Distinguished Scholars’ Lecture By Professor Tracey Rowland

The Notion of the Sensus Fidelium

Distinguished Scholars’ Lecture

Fremantle August 2018

Given that the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference have decided to hold a national assembly of the Catholic faithful in 2020, it seems to be an opportune time to examine the concept of the sensus fidei or sensus fidelium as it is otherwise called – the spiritual sense of the faithful – and its operation in the life of the Church. It is generally agreed that this concept is relatively new in Catholic scholarship and finds its classic expression in an essay published by Blessed John Henry Newman in 1859 titled: “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine”. At the time Newman was the editor of a Catholic journal called The Rambler and there was a certain amount of tension between prominent lay people and members of the episcopacy about aspects of Catholic education. The bishops of the era did not think that lay people should interfere in decisions they were making about the education of Catholic children. Newman differed from the bishops in his judgment and wrote his now famous article.

Specifically he argued that:

The tradition of the Apostles, committed to the whole Church in its various constituents and functions per modum unius, manifests itself variously at various times: sometimes by the mouth of the episcopacy, sometimes by the [church] doctors [by which he meant the most distinguished theologians], sometimes by the people, sometimes by liturgies, rites, ceremonies, and customs, by events, disputes, movements, and all those other phenomena which are comprised under the name of history. It follows that none of these channels of tradition may be treated with disrespect; granting at the same time fully, that the gift of discerning, discriminating, defining, promulgating, and enforcing any portion of that tradition resides solely in the Ecclesia docens [that is, the teaching Church, or what we call the magisterium].

This statement of principle has two limbs as lawyers would say. The first is that the tradition of the Apostles, the deposit of the faith, as it were, manifests itself in many different ways, through many different agencies, including the beliefs of the lay faithful. The second is that ‘the gift of discerning, discriminating defining, promulgating and enforcing any portion of that tradition resides solely in the Ecclesia docens’, that is, the magisterium, the pope and the college of bishops.

Newman then goes on to say that during the Arian crisis of the 4th century:

There was a temporary suspense of the functions of the “Ecclesia docens.” The body of Bishops failed in the confession of the faith. They spoke variously, one against another; there was nothing, after Nicæa, of firm, unvarying, consistent testimony, for nearly sixty years. There were untrustworthy Councils, unfaithful Bishops; there was weakness, fear of consequences, misguidance, delusion, hallucination…extending itself into nearly every corner of the Catholic Church. The comparatively few who remained faithful were discredited and driven into exile; the rest were either deceivers or were deceived.

Newman quotes St. Jerome as saying that around AD 363 ‘nearly all the churches in the whole world, under the pretence of peace and the [stance of the] emperor, are polluted with the communion of the Arians’. He also quotes a famous statement of St Gregory Nazienzen made in 382 to the effect that he felt ‘disposed to shun every conference of Bishops; for never saw I [a] synod brought to a happy issue, and remedying, and not rather aggravating, existing evils. For rivalry and ambition are stronger than reason…’

Newman concluded his analysis by saying that the history of Arian heresy teaches us that the Ecclesia docens is not at every time the active instrument of the Church’s infallibility. Sometimes it is rather the laity who are the more active instrument.

This was in summary Newman’s contribution to the development of the concept of the sensus fidelium of the laity.

Newman’s ideas were in some ways anticipated by the German scholar Johann Adam Möhler who was based at the University of Tübingen. His most important work is called Unity in the Church, or, The Principles of Catholicism: Presented in the Spirit of the Church Fathers of the First Three Centuries. This work was published several decades earlier than Newman’s essay in 1825. In Unity in the Church, Möhler describes the Church as the organic development of the work of the Holy Spirit through history. He also uses the works of the early church fathers to demonstrate to his contemporary Protestant opponents that the Scriptures arose from within the church and that the earliest heresies resulted as individuals separated themselves from tradition, which has as its life source the Holy Spirit. Much of the work is taken up with explaining in great theological depth how it is that the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Holy Trinity, works in history to see to it that the original deposit of the faith, revealed by Jesus Christ, the second member of the Holy Trinity, is handed down from one generation to the next uncorrupted.

