December 17, 2012
The first week of December marked the annual plenary session of the International Theological Commission headed by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Pope Benedict XVI addressed the theologians on what he termed the “genetic code of Catholic theology, meaning the principles that define its very identity.”
The Commission issued a paper recently, titled, “Theology today. Perspectives, principles, and criteria.” If your immediate reaction is to say, “Yiiii! Let me out of here! Forget theology and just let me pray,” you would be missing something important the Pope brought to the forefront in his talk.
Many of us Catholics who really do know our Faith are not theologians at all. We are simple believers who accept the teachings put forth by the Magisterium since God established the Church on Pentecost Sunday. We have been gravely disturbed by theologians who, since Vatican Council II, have distorted the teachings of the Church or have introduced ideas contrary to them and pushed them as true, using the modern media as the vehicle to spread lies. Our B.S. detectors have gone into overdrive to cope with the sheer volume of nonsense passed off as truth, and the pressure from the deceived to join their ranks.
Prior to Vatican II we had dissenting theologians (Modernists) but their thoughts weren’t easily accessible to the masses. Pope St. Piux X’s encyclical, Pascendi, issued in September of 1907, condemned Modernism as the synthesis of all heresies. He identified the various techniques Modernists used to spread their errors and attempted to prevent their spread among the laity, but after Vatican Council II and the proliferation of various communication technologies, the average person got a full dose of error and many succumbed. This also resulted from the contamination of the seminaries whose rectors ignored directives from multiple popes in the twentieth century.
Making matters worse was that many theologians tried to gin up support for their falsehoods by taking to the press and trying to rev up a “majority opinion” on teachings contrary to the law of God. Thus we had the huge public battle against Humanae Vitae in 1968 which is still going on today, waged by those in the Church who have compromised with the world and using the “sensus fidelium” argument to bolster their position.
To those who want to apply democratic principles to the Church, you are doomed to failure. Jesus didn’t found the Church as a democracy and it doesn’t matter how many millions of people have an opinion contrary to Catholic teaching, that doesn’t change the fact that the teaching is true. We got it from God and God doesn’t change His mind.
So now, let’s hear from Pope Benedict himself exactly what “sensus fidelium” is, how it works, and what he said to the International Theological Commission concerning their paper.
Among the criteria of Catholic theology, the document mentions the attention that theologians must pay to sensus fidelium. It is very useful that your Commission has also focused on this issue which is of particular importance for the reflection on the faith and life of the Church.
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 Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium [Remember this is the year of Faith and we are to read the Council documents with the hermeneutic of continuity.] thus teaches us on the subject: “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One,(111) 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).
This gift, the sensus fidei, constitutes in the believer a kind of supernatural instinct that has a connatural life with the same object of faith. It is a criterion for discerning whether or not a truth belongs to the deposit of the living apostolic tradition. It also has a propositional value because the Holy Spirit does not cease to speak to the Churches and lead them to the whole truth.
Today, however, 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.
Both the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the dogma of the Assumption are examples of beliefs that came to be universally held and declared by a pope due to the sensus fidelium of the centuries meeting the criteria the Pope described above.
In this Year of Faith, let us all increase our understanding of Church teaching, seeking to look through God’s eyes at the world and mankind. Let us also keep our B.S. detectors in top condition. We need them more than ever. You know the demons of hell will always try to scuttle the truth, especially when sincere hearts seek it.
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