In June 2014, the Pontifical International Theological Commission, tasked with “helping the Holy See and primarily the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in examining doctrinal questions of major importance,” released a document entitled, Sensus Fidelium in the Life of the Church.
In keeping with the bureaucratic excellence that has come to define the Vatican apparatus in recent decades, this particular tome runs some 22,000 words in length. (More on that later.)
While this document is the result of a five year long effort, the timing of its release (if I may play the cynic) seems rather fortuitous for those who, like Pope Francis, consider Cardinal Kasper’s theology an example of “profundity and serenity.” (Confession: I’m not really playing.)
I mean, what better to grease the skids upon which the Synod of Bishops on Marriage and Family will submit its recommendations to the pope, and to the world, than a heightened sense of appreciation for the prophetic voice of the laity?
In any event, given the post-conciliar program of anthropomization that is once again running full throttle after having been temporarily tempered by Benedict XVI (only to be turbo-charged by the elevation of Jorge Bergoglio), this text merits considerable scrutiny.
For the sanity of both readers of this space and the present writer, we’ll undertake this task in relatively bite sized portions, in the present case with an examination of articles 73-75.
The sensus fidelium can be an important factor in the development of doctrine, and it follows that the magisterium needs means by which to consult the faithful.
While this particular claim isn’t likely to raise the eyebrows of many among the undernourished masses, it’s newchurch speak plain and simple.
What parents among us “consult” their children on “questions of major importance,” to quote from the mission statement of the Pontifical Commission?
I’ll tell you which ones: The ones whose kids are functional orphans thanks to the spinelessness of feckless elders who fancy themselves “friends” to their children rather than their parents.
If you listen closely, you may hear the Cotton Candy Catholic choir pining in response, “But the clergy must be informed as to the mind of those they are called to shepherd.”
To which all I can say is, “Get thee to a dictionary!”
To “consult” goes beyond merely engaging another for information; rather, it is a means of attaining the advice and the guidance of the one consulted. For instance, people routinely consult their attorney, their account, their mentor, etc.
The sacred hierarchy does well to examine the faithful in order to assess their condition; to learn about their challenges; to measure their strengths and their weaknesses as a means of determining their needs, but consult them? No, not in a healthy Church.
The text then provides further insight into how the magisterium benefits from the sensus fidelium:
The connection between the sensus fidelium and the magisterium is particularly to be found in the liturgy. The faithful are baptised into a royal priesthood, exercised principally in the Eucharist, and the bishops are the ‘high priests’ who preside at the Eucharist, regularly exercising there their teaching office, also. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the life of the Church; it is there especially that the faithful and their pastors interact, as one body for one purpose, namely to give praise and glory to God. The Eucharist shapes and forms the sensus fidelium and contributes greatly to the formulation and refinement of verbal expressions of the faith, because it is there that the teaching of bishops and councils is ultimately ‘received’ by the faithful.
The main points presented here are:
1) The liturgy is a venue wherein the doctrine of the faith is “ultimately received” by the faithful.
2) The faithful (who are just oozing this sensus fidelium) in some way influence the teaching office of the Church via their “interaction” with the sacred hierarchy in the liturgy.
These assertions are worthy of close consideration for reasons we’ll discuss momentarily.
Participation in the liturgy is indeed one of the most profound ways in which the children of the Church are formed in the image of Christ. This happens as they “acquire the true Christian spirit dispensed therein by Christ Himself as from an indispensable font.” (cf Tra le sollecitudini – Pope Pius X, 1903)
This liturgical reality is not to be confused, however, with the kind of formation that one might expect to receive in a classroom wherein students and teachers interact.
In spite of the Theological Commission’s claims, it is not “ultimately” in the Eucharist that “the teaching of bishops and councils is received by the faithful.”
To be charitable almost to a fault, this is at best an ambiguous assertion, the set-up for which is the premise that was slyly introduced two sentences earlier; namely, the suggestion that the action of the bishop at Holy Mass is well considered a function of his “teaching office.”