In a 2014 document of the International Theological Commission on the subject of the sensus fidelium, [in paragraph 35] it was said that Möhler sought to portray the Church as a living organism and to grasp the principles that governed the development of doctrine. In his view, it is the Holy Spirit who animates, guides, and unites the faithful as a community in Christ, bringing about in them an ecclesial ‘consciousness’ of the faith (Gemeingeist or Gesamtsinn), something akin to a Volksgeist or national spirit. This sensus fidei, which is the subjective dimension of Tradition, necessarily includes an objective element, which is the Church’s teaching, for the Christian ‘sense’ of the faithful, which lives in their hearts and is virtually equivalent to Tradition, is never divorced from its content.

The ITC document then goes on to explain this sense in greater detail. In paragraph 45 the Commission makes reference to the Conciliar document Lumen Gentium which describes, in chapters three and four, how Christ exercises his prophetic office not only through the Church’s pastors, but also through the lay faithful. It teaches that, ‘until the full manifestation of his glory’, the Lord fulfils this office ‘not only by the hierarchy who teach in his name and by his power, but also by the laity’. With regard to the latter, it continues: ‘He accordingly both establishes them as witnesses and provides them with the appreciation of the faith and the grace of the word [sensu fidei et gratia verbi instruit] (cf. Acts 2:17-18; Apoc 19:10) so that the power of the Gospel may shine out in daily family and social life.’ Strengthened by the sacraments, ‘the laity become powerful heralds of the faith in things to be hoped for (cf. Heb 11:1)’; ‘the laity can, and must, do valuable work for the evangelisation of the world’. Here, the sensus fidei is presented as Christ’s gift to the faithful, and once again it is described as an active capacity by which the faithful are able to understand, live and proclaim the truths of divine revelation. The sensus fidei is therefore the basis for the lay people’s work of evangelisation.

In paragraph 49 the ITC theologians write that the sense of faith of the faithful is:

A sort of spiritual instinct that enables the believer to judge spontaneously whether a particular teaching or practice is or is not in conformity with the Gospel and with apostolic faith. It is intrinsically linked to the virtue of faith itself; it flows from, and is a property of, faith. It is compared to an instinct because it is not primarily the result of rational deliberation, but is rather a form of spontaneous and natural knowledge, a sort of perception (aisthesis).

In paragraphs 50-53 the ITC theologians speak of ‘the connaturality that the virtue of faith establishes between the believing subject and the authentic object of faith, namely the truth of God revealed in Christ Jesus’. Generally speaking, the concept of connaturality refers to a situation in which an entity A has a relationship with another entity B so intimate that A shares in the natural dispositions of B as if they were its own. In this context:

Faith, as a theological virtue, enables the believer to participate in the knowledge that God has of himself and of all things. In the believer, it takes the form of a ‘second nature’. By means of grace and the theological virtues, believers become ‘participants of the divine nature’ (2Pet 1:4), and are in a way connaturalised to God. As a result, they react spontaneously on the basis of that participated divine nature, in the same way that living beings react instinctively to what does or does not suit their nature. (par. 53)

Notwithstanding all the above, in paragraph 55 of the ITC document, it is acknowledged that in the actual mental universe of the believer, the correct intuitions of the sensus fidei can be mixed up with various purely human opinions, or even with errors linked to the narrow confines of a particular cultural context. Some people are simply not all that well catechised or formed in the faith. They have an understanding of bits of the tradition but there are also many gaps in their understanding. This means that ‘not all the ideas which circulate among the People of God are compatible with the faith’.

This problem has been acknowledged by all 3 of our recent popes – St John Paul II, Pope Benedict and currently Pope Francis. In the apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio (1981), John Paul II considered the question as to how the ‘supernatural sense of faith’ may be related to the ‘consensus of the faithful’ and to majority opinion as determined by sociological and statistical research. The sensus fidei, he wrote, ‘does not consist solely or necessarily in the consensus of the faithful’. It is the task of the Church’s pastors to ‘promote the sense of the faith in all the faithful, examine and authoritatively judge the genuineness of its expressions, and educate the faithful in an ever more mature evangelical discernment’. In other words, he acknowledged that if the faithful have not first received the faith in all its wholeness, then their understanding will be flawed. Similarly, in an address to the International Theological Commission, Pope Benedict later stated that:

This gift, the sensus fidei, constitutes in the believer a kind of supernatural instinct that has a connatural life with the same object of faith. It is, he said, a criterion for discerning whether or not a truth belongs to the deposit of the living apostolic tradition… [Nonetheless he went on to say that] Today, however, it is particularly important to clarify the criteria used to distinguish the authentic sensus fidelium from its counterfeits. In fact, [he said that the sensus fidelium] is not some kind of public opinion of the Church, and it is unthinkable to mention it in order to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium, this because the sensus fidei cannot grow authentically in the believer except to the extent in which he or she fully participates in the life of the Church, and this requires a responsible adherence to her Magisterium.

