Thursday, October 8, 2009

On Conscience

By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI, hardcover 82 pages.

“Morality of conscience and morality of authority, as two opposing models, appear to be locked in a struggle with each other,” writes then-Cardinal Ratzinger, getting to the heart of the matter.

On Conscience, from talks he gave to American bishops, reflects the brilliance of the current pope. His great strength is his integrative, holistic view. His many writings look to different eras and geographic locations, and from theology, philosophy, Greek mythology, and the current cultural situation in developed countries such as Canada.

As with Pope John Paul II, much of Cardinal Ratzinger-Benedict XVI's teachings have addressed the descent of freedom into immoral license in modern societies, where individuals believe they can do whatever they please:

“[T]he identification of conscience with superficial consciousness, the reduction of man to his subjectivity, does not liberate but enslaves. It makes us totally dependent on the prevailing opinions, and debases these with every passing day.”

The decay of modern society into instant gratification sounds too depressing; many people, even Catholics, wish that the magisterium would simply relax and lay off of the moralizing.

But the sharp analysis of Cardinal Ratzinger-Benedict XVI's words help us see the immaturity of this request: “First, conscience is not identical to personal wishes and taste. Second, conscience cannot be reduced to social advantage, to group consensus, or to the demands of political and social power.”

Cardinal Ratzinger skillfully offers the Catholic theological insight behind the true meaning of freedom, and once again parallels John Paul II's writings:

“The love of God, which is concrete in the commandments, is not imposed on us from without ... but has been implanted in us beforehand. The sense for the good has been stamped upon us, as Augustine puts it....The true nature of the Petrine office [the papacy] has become so incomprehensible in the modern age no doubt because we think of authority only in terms that do not allow for bridges between subject and object. Accordingly, everything that does not come from the subject is thought to be externally imposed.”

The author emphasizes a special kind of remembering, which he calls anamnesis. He believes that this reflects the Christian belief of a divine spark within each of us. This spark allows us a special kind of knowing that is similar to remembering. Made in God's image, when we hear the Gospel, we experience a kind of remembering or returning back to our true selves as God made us. Here, in our true selves, we find our true freedom.

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