Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Sensus Fidei

Q - My question is this: would you please explain sensus fidelium as the Church understands it, and explain how some of the more heterodox Catholic groups misinterpret it - intentionally or not, doesn't matter - in order to justify things such as "95% of Catholics believe that it's okay to use artificial contraception; therefore, because of the sensus fidelium, the encyclical Humanae Vitae isn't binding because the majority of Catholics haven't accepted it." I know that position is in error - but what's the best way to explain why.

A -
Thanks for the question. I can certainly try to explain it.

First of all, a note about discussions that may cause a rise in our heart rate. I think it is a good idea to constantly examine our motives when discussing such issues. Is the goal to win or to help another draw closer to the truth of Christ? If it is to win, we might need to step back from the discussion. I am not accusing you of doing this, but it is always a good reminder. I know I need to do this periodically.

Now, on to your question. The Sensus fidei is a gift given to guide God's Church into all truth. We have the promises of Christ that the Holy Spirit will do just that. Here is the definition found in the index of the Catechism:
Sensus Fidei: a supernatural appreciation of the faith shown by the universal consent in matters of faith and morals manifested by the whole body of the faithful under the guidance of the Magisterium.
Notice that the Magisterium must guide it.

Now, here is what the Church says about who can interpret God's Revelation, given to us through Christ:
"The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome." - CCC, 85
What we need to understand is this role which is given to the Bishops, isn't just institutional authority, but a charism (gift) of the Holy Spirit.

This gift is given to the Church itself, as the Catechism says (quoting Lumen Gentium from Vatican II):
"The whole body of the faithful. . . cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals." - CCC 92
Note - the exercise of such a gift is for the "whole" church. Not just those that want to change things. If we are really going to exercise such a gift - then even those who come before us need to be considered.

Further, we cannot exercise the gift without the Bishops. Because, as Lumen Gentium in the next section after the quote above:
The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples' supernatural discernment in matters of faith when "from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful" they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God
Thus, we don't get to change Church teaching, just because the majority of Catholics aren't practicing the faith or dissent from it. One should not mis-define a doctrine of the Church to support changing doctrine, because that is contradictory to begin with.

Truth is not up for a vote.

I hope this helps.

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