Moral Conscience in Eastern Patristic Theology

teofan_mada_01International Journal of Orthodox Theology 5/2 2014


Eastern Patristic tradition has raised conscience to the status of it being an important component of moral life. The teachings of the Fathers with regard to conscience are based on Scripture, especially on Saint Paul, the Apostle’s thinking as well as on their own spiritual experience.; it is a product of their saintly life, in accordance with the reason and the word of God. Biblical conscience is a Theo-centric experience who gives man faith in order to achieve throughout history His salvation plan and who calls him to a personal response is to be heard. For the Eastern Fathers, the approach of the theme of moral conscience has a rather theological and practical character than a psychological one. The Fathers have been involved in this analysis of conscience having an essentially pastoral role, trying foremost to guide Christians to the practice of Christian life. Gradually, moral conscience within Patristic is personalized in such a manner that it becomes a proper attribute of the person.

1     Nature and contents of moral conscience

 a. The ontological nature of moral conscience

In its proper, most profound sense, conscience is the actual function of moral, personal decisions. As is commonly understood, conscience is a sort of innate “advisor” of moral actions – an interiorized law. Moreover, conscience is the place where the objective good, which is God – in His energies, with the subjective reality of human existence.

Conscience was never seen or described uniformly. The evolution of the term is so ample that one cannot speak of a homogenous or unitary1 concept. The irrational concepts of conscience tend to put it forth and describe it as a mysterious, invisible power, watching over as an inexorable force over what is just and condemning bad thoughts and deeds.

With a more increased frequency, Christians refer to conscience as the “voice of God” that is heard in each person’s soul and which works good therein. For Augustine, conscience is, before all, the voice of God.2. This voice echoes in the depths of man3. Origen explains what is this voice that so profoundly resounds in man. Conscience, he says, is the “thought” that leads the soul on the straight path, exactly like a tutor4.

The opinion that refers to conscience and all moral capabilities of the souls as being completely thought and made conditional by society5 is considered to be false by Orthodox theology and is contradicted by Orthodox anthropology which understands man as having been created in resemblance to the image of God. A part of this image made up by the capacity of distinguishing good from evil. It pertains to that donatum humanae through which we think, judge or act in moral categories.6. „When God made man – says Avva Dorotheus – He planted in him a godly seed in the liking of a thought (osper loghismon), more vivid and more luminous than a spark, in order for it to enlighten the mind and make it distinguish between good and evil, It is what is called conscience, which is the natural law”7. From an ontological perspective, we all possess a donatum having determining dimensions for our thinking and decision-making capacities8. The ontological and dynamical character of Orthodox anthropology is present both in the case of the general assessment of humane capabilities, as well as in the case of the individual assessment of conscience.

„The unique character of our senses and conceptions”, as writes Vasileios Antoniades, „has as cause the unique nature of the soul, which in its turn possesses as ability and essential capacity to respond with an internal, individual condition, similar to external factors, when the latter stimulate our senses.”9

The moral dimension of the image of God in man is seen more clear in three expressions of this donatum humanae of moral existence: liberty, moral rules and conscience itself. The original liaison of man therewith, with moral potential capabilities, is evidenced in many patristic quotes. „In the beginning”, as written by ST. Gregory of Nyssa, „God made man with the capacity of reason, of choosing the truth and of fulfilling justice, so as all men be without word of self-righteousness before God for they have been created as rational and contemplative beings”10.

Patristic tradition has raised conscience to the status of important component of moral life. The teachings of the Fathers on conscience are founded on Scripture, especially on the conception of St. Paul the Apostle11, as well as on their spiritual experience. It is a product of their holy life, in accordance with the reason and the word of God.

Biblical conscience is a Theo-centric experience; in it, the voice of a Personal God who gives man faith in order to achieve throughout history His salvation plan and who calls him to a personal response is to be heard.

