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Saturday, September 16, 2023

I Must Follow My Conscience, "the aboriginal Vicar of Christ."

I've been watching an interview by Eric Sammons, editor of Crisis Magazine, with Fr. Jason Charron, pastor of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Carnegie, PA and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Wheeling, WV. The video is very interesting and I post it here if you are interested and have the time to watch it.

Here's a bit about following one's conscience that I found particularly relevant in light of the current crisis in the Church and questions about the authority of the pope. Fr. Charron emphasized that infallibility does not give the pope unlimited authority and that he connect compel one to "go against" a well-formed conscience:

"The pope doesn't have the authority to command us to become Protestants, for example. He doesn't have the authority to command us to go against a conscience which is informed by the perennial, apostolic, Catholic, universal teaching of the Church. There have been popes in the past who have used their authority, let's say their legitimate authority, in an imprudent way. You can go back to Honorius; you can go back to Liberius; you can go back to John the 22nd. And the faithful, at that point, have to simply follow their conscience, the aboriginal Christ as Newman referred to it."

"Aboriginal Christ?" What exactly does that mean? Well, I looked up Newman's statement and here's what he wrote in a letter to the Duke of Norfolk explaining it:

"The natural law," says St. Thomas, "is an impression of the Divine Light in us, a participation of the eternal law in the rational creature." (Gousset, Theol. Moral., t. i. pp. 24, &c.) This law, as apprehended in the minds of individual men, is called "conscience;" and though it may suffer refraction in passing into the intellectual medium of each, it is not therefore so affected as to lose its character of being the Divine Law, but still has, as such, the prerogative of commanding obedience. "The Divine Law," says Cardinal Gousset, "is the supreme rule of actions; our thoughts, desires, words, acts, all that man is, is subject to the domain of the law of God; and this law is the rule of our conduct by means of our conscience. Hence it is never lawful to go against our conscience; as the fourth Lateran Council says, 'Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, ├Ždificat ad gehennam.'"
This view of conscience, I know, is very different from that ordinarily taken of it, both by the science and literature, and by the public opinion, of this day. It is founded on the doctrine that conscience is the voice of God, whereas it is fashionable on all hands now to consider it in one way or another a creation of man....

 “Conscience is not a longsighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself, but it is a messenger from Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representative, a monarch in its peremptoriness. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ, a prophet in its informations, a monarch in its peremptoriness, a priest in its blessings and anathemas, and, even though the eternal priesthood throughout the Church could cease to be, in the sacerdotal principle would remain and would have a say.”

We must obey our conscience, Newman says, "at all hazards." He goes on to say:  

St. John Henry Newman
Thus, if the Pope told the English Bishops to order their priests to stir themselves energetically in favour of teetotalism, and a particular priest was fully persuaded that abstinence from wine, &c., was practically a Gnostic error, and therefore felt he could not so exert himself without sin; or suppose there was a Papal order to hold lotteries in each mission for some religious object, and a priest could say in God's sight that he believed lotteries to be morally wrong, that priest in either of these cases would commit a sin hic et nunc if he obeyed the Pope, whether he was right or wrong in his opinion, and, if wrong, although he had not taken proper pains to get at the truth of the matter.

All of this presumes a well-formed conscience which is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church this way:

1783 Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.

Keep in mind what Newman said about conscience in his day differing very greatly from its true meaning to become a "creation of man." If that was true almost 150 years ago, it is even more true today when people like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden consider themselves "devout Catholics" while they shred the faith.

Some of the other issues Fr. Charron brought up are also important and interesting. He talks about Fr. Altman and the sedevacantist position beginning at about 35:11. 

Informing and following your conscience in today's crisis means, to me, that I need to know what the Church has always taught (without novelty) from the apostolic age. Any "new doctrine" introduced as "the pope's doctrine" represents the wide path to destruction. 

No thanks! I intend to "keep the faith" no matter who sits in Peter's chair.


Susan Matthiesen said...

*Any "new doctrine" introduced as "the pope's doctrine" represents the wide path to destruction.*

That sentence brings to question, then, the Filioque, which was added by a pope into the original Creed of the Ancient Fathers hundreds of years after the fact and caused the East-West schism.

There were eye witnesses (writings still in existence today) to the Silver Shields over the doors of St Peter's and also inside St Paul Outside the Walls. The shields disappeared. Apparently during the sack of Rome (twice) the Arabs took them since they were made of solid silver. Written upon them were the words of the original Creed.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

I don't think it was new doctrine, Susan. Didn't the Church already believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son? In the context of the Arian heresy which claimed that the Son was inferior to the Father, weren't they simply clarifying what the Church already believed? There's an interesting discussion here:

"The Council of Florence in 1438 explains: “The Holy Spirit is eternally from Father and Son; He has his nature and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son [filioque]. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration.”

"The affirmation of the filioque does not appear in the Creed confessed in 381 at Constantinople. But Pope St. Leo I, following an ancient Latin and Alexandrian tradition, had already confessed it dogmatically in 447 (Quam laudabiliter) even before Rome, in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon, came to recognize and receive the Symbol of 381. The use of this formula in the Creed was gradually admitted into the Latin liturgy (between the eighth and eleventh centuries)."

Susan Matthiesen said...

