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Class 18

Conscience & Prudence

The modern manuals, which focused on norm ethics, moral law, and conscience, was different from the Thomistic tradition, which focused on prudence. Both law and conscience aren’t sufficient to develop the theology of love and morals expressed toward our end. We need the virtues to act well with consistency. The virtues in Saint Thomas form a composite whole, and the dynamism of grace works within them, with charity ordering them all to God. Prudence governs every action, and judges all of the virtues, including the theological ones. There is no limit to our love, faith, and hope, but in the way we express these virtues must be governed by prudence. Prudence discerns here and now what is to be done. In the teaching of Saint Thomas prudence is not the backing out into safe conditions, as the modern understanding of the term suggests; but is the practice of discernment, decision, and action, and the command is the most distinctive. Prudence uses all the knowledge of moral science, including synderesis, to make its decision.

How does prudence differ from conscience? Saint Thomas says the judgment of conscience remains at the level of knowledge, but the free choice involves the will. Prudence doesn’t limit itself to the deliberation in the abstract, but culminates in the command. Prudence has one leg in the will, and is a moral and not just an intellectual act. In our contemporary usage of the terms, it seems like the other way around. Prudence is seen to be distant, not directly involved in the problem, like the aunt who puts on the air of wisdom. Conscience is understood to involve the will and the emotions. Another distinction in Saint Thomas is that conscience involves both past and future action, whereas prudence deals with present actions, what is to be done here and now. Today we have to use the present understanding.

Conscience and the superego

There is another distinction between conscience and the superego. Conscience is basically the act of reason, distinguished from the concomitant feelings which support the judgment of conscience. In the neurotic, there are emotions which interfere in this process whereby the emotions and the judgment of the conscience are not completely in conformity. People have to be taught to follow the judgment of conscience and not their feelings. The force causing the feeling of guilt is the superego, although Freud said it was a fusion of social and moral factors, as well as their education. We should define superego as uniquely the quasi-habit of the interior senses — memory and the utility judgment — which causes a certain misguiding in the emotions. It is a quasi-habit because it really doesn’t completely involve the reason. Animals can have guilty feelings. Animals have emotions, and by playing on the emotions they can be trained; but this is not conscience.

The following of the superego is a repression of the emotions undertaken by other emotions. The conscience when it guides it invites to the creation of value through love, whereas the superego orders an act to gain appraisal, or out of fear that love will be taken away. Conscience has an extroverted attitude, toward the value; the superego is introverted, the center of attention is how one feels. Conscience is sensitive to value and capable of risk; the superego is static and helpless in new situations. Conscience is based on values independently of the status of authority; superego is heteronomous, seeking its basis on law. Superego looks at individual cases; conscience, the general. The superego looks to the past it wants to redeem; conscience to the future. Conscience wants to heal the attitude for the future; superego wants to be punished and thereby merit. Superego experiences a speedy transfer to the deep feeling of guilt to the feeling of value by confessing before authority. Conscience produces a feeling of guilt regardless of whether the authority has noticed; superego is more dependent on the weight of authority (what would the superior say?). A sound moral education should grant the ability to discern the rational judgment of the conscience and not the feelings, justifying the feelings only when in accord with reason. Conscience’s judgments should be recognized as in accord with the moral guidance expressed in the divine law, although all the implications of the moral law don’t have to be known. If we undertake an effort, we should be able to perceive the good, although with some error and in a cloud.

In the Church, we have both the Thomistic tradition focusing on the sapiential aspect of law, reflective of the logic behind it, and the voluntaristic tradition, that law is the will of the lawgiver. A voluntaristic attitude can lead to obedience out of love for the lawgiver, though it can lead to an emotional reception of the law, rather than a rational one. If the apprehension of the moral law is too voluntaristic and emotion, the obedience will invariably handicap the functioning of reason, handicapping free choices. In those countries where reception of moral teachings was voluntaristic, there are great reactions. The obedience should be undertaken by reason in faith, and such an approach is enriching and leads us to a contact with God. Totalitarian obedience doesn’t lead to a maturity of the conscience.

