Conscience and Obedience of Faith

I am struggling with these two facets of the process of moral descision-making.

As I understand Church teaching, man must ultimately follow his conscience, even if it is wrong.

“A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1790.

“The education of the conscience is a lifelong task” (CCC, #1784).

“To this purpose, man strives to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence, by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts” (CCC, #1788).

Unless a man is conscientiously submissive to the Catholic Church his subjection is not really a matter of inner morality but is mechanical obedience. (New Advent, Catholic Encyclopdia, "Conscience)

So, we must follow our conscience. In order to do this properly we need to know that our conscience is fully informed.

Therefore, we examine the issue in light of the teachings of the Church and strive to have our conscience aligned with God’s will. This might involve reading of scripture, speaking to a priest, consulting the CCC, etc.

At the end of this examination we either find that based on our study we freely assent to the teaching of the Church on the issue or that we still don’t agree with it.

This point is where my question comes in.
Do I follow my conscience at this point, even if it disagrees with the Church?
Do I follow Church Teaching because my conscience tells me that I must be obedient to the teaching of the Church?
If I follow my conscience about submitting to Church teaching, although I do not agree in conscience on the issue I am facing, am I condemned?
If I follow my conscience on the issue while going against my conscience as regards following Church Teaching, am I condemned?
At what point are we assured of any position of our conscience which disagrees with the Church?
I realize that the greatest good is when my conscience is in full agreement with the Church, but is there no benefit in submitting to the teaching of the Church although we have not fully absorbed it into our conscience and may still have lingering doubts?

:shrug: :confused: :shrug:

Turn over to God in prayer the areas you have difficulty with, each day, offering them
to Him to give you insight and wisdom on, and keep in that daily pose of waiting on Him and depending on Him to show you. While you wait you can trust and be at peace.

I don’t mean you are not wise, I just mean we need His answers on the tougher things.(probably on the non tough things too)
If it involved a concrete matter that you have to make a concrete decision on,…
I would need to ask for wisdom myself, before typing anything to you.

One thing is, in the Holy Scripture there is this quote, "If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God

James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you

The promise is you will be given it. In the meantime, while you can’t see clearly, hold onto Him and trust Him. He is our marriage partner, according to scripture, so we can cling to Him and He tells us not to fear.

IMHO this topic should be the one that all of us who follow CAF should find the most intriguing. Those of us who do not believe in 100% in every social dogma after struggle and prayer over many years are snidely referred to as cafeteria Catholics. I can believe in all of the spiritual truths of Holy Mother Church, but because i cannot wrap my well formed conscience around the ban on ABC, then I am considered a heretic, not by the Church in everyday life, but by some here at
I think what some of us fail to realize is that the real world is not the one here online where it is so easy to dismiss people, the real world is in our parishes where we help each other and not one person cares who uses ABC or who attends the wedding of a couple who lives together.:rolleyes:

Yes as a Catholic Christian - the reality of the Teaching and Authority of the Church -is part of ones conscience. If there is an apparent conflict -such apparent conflict is not between the persons conscience and the authority of the Church - it is* within the persons conscience against itself*…it is in conflict with itself.

Your reference to the “obedience of Faith” is apt…as Saint Paul talks about we have handed ourselves over in the obedience of Faith. Let us give our full YES! Renewing the Yes of our Baptism.

He also speaks of the of the “renewal of the mind”…(more later).

Pope Benedict XVI on the renewal of our mind Saint Paul refers to:

