The idea of “conscience” or “consciousness” is one of rational reflection, or self-reflection. It’s etymology, according to TDNT (#4893), helps us understand that historically, this reflection was oriented towards one’s thoughts, and not (at least initially) towards one’s actions. It would seem to me that the idea of conscience retains this idea, in that even though our conscience bears us witness of wrong actions, yet the witness is oriented “upwards” in our own human three-story house– our mind/spirit (Rom 2:15-16). And so we see strong connection in the idea of conscience between several triads.
The major triad I am working with here is the empistomological triad. How do we know things?
Here, conscience, or one might even say intution, is a reflection of God’s law or Scripture within ourselves (the middle part of the triad is an inner orientation–this is a shortcut in my triadic system, but is usually helpful).
My anthropological triad; what is man?, is:
As I have mentioned elsewhere, a triadic tri-perspectivalism helps us to avoid both the dichotomistic aspect of the traditional soul or spirit/body dualism which can lead to problems in anthropology, or a full trichotomistic view in which someone might say that these three things are parts, or compose the man.
The mind triad, taken from Augustine, and which I think has rightfully been associated in Christian tradition with spirit, is:
Putting this all together, conscience reflects God’s law (epistomological triad) within; it is the witness in the soul of the weakness or moral failings of the spirit (anthropological traid); it is connected to the way reason uses what is known (mind triad) and all the way up to the Trinity (processional triad), it reflects the archetypal reflection of the Son as Word of the Father and the unity (unity-singularity) of thought that is in the Father. The Son is eternally the image/reflection of the Father in a way that is archetypical of the way our consciences are images and reflections of God’s law/Scripture.
So here we see an inner coherence of the triads, and this helps us too, to understand how conscience functions. When conscience does take into account action (and it most certainly does), it reflects upward, though itself and its inner automatic reasoning, to our mind/memory (using two of the triads at once), convicting us of our sin against God, demonstrating our transgression of His laws, and rendering us guilty as to status.
“They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” (Ro 2:15–16)
These thoughts are part of my own meditations on Hebrews 10:1-18 as I prepare to preach Sunday, and specifically on the idea that it is clearly intimated in Hebrews 10:2 that in Christ there is a complete cleansing that results in no longer having “any consciousness of sins.” This cannot mean that we no longer remember our sins per se. Indeed, the apostle Paul frequently makes reference to his past life for reasons of exhortating and teaching the saints, and to glorify God for his salvation. So what does it mean? At the very least it means that there is no longer that constant, automatic reflection up to our minds/spirits of our guilt. Instead the law of God is written on our hearts and minds (Heb 10:15-16). We has a “perfect” status (Heb 10:14) before the Lord on account of a perfect offering that superseded but demanded a perfect sacrifice.
The question that continues to niggle at me, and for which I do not yet have an answer (let alone a tradic one) is how the glorious truths contained in Hebrews 10 relate to the doctrine of justification. It seems clear that so many of the truths here are very similar, all the way down, with the doctrine of justification, and yet, just as clear, is the fact that the author does not, for the most part, use legal-forensic language, but transformative or constitutional language. More thought needed.