We’ve talked about the repression of the emotions. We can transfer this psychological concept to intellectual and spiritual repression. An intellectual repression happens when we accept ideologies which prevent the capacity of reason from seeing the truth. Someone who accepts positivism cannot accept the reality of grace. This is a form of intellectual repression. Spiritual repression happens when the movement of grace received at baptism is blocked by the lack of spiritual growth and prayer. Such a spiritual repression is the most serious in our life, because we are no longer receptive to the Holy Spirit. It is important that there be a liberation of the soul, which is a long-term process and more than an intellectual process: we need an openness to the Holy Spirit.

The Divine Indwelling

The following theme belongs to the treatise on the Trinity, not really to moral theology. What happens to the human soul when we meet God? There are several theological concepts describing this reality: redemption, deification, sanctification, etc. Each term has a rich theological tradition. We will focus only on the expression that the soul in the state of grace is a temple of the Holy Spirit, of the Blessed Trinity. What is the consequence of this for the moral life?

We have plenty of texts telling us about this indwelling. There are too many texts to treat this in just a superficial way. How does God live within us? There are three modes of the divine presence. The first is the omnipresence due to the fact that God has created everything and preserves everything which exists. Saint Thomas says that God is present per essentiam, potentiam, et praesentiam. He is present per potentiam in that everything is dependent on the power of God, and per praesentiam because all creation kneels before him. God is present in the world but doesn’t inhabit here. The second mode is the presence of God through grace. In baptized infants, that presence is only habitual. With growth, it can become actual. This second presence is built on the first omnipresence. It is the same presence of the first mode, but due to grace, a personal relationship with the Blessed Trinity is possible. As the known object is in the knower, so God is present in him to whom he communicates his knowledge and love. God not only is present in the creature but inhabits there. We can make the same distinction in that the book is present for the table, the bug biting in it, and the person reading it. God is present for us in creation, and in us. The third presence of God is the hypostatic union, the absolutely perfect temple of God. We can say that the second presence is based on the first, and the third on the first and the second. These divisions correspond to the divisions of the Summa.

In the tradition of the Church, we have several texts. Pope Leo XIII’s Divino Munus Illud is a classic text. Indwelling is produced by the presence of the whole Trinity, nevertheless is attributed in a special way to the Holy Spirit. The fullness of divine gifts is a consequence of the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. Without these, there is no beginning to a good life, no arriving at eternal salvation. Grace is thus critical. Each divine person engages in a distinct relationship with the soul. Each divine person has its specific role and influence. The Trinity is always acting in unity. The divine indwelling is not metaphorical, but is equally real as in the Eucharist. In the latter, the species of the bread and wine do not love, though we can love. There is no transubstantiation in our souls — we remain human beings. The divine indwelling takes place through sanctifying grace which makes us pleasing to God and to other people. It’s not a charismatic grace, which is a sign for others. In the divine indwelling, there is a certain revelation of God, for they are sent to us when they are known. When we speak of grace, we don’t make reference to the persons. There is a special relationship with each of the three persons. We begin with our experience and not from God’s perspective, because the divine indwelling is only explicable from our side. The formal reason for the indwelling is our knowingly loving or lovingly knowing the divine persons, not just notions of them. We speak of the change which takes place within us.

God becomes the object of our knowledge and our love by the divine indwelling. This happens through the supernatural, created gifts of God — like wisdom, which grants within our cognition an insight different from natural wisdom. This is different from the knowing of God from unformed faith. This supernatural wisdom are endowed with the traits of God the Father. Within the wisdom, we see the Word of God. We perceive in this wisdom something typical of the word of God which we know through revelation. This cognition of the son elicits in our will love, which is helped by supernatural charity, which possesses in itself something of the spirit. These personal characteristics of the Holy Spirit are known through appropriation, that there is something spiritual and divine. In the sending of the Word of the Father, the cognition of wisdom flows to the attraction of love. Within this experience, there is the quasi-experiential knowledge of God. There is a knowledge which is recognized s a movement coming from the Holy Spirit. In Carmelite spirituality, this recognition is attributed to the sixth mansion, after the Night of the Spirit. Saint John of the Cross puts hope in the memory, after Saint Augustine. Not every knowledge is an expression of the mission of the Son. This intellectual gift which elicits charity is called wisdom, a tasty knowledge. Such a wisdom exhibits the Son, just as charity is an expression of the Holy Spirit.

