20th October 2021
The article can’t be shared – which is a great pity, since this document shows clearly that the Church has breached the basic principles of the Bible.
Jesus assimilated the Golden Rule into his moral message. In Matthew’s Gospel one finds both the positive and the negative expression of the Golden Rule. In the more generally expressed form the Golden Rule is stated positively: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Mt 7: 12). The concrete form, where the Golden Rule is applied to judging and justice, is expressed as a negative admonition: ‘Do not judge, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you’ (Mt 7: 1.2). The latter statement refers to the danger of judging according to human standards. This insight is related to the wise old saying, errare humanum est — to err is human. It is one of man’s limitations that he makes mistakes. But here in Matthew’s Gospel it is more than a case of repeating ancient wisdom. The allusion is to the Kingdom of God. The Christian should not sit in judgment on his neighbour because he believes in God the Father, who is the only and ultimate judge.
The statement ‘Do not Judge’ underscores basic Christian liberty, even in the case of an erring conscience, and excludes the possibility of condemnation as a sinner. Whether or not one’s neighbour’s action is a sin, it is up to the judgment of the sole judge, the Father. Paul expresses the same thought: ‘I have nothing on my conscience, yet I am not thereby justified; but he who judges me is the Lord. Therefore, pass no judgment before the time; until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the things hidden in darkness and make manifest the counsels of hearts; and then everyone will have his praise from God’ (1 Cor 4: 4-5).
Since the conscience is the ultimate norm, a condemnation of the decision as sinful from anyone else is excluded.
LIMITS TO FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Paul gives one concrete example of the limits placed on freedom of conscience in his first letter to the community of Christians at Corinth. Chapters eight to ten of this epistle are concerned with a controversy in this early community regarding the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. The meat, used as offerings in pagan rites, was later sold on the open market in Corinth. The Christians were divided in their opinion as to whether they could buy and eat such meat in good conscience. Some said, the meat has been used in pagan rites and therefore cannot be consumed by Christians. Others were of the opinion that, since Christians knew there was only one true God and no idols and did not believe in the idols of the pagan cult, they could in good conscience eat such meat. Paul’s answer is that both those who in conscience cannot eat the meat (referred to as the ‘weak’ in Romans 14: 1-2) and those whose conscience allows them to eat the meat sacrificed to idols (the ‘strong’) do well, for both are following their respective consciences. For each must act according to his conscience. Yet he demands of the strong in conscience that they should take consideration of the weak and not give scandal. Paul states the right of each to follow his conscience, but then speaks of the obligation of love of neighbour.
In the situation described by Paul in his letter to the community of Corinth, there were two main rules of conduct. Each of the two — eating meat sacrificed to idols and not eating it — found a large group of followers, so that one could say there were two mutually exclusive patterns of behaviour, both practised by Christians, which led to the conflict Paul was asked to resolve. This is similar to today’s situation within the Church. The individual Christian can today more easily find a group of Christians who share his views on a particular aspect of morality or Christian practice. Whether in the realm of liturgical practice or in the strictly moral matter of family planning, one can find adherents of contradictory practices, each group calling itself Christian. Although one can appeal to all to compare their decision of conscience and moral behaviour to the norm of divine revelation in the Bible, the Scriptures offer no concrete solution in the way of a decision for one particular manner of behaviour in a plural situation. Paul himself did not decide that one group was behaving immorally, but requested the one group to be considerate of the other and to avoid scandalizing them. He did not prohibit their eating the meat.
LOVE IS THE FOUNDATION AND LIMITATION AT THE SAME TIME
By way of summary it can be said that the foundation for Christian freedom of conscience is man’s basic freedom and need for freedom of movement and a private domain of free self-determination. This basic freedom is reinforced by the belief in liberation from sin, death and evil through the Spirit in the Christian message. The individual has access to the objective True and Good through his subjective, however limited, faculties of recognition (reason) and the experience of being able to choose freely (free will). Baptized in the Spirit, the Christian lives in a bond with Jesus Christ as a son in the Son. This bond with Christ does not give the individual Christian any private illumination or revelation as to what is true and good, yet it is an important aspect of his formation of a decision of conscience, namely the Christian dimension of God’s Dominion and Kingdom, which enters every decision. His knowledge of the Christian message, for example, his knowledge of the morality of Jesus, and his life in the believing community are aids to the formation of his conscience.
It is evident that the individual Christian must take the life and opinion of his fellow Christians into consideration when making a decision of conscience. He may include the way of life and opinion of a few associates and friends. Should he discover that these share his opinion as to his choice of a Christian response to a moral question, he may refer to Matthew’s statement, that where Christians are gathered together in Christ’s name in the effort to seek God’s will, then God is with them, not in the sense that their decision is infallible, but in the sense that their striving to find God’s will is to be taken seriously and their decision must be regarded as a contribution to the general search for a Christian answer to a new moral problem. At the same time, the reverse is true. If the behaviour of a fellow Christian is regarded as non-acceptable to the community and even as sinful, one must first of all enter into dialogue with him and talk about his manner of behaviour. An individual’s response to a moral question may be regarded as wrong by the Christian community, which has the obligation and opportunity to take part in his further formation of conscience. The tradition of the whole Church must also be consulted and taken into account in the formation of the individual decision of conscience, but the experience of the whole Church may often be expressed in abstract, unified norms for all which do not adequately take into consideration the concrete situation of decision of the individual.