In somewhat blunter language the papal theologian under the papacy of St John Paul II, Cardinal Georges Cottier wrote:

Obviously, the sensus fidei is not to be identified with the consensus of the majority, it is not defined on the basis of the statistics of polls. In the history of the Church it has happened that in certain contexts the sensus fidei has been manifested by isolated individuals, single saints, while general opinion hung on to doctrines not conforming to the apostolic faith.

The classic example of that was in the 4th century when the majority opinion tended to favour Arianism and poor St Athanasius had to stand against the Arian current, hence the now famous Latin tag – Athanasius contra mundum – Athanasius against the world.

Addressing a group of theologians in December 2013, Pope Francis said:

By the gift of the Holy Spirit, the members of the Church possess a ‘sense of faith’. This is a kind of ‘spiritual instinct’ that makes us sentire cum Ecclesia [think with the mind of the Church] and to discern that which is in conformity with the apostolic faith and is in the spirit of the Gospel. Of course, the sensus fidelium [sense of the faithful] cannot be confused with the sociological reality of a majority opinion. It is, therefore, important—and one of your tasks—to develop criteria that allow the authentic expressions of the sensus fidelium to be discerned. …This attention is of greatest importance for theologians.

With reference to these various papal statements, one can say that there is general agreement that the sensus fidelium concept cannot be used by lay people to attack magisterial teachings. The Church is not like a club or a political party where members can vote to change policies, procedures and strategic plans. Pope Benedict noted that even a pope is not an absolute monarch who can make whatever decrees and orders he likes, but rather the pope is more like a constitutional monarch. Just as the powers of a constitutional monarch are circumscribed by the constitution itself, so too the powers of the Petrine Office are said to be circumscribed by the deposit of the faith. The theologian Yves Congar who is a major authority in this field described the magisterium, which includes the petrine office, as the channel by which revelation is presented to the faithful. Therefore the pope can’t change the faith, he can only teach and defend it and he can clarify issues where there is confusion.

This process of clarifying issues is related to what we call the development of doctrine. If any of you have studied law you will know that in our common law system we have a body of judicial precedents or case law, that is, collections of the reports of judges, in which we find statements of doctrinal principle. When people have legal disputes they go to lawyers who look at the issues in dispute and then look at the case law. If the facts of some case are the same as a case that has already been heard in the same jurisdiction, the lawyers will be certain about what a judge would say about the case before them. However if the facts are a little different and it is not clear what the law is, then such cases can end up before the courts and judges are called upon to look at the facts of this individual case, and to consider the doctrinal principles which relate to cases of a similar kind. In making a decision they will sometimes refine a doctrine or develop a doctrine, so that a new body of law is made to deal with cases of this particular type. For example, there had to be a development in the common law when cars replaced horses as the most common form of transport. While cars and horses are both forms of transport the kinds of danger they can cause is different. Horses can bolt without human interference, but cars don’t bolt, everything a car does is caused by human behaviour. The laws relating to negligence therefore had to be refined when the car replaced the horse. Similarly, the laws about escaping pets causing damage to other people’s property needed to make distinctions between the behaviour of animals that are normally dangerous and the behaviour of animals that are not normally dangerous. Someone who keeps a pet crocodile that escapes and causes damage will be judged by a different standard from someone who keeps a pet poodle that escapes and causes damage because reptiles are in a different class of animal from the cuddly family dog. Just as the legal doctrines underpinning our legal system develop to take account of new situations such as the arrival of the motor car, or people who like to keep wild animals as pets, so too theological doctrines develop to deal with new situations. Most of these new situations tend to be in the field of moral theology.