The stoic idea of conscience, considered as a participation in the impersonal harmony of the cosmos, remains distant and contrasts with the biblical Revelation. The cold Hellenistic theories, although apparently very harmonious, are totally lacking the Theo-centric dynamism of Jewish prophecy, thing enthusiastically underlined by Bergson12. The fundamental religious notion of moral biblical conscience highlights the extrinsic character of initial morals. Nothing is more foreign to Old Testament mentalities than “Know thyself”. Let us recall that the founding principle of Jewish morals is the adherence to the will of God. In the midst of this religious vision, the psychological analysis of humane faculties and corresponding acts has a relative importance13. For this reason, Judaism constantly assumes the risk of falling in extrinsic legalism. From the very first books of the Bible we see this extrinsic moral to appear; but conscience is the theme in the drama of Paradise and it is surely a personal conscience. It is not the interior voice of Adam and Eve that resounds in our ears, but the voice of God. It is not Adam who accuses himself, but God is who accuses him externally (Gen. 3, 8-13).

The consequence of the externalization of moral conscience, as presented in the book of Genesis, is its inclination of becoming collective (Gen. 6, 1-5; 11, 3-4). The tendency of depersonali-zing morals will inevitably make room for external legalism which persists in the history of Judaism. It appears that in this external legalism the complex case-law of rabbis was developed, as it has the law as sole value and for which humane values such as personal reflection or goodwill or bad faith play no importance. Inrrespective of the foregoing, from the beginning we identify a reaction that pleads for moral interiorization. The phenomenon of progressive internalization allows the voice of conscience to gradually approach God. Thanks to the prophets, morals gain a dimension of opening the humane fora: they place morals on the side of righteous intention and let it reach again to the roots of conscience. Michas underlines the novel prophetic intention. More than exterior deeds, this is what God wants: justice, says Amos; love says Hosea; faith says Isaiah; conversion of the heart says Jeremiah.

The prophets strongly condemn sin and, undoubtedly, the picture is blackened when they describe the moral situation of their contemporaries. Jeremiah says (24, 7; 32, 29) that God will grant the Hebrews a new heart (Ezekiel, 36, 26). Moreover, it is not sufficient to honor God with our lips, but we must do so, honor Him, with the depths of our soul14.

The progressive internalization of moral conscience begun in the Old Testament grows to being plenary in the New Testament. In order to have a precise idea of the importance that the internalization of conscience acquires through the Savior’s message, we must understand this message as an powerful reaction to Pharisaism and against the formal concept of law15. A. Marc16 has correctly remarked that Christianity has revealed the interior value of deed in itself, which precedes the exterior deed and grants upon it its entire moral value. In Christianity, justice – which is accomplished in the material abiding by a law – is not inconceivable, because the true founding of morals is in the root planted in the heart of man. Thus, conscience is formed in the depths of man, is polarized near an internal and immanent law, which keeps in the same time a strong connection with the personal God. The essence of Christianity is not its morals and its social teachings, but the very person of Christ which breaks ground for a new ontology. The ontological ground of Christian morals resides in the Embodiment and is revealed in the Resurrection.

Christian morals and spirituality and in last resort applied ontology17. The Pauline moral conscience is in fact a live and stable force, a sort of interior power dependant on God, which controls human behavior in man’s relationship with God. For pagans, conscience formulates the basics of a natural law, which is considered compulsory and guiding (I Cor. 10, 28-29; II Cor. 4, 2; Rom. 2, 15). For Christians, conscience acts in the same manner, only not originating from natural law as in the case of pagans, but in the Law of the Spirit (II Cor. 1, 12; Acts 23, 1; 24, 16). The Holy Spirit introduces a supplementary testimony of truth to Christian conscience. The great Apostle speaks of a testimony of the Holy Spirit in conscience (Rom. 9, 1).

The true rule of conscience is Christ. Moral conscience is the inner resounding of the Word of God through the Holy Spirit. All our consciences are, in a manner, contained by Christ’s conscience. Only in Christ and with Christ do they get to be their selves. In Christ and in the Holy Spirit the reach the plenitude of maturity and only in Christ do they get to be accomplished, in accordance with Providence and the Father’s immortal life.