The practical influence of grace in the human life

How does this fit into practical life? We have an inclination to overcome the dislike of another. We receive an intuition to treat him as a brother. This intuition is directed to overcoming this dislike; we perceive that it’s good to overcome this dislike; this suggestion to treat him with love, we perceive, comes from God, that it is something Jesus would do. This intuition elicits a supernatural love from our will. This movement of charity is not automatic. We still have to overcome our laziness to make up to him. We perceive that this openness to do so comes from the Holy Spirit. Only when we live this out do the virtues of the Holy Spirit come alive.

The divine persons are present through the knowledge which elicits the love. We experience through the gifts the divine persons, who become our guests and friends. If we have grown spiritually, we begin to listen to these inspirations, to treating the Holy Spirit as our interior Master. The holier we are the greater the relationship through these gifts. The divine persons dwell in us to help us better to know and love Him. Saint Augustine introduced uti and frui, to use and to enjoy, for the purposes — we can use the grace of the Holy Spirit in our life and to enjoy it. The fact that Saint Thomas discusses this matter within the treatise on the Blessed Trinity in the prima pars shows that it is the culmination of the life of the Trinity, to which we are called to participate. The divine presence is only habitual in us when we are in the state of grace, but we don’t know the persons in this state. The baptized infant has the possibility for this encounter with these persons. When through faith we recognize the intuitions as coming from the persons, our will loves and our reason recognizes the persons. Sometimes intuitions cannot be rationally defended, but one sees something of God in this intuition, which elicits a love that says there is something beautiful in following this difficult intuition. The movement of the Holy Spirit is not felt sensitively, but it is clear. Our will is still involved, in marshalling our emotions. The dynamic force comes from the wisdom and the charity. The union with the divine persons can become more and more close. Friends share secrets. God allows us to experience the mysteries.

Charity is the only reality we will still experience in heaven. There is no limit to charity, although there is a limit to the way we express charity — which is why prudence is necessary. The divine indwelling influences the entire moral life of the Christian, a personal norm, a personal law. The divine presence enlightens the intellect and ignites the will. The wisdom and love become the norm for the person. The undertaking of the creativity of the infused virtues allow the contact with the very person of Gods. The contact with God through the divine indwelling is not normative, but the union with God is not binding. It doesn’t regulate our lives above the moral law; but it is through the relationship with the divine persons that the whole supernatural organism begins to move. The contact with the living God grants a unity to all the elements of the supernatural organism. The divine indwelling isn’t a pantheistic fusion of God; we retain our nature, but we become more free. The wisdom given by God doesn’t deprive the reason of its rights. Wisdom elevates the reason, pointing out a perspective the reason hasn’t seen. Similarly, charity doesn’t inundate human love, but elicits in the will a spiritual attraction. We shouldn’t mistake the will for the emotion of energy. When grace is active in the will, the attraction of the will is strengthened toward that which is good. Charity elicits something within the structure of the will. Grace doesn’t just supply something above, but it liberates from within. The injury in the will which needs healing is the propensity to act against oneself, and to confirm to the moral law, which is often interpreted as a burden. The Holy Spirit heals both of these weaknesses. What we undertake is experienced as a fascination, not a burden. The will in this grace discovers sources in the will which were previously latent. The will does acts in a supernatural manner, but they’re still my acts, undertaken freely.

The presence of God in the human soul is the same as it will be in heaven. The difference will be accidental, based on our present state. Our human faculties will be enlightened by the lumen gloriae. The difference lies in our consciousness. We are tied by our senses. This capacity is restored by baptism. Therefore we should respect the presence of God in the souls of people and believe in God working in people. When we believe that God is working in the people we contact, we cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Spiritual direction should aid in the liberation from spiritual repression, to allow the supernatural life to flourish.


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