One recent famous example is that of John Paul II’s development of the theology of the body. As pope, Karol Wojtyła followed through the logic of his earlier essays in defence of the encyclical Humanae Vitae with his Catechesis on Human Love which was based on the two accounts of creation in the book of Genesis. In his Catechesis on Human Love, delivered as a series of Wednesday audience addresses in the early years of his pontificate, John Paul II sought to defend Paul VI’s ruling against contraception by developing what is now called his theology of the body. Instead of relying solely on the natural law arguments as Paul VI had done, John Paul II explained the Church’s teaching on sexuality by situating the whole issue within the context of Trinitarian anthropology. Cardinal Ouellet explained that John Paul II’s aim was ‘to understand the sacrament of marriage and therefore the exchange of love between man and woman…as the couple’s participation in the exchange of “gifts” between the divine Persons’. Ouellet concluded that ‘Natural eros and the personal love of the spouses, blessed by God the Creator and sanctified by Christ the Redeemer, belong to the sacramental order of the Incarnation’. Within this framework the married couple is raised to the exalted position of being a ‘radiant icon of Trinitarian love’ and the seal of their marital holiness is viewed as nothing less than a ‘supernatural work of art’.

In treating sexuality in this context John Paul II did not overturn the teaching of Paul VI in Humanae Vitae but he developed the teaching within the framework of Trinitarian anthropology thereby enriching the theological foundations of Humanae vitae and making the teaching much more comprehensible, at least for those who actually read his Wednesday audience addresses.

When it comes to this micro-level issue of the development of doctrine a classic reference work is Blessed John Henry Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, published in 1845. In this essay Newman outlined seven criteria for discerning when an idea represents a legitimate development of a doctrine and where it might be incompatible with the faith. The criteria are the following:

  1. Preservation of Type. (Here Newman refers to an organic metaphor earlier used by Vincent of Lérins. A baby’s limbs grow and develop but they are still the same limbs. Put negatively, young birds do not grow into fishes). In other words, a new idea will only be a legitimate development of a doctrine if it is an organic outgrowth of the original deposit of the faith. An oak tree can grow from an acorn, but a pear tree cannot. A pear tree is not an organic development from an acorn.

  2. Continuity of principles. (The life of doctrines may be said to consist in the law or principle which they embody). For example, from the doctrine of the Incarnation, that God became incarnate in human form, certain other doctrines follow as a matter of logical consequence. We can conclude, for example, from the doctrine of the Incarnation that matter, including human nature, is capable of sanctification.

  3. The harder it is to assimilate an idea the more likely it is to represent a corrupting influence rather than a legitimate development.
  4. A doctrine is likely to be a true development, not a corruption, in proportion as it seems to be the logical issue of its original teaching;
  5. Anticipation of its Future. (The fact of early and recurring intimations of tendencies which afterwards are fully realized, is evidence that those later and more systematic fulfilments are in accordance with the original idea).

  6. A conservative action upon its past. (A true development illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds);

  7. Chronic vigour. (Corruption is distinguished from development by its transitory character). Bad ideas are faddish. They are fashionable for a time but ultimately do not endure.

As Newman and others have noted it is the special power of the magisterium to determine when an idea represents a legitimate develop of a doctrine and when it does not. Thus in paragraph 77 of the ITC’s document on the Sensus Fidelium we find the following statement:

The magisterium also judges with authority whether opinions which are present among the people of God, and which may seem to be the sensus fidelium, actually correspond to the truth of the Tradition received from the Apostles. As Newman said: ‘the gift of discerning, discriminating, defining, promulgating, and enforcing any portion of that tradition resides solely in the Ecclesia docens’. Thus, judgement regarding the authenticity of the sensus fidelium belongs ultimately not to the faithful themselves nor to theology but to the magisterium.

In order for the faithful to have any standing or legitimacy in this process of discerning the sensus fidelium, the ITC theologians argued that they needed to possess, as individual Catholics, the following six dispositions:

1.) Participation in the life of the Church – this means that people actually have to be practising Catholics in order to have any possibility of having a sense of the faith. Merely being baptised is not enough, one needs to be participating in the sacramental life of the Church.

(2) Listening to the word of God – this means that Catholics need to be intellectually engaged – especially when reading or hearing the scriptures. They can’t just sit in the pews while the Gospel is being read and think about what they are going to cook for dinner.

(3) Openness to Reason – again this means that Catholics need to be intellectually engaged. The human intellect is a faculty of the human soul and it needs to be used. Being a Catholic is not simply about feeling things and believing things it is also about having an intellectual framework for making judgments.

(4) Adherence to the magisterium – this means that one must know and follow the magisterial teaching, which also requires a significant level of intellectual engagement.

