Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sensus Fidelium? “Magisterium by Gallup”?

At the end of yesterday’s CCC post, I asked the meaning of sensus fidelium, a Church term meaning roughly “the sense of faith.And what do you know?! By midafternoon I had the answer, thanks to Creative Minority Report, which reprinted Matthew Archbold’s piece in “Campus Notes”!

As Archbold points out,

Recently, the term has been misused to argue for same-sex “marriage,” contraception and even women’s ordination. It’s a form of Magisterium by Gallup in which a person argues that most Catholics agree with them on an issue, so even though the Magisterium says otherwise, they hold the trump card because of “sensus fidei.”

In other words, many Catholics today misunderstand the term as “that which us Catholics, at least some of us, hold to be true.” That way chaos lies.

Archbold cites the National Catholic Reporter’s recent endorsement of ordaining women on the grounds of sensus fidelium:  

We have heard the faithful assent to this in countless conversations in parish halls, lecture halls and family gatherings. It has been studied and prayed over individually and in groups. The brave witness of the Women’s Ordination Conference, as one example, gives us assurance that the faithful have come to this conclusion after prayerful consideration and study. . . .

You hear it in parish halls and at family gatherings, and pretty soon it’s the sense of the faith. Right?


The Pope points out the contradiction in a recent speech: “It is unthinkable to mention it [sensus fidelium] in order to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium.”

The confusion traces to the Second Vatican Council. (Like so, is the first time Catholics have been confused about its messages?!) The Pope said—

“The Second Vatican Council, while confirming the specific and irreplaceable role of Magisterium, stressed, however, that the whole People of God participates in Christ’s prophetic office, thus fulfilling the inspired desire expressed by Moses, ‘If only all the people of the LORD were prophets! If only the LORD would bestow his spirit on them!’ (Num 11:29).”

The problem is, fifty years later, we all think we’re prophets.

The Pope points us to the VCII document Lumen Gentium:

“The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium thus teaches us on the subject: ‘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.” (n. 12).

Ahhh . . . “From the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful!” That’s a bit more unanimous than gossip in parish halls.

The Pope concludes:

“Today . . . it is particularly important to clarify the criteria used to distinguish the authentic sensus fidelium from its counterfeits. In fact, it is not some kind of public opinion of the Church, and it is unthinkable to mention it in order to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium, this because the sensus fidei can not grow authentically in the believer except to the extent in which he or she fully participates in the life of the Church, and this requires a responsible adherence to her Magisterium.”

We must “fully participate in the life of the Church.” We are called to “responsible adherence to her Magisterium.”

Thank you for clarifying that, Holiness. And Matthew Archbold too.

1 comment:

  1. The key phrase in the Lumen Gentium teaching seems to me to be "lay faithful". What does that mean? The lay faithful are those non-clergy members of the church who are 'full of faith'. They are able to assert before God the Act of Faith prayer which ends with "...I believe these and all the truths Holy Church proposes for our belief because Thou hast revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived." Individuals or associations who cannot make this Act of Faith would seem to exclude themselves from that happy band of brethren who delight in God's teachings through the office of the Church He founded two thousand years ago.


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