Benedict XVI on Conscience and Evangelization

Pope Benedict XVI develops a deeper understanding of conscience and shows how it is essential to evangelization or mission. The proper sphere of the influence of the Church on society is through conscience, not directly through legislation and certainly not through force and coercion. The formation of conscience, in this classic account, amounts to the instruction in the moral norms and the availability of casuistry to cover various cases. Do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not murder.  But conscience rests upon a knowledge of first principles, called synderesis, and the unfolding of the goods of human flourishing in precepts of natural law. It is at the level of “synderesis” that Benedict seeks to open up a new approach to understanding.

He would have us consider the knowledge of first principles of morality to be called “amamnesis” or recollection, remembering. There must be, he says, “something like an original memory of the good and true implanted in us, that there is an ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine.” (see On Conscience) Conscience therefore requires that we reach back and remember the deeper level of our being and our original relationship to God. Conscience can err because a person can refuse to remember or to recollect who or what one is, or be “deaf to the internal promptings of truth.”

So Benedict says “the possibility for and right to mission rest on this anamnesis of the creator, which is identified to the ground of our existence. . . . Mission is vindicated when those addressed recognize in the encounter with the word of the gospel that is indeed what they have been waiting for.” (32-33)

And in turn he explains the role of the papacy in this light. The teaching authority of the pope consists in “being the advocate of the Christian memory. . . . All the power  the papacy has is power of conscience. It is service to the double memory  on which the faith is based — and which again and again must be purified, expanded,  and defended against the destruction of  memory that is threatened by a subjectivity forgetful of its own foundation, as well as by pressures of social and cultural conformity.”

Re-evangelization requires more than a statement of moral principles. We must present a deeper account of what it is to be human; what it is to be a creature. But we must puncture the bubble of subjectivity in which we can live blithely unaware of others and love, or suffering and death. We must push back against social and cultural conformity to witness to a fresh and truthful vision of humanity. Then we thereby ake up the motto on Pope John Paul II — “Christ reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”.

Join us!

* indicates required