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 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.”
Pope Benedict praised the theological commission members for including a discussion of the sensus fidei in Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria, a document released in March 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.
The sensus fidelium is not a type of ecclesial public opinion, he said. Nor can it be used to challenge the teaching of the magisterium.
The sensus fidelium can only develop authentically in a believer who fully participates in the life of the Church, which includes “a responsible adherence to the magisterium.”