Saturday, August 29, 2015

Family Synod should include `sensus fidei' // National Catholic Reporter

It has often struck me that Catholic doctrine and American constitutional adjudication have a good deal in common. The hermeneutic - interpretation of the Gospels - is based on texts that contain both broad statements of equitable principles "love your neighbor, what you do for these the least of my brethren you do for me", parables, and a few commands.

Catholic doctrine is rooted in the text, the teachings of the Church and the experience of the faithful. Biblical command plays little role. Understandings change - and doctrine evolves by paying attention to the experience of the faithful.

So too has our constitution evolved. Equal protection in the original conception did not include women, and gays were not in anyone's mind. Now we consider the extension of such principles to women and gays to be pretty much undisputable.

The danger is that when there is a final authority - Pope or Supreme Court - the understanding can be frozen or reversed, the views of the people discarded. Popular opinion is not a command in law or theology but the impact of doctrine should never be ignored. It informs even where it does not command. - gwc
Synod members should include sensus fidei | National Catholic Reporter
Pope Francis has called for new ways for the journey of faith of the pilgrim people of God. By exercising the collegiality envisioned by the Second Vatican Council, he has encouraged the Synod of Bishops on the family to participate in open discussions on the various issues. As we await the second session of this synod, it seems particularly valuable to benefit from the 2014 document issued by the International Theological Commission, "Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church."

As a retired pastor who was blessed with the opportunity to study John Henry Newman for a doctorate in theology at the Catholic University of Leuven, it was a pleasure to read his insights on the development of doctrine and the sense of the faithful, revived in our era by this Vatican commission. In this short article without footnotes, and with modest credentials, the best I can do is to offer some highlights from the commission's document and recommend that the synod participants become familiar with its profound theological perspective.

In our Catholic church, we believe in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within all the baptized faithful. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, all of the baptized participate in the prophetic office of Jesus Christ. As a result, the faithful have an instinct for the truth of the Gospel that enables them to recognize and endorse authentic Christian doctrine and practice, and to reject what is false.

The Second Vatican Council strongly emphasized the importance of the sense of the faithful, especially in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Although distinguishing between the teaching church (ecclesia docens) and the learning church (ecclesia discens), the council affirmed that all the baptized participate in their own proper way in the three offices of Christ -- as prophet, priest and king.

The council clearly taught that the laity are not merely passive recipients of what the hierarchy teaches and theologians explain; rather, they are living and active subjects within the church. All believers play a vital role in the articulation and development of the faith.

As our church moves through the challenges of history, we are confronted with new circumstances, with the progress of knowledge and culture. We have been asked to read the signs of the times, to interpret them in the light of the divine word and to discern how they may enable revealed truth itself to be "more deeply penetrated, better understood, and more deeply presented."

The sense of the faithful is not only reactive but also proactive and interactive as the church and all its members make their pilgrim way in history. The sensus fideiis therefore not only retrospective but also prospective, and both these aspects are highly important.

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