The more a Christian is united with Christ in the Holy Spirit, the more his conscience gets to be identified with Christ’s conscience. Christian conscience in nothing but the internalization of this voice of Christ through the Church, namely the Holy Spirit. It is essentially ecclesiastical. Depending on the ecclesial degree reached by conscience, one can talk about a warranty that Christ truly speaks in the depths of our hearts: „the ecclesial person, the man of Orthodoxy resists only in relation with God, the Fountain of life”.18

The authenticity of a moral conscience is attested on in relation, in the interior of unity, of communion and of the inspiration created by the grace of the Holy Spirit. According to St. Cyril of Alexandria, man’s authenticity and axiology are certified only in his communion with the Holy Spirit.19

„Essentially”, says H. Stamoulis, „the position of St. Cyril reveals the ontological dimension of Orthodox theology, where by the loss of the good one does not understand the loss of a certain moral life of the rational being, namely the parting from the “working of goodness” and “righteousness”, but, foremost, the loss of communion with the Holy Spirit, the impossibility of communion with the mystic God”20.

Thus, the working of goodness and righteousness do not constitute premises for the communion with God and, implicitly, for a good moral conscience, but consequences, revelations of the personal and existential relationship with God. In patristic conscience, Christ is not the creator ad inter-pretter of a systematic moral behavior, but the Personification of Holiness and the Site of Holiness.

b. The dynamic dimension of the contents of moral conscience

Man is a unity, an entirety. His moral life, as a personal-communitarian dimension, is the consequence of the godly life and the participation therein. It is not a “spiritualization of matter, nor an abandonment thereof by the spirit in an innate monism”21. It is a unit that advances and remains stable in relation with the fountain of life. Thus, all humane capabilities do not function and are not accomplished autonomously, isolated or separated from the divine Grace.

Christian morals does not have as purpose the acknowledgement or promotion of objective principles or moral rules, but the relationship or the communion of man with the fountain of goodness and of life, with God. An objectified moral or which abides by or depends on objectifications is not only incompatible with the Spirit of Christianity, but is also totally opposed thereto.

Christian moral is one of Grace or of a renewed life in Jesus Christ. That is why it is not limited and does not have as purpose that of being delimited and is not and cannot be delimited from rules and cannons, but extends in the liberty of the Spirit of life and sainthood. This prolongation occurs alongside the fulfillment of the life-gving commandments of God and via the change or adherence to His perennial will. Thus, the purpose of Christian life is not psychological or social, but spiritual and ontological.

However, in the absence of divine Grace, humane moral capabilities (self-knowledge) cannot fulfill only by themselves this ontological or spiritual purpose of man in Christ. “In order to attain perfection and immortality, as well as likeliness of God and the godliness of man” – says Ioannis Karmiris – “in patristic understanding, generally, and in the conception of the Greek Father, especially, the importance of human liberty was underlined, this being connected harmoniously with the Grace of God. Without the synergy of the aforementioned, moral perfection and the salvation of man become impossible…

without the conjointness and help of God we are incapable of doing good”22.

Human capabilities and the Grace of God remain in a vivid and absolutely necessary connection. Vladimir Lossky has evidenced this truth with remarkable precision: “Godliness or the Theosis of the being will be plenary achieved only in the afterlife following the resurrection of the dead. Nevertheless, the union by godliness must be achieved from this life by communion with the eternal life that will transform radically our corruptible nature. If God granted us within the Church all objective conditions, all the means we need in order to reach this end, we, on the other side, must produce all the necessary subjective conditions, because only via this synergy, via this cooperation between man and God, is this union achieved”23.

Morals has a dynamic character because the godly likelihood is a free movement, a free answer. The negation of the dynamic character coincides with the deformation and the rejection of our very existence. Freedom is the manner of existence, an absolutely personal manner, the most humane manner of existence, the manner of sacrificing and loving existence, our authentic and truthful ethos, the movement of our authentic likelihood that finds its purpose in God and via our communion with him.

