Monday, December 10, 2012

Pope Benedict's Idea of 'Sensus Fidelium' Includes Total Obedience To The Teaching Magisterium

Truly, two inches of bullet proof glass is more effective than relying on Faith.  Just like defining the 'sensus fidelium' as strictly the product of following the teaching magisterium is more effective for absolute theological monarchies than relying on some stupid poll.

Interesting bit of synchronicity given yesterdays post on Pope Benedict's belief in protecting the simple laity from the power of intellectuals.  Now he's using the Holy Spirit to protect the teaching authority from the opinions of the laity and other intellectuals. The following excerpt is from a Catholic News Service report on Pope Benedict's talk to the International Theological Commission.  In it he states that Catholic beliefs are not up to popular vote, and that the 'sensus fidelium' only exists in the sense that it is the voice of practicing Catholics who adhere to all the teachings of the magisterium,  and finally the Holy Spirit 'supernaturally' confirms all of this thus the Magisterium can never be wrong.

Catholic beliefs are not open to popular vote, pope says

Cindy Wooden - Catholic News Service - 12/7/2012
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When the Catholic Church affirms the importance of how all the faithful understand matters of faith and morals, it is not saying Catholic beliefs are open to a popular vote, Pope Benedict XVI said.

An authentic "sensus fidei," which literally means "sense of faith," can come only when Catholics actively participate in the life of the church and follow the teaching of the pope and bishops, he said Dec. 7 during a meeting with members of the International Theological Commission.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes the Second Vatican Council's teaching that "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." (If Pope Benedict really believed this he would have to drop his opposition to birth control and gay marriage, but of course, he's already qualified 'the faithful' by defining the faithful as only those practicing Catholics who are in conformity with the teaching magisterium.

Pope Benedict praised the theological commission members for including a discussion of the "sensus fidei" in "Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria," a document they released in March and which affirms the primacy of bishops over theologians as interpreters of church teaching.

"Today it is particularly important to clarify the criteria which make it possible to distinguish the authentic 'sensus fidelium' from its counterfeits," the pope said. "In reality, it is not some kind of ecclesial public opinion, and it is unthinkable to use it to contest the teaching of the magisterium because the 'sensus fidei' cannot develop authentically in a 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 the magisterium." (If this is true, there is utterly no reason to even have the concept 'sensus fidelium.)
The "sensus fidei" is a kind of "supernatural instinct" that helps Catholics recognize what does and does not belong to the faith of the church, he said, and it is a sign that "the Holy Spirit does not cease to speak to the churches and lead them to the whole truth." (Is Pope Benedict actually saying the Holy Spirit exists to confirm the teachings of the bishops?)


I am really getting tired of self reflective circular reasoning that purports to make the teaching magisterium infallible by reason of it's very existence and the fact it tells us so.  Only the truly simple would buy this kind of reasoning, especially given the long history of the magisterium and it's many mistakes.  So much for the notion of sensus fidelium.  It no longer has any useful meaning what so ever at all.  I am seriously beginning to wonder if Benedict isn't beginning to show the signs of his age.



  1. The Pope fears losing control, even as it occurs.

    1. The very fear you speak about Karen has caused more and more loss of control. He only listens to the fascist elements such as Opus Dei. So sad! The word infallible has no meaning. Never will again.

  2. "If this is true, there is utterly no reason to even have the concept 'sensus fidelium.'"

    I agree with you 100%--he has effectively emptied the phrase of all meaning. It quite literally adds nothing.

    On the other hand, I think it is kind of a silly idea. I seem to remember reading somewhere that it was originally invented to give legitimacy to doctrines that did not have biblical evidence and also lacked early support from the magisterium--fantastic ideas like the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Virgin, which had their origin in the folk piety of the illiterate masses rather than, say, the learned writings of the church fathers.

    On the other hand, I also recall Cardinal Newman saying somewhere that there was evidence for the sensus fidelium in the fact that there were many bishops in the fourth century who were Arians--it was the lay people who steadfastly maintained the Nicene faith. From Newman's point of view, and presumably Benedict's as well, that would have to be considered one instance where the bishops were wrong and the lay faithful were right. (I don't subscribe to Nicene orthodoxy or Arianism, so I don't find that particular argument all that compelling--but Benedict should, if he believes what he says he believes.)

    Something is not necessarily true just because all (or most) people believe it--the pope is correct about that. But church authorities have a responsibility to be persuasive, and when they aren't able to persuade the majority of something, they need to consider the possibility that they've gotten something wrong instead of insisting on the infallibility of their message and trying to stifle discussion.

    1. I think he's arguing both sides here. In one point he admits

      "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."

      Except he abrogates this as far as the faithful are concerned. They have to be practicing Catholics who adhere to the magisterium.

      He doesn't go so far as to say such about bishops, and we know a not insignificant number of bishops disagree with some doctrines applying to the priesthood and sexual morality. I admit we know this more from silence than actual spoken thought, but we can infer this from the retired bishops with nothing to lose, who have spoken out.

    2. I hear what you're saying, but I've never seen the notion of the sensus fidelium articulated in a way that would stand up to any kind of scrutiny, and the pope's stab at it here is just one more failed attempt that can be dismissed with the rest.

