Conscience, Saint Thomas More, and Dr. Peter Kreeft

Sorry this is late. I try to get these out as near to 3 pm on Fridays as possible, however yesterday, I was busy with a guest we had the last few days at the University of Mary — Dr. Peter Kreeft.  What a joy he was for all the students and faculty, and me.

On Thursday evening, Dr. Kreeft spoke about Conscience on the Feast of Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fischer.  It was a fantastic talk that linked together conscience, the heart of the human person, and then painted the landscape of the state of conscience today.  This talk pairs well with a book I have been re-reading lately, The Science of the Cross by Saint Theresa Benedicta (Edith Stein).  I am nearing the end of the book, and there are a series of sections that link well with Lonergan’s work on the human person, and also with conscience as Dr. Kreeft presented it the other night.

Saint Theresa Benedicta speaks about the inner self where God resides. When one reads through how she relates it to the various operations and powers of the human soul, one begins to see the mystics grasp of the capacity for self-transcendence as constituted by the union of the transcendental notions in their full potency.  That full potency is as a created participation in the divine light.  Saint Theresa identifies this as the real inner self of the human person that we do not “see” entirely. The more exteriorized we are from this center, the less we know of our selves.  The more we move toward it, the more we move toward authentic subjectivity, and the more we encounter God. This links to Lonergan and the explanatory manner that he articulates the capacity for self-transcendence and acts of self-transcendence (and Aquinas and Aristotle’s notion of Agent Intellect, and Plato’s and Saint Augustine’s notion of the Light of Being).  Saint Theresa will discuss as well how when we move more fully into the interior regions of the self, the more authentically we grasp others and the world around us.

The same was true with the notion of conscience as Dr. Kreeft discussed it. He linked it not only with Saint Thomas More, the man for all seasons (the title of his talk was A Conscience for All Seasons), but with others such as C.S. Lewis and his book on the Abolition of Man.  Conscience gets to the very heart and essence of the human person.  We can easily become lost into the exterior world, to the world of pleasure and pain, to a thousand things that take us away from an attunement to our conscience.  And our conscience is us as the mirror of God.  When you proclaim the death of God, especially in the violence of ideology and hatred, the reality in the mirror disappears – and that is the disappearance of the real self.  We were made in the image of God.  And the only way to lose the self then is to head into the life of a beast who has no such image.  We then become a civilization of beasts, or as Dr. Kreeft was saying trousered apes.

Conscience for Lonergan is similar.  Descriptively, it is the interior voice of God.  Explanatorily, it is the transcendental notion of the good as the measure and call to responsibility, a life that names sin as sin and the good as good.  It calls us to repent of our moral inauthenticity.  And it calls us to move horizontally and vertically into the farthest reaches of the horizon of the good (I am deliberately using good instead of value).

A Conscious for All Seasons was a beautiful and moving talk. Thank you Dr. Kreeft for visiting us. He is a man who really has moved into those regions of wisdom that spring from a life liberated into thanksgiving and joy, a joy that is the fruit of living in contrition, truth, and love.  To enter even in small ways into the Kingdom of Wisdom makes any man  or woman into a “man for all seasons.”

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