Christian spirituality equals morals in grace and freedom, and freedom is not to be understood as psychological appeal or instinct, but as a mystical liturgy within the relationship of dynamic communion with God, because God is the infinite and absolute freedom of man. That is why, in moral life, freedom, the sole freedom that exalts and saves man, is the freedom of Grace. Thus, Grace is the true freedom. In Christianity, every tragical opposition, every antinomy between freedom and grace have been overcome – here grace is invoked and becomes accepted not as authority or constraint, but as a calling and love, as vocation and salvation. In Orthodoxy, according to St. Maximus the Confessor, “we accept the Grace or God-given freedom as the source of power of human liberty, so that the freedom of a spiritual man reinforces that of another man in his freedom”24.

The dynamic dimension is also connected with its eschatological character. In present life, our moral conscience is nothing but a sketch or an anticipation of what is to come at the end of ages, as is slowly and painfully oriented towards its actualization. The historical evolution of conscience is a pedagogical step towards the land of promise that is the Kingdom of God.

Moral conscience is the Kerygma of Christ proclaimed to each and every one of us in person: a conscience that calls the name of Christ and resounds in the depths of our hearts like a trumpet of Judgment. Conscience will plenary become the conscience of Christ only upon His coming and final judgment. According to St. Paul the Apostle, our soul holds a mysterious, mystical gist: this is the very heart, the conscience. God alone can render true and decisive judgment with regard to the moral value of our own deeds and those of others.

In this sense, we may say that our moral conscience is “under pressure”, awaiting the arrival of Christ, which will fulfil and update the moral conscience of the entire humanity (cf. I. Cor. 4, 5; Mat. 25, 31-46). Our conscience is not the conscience of Christ, but is only on the path of becoming such; it is an itinerant conscience. The dynamic, eschatological dimension of Christian conscience represents a first motivation of our confidence and, at the same time, of our humility. From this eschatological perspective, the Fathers see bad conscience as an anticipation of the final judgment and condemnation, and good conscience as an anticipation of perennial joy.

This understanding of conscience – by taking into account both its innate (onthological) and its dynamic characters – is in full harmony with the Orthodox teachings on man. Conscience – indicating the practical discernment of right and wrong, as well as the sense of responsibility in the experience of moral guilt or interior peace – is an integral part of the human nature, it is a constituent thereof. According to St. Mark the Hermit “conscience is a natural book, and he who reads it and puts it into practice acquires the experience of comprehending godliness”25.

2.     The function of moral conscience

Taking a starting point the biblical revelation26 and especially the testimony of St. Paul the Apostle, the Holy Fathers try to permanently fathom the concept of moral conscience. In this sense, they often get to use philosophic categories, the majority of which are taken from stoicism (the concept of logos) or from Neo-Platonism. Generally speaking, their search has a rather practical than psychological theological character. The Fathers were involved in this analysis of conscience with an essentially pastoral purpose, trying before anything else to guide the faithful into practicing the Christian life.

Gradually, moral conscience within Patristics is so personalized that at one point it becomes an intrinsic characteristic of the person. In fact, conscience is a tutor: it warns, censors, punishes and reprimands constantly. It expresses itself like a real person: achieves a personal dialogue with the individual at stake, or plays, at the same time, the role of “me” and that of “you”.

This evolution towards a personalization of moral patristic conscience determines us to undergo a new stage of reasoning – from this moment, conscience is not being considered as a distinct person, imposed upon the subject, but being identified with the person itself. Thus, conscience fully undertakes the responsibility for the behavior of the individual, who acts right or wrong, which suffers and is troubled or lives tranquilly, which, who, at a given moment, must make a final decision.

In this sense, conscience is the most intimate part of man – tameion, according to St. Basil the Great27, or penetrale, according to Augustine28. This explains the resurgence of “existential harassment” in the moment in which moral conscience does not coincide with the profound individual. No one has made a more thorough analysis of this existential in-tranquillity than Augustine. The self-criticism he makes in his Confessions shows the psychological maturity of his existential analysis29.

Moral conscience appears in the writings of the Holy Fathers in the form of a precedent or anterior conscience (proegoumene syneidesis) and in the form of an ulterior or consecutive conscience (epomene syneidesis). Ulterior, consecutive, conscience seems to identify itself, especially in the case of the Latin Fathers, with a character pleading in a court-of-law. This analogy may be explained by the legal interests of the Roman world, especially in the West30.