      Many progressives like this idea because they see that things like contraception, gay rights and women's ordination have broad appeal (though probably not as broad as we would like to think, given where most the churches growth has been taking place over the last few decades). But the argumentum ad populum doesn't convince anyone who opposes these things that they're wrong, nor should it. There are legitimate arguments to be made, arguments that are based on reason and evidence. I don't see how appealing to a "sensus fidei" adds anything to those arguments.

    3. I start my argument from Benedict's intelligence -- I don't think he's feeble. However, that leads me to believe he's not sincere.

      Comparing sensus fidelium to a popular vote is a straw man argument. Of course we aren't voting. Instead, the lack of reception of magisterial teaching implies either a people lacking in faith or a teaching lacking in grace. They push the first option because the second says so much. I think it's similar to Ratzinger's judgment on the infallibility of JPII's pronouncement on women's ordinations. He said (hope I get this precisely) it was to be taken as if it were infallible. If the guy is brilliant, he knows that means its fallible.

      I live close to the Creation Museum. They make big dollars giving people an expert opinion on how in infallible Bible might not contradict some fairly simple and obvious scientific truths. I've spoken to people who work there. They aren't stupid, but the need to believe drives some amazing Arabesque (i mean dancing, not racism) rationalizations. I think the Vatican counts on that. People don't have to question, to grow, if someone smart and holy assures them that the bases are all covered. Only the faithless could argue with the Holy Spirit.

      Coleen, I've been watching you and others take on the modern Crusaders at NCR. The vitriol is disheartening, to say the least. Watching the pope , Dolan, Wuerl, Chaput, et al sanction the hatred is worse. It's hard not to lose hope.

      Matt Connolly

  3. Sigh.....

    Two examples, often used by Orthodox Christians when discussing the roles of bishop and laity;

    The iconoclastic controversy where the "magisterium" decided that icons were to be eliminated because of the danger of idolatry

    and the example of St. Maximus the Confessor, a monk, who opposed monothelitism, ( that Christ only had one will, the divine). He was imprisoned by the Emperor and Patriarch of Constantinople.

    The Pope really needs to study a bit more.

  4. According to this, I'm not really Catholic. But I like my parish and I'm not leaving unless something changes. I follow the Holy Spirit for myself.

  5. I find Benedict's latest crusade against dissent quite funny, actually. Two reasons: 1.) His official motto is "Cooperators in Truth" but he's not into any sort of cooperation with the laity or the clergy. Everything in his world revolves around himself and what he thinks and anyone who doesn't agreee, doesn't belong in his Church. 2.) He was one of the major proponents of the Primacy of Conscience following Vatican II. This principle, which states that, in some cases, the individuals conscience is informed directly by the Holy Spirit and is an authority above the Pope, has fallen by the wayside in favor of obedience to the Vatican. < this link is a priest talking about the primacy of conscience in regards to the Minnesota Marriage Amendment and even quotes Ratzinger.
    Perhaps his motto should have been "Dictator of Truth"

  6. Why dont you try actually reading what Vatican II said about the sensum fidei and which the pope is merely repeating. Its really you Sir who is mistaken. Or rather is trying to impose your opinion on the rest of us...and passing it off as so called "enlightened catholicism".

    1. Uhmmm, I can't impose anything on anyone and I certainly didn't force you to read the article or comment on it. By the way, I have read all the documents of Vatican II and quite a bit of Joseph Ratzinger's comments, including his earlier take on personal conscience in which he states, like Newman, that following one's conscience trumps magisterial teaching. That is why I find his circular reasoning on the sensus fidei suspect.

      Enlightened Catholicism was intended as a pun as I do try to keep things humorous. At least sometimes. Also I'd tell you I'm really a 'Mamm' but then you might dismiss me completely.

    2. Hello. I am the author of the comment just above yours. Lumen Gentium says: "[Christ guides the faithful] not only through the hierarchy who teach in His name and with His authority, but also through the laity whom He made His witnesses and to whom He gave understanding of the faith [sensus fidei] and an attractiveness in speech so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life." This points to a both/and relationship between the hierarchy and the laity. Sometimes, as in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (Pius XII, Fulgens Corona) a universally held belief is said to be true due to sensum fidei. Other times, as we see now, there is not a universally held opinion on an issue, even among the clergy. How do we deal with this conflict between the laity's sensum fidei and the Magisterium? Bl. Pope John Paul II says this "One must appeal to the "sensus fidei" to find the criteria for a just judgment on the past of the life of the Church." This tells us that, while sensum fidei works normally under the umbrella of the magisterium, there can be times where the two conflict, and sensum fidei can pull the Church back into focus. The Catechism teaches: "1782 Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. "He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters." Benedict has ignored this. He cannot seem to accept the possibilty that an individual's conscience guides that person contrary to what the Church says. We can argue all day about the proper formation of conscience, but I have two arguments I will end with: If the person's conscience is mal-formed, that is the fault of both the catechists and the individual. Moreover, the consequences of that are for God to decide, not us. Secondly, We can see from the passage that the Church accepts (even if it isn't made explicit) that one's conscience can lead them contrary to the Magisterium, and that that should nto be suppressed. I conclude that it is you, sir, that are trying to impose your beliefs on the rest of us.