Theologian Warns of “a Cloak for Raw Will”

Bishop Fisher Cautions About Talk of “Primacy of Conscience”

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 22, 2007 ( A renowned bioethicist and theologian warns that a moral conscience without objective principles runs the risk of falling into subjectivism or relativism.

Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia, said this at a press conference held Tuesday for an upcoming congress hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The international congress, entitled “The Christian Conscience in Support of the Right to Life,” will be held in the Vatican this Friday and Saturday on the occasion of the general assembly of the pontifical academy.

Speaking in the Vatican press office, Bishop Fisher summarized the main points of the lecture he will deliver on the topic, “The Moral Conscience, According to Ethical Reflection and the Present Crisis of Authority.”

“Talk of the ‘primacy of conscience’ is too often a cloak for raw will,” he explained. “The classical Christian conception of conscience is of the natural perception of basic moral principles, their application in particular circumstances, and the final judgment about what is to be — or has been — done.”

An antidote

“It presumes a noble view of human capacities and commands respect of individuals and institutions,” said the 46-year-old bishop. “It should be an antidote rather than an excuse for subjectivism or relativism.

“But conscience must be both well-informed and well-formed if it is to be a reliable guide to action. Too often in recent years those desperate for moral education or advice have been fobbed off with ‘follow your conscience’ or indulged with ‘do what you think is best.'”

Bishop Fisher explained that international human-rights documents have sometimes become “weapons against the rights of some people and apparently innocent words have become code with sinister meanings.”

“Without shared objective principles, ‘conscientious’ belief becomes window dressing for the raw expression of preference or power,” he noted.

“In the face of continuing division over moral conscience and authority I identify two helpful strands of contemporary thought: the ‘communitarian’ call to think with one’s moral community and the ‘practical reason’ approaches to maturation of conscience,” Bishop Fisher continued.

“On these views,” he added, “the magisterium is not some external source of moral thinking with which private conscience must grapple: It informs conscience much like a soul informs a body, giving it its shape and direction from within.”

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a micro-donation

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a micro-donation

Subscribe to the ZENIT Daily Email Newsletter

Receive the latest news of the Church and the world in your inbox every day. 

Thank you for subscribing! We will confirm your subscription via email. Please check your spam folder if you do not receive it soon.