As regards precedent, anterior, conscience, it is not explicitly described by the Latin Fathers, fact owing undoubtedly to the importance placed by the West on the psycho-legal aspects, which is also the primacy, rarely and spontaneously attributed to criticism or analysis of our previous behavior. On the contrary, the Greek Fathers insist upon the theological and moral aspects of conscience. Before all, they see in it the “reason” of God who calls us to authentically practice a Christian life. That is why they speak aloud of previous conscience, which is inserted in this perspective easier and more profoundly. In the course of history, the Greek Fathers have been, most certainly, the first to have treated previous moral conscience in an explicit and systematic manner.

a. Conscience as Guidance of Spiritual Life

In Patristic thought, conscience plays a crucial role in the practice of moral life. Thus, St. Clement of Alexandria affirms that: “conscience is a means for the precise choice of good and the avoidance of evil, for a correct life”31. St. John Chrysostom awards a great deal of attention to conscience. Having much faith in the sufficiency of conscience he writes: „It is in conscience that we have a true teacher and the help deriving therefrom must not be ignored.”32.

Origen considers conscience as an internl tutor that guides us on teh right way 33, while St. John Chrysostom offers an ample and systematic exposee of conscience as a moral guide34.

Consceince as a moral guide has both positive and negative aspects. It tells us what is right, what is to be done, but also what is wrong, what must be avoided. The importance of conscience as a moral guide is emphasized by St. Maximus the Confessor, St. John Climacus and others. St. Maximus urges: “do not dishonor your conscience, who always provides good advice, for it is your angelic and godly advisor”35. Similarly, St. John Climacus advises: “After God, let us have our conscience as a rule and goal in everything.” 36

b. Conscience as a Moral Judge and as Ground for Moral Responsibility

The activity of conscience as a moral judge is intimately related to its activity as guide or tutor for the moral life. The Fathers of the Church have underlined the character of judgment and of decision-making incorporated by conscience: Open the doors of your conscience and regard the judgment that takes place in your mind.

Conscience judges our right and wrongful deeds. When we act correctly, it remains silent, and when we proceed wrongfully, on the contrary, it prosecutes. The function of conscience of developing our sense of moral responsibility is also underlines in the Patristic writings: “The Lord… created man by putting in his being an impartial prosecutor – the conscience”37. Playing this role of incorruptible judge, conscience is impartial. The Fathers have affirmed its objectiveness.

Thus, St. John Chrysostom insists upon the role that conscience is called upon to play: “Is there something more burdensome that sin? No matter how stupurous we are, desiring not to sense it, no matter how much we try in hiding it form the world, conscience is provoked by the sin against ourselves.

Conscience is like an incorruptible judge which, being constantly educated, it inflicts a vivid and continuous pain, is like an executioner that tears up apart and chokes us, displaying the enormity of the sin”38. That is why, according to St. John “within conscience there are no scratching, no greed in order to corrupt judgment”.

According to these texts, it would appear that conscience functions in an almost automatic fashion.

In reality, St. John does not ignore the mechanisms of self-defense that appear in front the sentiment of guilt39, but he urges to an effort of lucidity and clear thought which, in his own terms, would be called the courage to launch a process of conscience which, in fact, is a process of self-conscience: “There is a reasoning which, far from giving way to shame, is the source of a great benefit. Alongside your conscience, make room for your reason, as judge, then compare your faults, make the inventory of the sins of your soul and determine it to make a rigorous confession”.40

This fidelity41 of conscience is particularly hard to suffer: “You will tell me: how shall we make justice against ourselves? Weep, sigh with sadness, humble yourself, torment your body, remember your sins as per their liking. This trial of your soul is not a small thing. That who had repentance knows of the grief that it inflicts (…). No, it is not a small thing for our change to gather all of our sins, to twist and turn them as per their liking.

By doing so, we will be penetrated by such a great repentance, that we will consider ourselves unworthy of living”42.

