What is Conscience?

Conscience is a practical judgment of reason enabling us to discern whether an action or attitude is good or evil. It is an ability to discover God’s will for us. In the depths of our conscience, we are alone with God whose voice echoes in our hearts. The right to follow one’s conscience is fundamental, especially in religious matters.

Another way to view conscience is that within us there is an inner dialogue with God who calls us to be the persons we are intended to be—His children. To hear God’s voice requires a certain degree of interiority, a quality of quieting down and examining our lives before God.

Conscience includes the ability to perceive the principles of morality, their application to the given circumstances by discerning reasons and goods, and the judgment about the morality of concrete acts ready to be performed or already performed. Because of our conscience, we can assume responsibility for our actions. And when we sin, our conscience calls us to repent and return to the Lord.

There are two key principles to keep in mind when dealing with judging right and wrong. First, we must properly form our consciences. Second, we must follow our consciences.

“In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and do it and to avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man: according to it he will be judged.” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 16.)