Was Paul the only man (except for Christ) who never violated his conscience?


I’m confused by the apparent conflict between what Paul says of himself in Acts 23:1

And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.”

and what the risen Christ said to him on the road to Damascus.

And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

That seems to inply that he had been resisting God in some way.

But if he lived his life in all good conscience up until the day he appeared before the Sanhedrin, wouldn’t that imply he never had any inkling that persecuting christians was wrong (until Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus), and hadn’t been resisting God in any way?

Also, wouldn’t he be without any actual (as opposed to formal) sin if he never violated his conscience?

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

(James 4:17.)

And when, when he says “us” in Hebrews 10:22, doesn’t he imply that he himself once had “an evil conscience”?

let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.


The meaning of the phrase, “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks (or goads)” is sometimes debated by linguists, and often by theologians, so it’s dangerous to read too much into what a disputed colloquialism may imply. Regardless, doesn’t Paul elsewhere describe himself as a chief sinner? And in Romans 6-7 doesn’t he also talk at length about his perpetual failure to do what he knows is right, and needing to be saved?

I don’t think I would agree that Paul never violated his own conscience, or that he was intending to claim such in Galatians. The meaning of his declaration there seems to be, “I habitually endeavor to do the right thing, and I’m not about to stop now for Peter.”


I agree. It is clear in St Paul’s writings that he does not consider himself to be free from sin. I would take this (“all good conscience”) to be St Paul speaking of conscience more broadly, along the lines of the theological notion of the fundamental option (or fundamental orientation). He is effectively saying that he has lived his life with a fundamental orientation to doing God’s will (even when he misunderstood it, before he met Christ, and , even though at times he sins).

This is reflected, as 1newcatholic says, in other things St Paul says regarding the struggle between the will to serve God and the sinful nature of the flesh, such as in Romans 7:25 “I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”


According to the 18th c. Scripture scholar Robert Witham:

Ver. 1. With an entire good conscience. With an upright sincerity. But St. Paul is far from excusing himself from all sin. He laments elsewhere his blind zeal in persecuting the Christians. See 1 Corinthians xv. 9. (Source: Haydock’s Commentary)

As to the question in the thread title, I’m pretty sure St. Joseph and St. John the Baptist never committed actual sin. After a little digging I found a quote from Pope Innocent III (in Denzinger, 790), who says that St John the Baptist was cleansed of original sin in St. Elizabeth’s womb, but I’d have to do more looking around to substantiate the rest.


A few points:

You don’t know what he is using as a starting point with “lived my life before God.” Did he only mean after he started following Jesus?

Also, it could be an expression of speech. Scripture states all men must die, yet Elijah was taken up to Heaven?

Mark talks about “all the people of Jerusalem and they were being baptized.” Really? Every single on? Not one who didn’t go?

As with all things, it needs to be taken in context and in the way it was spoken. Don’t read too much into it…


At the time that Paul, as Saul, was persecuting Christians, having them imprisoned for their faith, and when he stood by as Stephen was stoned to death, he may not have violated his conscience because he thought what he was doing was right, but what he was doing was nevertheless wrong and violates the laws of God.

He was working against Jesus Christ, God, Son of God. He may have in his conscience felt justified at that time. Having an incorrectly informed conscience is not a virtue and can lead to dreadful sins. The ISIS terrorists may be following their conscience, their perverted conscience, just as Saul before his conversion did. How different from those terrorists was before his conversion when he persecuted followers of Jesus and even condoned the murder of at least one man, Stephen, for his Christian beliefs?

Jesus never had a badly informed conscience, and while Saul/Paul might have done what seemed right at the time., he was certainly wrong. Jesus never sinned against God. We can’t put Paul in the same category as Jesus. Our conscience, in God’s sight, can be either good or destructive even if we’re sincere in following it. Undoubtedly Paul was sincere before and after his conversion, therefore yes, he always obeyed his conscience.
Obeying ones subjective conscience isn’t enough, as we see in Syria and Iraq.

A great many people would follow their conscience, correctly informed, or mistaken.
When God gave Saul the grace of conversion, it was a magnificent and magnanimous grace, one we hope and pray for all who need conversion of soul, life, and conscience.


I know of no arguments/positions to support either of these holy men from remaining free from actual sin.

St John the Baptist is considered to have been freed from original sin in the womb, but not of its lingering effects, and there is nothing in scripture or tradition to indicate that he remained free from actual sin throughout his life.

Even less is known of St Joseph. He is considered to have been born with original sin (as we all are) and there is again no suggestion in scripture or tradition that he did not commit actual sin.


The Buddha?



I looked into it a little more, and it seems to be a conclusion of some theologians, and not (as yet, anyhow) part of magisterial teaching, that Ss. Joseph and John the Baptist remained free of actual sin. So it seems to be a matter of opinion. I leave it at that.