While the threefold munus of Christ made manifest in the bishop who teaches, sanctifies and governs in His name is such that one function is never entirely independent of the others, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, being no less than the very work of Redemption carried out in our midst, is overwhelmingly an expression of the sanctifying office of the bishop.
This is so much the case that the teaching and governing offices of the bishop are really best understood to be reflected in the liturgy, more so than explicitly expressed therein.
You see, by teaching and governing, the bishop necessarily regulates the liturgy and protects it from corruption and defect. As such, while it can be said that the exercise of said offices is discernable in the liturgy; it is quite another to suggest that the liturgy is that through which the bishop teaches and governs.
Why belabor the point?
Within these subtle distinctions lie some of the very falsehoods that gave rise to the protestantization of the liturgy with the birthing of the Novus Ordo, a bastard rite that invites an exaggerated focus on Bible readings, sermons, and the activity of laymen (the “bread and butter” of the heretics’ Sunday services) such that the true and propitiatory Sacrifice that is offered by the priest who acts in persona Christi unto the sanctification of the people is frequently overshadowed.
The notion of liturgy-as-catechetical-moment was fueled by the same liberal promoters of the early 20th century liturgical reform movement who also desired a Mass that would serve as a platform for fostering ecumenism and inspiring social justice initiatives.
Obviously, they got their way after Vatican II, and with the coupe now a fait accompli, the newly configured rite is being used as a platform for launching a newly configured theology. (In this, one can see the warnings contained in the Ottaviani Intervention coming to life.)
From early Christian times, the Eucharist underpinned the formulation of the Church’s doctrine because there most of all was the mystery of faith encountered and celebrated, and the bishops who presided at the Eucharist of their local churches among their faithful people were those who gathered in councils to determine how best to express the faith in words and formulas: lex orandi, lex credendi.
Don’t let the Latin phrase fool you; the picture being painted here is not derived from tradition.
The authors of this text want you to believe that “from early Christian times” (translation: before the triumphalistic hierarchs of latter ages needlessly heaped embellishments upon the pure faith) the bishops, after having interacted with their faithful in the sacred liturgy, wherein the shepherds are afforded an opportunity to drink from the well of the sheep’s sensus fidelium, departed the local churches for the councils that fabricated the doctrinal formulae woven from the threads of insight gathered from the faithful.
Right, and St. Paul was little more than the Judaizers’ messenger boy at the Council of Jerusalem.
At this, we arrive at a crucial point in the document with the suggestion that the faithful play an active role in the “formulation and refinement of verbal expressions of the faith” relative to the Church’s moral doctrine.
This is where the rubber meets the road, particularly with the upcoming Synod just months away.
What is less well known, and generally receives less attention, is the role played by the laity with regard to the development of the moral teaching of the Church. It is therefore important to reflect also on the function played by the laity in discerning the Christian understanding of appropriate human behaviour in accordance with the Gospel. In certain areas, the teaching of the Church has developed as a result of lay people discovering the imperatives arising from new situations. The reflection of theologians, and then the judgment of the episcopal magisterium, was based on the Christian experience already clarified by the faithful intuition of lay people. Some examples might illustrate the role of the sensus fidelium in the development of moral doctrine:
i) Between canon 20 of the Council of Elvira (c. 306 AD), which forbade clerics and lay people to receive interest, and the response, Non esse inquietandos, of Pope Pius VIII to the bishop of Rennes (1830), there is a clear development of teaching, due to both the emergence of a new awareness among lay people involved in business as well as new reflection on the part of theologians with regard to the nature of money.
ii) The openness of the Church towards social problems, especially manifest in Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Letter, Rerum Novarum (1896), was the fruit of a slow preparation in which lay ‘social pioneers’, activists as well as thinkers, played a major role.
iii) The striking albeit homogeneous development from the condemnation of ‘liberal’ theses in part 10 of the Syllabus of Errors (1864) of Pope Pius IX to the declaration on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae (1965), of Vatican II would not have been possible without the commitment of many Christians in the struggle for human rights.
