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Lay theologians on board? Two applications of the sensus fidei

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 09, 2014

In yesterday’s In Depth Analysis on the new document from the International Theological Commission (The ITC’s compelling exploration of the sensus fidei—the sense of faith), I focused mostly on what is required for a member of Christ’s faithful to participate effectively in the sensus fidei of the Church. But other equally fruitful topics were on offer in the ITC text.

For example, the sensus fidei in each believer ought to set off alarms when it encounters some doctrine, policy or behavior being proposed as rooted in the Faith when it really is not of the Faith at all. The ITC explains (#60) that the sensus fidei enables the believer to do the following three things:

  • To discern whether or not a particular teaching or practice that they actually encounter in the Church is coherent with the true faith by which they live in the communion of the Church;
  • To distinguish in what is preached between the essential and the secondary;
  • To determine and put into practice the witness to Jesus Christ that they should give in the particular historical and cultural context in which they live.

Now here are two examples of the sensus fidei at work which suggest that there is a significant lay presence among ITC theologians:


Alerted by their sensus fidei, individual believers may deny assent even to the teaching of legitimate pastors if they do not recognize in that teaching the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd…. In such a case, the believer does not treat himself or herself as the ultimate criterion of the truth of faith, but rather, faced with materially ‘authorized’ preaching which he or she finds troubling, without being able to explain exactly why, defers assent and appeals interiorly to the superior authority of the universal Church. [#63]


The sensus fidei fidelis also enables the believer to distinguish in what is preached between what is essential for an authentic Catholic faith and what, without being formally against the faith, is only accidental or even indifferent with regard to the core of the faith. For example…they might…distance themselves from preaching which unduly mixes together Christian faith and partisan political choices. [#64]

Maybe it has taken fifty years to see this in print, but it seems some theologians have been paying attention after all.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: jb5131013 - May. 20, 2017 7:23 AM ET USA

    Amidst all of the follies of Church and State nowadays, my mind ever returns to the scene in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in which Elizabeth reveals to Jane that they have been greatly deceived in the characters of Wickham and Darcy. The following quote keeps coming to mind, "There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.'' Presently appearance is in Obama's favor, but goodness?

  • Posted by: grateful1 - May. 09, 2017 11:14 PM ET USA

    I believe Christ's promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church. But it won't be for lack of trying by some of the clergy.