In the Light of Christ, What Is the Meaning of Conscience?

by Dr. Alan Keyes  •  •  October 4, 2018   

Jesuit university preaches supremacy of conscience

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A tweet from a Jesuit university in Mexico shows the rector on stage with abortion activists and quotes him as saying, "There is no greater respect than respect for freedom of conscience."

Dr. Alan Keyes

A putatively Catholic "Jesuit university in Mexico hosted a pro-abortion event despite pro-life protests and a temporary cancellation." According to the report I read, the "temporary cancellation" came in response to pro-life students and faculty at the university, in an official letter in which "pro-lifers were … depicted as a hate group" whose adverse reaction to the pro-abortion tenor of the event meant that university officials "could not warrant the safety" of those in attendance.

It appears that the university rector intervened, "saying that the university is open to dialogue, and that one should respect another's freedom of conscience." When I read the rector's statement about respecting "the liberty of conscience," St. Paul's admonition to the Galatians immediately came to mind: "Christ made us free. Therefore, stand firm and do not again be ensnared by the yoke of slavery."

In light of our freedom in Christ, what sense does it make for members of the body of Christ to accept the notion that "there is no greater respect than respect for the freedom of conscience." What about our respect for God, who dwells in us by the power of His Holy Spirit, in and through our communion with Jesus Christ?

Conscience literally refers to acting with knowledge. Saint Paul's words ought to remind us that those who walk in Christ's way thereby come to know the truth that makes us free. The voice of Christ is thus our voice of conscience, the voice of God in respect of the determinations of His being which made us, and which, in the first place, set us free. In Romans, St. Paul speaks of the influence of conscience on all human beings when he writes (Romans 2:14, 15) about when "the Gentiles who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law … who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them: and their thoughts between themselves accusing or also defending one another."

The knowledge of the determinations (limits and boundaries) by which God defines our particular and specific nature, is thus a function of His being the substance of our nature: the understanding that informs it; the Word that was with God and was God, informing us in every way appropriate to our existence. This very Word of Creation "became flesh and dwelt amongst us" as Jesus Christ. He came to remedy the corruption of our nature that resulted from Adam's abuse of freedom, by abuse humanity departed from the way of God that perfects the possibility of human existence, sustaining in every way its relations with all the concomitant determinations of God's being that comprise the universe in which we live.

Like the code that allows a computer program to function, the lawful will of God provides for the whole existence of our nature. But included in the image and likeness of His being especially intended for us is a reflection of the faculty with which He freely chooses to make that nature what it is, for our sake. For God's creation, being an act of perfect love, arises in the perfect plenitude of His will, in which all things are possible, not just those that conform to the possibility of our existence. We exist because God chooses to make it so — in general for the whole of humanity, and in particular for each and every human being.

Isn't the perfect plenitude of God's will the reason the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was there, beside the tree of life, in the midst of the garden God created as the abode of our natural perfection? It represents the truth, that we are what we are in consequence of God's choice, made in the presence of every possibility He gainsays to make it so. When Adam (cf. Genesis 5:1) ate of the fruit that represented the true plenitude of God's power, accepted a burden of proof beyond all his capacity to bear. Only the whole being of God is adequate to understand the plenitude of God's will, a wholesomeness that, if enacted, precludes the existence of humanity.

Thus, an overreaching lust for knowledge of all things was the undoing of humankind. Made in the image and likeness of God, Adam presumed to take on the burden of being as God Himself, which belongs to God and God alone. For only the one who is all-in-all can at once say and gainsay the Word that makes it possible to be so.

Made in the image and likeness of God, humanity could not withstand the temptation to reach for being as God is. Would that Eve had understood — the gift she sought in the transgression of God's saving Word, God had fulfilled already in the Word of His Creation. But what Eve ignored, God always understood. From before the beginning, of humanity and all things else, He foresaw the need fulfilled in Jesus Christ. So the Apostle understood when he wrote:

We renounce the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness nor adulterating the word of God; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience, in the sight of God. And if our gospel be also hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine upon them.

In human terms, honesty involves true respect for others. But in the moment of our creation, the only significant other is the creator God. In that moment, He honors us with His image and likeness, and by informing us of the limitation of our lust for knowledge. This information is the token of His love — the key to preserving ourselves honorably. In the sight of God, it informs human conscience, warning us not to take it upon ourselves to know what must, for our sake, remain hidden, so that we preserve our being as it is in the sight of God. For who knows the image and likeness of God so perfectly as God?

Disregarding God's precaution, Adam sought the knowledge human nature cannot bear. But taking upon himself the form of our humanity, Christ came to show us the way to be as God intended us to be, fulfilling the honorable promise of our existence by restoring that which is, in God's sight, the likeness of God according to our nature.

How can it be that a Jesuit university now acts on an understanding of conscience that dishonors the freedom Christ makes in us?

In this respect, Christ is the knowledge of God that becomes us, the knowledge that is alone suitable for our existence. When we respect the example of Christ, we act with the knowledge that informs and preserves us, in every way. The freedom of conscience, thus understood, is the freedom of the Word, without which nothing was made; the freedom wherewith Christ makes us free. But in which loving provision of God for our nature does this freedom include the travesty of procreation that slaughters, in the womb, the conceptions of humanity "being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth."

Once, the Jesuit order championed respect for the truth of God in Christ Jesus, as their name implies. How can it be that a Jesuit university now acts on an understanding of conscience that dishonors the freedom Christ makes in us, pretending instead to exalt the freedom of choice, regardless of God's will, that justifies the slaughter of infants even as it affirms the loss of humanity itself that was the fruit of Adam's sin. What is Jesuit — much less, Catholic — about a university no longer in society with Jesus Christ in respect of the knowledge of salvation shining forth in the light of His face? Without the person of God in Christ, personal conscience is the way to perdition. Where is the truly Jesuit pope who will recall such universities to their trust in Jesus name?

Dr. Alan Keyes served as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations under President Ronald Reagan, and ran for president in 1996, 2000 and 2008. He holds a Ph.D. in government from Harvard, and writes at his website Loyal to Liberty.


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