Under such circumstances, it is not at all a wonder that man tries to escape this trial by “contracting” the habit of putting forth an erroneous judgment (“self-deceiving judgment by shameful judgments” – the compromise by self-delusion) over realities, with the purpose of diminishing such mistakes or even that of pretending that they “do not exist”. In the end, the question of becoming blind is at stake43, that of creating an illusion: “the ill eye confounds things among each other; this is how it is for the soul tormented by wrong desires”44.

Saint John Chrysostom condemns this blinding that determines Christians, via the lack of sincerity, to lose any possibility to appreciate their spiritual reality to its real value. He so describes a man of compromise: “You bear in yourselves the vice of pompous names. To be perseverant in hippodromes or theatres is what you mean by civilization; being rich – freedom; being in love with glory – generosity; arrogance is sincerity; lust – love of man; unjustness – courage> lastly, as if such fraud would not suffice, you give virtue names that are contrary thereto: you call prudence rusticity; finesse cowardice; justice cowardice; contempt of luxury diminishment; bearing of wrongfulness weakness”45.

A person that through its moral life has acquired an un-accusing conscience is known to be a saint. But there are situations in which the absence of a remorse is the result of immorality and of evil. St. John Climacus notes: “Let us carefully observe whether or not our conscience has ceased from accusing us not as a result of our cleanliness, but due to the fact that we are immersed in evilness.”46 In this way, an un-accusing conscience is the sign that either a person is a great saint or that he is a great sinner. Avva Talasios underlines this in the following manner: “Those that are not accused by their conscience are those who have reached the peaks of achievement or have descended into the depths of sin”47.

Saint John Chrysostom draws attention onto the origin of good conscience: “Good conscience derives from life and deeds that are good”48, “we rejoice nothing more in our internal forum than a good conscience”, he says. A clear conscience, tranquil, is accompanied by interior peace, hope, courage and moral strength, desire for the truth and virtue, the absence of the fear of dying, spiritual love and joy. Such joy originating from a clear conscience is described by St. John Chrysostom: “for the good spirits, joy is not the supreme power, nor uncorrupted health, nor the grace of authority, nor the power of the body, nor the abundance of meals, nor in the luxury of clothing, none of the things of the rich, which it claims, but spiritual fulfillment and a good conscience”.

Making clear the teaching of the Church in this matter, St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite adds: “To have an un-accusing conscience is indeed the pleasure of pleasures and the joy of joys”49.

“The greatest feast is a good conscience… For the man that lives and acts in a right manner, even ordinary days are a celebration” says, in such beautiful words, St. John Chrysostom. In the case of extreme evil, the tranquility of conscience is the tranquility of a dead capability – at the level of moral conscience.

Conscience is understood in the most categorical fashion of self-consciousness. Both the Latin conscientia and the Greek syneidesis signify proper “awareness”. The basic function of conscience is that of revealing ourselves. This revelation of the self, in its specific manner, makes known the distance between our actual self and the image that we already have of ourselves in virtue of our “natural inclination”. Such a deceiving tranquillity, as aforementioned, is lastly the result of a weakened self-conscience, the weakening of which is due not only to certain sins repeated throughout a prolonged period of time, but also to the self-deceiving “rationalization”. Hesychius of Sinai warns that: “If a person deceives its conscience through shameful arguments, it will fall in a tormenting death of oblivion”50. Since conscience censors our sins (as well as our thoughts and desires), it acts as prosecutor (antidikos). Thus, for Avva Dorotheus, “conscience is our prosecutor, for it always is opposed to our desires and censors them, in order for us to do what is right and not what is wrong, an accuses us”51.

Dorotheus discovers the prosecutorial function of conscience in the affirmation of Christ the Saviour as written down by Matthew (5, 25): “As long as you are him on the way”, which means, in Dorotheus’s view “as long as you are in this world” – as was said also by St. Basil the Great.