"It is part of the structure of Paul’s Letters always in reference to the particular place and situation that they first of all explain the mystery of Christ, they teach faith. The second part treats their application to our lives: what ensues from this faith? How does it shape our existence, day by day? In the Letter to the Romans, this second part begins in chapter 12, in which the Apostle briefly sums up the essential nucleus of Christian existence in the first two verses. What does St Paul say to us in that passage? First of all he affirms, as a fundamental thing, that a new way of venerating God began with Christ a new form of worship. It consists in the fact that the living person himself becomes adoration, “sacrifice”, even in his own body. It is no longer things that are offered to God. It is our very existence that must become praise of God. But how does this happen? In the second verse we are given the answer: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God…” (12: 2). The two decisive words of this verse are “transformed” and “renewal”. We must become new people, transformed into a new mode of existence. The world is always in search of novelty because, rightly, it is always dissatisfied with concrete reality. Paul tells us: the world cannot be renewed without new people. Only if there are new people will there also be a new world, a renewed and better world. In the beginning is the renewal of the human being. This subsequently applies to every individual. Only if we ourselves become new does the world become new. This also means that it is not enough to adapt to the current situation. The Apostle exhorts us to non-conformism. In our Letter he says: we should not submit to the logic of our time. We shall return to this point, reflecting on the second text on which I wish to meditate with you this evening. The Apostle’s “no” is clear and also convincing for anyone who observes the “logic” of our world. But to become new how can this be done? Are we really capable of it? With his words on becoming new, Paul alludes to his own conversion: to his encounter with the Risen Christ, an encounter of which, in the Second Letter to the Corinthians he says: “if anyone is in Christ, he is in a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (5: 17). This encounter with Christ was so overwhelming for him that he said of it: “I… died…” (Gal 2: 19; cf. Rm 6). He became new, another, because he no longer lived for himself and by virtue of himself, but for Christ and in him. In the course of the years, however, he also saw that this process of renewal and transformation continues throughout life. We become new if we let ourselves be grasped and shaped by the new Man, Jesus Christ. He is the new Man par excellence. In him the new human existence became reality and we can truly become new if we deliver ourselves into his hands and let ourselves be moulded by him.

Paul makes this process of “recasting” even clearer by saying that we become new if we transform our way of thinking. What has been introduced here with “way of thinking” is the Greek term “nous”. It is a complex word. It may be translated as “spirit”, “sentiments”, “reason”, and precisely, also by “way of thinking”. Thus our reason must become new. This surprises us. We might have expected instead that this would have concerned some attitude: what we should change in our behaviour. But no: renewal must go to the very core. Our way of looking at the world, of understanding reality all our thought must change from its foundations. The reasoning of the former person, the common way of thinking is usually directed to possession, well-being, influence, success, fame and so forth. Yet in this way its scope is too limited. Thus, in the final analysis, one’s “self” remains the centre of the world. We must learn to think more profoundly. St Paul tells us what this means in the second part of the sentence: it is necessary to learn to understand God’s will, so that it may shape our own will. This is in order that we ourselves may desire what God desires, because we recognize that what God wants is the beautiful and the good. It is therefore a question of a turning point in our fundamental spiritual orientation. God must enter into the horizon of our thought: what he wants and the way in which he conceived of the world and of me. We must learn to share in the thinking and the will of Jesus Christ. It is then that we will be new people in whom a new world emerges. "

~ Pope Benedict XVI June 28 2009

(it starts second paragraph - read it all).

Let us continue more and more in this renewal of our minds

After reading that, all I can say is…wow. Such profound teaching.

God bless,

Be sure to follow the link and read the whole. One of my favorite homilies from him.

Of course not. Catholics aren’t moral relativists. You must ultimately obey your well-formed conscience. You don’t have to obey an ignorant conscience. A well-formed conscience is in line with Church teaching and recognizes the authority of the Church. So by the transitive property, you must obey the Church.

Now, there are different kinds of obedience. Infallible teachings must be accepted without question. Fallible teachings require obedience but since it’s capable of error, assent of intellect can be withheld for well-founded reasons.

Yes there are different kinds of teaching and each must be seen for the kind of teaching it is and thus how we are to respond will be different.

“Fallible Teachings” is not really the term to use I would say. And as you note yes there can be obedience needed - in terms of “teachings that are not infallible” -but such is not only involving the will but can involve “a religious submission of the intellect and will” (CIC 752 et al).

Overview of Conscience by Catholics United for the Faith in Steubenville.

We have to follow our conscience; anything else is just hypocritical anyway. But that doesn’t mean our consciences are properly formed. And we’re all in varying degrees of alignment or agreement with the truths God has revealed to the Church, some of us more so, some less, all in process, presumably none fully perfected in that endeavor. So the Church respects our right to disagree while holding that her teachings are true nonetheless. She respects our right to be wrong while knowing what’s right-and holding that anyone of good will, who earnestly seeks truth, who earnestly seeks God, will receive the grace to find Him.