(5) Holiness – holiness is another way of saying that there is a high level of connaturality between the person and God and for this high level of connaturality to operate, then the person needs to have the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love, in abundance. Both the head and the heart need to be in good operational order and many spiritual pathologies arise when the heart operates without engaging the intellect, and when the intellect operates without engaging the heart. In paragraph 57 of the ITC document we find the statement that ‘the intensifying of faith within the believer particularly depends on the growth within him or her of charity, and the sensus fidei fidelis is therefore proportional to the holiness of one’s life’.

(6)Seeking the edification of the Church – this means that a person needs to be motivated by a desire for the good of the church and respect for the deposit of the faith, not by some personal project or fashionable ideology. The idea is that the faith is something received by divine revelation, not something humanly constructed.

Given all the above one may well ask whether there has ever been a case where the laity have contributed to the development of Church teaching through operation of this sensus fidelium concept. The answer is: probably only twice since the 4th century. In the nineteenth century, the Jesuit theologian Giovanni Perrone relied on the ideas of Möhler and Newman, to defend what became the 1854 declaration of Pope Pius IX, in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus, that Our Lady was immaculately conceived, that is, conceived without original sin. And secondly, reliance was made on the same argument in the twentieth century by Pope Pius XII in 1950 with the declaration of the dogma of the assumption of Our Lady body and soul into heavenly glory” in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus.

Of these two usages Pope Benedict XVI said:

Faith both in the Immaculate Conception and in the bodily Assumption of the Virgin was already present in the People of God, while theology had not yet found the key to interpreting it in the totality of the doctrine of the faith. The People of God therefore precede theologians and this is all thanks to that supernatural sensus fidei, namely, that capacity infused by the Holy Spirit that qualifies us to embrace the reality of the faith with humility of heart and mind. In this sense, the People of God is the ‘teacher that goes first’ and must then be more deeply examined and intellectually accepted by theology.” In each case, the dogma was defined “not so much because of proofs in scripture or ancient tradition, but due to a profound sensus fidelium and the Magisterium”. Each of the two popes concerned consulted the bishops of the world about the faith of the Catholic community before proceeding to define the dogma.

In addition to these two declarations there have been many times in the history of the Church where bishops have acknowledged the sanctity of a particular Catholic simply because members of the laity, in large numbers, pray for the intercession of a particular person they knew in their community, and a “cult” of the person spontaneously develops. This could be said to be another example of the sensus fidelium in operation, though it does not apply strictly to doctrinal matters but to the veneration of certain deceased persons as saints.

A related concept to that of the sensus fidelium is that of reading the signs of the times. In popular parlance one often hears the idea that in order to make theological judgments about contemporary problems, one needs to ‘read the sign of the times’. This one short phrase has been responsible for rather a lot of woolly-headed thinking. It is so often used by people who want to change magisterial teaching. The form that their arguments usually take is that it is a sign of the times that the majority of people in our society think X is good, Christ told his disciples to be aware of the sign of their times, therefore we have to be aware of the sociological trends in our own society and not only follow them, but adjust the teachings of the Church when the Church’s teachings are not in tune with contemporary thinking, and accept that X is good. If that is what Christ wanted us to understand by his exhortation to read the sign of the times then he might as well have told us to become Hegelians because the idea that the latest intellectual fashions represent the highest expression of rationality available to us is a very Hegelian idea. It is not however a Christian idea. The Christian idea is that Christ is the way, the truth and the life, the same yesterday, today and forever, and that we are to follow his teachings until the end of time when he will return in glory. We also know from the Gospel of St John (John 17-9-19) that during his passion Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that his disciples would be consecrated in the truth. He had taught them the truth and it was their responsibility to pass it on to future generations uncontaminated by fashionable ideologies.

