to the Pope. buç when Russian tanks rol ed into Prague our Na,0 tional Press had Tess space available to give those who continued to attack the ency lical Hurnanae Vitae.
Now that the dust of battle is somewhat settled. g allowing us to see a little more clearly the deployment of those forces opposed to the Papal decision, it may be opportune to summarise 0" the situation, and to pick the ,1 most outstanding defensive
rot , viz., "conscience and co traception" for further $ inv stigation.
On Sunday, August 25, as 0/ Warsaw Pact countries 1 tightened their grip on un0 fortunate Czechoslovakia, 1 Pope Paul VI from Bogota
was "throwing the full authority of the Papacy into the encyclical, and ad monishing and exhorting 1
the Bishops of the whole 0 world to stop any wavering 0/ among the people over the 0" encyclical which forbade 0 contraception" (Daily Mail). Reaction to the encyclical may be classified as follows: those who gave it whelehearted support on 1 one side and those who 0" declared that in the final
0' analysis the matter was still left to conscience, on the other. Between those two camps came variations, those who declared it was ..1° only a "directive'', an ideal", "not binding under $ mortal sin", "not catering $ for exceptional circumsta ces."
0 is difficult to underktand how anyone can hold that is is either a
0 "directive" or not binding r under mortal sin" considering the terminology of 0 the letter and the fact that it is re-affirming traditional / doctrine which no one 0 doubted obliged observance under pain of grave sin. A 0 change in the gravity of its o binding force would be clearly s t a t ed , and everything points clearly to 0 the contrary.
The appeal to one's 0 "conscience" as the final 0 arbiter of the morality of $ contraception, is one that o receives much attention and has been quoted by both
0/ priests and laity in recent rf. weeks, It is the official at
titude of the Church of
0 England to this vexed question — but can Catholics
1 follow the same rule? Let
us examine the 0 psychological and theological content of this affirmation.
"Conscience" is one's 0 intellect judging in the 0 sphere of morality. The object of the human intellect is truth, and only when the presence of "truth" is certail and conclusive, does the intellect ("conscience") give / its assent without any act
.5 on the part of the will. In
0 the moral order — in judg
$1 in g for example the lawfulness or unlawfulness
of contraception — the human conscience only attains certainty with the aid of the will.
To appeal then to "conscience" because one is convinced that contraception is lawful, notwithstanding the authentic teaching of the Church to the contrary, is inadequate to explain the situation.
"Conscience" cannot be certain in this matter of itself, and the most that the conscientious objector can have in his favour is an "opinion". It is because intellectual certainty of how contraception stands in relation to the moral order, cannot be attained, and because of the great importance of the sexual instinct, that Divine Guidance could only be expected.
This guidance has been given by the Church all down its history — it is referred to in the writings of the early Fathers. It is the traditional doctrine once more enshrined in Pope Paul's Hurnanae Vitae. To refer to • the sin of Onan (Gen. 38,9) and dismiss it as inadequate is not the point. The Church's constant teaching down the centuries gives meaning to many Scriptural references (e.g. Eph. iv, 19) which in themselves are inadequate to prove contraception immoral.
Admitting however, that some feel 'persuaded in conscience' that contraception is not immoral, notwithstanding the teaching of the encyclical, can it be said that their conscience gives them a title or "right" to act in this way? Does "freedom of conscience" become the ultimate principle? The answer must be an emphatic no, and for the following reasons.
The Declaration on Religious Freedom (7th Dec. 1965) issued by the last Vatican Council, is quite frequently but wrongly cited to justify conscience in this context. The Declaration affirms man's inalienable right to "Religious Freedom", namely that no man will be coerced to act contrary to his personal beliefs, nor will he be forcibly restrained from acting according to them.
This charter regulates man's religious freedom to his fellow men and to society in which he lives — coercion is not to be used on him. But this principle is not applicable to an entirely different matter — "freedom of conscience" — the confusion arises from failure to realise that the Declaration is visualising man in his social life — in his dealings with his fellow men and with the society in which he lives; neither are to compel him to act against his religious beliefs nor are they to restrain him from acting according to those same convictions. This is the sphere of human rights.
But man also lives in the order of reality, in the spiritual order of man's relationship to what is objectively true and morally good. This is the order of "duty" and of "obligation".
The Declaration is not affirming that man has a "right" to believe what is false or to do what is "wrong". This would be moral nonsense; neither error or evil can be the object of a "right". In his relationship with the moral order, man cannot claim "rights" contrary to truth, nor freedom contrary to the code of morality. To do so is a delusion.
Nowhere can the Vatican Council or any otter Council be quoted as lending authority to the theory for which the phrase -freedom of conscience" is frequently used. namely, that a man has the right to do what conscience tells him, simply because conscience tells him. This would be to quote the Vatican Council as approving of moral anarchy which is absurd.
The theory just criticized leads to subjectivism — the notion that in the end it is one's inner persuasion and not objective truth that determines what is right or wrong, what is true or false. It is most unfortunate that today the idea is being peddled about with the supposed approval of the Council that "conscience is first and foremost" in all eases. even in defiance of the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae. This idea circulating unchallenged can only cause chaos in the moral order and in the Church. its guardian.
For the Catholic, truth is not a vague abstraction. Truth is about God and His Will for men. It is in the individual persons conscience only when and to the extent which, it conforms to the Church's teaching. "Truth" is what is referred to in the last narrated words of Our Saviour before His ascent into Heaven, when to His Church He addressed the words — "Teach them all things whatsoever I have commanded you . .."