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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 Six Conscience and the Call to Holiness


Introduction Our last chapter led us to conclude that conscience f lourishes in the context of virtue, but that the virtues themselves only reach their full potential in the context of grace, which further shapes these virtues, and hence further refines the judgements of conscience.1 It is therefore appropriate in this final chapter to explore elements of this context of grace, which is none other than the lived expression of the universal call to holiness.2 In what ways do we live out our call to holiness and how do these practices af fect our moral living, both in the formation of virtue and of our conscience?3 This question of how we live out our moral-spiritual life is important, in that it grounds our shaping of conscience and the Christian theory of virtue ethics in the context of real life and real practice. This prevents our analysis of concepts remaining at an abstract level, since our focus is on development “within a habitat,” that is, within a life of holiness with its 1 Thomas Hibbs, “Imitatio Christi and the Foundation of Aquinas’s Ethics,” Communio 18 (1991): 556–573, at 569; “The full import of the natural virtues, their power to inform and aid in the perfection of human nature, can be had only from the perspec- tive of grace.” 2 Cf. Lumen Gentium, 39–42; AAS 57 (1965), 44–49. English text in Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents (Flannery ed.), 396–402; CCC, no. 2013; Livio...

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