Conscience is our “plaintiff” with whom we need to make peace from this very life, as long as one is in this world. St. John Chrysostom says that “even in this life the sinner encounters punishment for his sins… Regard into his conscience: there you will find the tumultuous unrest of his sins, you will see him surrounded by fear, torment, discord. As in a sort of tribunal, the mind sits as a judge on the royal throne of the conscience, using memory for what it did, interrupting the course of thoughts and ruthlessly stirring the sins commited, which await forgiveness. It is impossible to find peace in front of the prosecuting voice, even when tormented by deeds known only by God”52.

Conscience does not judge only our deeds, but also our dispositions. St. Macarius says: “Conscience censors those thoughts that consent to the sin”53. But the prosecutorial activity of conscience is a painfull experience. St. John Chrysostom says that “the one that lives in evilness experiences the torments of hell, before hell, being tormented by his conscience”. That is why “nothing is more burdensome on man and nothing depresses his soul that the consciousness of sin”.

Many such affirmations are to be found in the Holy Fathers, including in their hyms. “Behold, I have been judged: behold, I, the wretched, have been condemned by my conscience and nothing in the world is more painful”54. In the Great Oktoih we find the following verse: “I am trembling when thinking of your arrival, oh, Lord, for I have my judgment before the judgment; in the interior of my conscience, I accuse myself before the flames of the inferno”55.

c. Conscience as a Factor of Moral Renewal

Alongside the functioning of conscience as a moral guide and judge, we also encounter it as an enlightener. Avva Thalasius says that “a clear conscience revives the soul”. Other Fathers specify the manners in which conscience awakes oneself. Thus, according to St. Macarius, “conscience awakes natural thoughts which fill the heart”56. He identifies “natural thoughts” with “pure thoughts”, which were created by God. Conscience evokes humbleness: “conscience returns the soul to itself, determining it to be humble”57.

It is not enough to have a well formed conscience, capable of reasoning correctly the realities of the self, for this first stage needs to go further. In a word, after acknowledgement, the sin must be “burnt” by means of the memory, to which St. John Chrysostom attributes an important role58. In respect of the benefit of this, he says: “It is good for us to admit to our sins and remember them continuously. There is nothing better for healing the mistake than this continuous remembrance, nothing better to keep awake the fear from evil; conscience is opposed and cannot stand to be disturbed by the remembrance of passions (…). Nevertheless, how many good things are born from the remembrance of sins! Thus we imprint them in our thoughts. I know that the soul cannot stand a memory so bitter, but we will constrict it with perseverance.”59 Having remorse for a personal sin is to admit it. Not for considering us as sinners, but in order to acknowledge the status of our own sins and our false impressions with respect to us. This remorse is an act of self-conscience, of clear reason, without declarative reasoning, which in fact are untrue: “Assuredly, anyone who has sinned is pitiful and worthy of philanthropy, but you, who are convince that you have not sinned, how can you pretend to be pitiful, when you have no shame for your downsides? Let us be convinced that we have sinned, let us not say that only with our mouths, but with our reason, let us not declare ourselves guilty all of the sudden, but let us recap our remorse and put them in order according them to their likelihood”60.

Remembering your sins and admitting them means ensuring the victory of light over darkness61, but this victory is not only intellectual, reasonable, but it is also a victory at the level of reflection, a sensed acknowledgement of the sin and of the sinful status: “Not feeling any pain, you do not take into consideration your sins. Behold what you should do in order to mourn: not to feel any pain for your sins! The hat you do not weep, there is the sin. For not weeping does not come from the absence of sin, but from the souls that sins is insensate. Think of those that are sensate to their sins: how they weep more painfully than those who are burnt or hurt, think to all that they do and accept (…) with the purpose of setting them free of the guilty conscience. Assuredly they would not react as such should they not feel vivid pains in their souls”62.

St. John Climacus also mentions the holy remorse as an effect of active conscience. He characterizes remorse as a “redemptory sadness”, because joy and sadness come together, as honey in the honeycomb. Remorse (as atonement) leads to the love of God and of our neighbor. St. Nicetas Stethatos observes that nothing raises the soul to the love of God and the love of man such as humility, remorse and clear prayer.

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