Thursday, March 25, 2010

Freedom of Conscience part III; Discernment of Spirits

"Our God dwells within us! The only way to become one with that God is to become one with our authentic self!" Maurice Blondel

Blondel’s moral philosophy indicates a new appropriateness for Saint lgnatius’ doctrine of the discernment of spirits as a means of pragmatically resolving our conscience in the process of making free moral choices. For that doctrine, as Karl Rahner points out, tacitly presupposes a philosophy of human existence in which a moral decision in its individuality is not merely an instance of general ethical normative principles but something positively individual and unique (Rahner, 1964. p. 110). Since humans are not just a material instance of a general nature, as a spiritual personal being humans are more than the point of intersection of general truths and maxims, more than the particular instance of a multi-pliable essence. This unique and special factor, the single human existence, can be summoned by an imperative prescription which is different in kind from any moral principle derived from general characteristics. Thus, the individuality of the person is the norm which the person must finally obey when pursuing his perfection by means of free choice.
The consequence of this understanding of humans for moral life is that a human’s conscience has a function over and above the application of general norms to concrete circumstances. That function is that whereby the individual person recognizes an individual obligation in conscience which cannot be deduced from general principles (Gerken, 1963. pp. 141-152). The divine will is also a personal free will which is capable of entering into a personal dialogue with the individual as such and of exercising free initiative in that dialogue. Further, this personal divine will respects the free choices which the individual existent has made in the past and thus, in the context of the dialogue respects the limits which those choices have established for future response. It belongs to the moral obligation of humans to be and to become by free choice the individual that they are. In the discernment of spirits one seeks an intellectual knowledge which is incapable of being expressed in objective concepts. This knowledge is ultimately grounded in the simple presence to itself of the intrinsically intelligible subject, which in the very accomplishment of its acts has knowledge of itself through self-consciousness without the contrast of knower and things known.
In important decisions, Rahncr maintains, practically every human chooses more or less in the manner which Ignatius had in mind. For, in such resolves. the person forms his or her choice nearly all the time from the basic experience of themselves and from the feeling of congruity and incongruity that the object of election has with their fundamental experience of themselves. They will make decisions, not only or finally from a rational analysis, but from the experience of whether or not sontething fits them. This experience is measured according to whether the thing makes them happy. satisfies them interiorly.
It is important to note the role that the creative imagination plays in making such a decision. One studies the choice to be made: one imagines the situation which such a choice would bring upon him or her; one tries to live in advance with such a choice. While doing this the person is constantly aware of what this choice causes in him. Saint Ignatius’ doctrine presupposes that the individual morality of a proposed course of action is not discovered exclusively in the objective essence of the action. Rather, the morality of the course of action is also discovered from its effects on the individual’s self-consciousness. Peace, joy, quiet, happiness: it is by using these as criteria that one learns whether the object of one's decision is good or not.
This doctrine is based on the theological presupposition that in every sincere believer the inner law of the Spirit is at work like a kind of connaturality with the God who speaks to him through Christ-a kind of power of discrimination, a spiritual sense of touch capable of discerning what is and what is not an authentic realization of God’s invitation. Conscience is sacred because, when I get down to the real self in my search for self-fulfillment, I find a depth in myself which does not belong to me but to which I belong, a depth which theologians refer to as the Holy Spirit dwelling in me.
The use of the discernment of spirits as a practical means of resolving the individual conscience is based on one all-important presupposition. That presupposition is a basic option, not in terms of any particular object, but a basic option in favor of transcendence, in favor of openness. Humans must open themselves to the presence within them of the infinite and transcendent God. Humans must freely assent to this reality of their own being. If the inclination in any given decision concerning a particular good is really one which fits the individual, then this particular movement will necessarily support ne's consolations and desolations (Rahner, 1964. p. 155). The individual reality which one meets, or which one must choose, or do, or suffer, is held up to one’s fundamental openness to God.
The appropriateness of the discernment of spirits as a practical means of resolving conscience lies in the fact that it does respect the uniqueness of the existing subject and his or her liberty of conscience while, at the same time, it gives humans a method whereby they can discover the will of God not as something totally outside themself, but as the deepest reality of their own will.
Further, this practice leads humans not just to an abstract conceptual aware-ness of God, but to a vital experiential sense of the presence of the divine spirit within. As Thomas Sartory observes in his article: Changes in Christian Spirituality:

Tomorrow the devout man will be a “mystic,” a man who has experienced something, or there will be no devout men. In the past any personal experience and decision always found its way prepared by the convictions of the public and by general religious customs taken for granted in which piety could find support. But this support is fading away. The personal religious experience of the individual, therefore, is going to be increasingly decisive [Sartory, 1968. p. 79].

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