Defending the Faith of our Fathers!
Christ's Faithful People

Apologetics Page Library Page TOC Index Page Foot Notes Previous Next

Class 16

We are talking about the most basic types of neuroses which touch upon the spiritual life. We must address the problems appropriately. Hysterical neuroses are repressive, where the repressed emotion is visible. There are two types of compulsive neuroses, that of energy and of fear. The fear neurosis is found often in the scrupulous soul. The person should be helped not to fear, so that the wedge of fear can be removed. We must distinguish between the conscientious and the scrupulous person. The conscientious person has a well-formed conscience, and he perceives the hidden aspects of his action. The scrupulous person (from Latin for little stone) has an excessive fear.

The energy neurosis

The emotions of courage and ambition are used to suppress something thought to be evil. The emotions that conduct the repression is that of spes and audacia. We group them into "energy." What is perceived in observing these people are energy, though not all energetic people are neurotics. When the energy is not used to repress the sexual drive or the assertive emotions, then things are find. The repression of any emotion may be marginal and insignificant. A workaholic may be sound and balanced, though the energy may deprive him of the higher things of the pleasure appetite. Such a person may cause emotional problems in other people, particularly timidity. It is even worse if the energy is too strong in a woman, because these emotions don’t play such a big role normally in a woman, and she will be less feminine and less happy. The development of energy in itself is not neurotic. If the energy serves the drive for procreation and to get things done, there’s no neurosis; only when the energy is used to repress drives. If a child is brought up to think the sexual drive is bad, then he will begin to repress it and use his energy to repress any sexual feelings. Tension increases, a break-up happens, and then more energy is used. The emotions may be so repressed, the person will seem balanced. The repression by energy gives the impression of confidence, efficiency and self-control. There is a different control than what is effected by reason. In the energy neurotic, all unconscious spontaneity disappears and is replaced by a mask. Such people have an emotional rigidity. If someone expresses emotions to them, they meet a brick wall. He is lonely, but is unaware of his loneliness. There’s a cold chasm between him and others.

He is so in control that he controls his imagination and sleeps very well without dreams (the fear neurotic has colorful dreams). The repression sometimes leads to explosions of aggression. He has low blood pressure. The repression causes obsessive-compulsive systems, which embarrass him. Energy neurosis as described in psychology has a theological counterpart, the heresy of Pelagianism, that we don’t need grace in the spiritual life, that we can manage on our own. Energy neurosis doesn’t allow God into our emotions. In a healthy restraint of the emotions by reason, the person accepts a certain unknown about the emotions. We accept the fact that emotions occasionally draw us and we allow them to express themselves. The energy neurotic believes he has to be in control. Normally there is risk in the way the reason influences the emotions. This is why the reason perceives the need for grace in self-control. The control of the emotions in the energy neurotic is proud. He thinks he has to give up all passion, anything where he would have to let go. In the context of the confessional, the penitent with this approach will stress his firm purpose of amendment, which is untrue to the sacrament, which is the meeting of our weakness with the grace of Christ. The penitent’s stress will be on his own will, rather than on God. It will then become a means of further repression. In the therapy of such people, it is necessary to convince them to reduce the energy.

When we’re dealing with people in whom we perceive the energy neurosis, we should try to reduce the energy. They’re intelligent, so we can explain the schema. We have to correct their understanding of the nature of religious obligations. They’ll be tempted to replace their energy with their energy, and to force the repressed emotions to come out, which is likewise unhealthy. These people should develop that fragment of their emotions which has survived, whether it be art, or music, or beauty, and do it for its own sake. This has to be a step by step and spontaneous process. He has to learn that moral law is sapiential and not voluntary on God’s part. The law is addressed to the intellect and not to the emotions. The energy neurotic is more concerned with the obligation in the law than in its guidance. The experience of weakness that the obsession-compulsion gives should make one place greater trust in Jesus, not in redoubled personal efforts. The change from effectiveness to affectiveness is slow.[25]

It is possible to distinguish other neuroses. Terruwe calls one the fear neurosis camouflaged by energy, which is sometimes found in very intelligent people.

Deprivation Neurotics

There is also the deprivation neurosis, an inhibition of the emotional life which is not the result of repression, but a deficiency of the emotional life because of an absence of emotion in childhood. Deprivation neurotics have a difficult emotional contact with people. They experience their emotions as a child; they become egocentric. They cannot establish emotional contacts, to reach out to people. People do not understand them, so they feel left aside. They try to establish contact on people by sheer will power. It doesn’t allow for deep friendships. Some won’t feel that this is wrong. Marriages are difficult, because the wife will seek a father and the husband a mother. Some women do not want to have children, because they cannot be moved to love the child because they want to be loved as well. Priests will have difficulty, because they draw more by warmth than arguments. They will teach adults better than children. Some of these will react by energy, others by fear, but constantly they intensely need approval. They lack certitude in their work and are hyperconscious of other’s opinions. They always want to please. They find it difficult to expect that some will praise them, others will treat them with reserve. They cannot distinguish easily between serious comments and jokes. They often have an inferiority complex and lack confidence in their own capacities. They will react either with aggression or depression. They need to be loved just because they are. Action is not necessary to be loved. They must feel within the emotional orbit of other people. During infancy, the sense of emotion is given by the sense of touch. A deprivation neurotic who finally feels love will have an emotional rebirth. It is important that the person receives intellectual affirmation. People get accustomed to the feeble personality; changes will be received with difficulty.

