Synthesis of the Human Act – 3, Mons Anton Borg, Kummissjoni Teoloġika Interdjoċesana

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29 ta’ Awwissu 2013

Synthesis of the Human Act – 3

Il-Kummissjoni Teoloġika Interdjoċesana qed twasslilkom aktar materjal dwar l-Att Uman.


  1. The Christian Conscience


  •     Importance of the Moral Conscience

In the present fast moving life, the moral conscience is becoming more important in one’s life decisions. May be the result of the importance given to the human person, to his human dignity or perhaps because so much change has taken place in the world in such a short time that no solutions are available for all the numerous modern problems that cropped up.

In these days in moral theology, Christian conscience is taking an ever increasing importance. We know that being Christian one must act as a Christian, but how “Christian” is our moral behaviour? How can our Christian moral attitudes and behaviour differ from the moral behaviour of those men who are not Christian but willing to lead a good life? Can Christians engage in a dialogue with non-Christians to solve common social problems? And on top of that, how much “human” is our Christian conscience, since though we are Christians it does not mean that we are no longer human persons?

  •    Natural Conscience

When one states that the Christian has to act as a Christian, one understands that one must always abide by his Christian belief. But before discussing Christian conscience, one should clarify what is meant by conscience (conscience devoid of any Christian element). Similarly as to making an abstraction and talking about the ideal man, one can talk about conscience called by theologians “natural” – that, which urges every person to look for the good and do what is right. It is because this natural conscience is innate in the human person that the Christian can sit together with non-Christians to discuss and find solutions for human problems which are posing threats to the world. So Christian conscience consists of both the natural conscience, and the Christian belief. The Christian has made a fundamental option that will condition every decision made after; every decision will be made in this light of Christian belief.

  • The Christian Conscience

In what does this Christian belief consist? How will it influence the moral behaviour of the Christian? A Christian is a person that is in a dialogue with God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By Christian morality one refers to the call that this God makes to the human person through Jesus Christ, and the answer that every man, with full liberty and responsibility, has to make. One must remember that a substantial part of non-religious morality is characterized by the existing dialogue of love between God and man, a dialogue that is described by St. Augustine as “Deus et Anima”. If one of these is missing, it is no more a dialogue but a monologue.

It is a dialogue of love, because God’s interest in man’s well-being is evident. “Love consists in this: it is not we who loved God, but God loved us and sent his Son to expiate our sins” (1 Jn 4, 10). God took this dialogue so seriously, that he sacrificed his Son for humankind. Man on the other hand has the duty to answer with the greatest seriousness and responsibility for the continuous call of God. So once this dialogue between God and man concretized itself in Christ, the latter became for the Christian the concrete norm, the perfect model, the moral imperative. On the example of Christ, the Christian is filled with hope that although the Christian model is an ideal, it was already lived by Christ.

It is in Christ that the Christian fully understands himself and his duty to reach his real aim in life. It is in Christ that Christian personalism affirms that although man is autonomous and free, this autonomy and liberty are limited because man is in dialogue with God. Unlike Jean Paul Sartre, Christians do not say that if God exists man has no freedom, and if man is autonomous God cannot exist. We state the contrary. Man is marvellous since he was created on the image of God – is able to create and shape himself – and because of this he is called to enter in a dialogue of love, a dialogue between Father and son. It is Christ who renders man truly free, free from the worst bondage – the bondage of being slave of oneself.

Every time that a Christian makes a moral judgement, these truths that he cherishes are in the background. In his moral behaviour, the Christian tries to perform in the most concrete way the fundamental choice he made; that of entering in a dialogue with God. This point is being emphasized to show how much the fundamental choice and every concrete choice depend on each other. The link between what it means to be a Christian and what are the duties of a Christian involves that all that characterizes the Christian should be found also in his moral behaviour.

In all the choices and decisions man makes, there is a relation between the external act and the intention, for the latter gives meaning to the former. Giving alms to a poor is characterised by the intention of the doer, an act of true love and kindness or an act of superiority or submission. It should be generosity that gives the true meaning to alms giving. In the same manner, the intentions of the Christian give a Christian meaning to any particular choice he makes. In every concrete choice, the Christian goes far beyond that particular choice. He does not only look for the particular good value to be done, but through that value he chooses to be in a continuous dialogue with God. The life of man is made of continuous decisive moments and consequently continuous particular decisions.

