“Is the ‘sensus fidei’ something different from the majority opinion of the faithful in a given time or place, and if so how does it differ?“
‘Sensus Fidei’ in the Life of the Church
International Theological Commission
Humble listening and proper consultation are necessary to discern the “sensus fidei” (sense of the faith) and “sensus fidelium” (sense of the faithful), especially on matters of controversy within the church, according to a new document from the International Theological Commission. Prepared by a 10-member subcommission and published on the Vatican website in late June with the approval of Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the document aims to explain the meaning, purpose and limits of the capacity of individual believers and of the church as a whole to discern the truth of faith. “When the reception of magisterial teaching by the faithful meets with difficulty and resistance, appropriate action on both sides is required,” it says, calling for “constant communication and regular dialogue on practical issues and matters of faith and morals between members of the church.” The document charges theologians with the task of critically examining “expressions of popular piety, new currents of thought and also new movements in the church for the sake of fidelity to the apostolic tradition.” Laypeople must commit to active participation in the liturgy and the sacraments, constant prayer, active engagement in the church’s mission and “a willingness to follow the commands of God,” the theologians said. Church leadership, for its part, must be open to what Pope Francis calls “new ways for the journey,” as discerned by laypeople. “One of the reasons why bishops and priests need to be close to their people on the journey and to walk with them is precisely so as to recognize ‘new ways’ as they are sensed by the people,” the document says. The full text follows:
In its quinquennium of 2009-2014, the International Theological Commission studied the nature of sensus fidei and its place in the life of the church. The work took place in a subcommission presided by Msgr. Paul McPartlan and composed of the following members: Father Serge Thomas Bonino, OP (secretary-general); Sister Sara Butler, MSBT; Rev. Antonio Castellano, SDB; Rev. Adelbert Denaux; Msgr. Tomislav Ivancic; Bishop Jan Liesen; Rev. Leonard Santedi Kinkupu, Dr. Thomas Söding, and Msgr. Jerzy Szymik.
The general discussions of this theme were held in numerous meetings of the subcommission and during the plenary sessions of the same International Theological Commission held in Rome between 2011 and 2014. The text “Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church” was approved in forma specifica by the majority of members of the commission by a written vote and was then submitted to its president, Cardinal Gerhard L. Willer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who authorized its publication.
1. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father” and bears witness to the Son (Jn 15:26), all of the baptized participate in the prophetic office of Jesus Christ, “the faithful and true witness” (Rv 3:14). They are to bear witness to the Gospel and to the apostolic faith in the church and in the world. The Holy Spirit anoints them and equips them for that high calling, conferring on them a very personal and intimate knowledge of the faith of the church.
In the first Letter of St. John, the faithful are told: “You have been anointed by the holy one, and all of you have knowledge. … The anointing that you received from [Christ] abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. … His anointing teaches you about all things” (1 In 2:20, 27).
2. As a result, the faithful have an instinct for the truth of the Gospel that enables them to recognize and endorse authentic Christian doctrine and practice, and to reject what is false. That supernatural instinct, intrinsically linked to the gift of faith received in the communion of the church, is called the sensus fidei, and it enables Christians to fulfill their prophetic calling.
In his first Angelus address, Pope Francis quoted the words of a humble elderly woman he once met, “If the Lord did not forgive everything, the world would not exist”; and he commented with admiration, “That is the wisdom the Holy Spirit gives.”‘ The woman’s insight is a striking manifestation of the sensus fidei, which, as well as enabling a certain discernment with regard to the things of faith, fosters true wisdom and gives rise, as here, to proclamation of the truth. It is clear, therefore, that the sensus fidei is a vital resource for the new evangelization to which the church is strongly committed in our time.’
3. As a theological concept, the sensus fidei refers to two realities that are distinct though closely connected, the proper subject of one being the church, “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tm 3:15),3 while the subject of the other is the individual believer who belongs to the church through the sacraments of initiation and who, by means of regular celebration of the Eucharist in particular, participates in her faith and life.
“The fathers and theologians of the first few centuries considered the faith of the church to be a sure point of reference for discerning the content of the apostolic tradition.”
On the one hand, the sensus fidei refers to the personal capacity of the believer, within the communion of the church, to discern the truth of faith. On the other hand, the sensus fidei refers to a communal and ecclesial reality: the instinct of faith of the church herself, by which she recognizes her Lord and proclaims his word.
The sensus fidei in this sense is reflected in the convergence of the baptized in a lived adhesion to a doctrine of faith or to an element of Christian praxis. This convergence (consensus) plays a vital role in the church: The consensus fidelium is a sure criterion for determining whether a particular doctrine or practice belongs to the apostolic faith.’
(Continued in Origins for July 3, 2014 – Volume 44, Number 9)
COMMENTARY – Page 134
The International Theological Commission was instituted by Pope Paul W in 1969 as an international body of theologians charged with advising the pope, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and other Vatican agencies on doctrinal issues. Its members are appointed by the pope and serve five-year, renewable terms. The commission’s president is the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, German Cardinal Gerhard Muller.
As explained in the preliminary note, the commission has been studying the nature of the “sensus fidei” since 2009. The text presented here was developed by a subcommittee, discussed during four years of the commission’s plenary sessions, approved by a majority of its members in a written vote and approved for publication by Cardinal Millie,: Current members of the commission, appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in June 2009, includes:
—Archbishop Study Hon Tai-Fai. SDB (China, secretary, Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Vatican City).
—Archbishop Jan Wilhelmus Maria Liesen (Breda, Netherlands).
—Bishop Charles Morerod, OP (Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, Switzerland).
—Bishop Paul Rouhana, OLM (titular bishop of Antarado, bishop, Patriarchal Vicariate of Sarba, Lebanon).
— Father Peter Damian Akpunonu (Nigeria, biblical exegesis, University of St. Mary of the Lake (Mundelein Seminary!, Chicago, Ill).
—Father Serge Thomas Bonino OR secretary-general (philosophy, the Catholic Institute of Toulouse; theology, Dominican Study Home of Toulouse, France).
—Father Geraldo Luiz Borges Hackmann (systematic theology, Pontifical Catholic University do Rio Grande do Sul of Porto Alegre, Brazil)
—Sister Sara Butler,
(Continued on Page 135)
NOTE: Complete text on link: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/index.cfm
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Page 133-134 of Origins – Pages 133-154.