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Conscience - a universal natural law


As narrated in the Bible, during creation God imprinted into the nature of man His Divine Image, which draws man toward everything that is morally good and averts him from everything that is morally evil. This inner law works through the voice of conscience, which justly is called the voice of God in man. Because it is an integral part of human nature, it is active in all people - regardless of their age, race, education, or development.

Indeed, studying the culture and customs of past and present nations, one notes that all people, even the most primitive tribes, distinguish between what is good and what is bad, between good man and evil man, between virtue and vice. They are all agreed on this: that the good is worth striving for, that evil be shunned, and that the one deserves praise, the other, blame. Though in individual cases they may not be one in denominating the same thing good or evil, they are nevertheless agreed as to the general principle that good is to be done and evil avoided. The occasional discrepancy in labeling some actions as good or evil seems to come from the particular circumstances in which a given nation develops. It is a universally recognized principle that one should not do to others what he would not wish them to do to him. Vice everywhere seeks to hide itself or at least to put on the mask of virtue.

The Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans explains in some detail how moral law works in man. The Apostle reproaches those who know the written Law of God but willfully violate it. He contrasts them with the pagans who "not having a written Law, naturally observe the prescriptions of the Law. By this they show that the process of the Law is written in their hearts which is witnessed by their conscience and thoughts, which either punish or justify one another" (Rom. 1:14-15). According to St. Paul, on the forthcoming Judgment Day God will judge men not only according to their faith, but also according to their conscience. Thus even the pagans may be saved if their conscience will witness to God their righteous life.

In general, conscience is a very sensitive moral evaluator - especially in children and young people, who are still pure and innocent. If we were not stained by sin, we would not need any external guidance, and conscience alone could precisely direct our behavior. The necessity for written law arose from original sin when man, dimmed by passion, failed to hear clearly the inner voice. In the present condition, both the written law and the inner natural law of conscience are needed; and they both speak of the same: "Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you" (Matt. 7:12).

In daily relationships with people, we subconsciously trust the conscience more than written laws and regulations. Indeed, it is impossible to have laws for every imaginable situation and to foresee how to preclude any attempts at breaking them. After all, shrewd people manage to twist and manipulate even the clearest of laws. So we hope that conscience, which works inside every person, will compel the person we are dealing with to do what is morally good and just.

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