Newman, as [Ian] Ker points out, realised that conscience can be “easily puzzled, obscured, perverted”. Nor is it “a judgment on any speculative truth, any abstract doctrine, but bears immediately on conduct, on something to be done or not done”.
This certainly dispels the anxieties that Gladstone stirred up. Yet, Ker argues, it also has consequences, for our generation, living after Vatican II. “The frequently voiced claim,” Ker writes, “that Newman allowed for conscientious dissent from Church teachings is incorrect.” Drinking first to conscience referred to a response to papal orders. In questions of faith, Ker insists, “a believing member of the Church has a conscientious duty to believe the teachings of the Church, not to pick and choose what to believe”. If someone doesn’t believe, of course, he might decide to leave the Church.
In his Grammar of Assent (1870), Newman defended propositions or articles of faith as “necessary to the mind in the same way that language is ever necessary for denoting facts”. Yet “the object of faith is not simply certain articles,” he wrote in a letter, “but the whole word of God, explicit and implicit, as dispensed by his living Church”.