Manifestation of Conscience

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Manifestation of Conscience is the revelation of intimate and personal matters made to another in order that the revealer might be guided more efficaciously by his director in the spiritual life. Intimate and personal matters alluded to would include such phenomena as good intentions, secret acts of virtue, special lights and graces, and also sins, faults, imperfections, weaknesses, propensities to evil, and special repugnances and attractions.

History. References to extra sacramental revelation of intimate matters are found as early as a.d. 300 in the Rules and Precepts of St. anthony the Great of Egypt, and in the writings of St. basil the Great, St. jerome, and john cassian, all of whom wrote in the late 4th or early 5th centuries.

St. Benedict, the patriarch of western monasticism, makes several references to the manifestation in his Rule. He incorporates the manifestation of conscience into his monastic legislation as an implicit instrument of spiritual advancement. The significance of his testimony is primarily an extension of the area embraced by the manifestation to include not only imperfections and propensities to evil, but also all tendencies and aspirations to a more perfect observance.

Throughout the first 1,000 years of the Church's history the sole purpose of the manifestation of conscience was the spiritual advancement of the individual. There is no explicit awareness of any social benefits that the manifestation might effect or even occasion.

St. bonaventure (122174) compares the provincial and local superiors of religious orders to Aaron and his sons, remarking that they ought to know the internal dispositions of each of their subjects. This intimate knowledge may be utilized by the superiors to apportion the burdens of religious observance according to the varying capacities of their subjects.

It is under the aegis of the Society of Jesus that the manifestation of conscience has come to its full term. For by adopting this now familiar yet still rather generic implement, and by effecting a number of adjustments, St. ignatius (14911556) and the first legislators of the Society transformed the manifestation into a rigidly controlled yet rewarding apparatus of the spiritual life.

Within the framework of the legal system of the Society the manifestation of conscience underwent several modifications. These changes were not concerned with the nature or internal structure of the practice. They dealt with certain extrinsic features: the relation of the manifestation to the social order in the community; the obligation and frequency of the manifestation; and the numeric extension of qualified recipients.

Canonical History. The role of canon law in the development of the manifestation has been largely a negative one. Its relation to the subject at hand can be described under two historical divisions of unequal duration.

Throughout the first 18 centuries, the pope had limited his activity to the approbation of particular religious laws prescribing the manifestation. The attitude of the Church may be summarized as abstention from direct legislation on the matteran extended silence, as it were, interrupted by a single isolated reference. This occurs in the constitution Cum ad regularem, issued by Clement VIII, March 19, 1603. Although this document does not use the phrase "manifestation of conscience," it prescribes that a daily opening of the interior movements of the heart and a manifestation of temptations be made by novices to their masters. Practically speaking, therefore, over the first 1,800 years of Church history the manifestation was prescribed by particular religious law and by ascetical writers.

The second historical phase of the manifestation's legal development begins with the mid-19th century. At this time the increasing interest of the Church in the manifestation finds expression successively in the regulation, de-emphasis, and ultimate abrogation of the obligatory or elicited manifestation.

The direction of souls is an exacting art, necessitating great prudence as well as an appreciable knowledge of theology and of human nature. It becomes an especially sensitive matter when the manifestation of conscience is involved, and all the more so when the recipient of confidential information is also a superior in the external forum. It is not difficult to envision misuses, such as violations of liberty of conscience and infringement upon the jurisdiction of the confessor.

By a gradual positive process proper law had, in the course of the centuries, altered the manifestation from an optional ascetical aid to a legally imposed practice. But by a corresponding negative process on the part of the Holy See, from 1850 to 1917, the manifestation reverted to its free and spontaneous character.

A number of particular replies from the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars demand that all references to the obligatory or elicited manifestation be expunged from the constitutions of lay institutes sent to it for approval. The second phase of legal development is represented by the decree Quemadmodum of 1890, which, being much broader in purpose, abrogated the obligatory or elicted manifestation in all lay religious communities.

Code of Canon Law. The most comprehensive legislation on the manifestation of conscience is found in canon 630 §5 of the Code of Canon Law. This canon proscribes the obligatory or elicited manifestation of conscience in all religious institutes, clerical as well as lay.

The text of the fifth paragraph of canon 630 reads: "With trust members are to approach superiors, to whom they can freely and on their own initiative open their minds. Superiors, however, are forbidden to induce members in any way to make a manifestation of conscience to them." It should be clear that the Church does not intend to interdict the manifestation of conscience as such. The code condemns the manifestation in its solicited and obligatory form, but allows it as an aid to spiritual progress in its free and spontaneous form.

Bibliography: j. creusen, Religious Men and Women in Church Law (Milwaukee 1958) 99104. g. nicholas, The Spiritual Prefect in Clerical Religious Houses of Study (Catholic University of American Canon Law Studies 216; Washington 1945). j. f. lover, The Master of Novices (Catholic University of America Canon Law Studies 254; Washington 1947). f. n. korth, The Evolution of "Manifestation of Conscience" in Religious Rules, IIIXVI Centuries (Rome 1949). f. huysmans, La Manifestation de conscience en religion d'après le canon 530 (Louvain 1953). d. dee, The Manifestation of Conscience (Catholic University of America Canon Law Studies 410; Washington 1960).

[d. dee/eds.]