In other words, Rome changed the original Creed. Then in 1054 accused the East of not accepting the change. Eastern Christians continued to believe - and still believe to this day - the original Creed and also the words of Scripture which say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.

I know both sides yet still wonder if Rome and the Papacy then were like the papacy today...."I'm the boss of the Church, I said it, so you must do as I say. If you don't then you're schismatic."

Meanwhile, Eastern Orthodoxy calls the Latin Church heretics.

AMalek said...

Hi Susan,

Aside from the filioque, I look at the fruits of the schismatic church (Orthodox) and see;

—no belief in original sin
—no belief in the Immaculate Conception
—divorce and remarried allowed to take Communion
—a very divided church

Susan Matthiesen said...

Yes, I see that too especially that the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches are on the outs with each other, i.e. the Greek Church being controlled by Western interests (Ukraine war) while the Russian Church stands on its own. The Orthodox Church is divided along the same lines as Rome. It's all disturbing. Christ wants us all to be one but we're all of us all over the place.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...


If, in fact, the Trinity is a relationship of love then it requires both a lover and a beloved. How can the Holy Spirit NOT proceed from both the Father and the Son as the embodiment of their love in the Third Person of the Trinity?

If the family is the closest image to the Trinity, it makes perfect sense. Can the father beget the child without the mother? Can the mother conceive the child without the father?

Susan Matthiesen said...

Mary Ann,

Comparison of the Holy Trinity to the FAMILY of man/woman/child is the closest explanation for the filioque. Yet..I still ask why the original Creed said, like Scripture, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only. Did no Fathers of the Church figure the filioque out? There must not have been any discussion since they left it at what Holy Scripture said.

I know the pros and cons (i.e. that it was Jesus who said he would send the spirit, etc) however I still question the way the filioque was slipped into the creed which was the action of Rome that caused the Church's Great Schism.

Rome just did it, then went to Constantinoble, placed the edict from what was then a dead pope (he had died between the time he wrote the filioque and the time his messengers placed it on the altar in the Haiga Sofia during Mass). Is a message of that magnitude from a deceased pope legal?

Then I look at both the East and West and see total chaos...the Greeks despise the Russians to the point they made a new Orthodox church in Ukraine, and in Rome there is a schism about to happen because of Bergoglio.

I think - Poor Jesus. He wanted us to be one but no one agrees with anyone else. Do we have to be one in the non-negotiables but not one in doctrine? Or one in doctrine but not the non-negotiables? Are the two the same?

I'll just go with Mary Ann's post in using my conscience - be it well-formed or not, mainly because who the heck knows what to believe anymore?.

Susan Matthiesen said...

However...if we go with our own conscience does that make us our own pope? I understand the conscience must be well formed in order to do that and that we must obey the Natural Law. I have no problem with obeying the Natural Law or the 10 Commandments since both of those go back to before the Church was formed.

But laately people say things that we must Must MUST believe or else. I walk away confused and tell myself that I'll just believe what I want to believe.

Martin said...

"The pope doesn't have the authority to command us to become Protestants"

Martin Luther is laughing at this joke.

Orthobro said...

We Orthodox agree that the bishop of a tiny Italian city "doesn't have the authority to command us to go against a conscience which is informed by the perennial, apostolic, Catholic, universal teaching of the Church." Amen.

Jeff Cohen said...

This is why I have always intuitively agreed with the Eastern Heterodox on the filioque despite being very Western (ignore my Jewish lastname), i.e. this sounds like you're saying the Father got it on with the Son to produce the Holy Spirit. The filioque is literally gay. Its some kind of homosexual theology. It disgusts me. The Holy Spirit is not a love child produced by the Father with his own Son!

Pastor Bob said...

I thought the Western argument was that "proceeding" only refers to sending him on his mission. If Catholics actually think what you said here then Protestants who accept the filioque accept it for totally different reasons. The Catholic explanation here seems very....weird. Creepy even. But I can't quite put my finger on why just yet.

Anonymous said...

Re: "We Orthodox agree that the bishop of a tiny Italian city "doesn't have the authority to command us to go against a conscience which is informed by the perennial, apostolic, Catholic, universal teaching of the Church." Amen."

So the Patriarch of a tiny Orthodox community in a gigantic Muslim city does have the authority?


God bless

Richard W Comerford

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...


Are you a father? Do you have a son? Do you love your son? Is that love not real? Is it gay?

As a parent holding my new babies, the love I experienced was so intense it felt like something outside of me. That's how I interpret God's love for us.

I guess in a sex-saturated society it isn't surprising to see people turn even God's love into something weird if one puts it into the context of the love in the family.

Anonymous said...

Jeff has a point. When does love for a son impregnate him and make him pop out a grandchild? This is like the nonsense the Leftoids are trying to magic into being.

Anonymous said...

Jay Dyer says the patriarch of Constantinople has no authority outside Turkey. Now what?

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Anonymous and Jeff,

Is God's love not life-giving? Jesus used a lot of images to express his love. Remember when he described wanting to be like a mother hen gathering her chicks as He wept over Jerusalem? Did that mean he wanted to "pop out" a baby chick?

But this has gotten way off topic. The post was about conscience. I'm not posting any more off-topic comments here. If you want to address the original post about conscience and Newman's discussion of it, fine. Otherwise I'm not posting.