A great deal could be written in response to each of these three examples (quite possibly the only ones the authors of this text could muster), most especially numbers one and three. For brevity sake, we’ll content ourselves with the following observations:
i) This is a “go to” argument presented by those who are wont to demonstrate that the Church at one time held a doctrine that was later deemed to be wrong. (It’s rather telling that this is where the authors of this text felt compelled to turn in the first place.)
The issue raised here is not, properly speaking, about “receiving interest;” rather, it is about usury; i.e., charging for the “use” of money. The latter is, without question, still considered a sin; a condemnation based on the Church’s unchanged understanding of the “nature of money” according to St. Thomas Aquinas.
What “changed” in this case is not the moral teaching of the Church, but the way in which money was used (lent and borrowed). New economic conditions gave rise to new “commodities” in the marketplace; things like risk, the negative influence of inflation, and the loss of other potential gains via investment, each one having a certain value that could be estimated in order to calculate a reasonable interest, the charging of which is not a sin.
ii) Again, the moral teachings themselves were not so much developed with the input of the sensus fidelium as they were applied to the changing concrete circumstances of the people whose “major role” was simply living their lives.
iii) This topic is nothing short of book worthy. (See Was John Courtney Murray Right?)
Note just how far we have come in the revolution: Here we see the captains of newchurch plainly admitting that a certain disconnect exists between the text of Dignitatis Humanae and the infallible teaching of the Church that preceded it, with their only justification for this “striking development” being an unsubstantiated claim of homogeneity. To say that this particular citation remains an open question among highly respected theologians is an understatement.
Thus are the best three “examples” the authors could provide as evidence of the influencing power of the sensus fidelium on the Church’s moral teachings; the same that supposedly guides the hierarchy as it “consults” the faithful.
A correct understanding of the sensus fidelium and its influence on the Church’s doctrinal formulae is to recognize that the sacred magisterium at times clarifies, defines and makes explicit, amid the changing circumstances in which laymen live and work, that which the entire Church, including the faithful, have always believed.
Over the course of the centuries, the “refinement of verbal expressions” of the faith was very often necessitated by the activity, not of faithful laypersons who somehow acted as oracles that enlightened the hierarchy, but by heretics who made headway in luring the faithful into their errors, thus providing the impetus for the shepherds to spring into action in protection of the flock.
This is a far cry from the image painted in the articles under discussion; propositions that reflect the influence of neo-modernists who dream of a day when the bishops will consult with the faithful in search of their guidance.
At this point, I think we’ve tortured ourselves enough.
In conclusion, a word is in order about the disturbing trend wherein modern day churchmen produce increasingly verbose treatises on matters of faith.
Contrast, if you will, the inaugural encyclical of Pope St. Pius X, E Supremi, a text of some 4,500 words in length, with the first encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, a text of more than 23,000 words.
The program of Pius X was eminently simple, Instaurare Omnia in Christo, to restore all things in Christ; drawing as it did from the very foundations of Christian doctrine, it needed but little explanation.
The program of John Paul II, by contrast, drew from the “rich inheritance of the recent pontificates … [which] has struck deep roots in the awareness of the Church in an utterly new way, quite unknown previously, thanks to the Second Vatican Council,” an operation founded upon sheer novelties, the likes of which required verbosity simply to explain.
Sure, there’s a place for lengthy texts (Pascendi comes to mind), but in the hands of the neo-modernists, such documents are tools of deception wherein the true Faith is all too often juxtaposed alongside dangerous novelties (Evangelii Gaudium comes to mind).
This is the case with the document, Sensus Fidelium in the Life of the Church, and all of us know what a little leaven can do.