Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Newman on Conscience

Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
The Prodigal Son 1922
Oil on canvas
Civico Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Milan

On 10th July 2010 Professor Tracey Rowland wrote the second of a three part article on the life and thought of Pope Benedict XVI.

The article was entitled Ratzinger the Romantic and was published in The Tablet.

Professor Rowland is Dean and Associate Professor of Political Philosophy and Continental Theology of the John Paul II Institute, Melbourne, Australia, and Member of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham in England

She has made a detailed study of the theology of the present Pope and as published a well received book on the subject entitled, Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI

In the article in The Tablet, Professor Rowland wrote about the influence of Cardinal Newman on the present Pope:

"It has been said that the young Ratzinger once sat through a very dry lecture about how God is the summum bonum (“the greatest good”), and as he left the hall he remarked to a colleague that “a summum bonum doesn’t need a mother”. He was not denying that God is the highest good, he was simply doubtful whether this proposition would have the capacity to move hearts steeled to stoicism by two traumatic wars. As one of his seminary superiors has written, this kind of scholasticism “wasn’t his beer”.

The works of Newman, however, were.

When Ratzinger joined the seminary in Freising in 1946, he was introduced to the thought of Newman by his prefect of studies, Alfred Läpple, who was working on a dissertation on Newman’s idea of conscience. Läpple was later to reminisce that Newman became their passion.

The German interest in Newman had earlier been fostered by Erich Przywara SJ (1889-1972), editor of Stimmen der Zeit, and by the cultural critic and convert Theodor Haecker. Ratzinger’s teacher in fundamental theology and director of both of his theses, Gottlieb Söhngen (1892-1971), was also into Newman and it was under Söhngen that Ratzinger studied Newman’s Grammar of Assent.

Ratzinger has since reflected that for seminarians of his generation “Newman’s teaching on conscience became an important foundation for theological personalism, which was drawing us all in its sway. Our image of the human being as well as our image of the Church was permeated by this point of departure.” "

Newman on Conscience is always capable of being misunderstood.

Newman made it clear that by conscience he was not talking about "private judgement"

He wrote:

""Conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself; but it is a messenger from Him, Who, both in nature and grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ. ...

Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will. (Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, section 5 on Conscience)"

The Letter to the Duke of Norfolk should be read in its entirety but rarely is.

See also:

Cardinal Pell on True and False Conscience

On 14th March 2010 Pope Benedict XVI gave a talk at the Angelus touching on Conscience which was inspired by his reading of The Parable of the Good Samaritan:

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, the Gospel of the father and the two sons better known as the Parable of the "Prodigal Son" (Lk 15:11-32) is proclaimed.

This passage of St Luke constitutes one of the peaks of spirituality and literature of all time. Indeed, what would our culture, art and more generally our civilization be without this revelation of a God the Father so full of mercy? It never fails to move us and every time we hear or read it, it can suggest to us ever new meanings. Above all, this Gospel text has the power of speaking to us of God, of enabling us to know his Face and, better still, his Heart.

After Jesus has told us of the merciful Father, things are no longer as they were before. We now know God; he is our Father who out of love created us to be free and endowed us with a conscience, who suffers when we get lost and rejoices when we return. For this reason, our relationship with him is built up through events, just as it happens for every child with his parents: at first he depends on them, then he asserts his autonomy; and, in the end if he develops well he reaches a mature relationship based on gratitude and authentic love.

In these stages we can also identify moments along man's journey in his relationship with God.

There can be a phase that resembles childhood: religion prompted by need, by dependence. As man grows up and becomes emancipated, he wants to liberate himself from this submission and become free and adult, able to organize himself and make his own decisions, even thinking he can do without God. Precisely this stage is delicate and can lead to atheism, yet even this frequently conceals the need to discover God's true Face.
Fortunately for us, God never fails in his faithfulness and even if we distance ourselves and get lost he continues to follow us with his love, forgiving our errors and speaking to our conscience from within in order to call us back to him.

In this parable the sons behave in opposite ways: the younger son leaves home and sinks ever lower whereas the elder son stays at home, but he too has an immature relationship with the Father. In fact, when his brother comes back, the elder brother does not rejoice like the Father; on the contrary he becomes angry and refuses to enter the house.

The two sons represent two immature ways of relating to God: rebellion and childish obedience. Both these forms are surmounted through the experience of mercy. Only by experiencing forgiveness, by recognizing one is loved with a freely given love a love greater than our wretchedness but also than our own merit do we at last enter into a truly filial and free relationship with God.

Dear friends, let us meditate on this parable. Let us compare ourselves to the two sons and, especially, contemplate the Heart of the Father. Let us throw ourselves into his arms and be regenerated by his merciful love. May the Virgin Mary, Mater Misericordiae, help us to do this."

Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
The Prodigal Son
Oil on canvas
115 x 200 cm
Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris

Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
The Prodigal Son
Oil on canvas
40 x 33 cm
Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris

Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
The Prodigal Son
12 x 29 cm
Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris

Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
The Prodigal Son
Oil on canvas
33 x 41 cm
Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris