The trouble with memory is that often it plays us false. We may not remember an event exactly as it happened. Another witness may remember it differently. Here is Dr Johnson’s view of the matter, written well before we had such conveniences as camera phones to help – a little.
There is yet another cause of errour not always easily surmounted, though more dangerous to the veracity of itinerary narratives, than imperfect mensuration.
An observer deeply impressed by any remarkable spectacle, does not suppose, that the traces will soon vanish from his mind, and having commonly no great convenience for writing, defers the description to a time of more leisure, and better accommodation. He who has not made the experiment, or who is not accustomed to require rigorous accuracy from himself, will scarcely believe how much a few hours take from certainty of knowledge, and distinctness of imagery; how the succession of objects will be broken, how separate parts will be confused, and how many particular features and discriminations will be compressed and conglobated into one gross and general idea.
To this dilatory notation must be imputed the false relations of travellers, where there is no imaginable motive to deceive. They trusted to memory, what cannot be trusted safely but to the eye, and told by guess what a few hours before they had known with certainty. Thus it was that Wheeler and Spon described with irreconcilable contrariety things which they surveyed together, and which both undoubtedly designed to show as they saw them.
from “Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” by Samuel Johnson.
George Wheeler and Jacques Spon rediscovered the site of ancient Delphi, using an old description from Pausanias, and published their findings in 1682. I wonder, what will be the effect of all those video recordings of himself that my 20 month-old grandson likes to watch?
Zakopane, Poland; MMB.
Although the Church teaches that we have an innate affinity to goodness on the level of our conscience, she also allows that our conscience can be in error. Let us look more closely at the concept of the erroneous conscience. Our conscience can be mistaken because of an ignorance of which we are unaware, and which we have had no means of overcoming. In such cases, our mistake is not culpable and the conscience does not forfeit its dignity. But, it is still wrong.
One of the chief requirements for the maintenance of a good conscience is love of truth, and the awareness of truth’s objectivity.
…It is always from the truth that the dignity of conscience derives. In the case of the correct conscience, it is a question of the objective truth received by man; in the case of the erroneous conscience, it is a question of what man mistakenly, subjectively considers to be true.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Homily of 18 April 2005.
The mere fact that I might have thought something was right and good to do does not make that thing right and good to do. It is vital, therefore, actively to seek the truth, to seek knowledge of God and of his law and to allow our conscience to be formed by it. Moreover, there is a deeper requirement:
What is essential is a sort of connaturality between man and the true good. Such a connaturality is rooted in and develops through the virtuous attitudes of the individual himself: prudence and the other cardinal virtues, and even before these the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. [Ibid].
There is no getting around it. Our conscience must be properly informed. We have an affinity to goodness on the level of our conscience, but we need help in order to understand what is good. Here, the wisdom of the Christian tradition and the teaching authority of the Church can help us. It is also true that knowledge of what is good must be strengthened by actions that are good. To live life fully as a human being and as a Christian, we must love the virtues, seek to understand them, and try to exercise them. Our conscience must be the object of a conversion that goes on throughout our life.