Paul, or saul of tarsus, was typically at odds with the other disciples as shown in galatians where he had some exchanges with Peter (gal. 2:11-16) to give one example. His letters are important in the doctrine of faith alone. Paul in the eyes of man was probably the greatest sinner compared to the others, but no less justified and in the body and blood of Christ.

Romans 7:15, 24-25 KJV

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.


Who are these “some theologians”?

You present these ideas as though they are legitimate opinions held by respected theologians, so I’d like you to offer some sources. Especially since you imply that they may become Magesterial teachings!

(noting that there is an important difference between theorising that they *may *have remained free from actual sin vs the conclusion that they in fact did).


St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church
Rev. Francisco Suárez, S.J. (1548–1617), eminent theologian
Jean Charlier de Gerson (1363 – 1429), eminent theologian

Quote from St. Alphonsus:

When God destines anyone for a particular office, He gives him the graces that fit him for it. Therefore, since God chose St. Joseph to fill the office of father over the person of the Incarnate Word, we must certainly believe that he conferred upon him all the sanctity which belonged to such an office. Gerson says that among other privileges Joseph had three which were special to him. 1. That he was sanctified in his mother’s womb, as were Jeremias and St. John the Baptist. 2. That he was at the same time confirmed in grace. 3. That he was always exempt from the inclinations of concupiscence-----a privilege with which St. Joseph by the merit of his purity, favors his devout clients by delivering them from carnal appetites. (Source: Daily Devotions to St. Joseph)

Note that being “confirmed in grace” means that he could not have committed a sin, at least not deliberately.


Thanks Ad Orientem, it seems I have learned something new today! Which is to say, not that I accept these opinions to necessarily be correct, but that they seem to be respectable opinions held by highly respected people.

Very interesting. Thanks again.


I was surprised to learn of it myself, from a priest who mentioned it in passing. Reviewing the passage quoted above, it seems St. Alphonsus did not necessarily hold that St. John the Baptist was confirmed in grace, but only that he was cleansed of original sin in the womb (whereas St. Joseph is clearly asserted to have had both privileges).

Incidentally, the Catholic Encyclopedia says in the article on the Apostles, “Most modern theologians admit that the Apostles received so abundant an infusion of grace that they could avoid every mortal fault and every fully deliberate venial sin.” It doesn’t name the theologians, though, and that was around 1917, so it may not be a consensus today.

SeekerM, sorry for hijacking your thread. :o


If St. Paul never violated his conscience (before or after his conversion), and he was the worst of sinners, what hope can there be for those who have violated their consciences?

Wouldn’t anyone who had violated his conscience be worse than the worst of sinners?

The lowest of the low?



No, I think you are putting too much weight on the issue of who has or who has not violated his conscience. There is no use in comparing ourselves to others.
Jesus makes no comment upon ‘conscience’ when He share His criteria for judging souls…remembering what He taught as vital to Christian life, to love God, to love others as self, and He isn’t talking about some amorphous warm feeling with regard to love, He speaks of action.

Matthew 25 verses 31-46

The Judgement of the Nations

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him,** “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you**?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

God will judge us according to our practical kindness, not o in all the little ways we a kind to others as well as any greater ways. Jesus our Judge has said so.

Our sins against charity, against our conscience (which should be formed by love of God and love of others and just appreciation of the gift of our own lives and selves… remember Jesus said "love others as yourself. That implies that our love of self along with conscience formed with love and kindness at its root, informs us in how to rightly love others. It is this, He said, that is the criteria upon which He will judge us.
Our failures in love, charity, respect, service, we repent, we try to improve, trusting in God’s goodness and grace as we continue to try to live the commandments of love that Jesus taught us and requires of us. (Matthew 22:37-40)

And are we forgiven for our failures in love?
Look at Peter. He failed in charity, let Jesus down at the worst possible moment, deserted Him, lied, hid in fear. (John 18:15-27) As he had betrayed Jesus three times, so did Jesus ask three times if he loved Him, though he had failed in in love for Him. Repentant Peter said he did love Him. Note that Jesus still, after all that, entrusted to Peter the mission He had promised. Jesus forgiveness was complete. (John 21:17) Did Peter fail in love and faithfulness again and need again to obtain God’s forgiveness? Possibly. He was an impetuous man, a wonderful example both of human vulnerability and good-will. He knew God’s mercy. He would try again to be faithful, authentic, loving.

We hope in God’s mercy for this grace of God as we strive to overcome failures in love, and today, each day, try again to live in genuine practical kindness to others as we center our lives in love of Him, and each other in Him.

God grant you great trust and hope in His merciful love for you.

Kind wishes,


There is a very interesting article by Krister Stendahl entitled “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.” In it, he discusses Paul’s “robust conscience” in light of Romans 5-8.

I think that many will find it interesting.


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