Synderesis, Conscientia, and Human Rights

On Wednesday, April 10, students gathered to engage with the work of Fr. Kevin Flannery, SJ, professor of the history of ancient philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University and consultor at the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The class was particularly interested in an article by Fr. Flannery titled “Synderesis, Conscientia, and Human Rights,” published in November 2022 by Cambridge University Press. 

The article addresses the historical theological progression of the treatment of synderesis and conscientia – from Jerome to Peter Lombard to Peter the Chancellor – and Thomas Aquinas’s treatment of right as the object of the virtue of justice. The professor reminded the students of the benefits that can be gained from studying the etymology and ancient-philosophical heritage of terms that are common in theological parlance. Fr. Flannery concludes that while a provision for subjective rights can be found in Aquinas’s corpus, priority is ultimately owed to a notion of rights as an objective reality, not as something possessed by persons but as something in which persons participate.

Fr. Flannery serves as a member of the advisory board to the human rights master’s program at The Catholic University of America.