The deepest affirmation is spiritual: we are loved by God because we are; he chose us before the creation of the world. This awareness of being loved by God cannot uniquely be theological. We need to see a glimpse of divine love in the actions of living people. The divine transformation of the human body and soul makes us capable of transmitting divine love to others. This is done by warmth and concern. The transmission of divine affirmation is more fruitful when it’s on a person-to-person basis, rather than singing in a crowd. Deprivation neurotics in big groups return home without having anything resolved. Support given to people wounded by the lack of love is a great service we can give in the Church. It is a service built on the graces flowing from the sacrament of baptism. Women often have more to offer in this ministry than men do.


Saint Thomas in the prima secundae has no treatise on conscience. Conscience is an act of the practical reason, so whenever the role of reason is mentioned, in fact we are referring to conscience. The formation of the reason to issue appropriate judgments belongs to the virtue of prudence. Prudence in the mind of Saint Thomas is not just caution but it is the virtue which transforms the reason to issue judgments. Saint Thomas is studying the sanctifying presence of God in human action in the Summa. In the Disputed Questions Saint Thomas does have a study of conscience. The perspective of modern manuals stressing moral obligation and moral law, the conscience was to receive the precepts of the moral law and apply them to concrete situations. The entire modern moral theology dealt with the formation and appropriate functioning of the conscience so that it would be able to function in dubious situations (which was the focus of casuistry). We cannot ignore the conscience in our theme of morals.

The Bible doesn’t often use the term conscience. In the Old Testament, the term heart, kidneys, prudence, wisdom all substitute for it. In the Greek of the New Testament, we have the term syneidesis. In the popular language, it meant a persuasion, understanding that was common to someone else; it also meant a negative judgment in a moral sense, though the Greek philosophers preferred the term daimon. Conscientia in classical Latin meant conscience and common knowledge. Saint Paul in his use of the term syneidesis assimilated it with the Hebrew heart and precised the meaning to be a common knowledge together with God. Conscience is an observer which witnesses for God. Ever since the 13th century, theology distinguishes between pre-conscience, which has been called synderesis, and the actual conscience. The term synderesis derives from an error of a medieval copyist. In Ezechiel,[26] Saint Jerome compared the eagle to that which the Greeks called syneidesis, which he called conscientia. The glossa ordinaria misspelled syneidesis and created the term synderesis. A new term was born to which the scholastics attributed a special meaning.

Saint Thomas defines synderesis as an innate habit of the first principles of practical reasoning. There is a reconstruction of our reason as we are born. This habit states that good is to be pursued and evil is to be avoided. It is not yet the voice of the conscience, but is the necessary first step of the conscience. It gives us the first impulse. Saint Thomas says that just as in the speculative intellect there are the first principles of metaphysics, so in the practical intellect there is an innate inclination of the practical reason toward goodness. Not everyone agrees what good is, but everyone agrees that what is good is to be pursued. The distinction between the speculative and the practical reason doesn’t refer to two distinct faculties, but one which looks both to truth and to action. This same reason functions with different ends. So a habit of the practical reason inclining to good and evil is related to the speculative intellect which goes toward truth. But they are both tied. We can therefore say that antecedent to the impulse toward goodness, there’s the inclination toward truth and to follow it. This inclination to know and to follow truth is antecedent and not consequent to synderesis. So the truth of things elicits the conviction that there are goods to be desired. In metaphysics, we say that being, the good, and the true are interchangeable. But the practical intellect follows the speculative intellect. There is the primacy of the search for truth.

This synderesis, an innate habit of the practical reason, is immutable and infallible, urging toward to the good to be pursued. Saint Thomas says there is something angelic in it. Saint Jerome said it is an eagle which flies above all faculties looking at our actions from above. It is an innate habit, not a special faculty. It is not formed by exercise, because it is innate. Synderesis is a habit of the first principles of the natural law, and the conscience is a concrete decision or conclusion based on these first principles. Synderesis is indestructible in the nature of the soul. Both those in heaven and hell have it. The recognition of the light of synderesis may be blocked, due to sin or physical energy. The movement of the passions may be so strong that synderesis may not be applied. Saint Augustine had seen the inclination toward the good of man, but we couldn’t agree on it were not something prior was instilled in us. Cardinal Ratzinger suggests that synderesis should be replaced by anamnesis, because we have a memory of the good and the true ontologically. From his origin, man’s being resonates with some things and clashes with others. This anamnesis is not a store of retrievable contents, but an innate capacity to recall what is in accord with what man’s nature seeks. We don’t have arguments to prove it’s there, but it just is there. Ratzinger prefers this recalling.

Conscience according to Saint Thomas is not a faculty or a habit but an act. Conscience is the application of our reason to a concrete situation. It is an act of the practical reason which applies a knowledge to a particular situation. Practical reason begins with the spark of synderesis and utilizing the light it receives from education and the instinctive moral law, and taking into account the concrete situation, the conscience makes a judgment about an action to be undertaken, or a judgment about an act that has already been done. Saint Thomas distinguishes three elements in conscience’s function: to recognize, to bear witness, and to judge. Even though conscience is not a habit, but it is formed by habits, the virtues of wisdom, knowledge, and prudence and by supernatural virtues. Conscience is an act of reason, not of appetition, which means that conscience belongs to the order of cognition and not feeling. We mentioned that in a healthy person the emotions support the judgment of conscience, that the emotions are well-integrated with reason. So there is an emotional aspect which supports reason, but conscience itself is a rational act. The feelings associated are secondary, though they support conscience. The extent and depth of the feelings depend upon somatic constitution. The feelings do not belong to the essence of the conscience. When we follow our conscience, we follow the judgment of reason and not our emotions. We can do the right thing even though we feel no satisfaction or even sadness. The neurotic person may feel guilty even though the reason says that they haven’t done anything wrong.

Apologetics Page Library Page TOC Index Page Foot Notes Previous Next

Click here to goto CFP Home Page