to God, which makes conscience binding and must be obeyed when conscience serves God, when it leads him to God and they are bound to seek the truths of God which are binding which is contrary to CCC1790 and 1800 absolutist statements that all must follow conscience unconditionally and all are bound by that. Briefly but conclusively following is the actual Catholic teaching on binding by conscience.

God calls men to serve Him in spirit and in truth, hence they are bound in conscience. DH #11

On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. DH #3 Thus He spoke to the Apostles: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined upon you" (Matt. 28: 19-20). On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it…This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. DIGNITATIS HUMANAE #1

Fourth count: This is a very serious CCC blatant omission that contradicts and omits Church teaching that conscience is never an excuse, never binds, never justifies sins that are intrinsically evil and conscience obliges them not to commit intrinsic sin.

The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception, because the choice of this kind of behaviour is in no case compatible with the goodness of the will of the acting person, with his vocation to life with God and to communion with his neighbour. It is prohibited — to everyone and in every case — to violate these precepts. They oblige everyone, regardless of the cost, never to offend in anyone, beginning with oneself, the personal dignity common to all. VS #52

"Conscience is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil. Rather there is profoundly imprinted upon it a principle of obedience vis-à-vis the objective norm which establishes and conditions the correspondence of its decisions with the commands and prohibitions which are at the basis of human behaviour". VS #60

  1. There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called "intrinsically evil" actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. USCCB at https://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/forming-consciences-for-faithful-citizenship-part-one

“When conscience, this bright lamp of the soul (cf. Mt 6:22-23), calls "evil good and good evil" (Is 5:20), it is already on the path to the most alarming corruption and the darkest moral blindness”. EV #24 (obviously a seared conscience should not followed)

“The legal toleration of abortion or of euthanasia can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscience of others” EV #71 (direct and complete rejection of any claims of respect of conscience of others who wrongly regard abortion).

“through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron” 1 Timothy 4:2 (obviously and quite apparently a person with a “seared” conscience should not follow his conscience.)

The Church has always taught that one may never choose kinds of behaviour prohibited by the moral commandments expressed in negative form in the Old and New Testaments. As we have seen, Jesus himself reaffirms that these prohibitions allow no exceptions: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments... You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness" (Mt 19:17-18). VS #52

But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behaviour as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the "creativity" of any contrary determination whatsoever. VS 67

Fifth count: CCC 1790 and 1800 false interpretation can lead to murder and horrible errors.

“If a person feels with a certain conscience that they must murder another person, then they must murder that person. A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were to deliberately act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and make erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed. CCC 1790. “So, we can see that Father Miller and Bishop de Roo are not in error when they highlight the primacy of conscience in Catholic teaching”. DR. BRETT SALKELD, Archdiocesan Theologian, Archdiocese or Regina. https://archregina.sk.ca/blogs/31427/3945/2015/10/conscience-or-church-teaching

“However, Catholic women are wise. They know that when it comes to decision about reproductive health, following their conscience is the best thing they can do”. https://time.com/4045227/the-catholic-case-for-abortion-rights

“The Catholic Church has always held to the primacy of conscience and taught that individuals must follow their consciences even when they are wrong”. Anthony Fisher, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, promoted and endorsed by EWTN at https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/catholic-teaching-on-conscience--dissent-10362

“The conscience is inviolable” - Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich spoke of the primacy https://www.ncregister.com/news/the-primacy-of-conscience-the-synod-and-the-catholic-faith

I would like to invite all persons who discern true Catholic teaching to join me in an effort to change the two CCC passages.

5
  • 1
    This doesn't answer why the Catholic Church teaches primacy of conscience. It parodies it and rambles on various reasons why the OP disagrees with the doctrine (mostly as misunderstood rather than what it actually means). It's also overly focused on CCC and not on other Catholic sources which also support the same conclusion (e.g. Aquinas in the Summa)
    – eques
    Sep 16 at 17:48
  • > The passages are not endorsed by any Pope, Encyclical or Church Council or Sacred Tradition False and unsubstantiated. A lack of footnotes doesn't mean that the concept was invented ex nihilo
    – eques
    Sep 16 at 17:54
  • "Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection." Evangelium Vitae 73. Everyone who believes CCC1800 believes a lie. I think that is everyone who replied. Sep 21 at 18:16
  • I don't follow your argument. The fact that conscience is used in that encyclical doesn't mean that primacy of conscience is wrong. That's saying law cannot permit an immorality and thus no one is obligated to follow laws that appear to legalize immoralities.
    – eques
    Sep 21 at 18:49
  • HA, Cardinal Cupich might be contradicting himself nowadays, doesn't he not allow for religious excemptions to covid vaccines? I entirely understand your ire when it comes to this teaching.
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 24 at 1:47
-2

I answer in the negative that conscience “must always” be obeyed as demanded by CCC1800 “1800 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.”

