“Conscience”, in Biblical Greek, refers to an awareness that draws alongside us. It’s a kind of inward awareness of awareness itself. It catches us out when we’re thinking in ways we shouldn’t be thinking. If, for example, we’re embarking on a rush to judgment, conscience sees what we’re up to and sounds a warning. Failure to heed it leads to regrettable words and actions, then excuses and rationalizations. And conscience, unmasking these defense mechanisms, catches us out again.
The 150th anniversary celebration this past Sunday brought to mind the broad, deep and lasting role of conscience in Grace’s history. The voice of conscience, of the awareness alongside awareness, spoke to Grace and its people in times of conflict, stress or decline, admonishing all with ears to hear: “It’s too soon to form hard and fast opinions about what’s going on right now, much less make decisions of lasting consequence. Wait and see what comes of this.”
Jesus spoke with the voice of conscience in the Sermon on the Mount: “Judge not, that you may not be judged.” Dante conveys this same message, definitive for Grace’s history, with commanding eloquence, placing it on the lips of Thomas Aquinas (considered “slow” of understanding by his primary school classmates, while Dante was quick to unleash his tongue, sometimes to his regret) in the Paradiso:
“No one should ever be too self-assured
in judgement, like a farmer reckoning
his gains before the corn-crop is matured,
For I have seen the briar a prickly thing
and tough the winter through, and on its tip
bearing the very rose at close of spring…”
Aquinas, and Dante, knew whereof they spoke. Grace’s history, indeed history itself, vindicates their wisdom.