Francis to theologians: Don’t confuse “sensus fidelium” with majority opinion

Last week Pope Francis addressed members of the International Theological Commission at the conclusion of the group’s plenary assembly, the theme of which was “The Relationship Between Monotheism and Violence.”

“Theologians…are ‘pioneers’ in the Church’s dialogue with cultures; a dialogue that is both critical and benevolent, which must encourage the welcome of the Word of God by a part of persons ‘from every nation, race, people, and tongue,’” Francis said in his remarks to those present. More from Vatican Information Services:

“It is this very concept of peace that has been the focus of your reflection on the Church’s social doctrine, which has the goal of translating God’s love for the human person, made manifest in Christ Jesus, into a concrete reality of societal life. … The Church is held to living first of all within herself that social message that it bears to the world. Fraternal relations between believers, authority as service, sharing with the poor: all of these traits, which have characterized ecclesial life from its origin, can and must constitute a living and attractive model for the diverse human communities, from the family to civil society.”

“This witness,” the Bishop of Rome emphasized, “pertain to the People of God, a People of prophets, in its entirety. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, the members of the Church possess a ‘sense of faith’. This is a kind of ‘spiritual instinct’ that makes us ‘sentire cum Ecclesia’ [think with the mind of the Church] and to discern that which is in conformity with the apostolic faith and is in the spirit of the Gospel. Of course, the ‘sensus fidelium’ [sense of the faithful] cannot be confused with the sociological reality of a majority opinion. It is, therefore, important—and one of your tasks—to develop criteria that allow the authentic expressions of the ‘sensus fidelium’ to be discerned. … This attention is of greatest importance for theologians. Pope Benedict XVI often pointed out that the theologian must remain attentive to the faith lived by the humble and the small, to whom it pleased the Father to reveal that which He had hidden from the learned and the wise.”

“Your mission, therefore, is both fascinating and risky. It is fascinating because research in and teaching of theology can become a true path to holiness, as attested by many Fathers and Doctors of the Church. But it is also risky because it bears temptations with it: hardness of heart, pride, even ambition,” the Pope observed, recalling a letter from St. Francis of Assisi to St. Anthony of Padua regarding this danger. It warns: “I am glad that you are teaching the brothers sacred Theology provided that, in the study, you do not extinguish the spirit of holy prayer and devotion.”


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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.