This is the conclusion of Sr. Immaculata's section on What is Conscience. See the prior posts for more on the subject. I'm still confused as to how the will, reason, intellect, conscience and the soul all interact, but am beginning to make some progress. I'd post some things from the Summa, but they, for me anyway, just serve to create more questions.
What is Conscience?
5. God the Director Through the Conscience of Man.
His presence directing the soul through our conscience is sometimes referred to as a "voice" calling us towards Him; that is, to a more conscious knowledge of His will and a more ardent and intense choice in accepting it, as also an increased joy in doing it. Here He speaks the words of life, continually urging the soul for a response. "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63). Through the objective realities of everyday existence, He is summoning the person from within to a recognition of the values involved in a particular course of action, although the immediate connection between this moment's decision and God's law may not be explicitly recognized.
"Always summoning him (man) to love good and avoid evil" (CCMW 16, par 1, p. 213). But this is more than just a recognition of a truth of a value; it indicates that this value has a personal meaning for my welfare (salvation). It reveals the fundamental law: love.
a. "In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor" (CCMW 16, par. 2, p. 213). It is a force of Love pulling the soul towards Love (Phil. 2:5)
b. Sometimes it is a specific call. "The voice of conscience can when necessary speak to his (man's) heart more specifically: do this, shun that" (CCMW 16, par. 1, p. 213). Through it our duty is defined and we are urged to do it. It interprets all external laws:
1. personally for the individual.
2. We sometimes perceive the interior question: "Why am I doing this?" This is the "nudge" of conscience seeking the answer, causing us to look into ourselves, urging us for a commitment to the truth. We "hear" the counsels, reproofs, corrections and consolations of the Spirit of truth from within, even though in the state of original sin this sense of presence is obscured and dulled.
How do we know which force is prompting us -- the good or the evil? By the "fruits." Evil always produces its deadly effects even though we may not be immediately aware of them, because we so often live on the periphery of our souls distracted by many things. Nevertheless, the judgment of the conscience is instantaneous and the person experiences the reproaches of his inmost self. Evil is its own punishment in the loss of peace (the disease) of the whole soul.
6. God's presence within not only maintains an awareness for the good but also a desire to do it. He is constantly drawing us to interior alertness expressed by Psalm 123:2 "As the eyes of a slave girl are fixed on the hands of her mistress, so are our eyes fixed on Yahweh, our God."
B. Conscience must flower into activity
1. Because of the very nature of human freedom and activity, conscience must grow into something more than an inclination to goodness. It must blossom into act. As intelligence is awakened, the first recognition of a truth as good is present; our action is to choose or reject it. But in order that conscience develop, further action is necessary, continuous instruction in the law of God and continuous choice of the good.
It is the work of man to maintain and increase this awareness and desire for the truth implanted by God. This fidelity to conscience becomes then a habit and this habit of conscientious action is all that is necessary to reach the ultimate goal:
2. Union with God in the depths of our conscience, in the "center" of our souls. Thus it is fidelity to conscience which gradually unveils the Presence of God, within.
3. It is not that God increases in the man but that the development of the man's interior life grows in awareness of the God within and the specific knowledge that He is the goal and source of all good; the will becomes more inflamed with love and desire to cling to this good; the substance of the soul becomes more and more refreshed and delighted in this habit of goodness. "How happy is the man who finds delight in the law of the Lord" (Ps. 1:1).
The promise of Christ is gradually brought to realization: "If anyone loves me he will keep my word and my Father will love him and we shall come to him and make our home with him" (John 14:23). Fidelity to conscience will always lead to God and reveal God as within the person whether Christian or non-Christian.
For the Christian this revelation becomes that of the Glorified Christ with whom the Christian is identified and through whom every revelation of the presence of God comes. Through Christ has come the full revelation of God's will; He is the light shining on the conscience; the "pillar of fire" and the "cloud of light" of the New Testament, guiding, directing, inflaming us with His own enthusiasm for good and thirst for the final union with His Father.
4. Conscience will reach its goal but not alone. Faith in the grace of Christ is necessary for it to reach its fullest perfection. "Since man's freedom has been damaged by sin, only by the help of God's grace can he bring such a relationship with God into full flower" (CCMW 17, par. 3, p. 214).
Conscience is then, not just a sense of guilt when we have done wrong, a feeling of remorse, or a collection of learned inhibitions and vague fears that prevent the person from acting freely and spontaneously. It is not a learned or conditioned response to certain culturally acceptable or non-acceptable ways of acting. It is not a feeling of self-respect, or a capitulation to public opinion or a politic adjustment to society or environment, or a result of education. All these things affect the development of conscience but they are not conscience. Education is necessary to form conscience, to help it grow but education can never create it.