By deciding for himself, man is forming his life in an active way by giving it the form he chooses with his free decisions. It is through this building and forming of himself that his dynamism is seen, dynamism that shows itself in the pluralism of decisions. But, man’s deeds must agree with his nature as a man – ‘Agere sequitur esse’. So though the decisions are many and diverse, they must not be considered as separated from each other, but united as a sequence in the building and forming of the human person. In the same way as liberty is in need of responsibility, every activity in the person is in need of relation and continuous development. So man is the centre of every activity and unity.

In the judgement of conscience man can dispose of himself and in this disposition he can show how responsible he is. We can say that liberty identifies itself with responsibility. The true experience of freedom shows itself when the decision one is making involves the greatest responsibility, since the person and his future depend on this decision to be made. Freedom goes a par with intelligence so that actions and choices made are worthy of the person enriched with intelligence.

Man is capable of analysing and understanding himself, so he knows himself. When this analysis is made, when he knows more about himself, he is capable of knowing what he has and wants and what he has to do. He is able to choose and decide freely. Since he is capable of disposing of himself, and able to take on his shoulders responsibility, single actions have a meaning. In all the actions or choices beside the value seen we notice that in choice of this or that value there is the choice of ourselves.

Conscience as an act depends and works to realize the person. The single actions are choices of the person with which the person is building himself. So, these actions are not independent choices, but must be considered in the context of the total building and formation of the person. Conscience judges and decides what has to be done by the person in the single act, in this particular and partial self-realization. Singular acts emerge from conscience and express the orientation that the person must take in order to form itself.

Every act of conscience is changing the person on a moral level, and the greatness of moral conscience emerges from the fact that man has his destiny in his hands, he is able to dispose himself in freedom and when he makes these decisions, he is able to shoulder their responsibility.

  • Moral Conscience and the human person

Man, as stated above, is a person enriched with intelligence and freedom. But his dignity is not present only when he uses well these two spiritual faculties – when he makes personal acts, acts made with intelligence and freedom. It does not even end when these acts decrease. So the dignity of man is found in himself and this dignity is so great that he must not have any other aim except that of performing acts worthy of this dignity, acts made in an intelligent way and in freedom. It is in this sense that man is autonomous, thus he has the aim of himself in himself and every other aim is a hindrance to the person. This is not subjectivism but it is personalism that leads us to objectivity, since if one performs acts accordingly to his dignity – created in the image of God – he is performing the will of God. Man is not autonomous but more theonomous, open to God.

Man in his deeds performs values that he found not values that he created, and so his autonomy is not absolute but limited. It is here that the sense of duty is needed; we refer to the conscience as the voice of God. In a conflict of values the choice of a particular value entails the postponing or utterly the abundance of another value. In my decision or choice I would be making mine that value in a most personal way. The fact that I find values already existing, appealing to my conscience confirms that there is Someone who is the Lord of everything, who is above my conscience. Duty is nothing else than that which I have to do. Duty is that value which I have to choose in that particular situation.

It is through the conscience that man transforms himself in a man of moral perfection and maturity. Through these acts of conscience man achieves his greatness. Freedom is a high value that cannot be contested, since without it man loses his identity as a man, but with freedom man can realize himself. Freedom is not morality but the condition ‘sine qua non’ of the morality of the human person. It is because of liberty that every choice of every particular value that man is going to choose will lead him to that most important duty – the building and the formation of himself. Through the actualization of these moral decisions man is realizing himself and so he moves from mere possibility to the greatness of man as a moral subject.

Now, if we return to Christian conscience, we must sustain that Divine Revelation, in the way we understand it as faith and as grace, is an essential element of the reality of the Christian and his conscience. And this revelation demands from man the act of faith, that option so called fundamental, a radical decision made with liberty, with which the Christian will see Christ as the objective norm of his moral behaviour. With this fundamental and radical decision, we become a new creature in Christ, and we must continue to build ourselves, little by little with our particular moral deeds. This option is the basis of the Christian, since with it, the Christian accepts God Who is changing and forming him.

It is from this fundamental decision that the other decisions will emerge. The Christian has to prove himself in the decisions he makes, since in them he has to try to fulfil this fundamental choice. The realization of the dialogue between God and the Christian is more profound than the single acts. The morality of the Christian is found principally in the fact that by means of single acts and particular decisions, he is realizing himself in the eyes of the Absolute, in the eyes of God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But this realization of the Christian is not possible if not by means of these single acts.

Mons. Anton Borg

Membru tal-Kummissjoni Teoloġika

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