CCC 1800 is false and in grievous error because…

  1. It is a dogmatic demand to obey a dogma that does not exist in the Catholic church.

  2. It is uncatholic because it has never been officially declared by the Catholic Church although I have asked for Pope, Encyclical or Council documentation 10 times and none has been given because it does not exist.

  3. It evidentially is based on St. Thomas Aquinas. The “brilliant” St. Thomas Aquinas is the guy that said early gestation unborn babies are vegetables and animals. The ‘brilliant” St. Thomas Aquinas that was quoted by name in Roe vs Wade by those in favor of legal abortion.

  4. CCC 1790 is based on the nonsense assertation that if you think in conscience that evil is good then you must obey that evil, or else, if you obeyed the good then you would be doing evil and condemn yourself!!! If a pregnant mother’s conscience thought that abortion is a good but she went against her conscience and did not have an abortion then she has condemned herself! That is ungodly.

  5. It contradicts Popes and Encyclicals that conscience binds to Gods truth…

On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it. This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. DIGNITATIS HUMANAE #1

Saint Bonaventure teaches that "conscience is like God's herald and messenger; it does not command things on its own authority, but commands them as coming from God's authority, like a herald when he proclaims the edict of the king. This is why conscience has binding force". VERITATIS SPLENDOR #58

God calls men to serve Him in spirit and in truth, hence they are bound in conscience. DH #11

  1. It denies the Catholic teaching shown here that conscience never permits or excuses intrinsic evil…

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. EV 73 The commandment "You shall not kill", even in its more positive aspects of respecting, loving and promoting human life, is binding on every individual human being EV 77

The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception, because the choice of this kind of behaviour is in no case compatible with the goodness of the will of the acting person, with his vocation to life with God and to communion with his neighbour. It is prohibited — to everyone and in every case — to violate these precepts. They oblige everyone, regardless of the cost, never to offend in anyone, beginning with oneself, the personal dignity common to all. VS #52

There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called "intrinsically evil" actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. USCCB at https://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/forming-consciences-for-faithful-citizenship-part-one

“The legal toleration of abortion or of euthanasia can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscience of others” EV #71 (direct and complete rejection of any claims of respect of conscience of others who wrongly regard abortion).

“But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the "creativity" of any contrary determination whatsoever”. VS #67

“through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron” 1 Timothy 4:2 (CCC 1800 says people with a seared conscience must always follow their conscience and CCC 1790 says if they don’t follow their seared conscience they will condemn themselves.????

Summary: Conscience only binds a person to follow God to do good and avoid evil. Intrinsic evil is excluded by the Popes as ever being approved by or followed or excused by conscience. CCC 1790 and 1800 are opposed to Catholic teaching and should be removed or changed immediately.

21
  • You have 3 answers now, none of which particularly clarifies anything. You can edit your existing ones.
    – eques
    Sep 23 at 17:52
  • 1
    Also your point about "the brilliant" St Thomas (sarcasm is noted) amounts to an ad hominem. You are NOT asking questions in good faith
    – eques
    Sep 23 at 17:52
  • What you still fail to grasp is what conscience is binding actually means AND how there's no internal way to question conscience effectively.
    – eques
    Sep 23 at 17:56
  • "excused by conscience" Primacy of conscience doesn't mean that conscience excludes as multiple other answers have shown
    – eques
    Sep 23 at 18:09
  • 3
    This being your third post on this self-answer, points to the understanding that you have a contradictory opinion in the aspects of certain Church teachings. If you have a beef with Church teachings and seek more clarity, I suggest your write the CDF for more clarity, rather than making three post that are erroneous in basic Catholic morality. CCC 1800 is not false and in grievous error because… Your understanding of needs to be simply more enlightened in this subject manner. This post runs like a descent from the Faith! You are free to write a dubium and send it Rome anytime.
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 23 at 19:25

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