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Conscience in Context

Historical and Existential Perspectives

Stuart P. Chalmers

In this book, the author presents a detailed study of the notion of conscience from the perspective of its historical development and existential environment. The purpose of the study is to highlight conscience’s dignity and fallibility, as well as its dependence upon the context of virtue and grace, in order to develop as our capacity to perceive the truth in moral action. Starting from the premise that current moral theory is suffering from fragmentation, the author proposes that this fragmented outlook has affected the common understanding of conscience and is therefore in need of renewal, chiefly in terms of the reintegration of conscience with its proper setting. In order to explore this theory, he investigates how conscience has been understood over the centuries, particularly in the New Testament and during the Scholastic period, and analyses a number of important issues concerning its nature and function.

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Chapter Three Medieval Investigations on Conscience

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Patristic Sources and Medieval Application It is, without doubt, essential to any study of the history of conscience that considerable attention be paid to the contribution of the Scholastic Period, since the writers of this era were both the first to present a detailed analysis of the concept within the Christian context, and also to provide the standard point of reference for centuries afterwards. However, the key text at the root of medieval advances was, in fact, from the Patristic period, namely, a passage from St Jerome’s Commentary on Ezekiel,1 in which he presents the various interpretations of the prophet’s vision of the four living creatures (Ezek 1:4–24). Although Jerome’s text referred to conscientia, it was of little interest to scholars for nine centuries.2 St Jerome’s renewed popularity in the twelfth century is due to Peter Lombard’s reference to the passage in his Sentences,3 a work which subsequently came to be the 1 Delhaye, The Christian Conscience, 107: “When men of the Middle Ages spoke of synderesis, they were referring essentially to the text from St. Jerome’s commentary on Ezekiel.” See, St Jerome, Commentaria in Ezechielem, PL 25, 22. 2 Crowe, “Synderesis and the Early Scholastics,” 152: “Of the commentators on Ezechiel between the end of the fourth century, when Jerome wrote, and the last third of the twelfth century only Hrbanus [Rabanus] Maurus seems to have preserved an echo of Jerome. Writing in 842, he quotes, with one insignificant omission and without comment, the passage...

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