Conscience and the Second Vatican Council

Issue 21, April 2007 

Conscience features often in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The Council declared that:

  • All are bound to seek, embrace and live the truth faithfully;
  • Conscience is experienced as an inner sanctuary or tribunal, rather than something external, yet it mediates a universal and objective moral law which is given rather than invented;
  • Conscience summons us to seek good and avoid evil by loving God and neighbour, by keeping the commandments and all universal norms of morality;
  • Conscience is common to all human beings, not just Christians, and it is the very dignity of man, a dignity the Gospel protects;
  • We will be judged according to how we formed and followed our conscience;
  • The moral law and the particular judgments of conscience bind the human person;
  • Agents may experience anxiety, contradictions and imbalances in conscience; and conscience may err out of "invincible ignorance" or by being blamefully corrupted;
  • Claims of personal freedom or of obedience to civil laws or superiors do not excuse a failure to abide by the universal principles of good conscience;
  • Conscience must be properly formed and educated by ensuring it is "dutifully conformed to the divine law and submissive toward the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel"; and
  • Freedom of conscience, especially in religious matters, must be respected by civil authorities and people not be coerced into any religious practice.


Bishop Anthony Fisher OP. (2007, Feb). Struggling to Recover a Catholic Sense. Key note address presented at the Pontifical Academy for Life Conference: The Christian Conscience in Support of the Right to Life, Vatican City.