Friday, May 27, 2005

Latin Lesson

Another theme in the book that has captured my attention is Sensus Fidelium. Thanks to for providing this concise (and easy-to-find) defininition:

Literally the "sense of the faithful." Just as the Spirit infallibly guides the magisterium so that it doesn't propose teachings that would lead the whole Church into error, so there is a flip side to the infallibility coin: The faithful, as a whole, have an instinct or "sense" about when a teaching is—or is not—in harmony with the true faith.

Boil that down, and what I read is "We have a voice." Yeah.

More on Sensus Fidelium to come. Finding that definition prompted me to do a bit more research. There was that word again: Magisterium. While I've seen it referred to on many a Catholic blog, it's time for me to confess. Despite 12 years of Catholic education, I didn't know what it meant. Now, again thanks to, I do:
The Catholic Church holds that the pope, and the bishops in union with the pope, are commissioned to teach authoritatively on faith and morals in a way no other teacher in the Church can claim to do. Catholic teaching holds that the supreme doctrinal authority in the Roman Catholic Church is all the bishops together with and under the pope. In ordinary use in the contemporary Church, this teaching authority is called the magisterium. Aided by the Holy Spirit, the magisterium helps protect the Church from needless errors and wrong turns. There are two types of magisterial teachings: ordinary and extraordinary.
If you want to know the difference between ordinary and extraordinary magisterial teachings, look it up.

So, Sensus Fidelium is "heads" and the Magisterium is "tails". Or, perhaps it's the other way around? Got it. When you see both sides, there's a nice symmetry to this coin.

There's one more term in that definition above that sent me researching: Infallability. It's a term that gets tossed around and misconstrued. I wanted to make sure I was clear. So, with one more definition from, here it is, for the record:
The Roman Catholic understanding that the power of divine grace (not the human strength of its members) cannot allow the Church as a whole to fall away from the truth of God. Infallibility does not mean that the Church will avoid all mistakes. The Church has certainly made its share of mistakes; history teaches that clearly. It does mean that the Church is not going to self-destruct, because the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the community will prevent this.

This conviction, of course, cannot be proved; it is a statement of faith. Rooted in the experience of the Church and expressed in the Scriptures in Jesus' promise to be with the Church, this conviction is validated again and again throughout the centuries in the life of the Christian community. The presence and action of the Holy Spirit will not allow the Church as a whole to turn away from God!

Vatican I and Vatican II specified the conditions necessary for an expression of an infallible pronouncement: 1) It must be a collegial act dealing with a revealed truth concerning faith or morals; 2) There must be an explicit call for absolute assent; 3) The pronouncement must be the unanimous teaching of all the bishops.

Infallibility is a characheristic of the Church, vested in those who have supreme authority (the college of bishops with the pope as the head of the college) over the whole Church; infallibility is not a characteristic of the pope's personal conduct or private views. Even when Vatican I (1869-1870) defined papal infallibility, it did so in terms of the Church. Vatican I stated that when the pope defines a dogma of faith (often described as speaking ex cathedra"— "from the chair"), he is gifted by the Holy Spirit with that infallibility which God wished the Church to be endowed in defining a doctrine of faith or morals. Vatican II reemphasized this point.

Infallible pronouncements are very rare. Since Vatican I, there has been only one: the definition of Mary's Assumption (1950).
Class dismissed.


At 3:59 AM, May 28, 2005, Blogger Steve Bogner said...

I didn't know about = thanks for introducing it. My older son is 11 now, and quickly getting to the age he could benefit from that site.

I did a little research on magesterium the other day too. A commenter was referring to it as if it was some set of teachings or an object to pledge allegiance to. I've seen/heard more than a few folks talk this way, but funny that none of them ever mentioned the sense of the faithful.

Hmm... Sense of the Faithful isn't all that far off from Voice of the Faithful. Sense... voice...


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