|"Against the spirit of the world, the Church takes up anew each day a struggle that is none other than the struggle for the world’s soul" (John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope).|
October 17, 2011. The Catholic Church has been a builder
of culture for over two millennia, and has faced different
forms of “culture war” throughout its long and battle-scarred history.
But perhaps never has the Church faced a challenge like
the “battle for the soul of the world” in the
For those with an interest in understanding the roots
and consequences of the cultural battle underway in today’s world,
we present The Battle for the Soul of the World,
by Fr Luis Garza, LC. Originally presented as a series
of lectures for university students attending a leadership conference, it
is offered here as a formation resource for teams and
individuals who will find the lecture notes to be thought-provoking
material for reflection and discussion.
The complete text with study guide
questions can be downloaded in PDF format here. Part 9
of the 10-part series is presented below.
2. Enlighten the
conscience with faith
We face a profound dilemma: our conscience is
the proximate norm for our deeds, and we must obey
it. Does this mean that the conscience is closed in
on itself? Does this mean there is no authority above
us? Is there no guilt?
Conscience is not a law or
an authority in itself but it is the law’s “witness.”
It does not create good or evil but applies the
law in concrete circumstances. I cannot choose and determine an
action to be good, but I can choose what I
consider to be morally correct.
We have to understand that there
are two levels of conscience. One is the ability, the
capacity to understand what is right (this is called synderesis
in Latin and anamnesis in Greek). It is a type
of law written within us. As Cicero wrote, “Non scripta,
sed nata lex.” The second level is the actual act
whereby the conscience dictates what to do.
For the first level
to come to the surface, some outside help is required.
One of the great needs for the Magisterium is precisely
this: to defend Christian conscience against subjectivity, conformism and relativism.
The second level also requires enlightenment, repentance and grace to
act quickly and accurately. Conscience, then, is the proximate norm
but requires illumination. If we pay attention only to our
own subjectivity, we can really be slaves to ourselves and
our passions. Enlightenment comes, as I said, from the Magisterium
but also from listening to the counsel of wise and
prudent people, reading experienced authors, and so on.
Furthermore, our actions
must have some consequences; there must be a sense of
guilt when we do something wrong. The lack of guilt
brought humanity to its lowest point during the twentieth century
when, in the name of who knows what dark principle,
human beings were simply decimated. And we are starting to
repeat the same sad story today with the tragedy of
Is there such a thing as moral truth? Relativism is
widespread and provokes a lack of critical exercise which often
makes people put others into categories: conservative, liberal, and so
on. And so it is that because we do not
seek the truth, each one having his own, our minds
simply atrophy and cease to think properly. The weakening of
critical thinking shows up in an incapacity for real dialogue.
There must be a truth that can be known. There
are several reasons for this: first, because a relativism that
affirms that there are no absolute truths is a contradiction
in itself. If we all have our own truth, that
at least is already an absolute truth. Second, underlying culture
and experience, there is always a human being whose nature
is the same and contains a set of truths which
are not only ontological but also moral. And third, relativism
leads us to use power as the sole criterion of
truth such as, for example, the ideologies of the twentieth
century with their horrible consequences.
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group
1. How have you seen some thinkers or writers invoke
“freedom of conscience” but without acknowledging that the conscience needs
to be rightly formed?
2. Is so-called “Catholic guilt” always such
a bad thing?
3. How does relativism undermine our ability to
think critically and with logical rigor?
4. Why are the categories
of “liberal versus conservative” insufficient and superficial when it comes
to questions about moral values?
5. Why is the relativist’s denial
of absolute truth inherently contradictory?