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314 • Part III. Christian Morality: The Faith Lived

The Formation of Conscience

The formation of a good conscience is another fundamental element of

Christian moral teaching. “Conscience is a judgment of reason by which

the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act” (CCC,

no. 1796). “Man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His con-

science is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary” (GS, no. 16).

Conscience represents both the more general ability we have as

human beings to know what is good and right and the concrete judg-

ments we make in particular situations concerning what we should do

or about what we have already done. Moral choices confront us with

the decision to follow or depart from reason and the divine law. A good

conscience makes judgments that conform to reason and the good that

is willed by the Wisdom of God. A good conscience requires lifelong

formation. Each baptized follower of Christ is obliged to form his or her

conscience according to objective moral standards. The Word of God

is a principal tool in the formation of conscience when it is assimilated

by study, prayer, and practice. The prudent advice and good example of

others support and enlighten our conscience. The authoritative teach-

ing of the Church is an essential element in our conscience formation.

Finally, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, combined with regular examination

of our conscience, will help us develop a morally sensitive conscience.

Because our conscience is that inner sanctuary in which we listen

to the voice of God, we must remember to distinguish between our sub-

jective self and what is objectively true outside ourselves. We can be sub-

jectively in error about something that is objectively true. On the objec-

tive level, if our conscience is “correct,” then there is no error between

what is internally perceived to be true and truth itself. If there is an

incorrect conscience, that means that the conscience is erroneous in its

view of truth.

On the subjective level we can have a “certain” conscience, which

means we believe that our conscience is in conformity with what is objec-

tively true. A person can have a “certain” conscience on the subjective

level but an “incorrect” one on the objective level. For example, a person

thinks that Ash Wednesday is a Holy Day of Obligation and chooses to

miss Mass anyway. The person thinks it is a Holy Day (certain subjec-