Vol 18, No 1, 2011

Conscience as Primordial Moral Awareness in Gaudium et Spes and Veritatis Splendor

Tom Ryan, SM

Abstract

Theological discussion on conscience in the light of recent Church documents has tended to focus predominantly on its relationship to the truth and specifically as moral judgment in a particular situation. However, conscience has a more foundational sense. I argue that, in Gaudium et Spes and Veritatis Splendor, conscience understood as primordial moral awareness is presented in the setting of four epistemological processes which mediate the intuitive and affective appreciation of value, namely through a) participation in a divine-human dialogical relationship of love, b) participation as recognition of the true self, c) participation as collaboration in divine providence and wisdom and d) through a specific form of participative knowing, namely affective connaturality. The discussion will attempt to identify some of the key theological tributaries flowing into the treatment of the topic in these documents. In particular, recourse to Aquinas’ understanding of practical reason, evaluative knowing and affective connaturality is a valuable interpretative tool in this process. Critical evaluation suggests possibilities for further exploration.