Thank you for your kind words. I don’t have a specific issue I am dealing with. In fact, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, my faith in what the Church teaches becomes more and more in alignment with my conscience. It’s more of an intellectual question. I am trying to understand the process, considerations and consequences when a person reaches an impasse in a decision.


I agree. I find the concept difficult to understand on a practical level. I think that Catholics in general need to understand the Church’s teachings on conscience and obedience. Some take Church teaching too lightly and rely on their personal conscience almost exclusively. Others follow Church teaching without the deep and sincere conversion required and rely almost exclusively on their intellectual acceptance of Church teachings.

I can believe in all of the spiritual truths of Holy Mother Church, but because i cannot wrap my well formed conscience around the ban on ABC, then I am considered a heretic, not by the Church in everyday life, but by some here at

I am very sorry that you have had this experience here. Unfortunately I have run into a few of them myself. They tend to forget that this is a process and we are each maturing in faith at a different rate and in our own way. We should never judge another. True Christians can disagree without being disagreeable.

My disagreement would be with your “informed” conscience. As I understand the term, the fully informed conscience will always be completely aligned with the Church’s teachings. By definition, that would make our consciences uninformed or ignorant resulting in erroneous judgments if it is opposed to Church teaching, especially if we fail to fully study and explore the teaching.

I do respect that you have been working towards an informed conscience. I have only recently come to terms on ABC myself and I know how very difficult this teaching is for most of us.


It seems to me that those who know what the Church teaches and then act or teach contrary to this are not following their conscience. The are following something else.
Our conscience is supposed to be the “law written on our hearts”.

To me where “follow your conscience” really applies, is in cases where there is no definitive teaching from the Church.

I’m lucky, because at age 61, I’m not worried about about having to make a decision about ABC! I don’t, however, feel that questioning dogma is necessarily a bad thing. It’s just so confusing to believe with all of my heart the religious dogma but then struggle with the social issues. When I spoke with a very very thoughtful priest, he told me that what I’m experiencing is quite normal and the majority of First World Catholics struggle with the Church’s stance on one social issue or another. I certainly don’t want to be like a Scientologist, JW or LDS where questioning is looked upon as evil.:cool:

Thank you for posting this. It truly is a beautiful expression of the deep value of an adult faith. I had never read it before.

I’m afraid that while it describes very well the process for reaching adult faith and the reasons why it is so essential that we work towards full maturity of faith, it doesn’t quite answer my specific areas of confusion.

It is not truly about our goal, but more specific to our decision-making previous to achieving adult faith.

We are often required to make decisions, about ABC, for example, when we have an immature understanding. We are often young and not fully mature in any of our thinking. Yet we must make a decision, ready or not! Then what do we do?

(Please don’t argue ABC, anyone. I am just using this as a convenient example of a decision that often creates conflict.)

As I read the CCC:
We **must **follow even an erroneous conscience.
We **must **follow the doctrines of the Church.

So, how do we reconcile these things? If my conscience tells me that ABC is acceptable and doctrine says that it is wrong, how do I resolve this? This seems like a Catch-22.

What do we do on a practical level when we experience such a conflict? I cannot merely follow Church teaching as if I was a robot nor without ignoring the Church’s insistence upon conscience directing my actions. Nor can I remain faithful to Church teaching if I follow my conscience as directed.


Well written! Thank you. I agree. I am still unsure of the practical application.

Actually it does. What is needed is the renewal of the mind. To conform ourselves to Christ. To the Teachings of his Church.

A person may not yet have encountered Christ or is in invincible ignorance - what are they to do?

Seek truth -and as they encounter Christ and his Church - repent and believe the Good news! And receive true life!

One is to follow the Teachings of the Church. That is part of the Christian ~ YES!

Now can it happen that a person have an error in their conscience - due to invincible ignorance? Yes it can happen. They are to continue to seek the truth -to correct that error as they discover it --to discover what the Church teaches – and knowing him who gives the authority to the Church to teach - they are to then conform themselves to that Teaching. To repent and believe the Good News -the Gospel. Come to know more and more a renewal of the mind and true life.

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