What is Conscience?

St John of the Cross

Archbishop Ullathorne writes in his Groundwork of the Christian Virtues: “We cannot return to God unless we enter first into ourselves. God is everywhere, but not everywhere to us. There is but one point in the universe where God communicates with us, and that is the centre of our own soul. There He waits for us; there He meets us; there He speaks to us. To seek Him, therefore, we must enter into our own interior.”

This interior meeting place is also where acts of conscience take place. In his book Endowments of Man, Ullathorne makes the following comments on the nature of conscience: “Conscience is both the law and the judge of the will, and in both these offices it is the organ and representative of God. It instructs us what to desire and what to fear, what to do and what to leave undone; and then it judges what we have done: applauds what we have done well, and rebukes what we have done ill. It gives peace to the good and terror to the evil.”

He cites the wisdom of St. Bernard, who says: ‘The conscience is a mirror that reflects into the man the knowledge of his exterior and interior condition. How can the man see himself without a mirror? A good conscience is the bright and pure mirror of religion. As a woman composes herself to beauty in a glass to please her husband, the soul contemplates herself in her conscience, and there sees how far she has gone from the image of truth, and what she still retains of her Creator’s image. . . . We therefore carry in our conscience, as the companion and tutor of our will, the sense of God, the voice of His law, and the mirror of our life; and our conscience is at once the witness and judge of our conduct, the approver of our good and the punisher of our evil acts, and the faithful recorder of our just or unjust life. When this record of our life comes to an end with the termination of our mortal years, it is sealed unto the day of judgment, when God will condemn nothing that has been blotted out by the tears of repentance, or consumed in the flame of charity.”

Quotations from Michael F. Glancey, Characteristics From the Writings of Archbishop Ullathorne (London: Burns & Oates, 1889).

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