Writing in a 2005 edition of the theological journal Concilium José Comblin noted that the Vatican Council’s references to the signs of the times are found in Gaudium et spes 4a; 11a and 44b; in Presbyterorum ordinis 9b; in Unitatis redintegratio 4a; and in Apostolicam actuositatem 14c and he acutely observed that these references are very ambiguous. He suggested that “the signs of the times” were understood by John XXIII and the Council in two different senses which are not always clearly distinguished’ and that ‘the relationship between the two is still somewhat indistinct’.i Comblin distinguished the two senses as, first, the idea of signs as indications of movements in contemporary Western society, and secondly, the idea of signs in the eschatological meaning of biblical passages like Matthew 16:4. Comblin concluded that in the Conciliar documents and papal speeches of the early 1960s the two senses were often conflated and the problem of how an acceptance of and adaption to the trends of the modern world would fall within the framework of Christian eschatology was not generally considered.ii

According to Joseph Ratzinger, as he was, the best exegesis of these passages is that Christ was telling his disciples to be aware that he, Christ, was the sign of their time. In an article published in 1969 Ratzinger noted that article two of the Zurich text of the Conciliar document Gaudium et spes had attempted to justify the whole notion of the Church’s dialogue with “the world” by means of the scriptural reference to reading the signs of the times (Mt. 16.3 and Lk. 12.56). However, this earlier draft was rejected by the Council fathers as bad exegesis. While of course Catholics, as intelligent, educated people, should be interested in what is happening in society, and the kinds of ideas which are attracting supporters, and while it is perfectly a good idea to measure these newly fashionable ideas against the standards of the Gospel or by reference to the truth into which we have become consecrated, Ratzinger’s interpretation is that Christ was making a different point from this. Christ was trying to get through to his apostles that they were now living in the Christian era, in the era of the Incarnation, and this meant that the era of the Old Testament as we know it today, had ended. As St Thomas Aquinas expressed the principle in the famous Holy Thursday night hymn, ‘ancient rites have now departed, newer rites of grace prevail’. So these scriptural passages about reading the signs of the times should not become an excuse for turning us all into Hegelians. The English writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton once remarked that the Catholic Church is the one great thing that stands between the human person and the indignity of being a child of one’s time. In other words, the faith of the Church stands between us and the indignity of having our lives controlled by whatever zeitgeist happens to be powerful in our youth.

A contemporary theologian who has written a great deal about this is the Anglican John Milbank who is based at the University of Nottingham. Milbank has been highly critical of the influence of sociology on the discipline of theology. He rejects the idea that sociology as a discipline is theologically neutral. In his book Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason he trawled his way through a raft of 20th century sociological theories highlighting in each case the theological presuppositions which underpinned them. Milbank notes that theology is supposed to extract meaning and significance, but if it becomes subservient to sociology all it can do is to extrapolate some significance which is already implied in the social scientific account. Milbank concludes with the rhetorical question: ‘can there by theology, tout court, without mediation by the social sciences? Because only if the answer is yes [as he holds] can one go on upholding the fundamentally historical character of salvation: in other words, orthodoxy.iii

I have mentioned Milbank because he has really gone to academic war against the Hegelian interpretation of the signs of the times exhortation but I could also have mentioned numerous Catholic authors, including Bishop Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

So where does all of this leave us?

I think that we live in a very difficult time in the life of the Church. Some really terrible things have been happening and many lay people are angry, socially humiliated, confused and even despairing. There are clearly many areas in need of improvement. Depending on who you ask people can say that they would really like it if their children were actually taught the faith at school, and not some form of secular humanism with a Christian gloss. Others would say that they would like the Church’s leaders to spend more money on social welfare services for poor people and less money on things like real estate to house church bureaucrats. Others would plead for the church’s agencies to be run by people who relate to those in their care in a personal way, rather than in a bureaucratic way. When people are hurting they need the maternal care of the Church not an encounter with the hard edge of a corporation called Catholic Inc. Yet others would plead for an improvement in the standard of parish liturgy, including both the intellectual levels of the homilies and the aesthetic standards of the music. Just about everyone would say that they want bishops they can talk to rather than bishops who hide behind lawyers and accountants. They want bishops who do people work rather than bishops who do paperwork. And everyone agrees that we want no more cover-ups of crimes. All of these issues and more are likely to surface at the 2020 plenary. However what the plenary cannot do, at least under the guise of applying the theology of the sensus fidelium, is to change perennial church teachings. We simply don’t have that prerogative because the faith is something we receive as a divine gift, not something we construct ourselves. Ideologies are things we construct ourselves when our faith is weak or confused, but the faith is not an ideology.

J. Comblin, ‘The Signs of the Times’, Concilium 4(2005), pp. 73-85 (80).

ii  Ibid, p. 74.

iii  Milbank, Beyond Secular Reason, 246.

About Author

Monsignor Harry Entwistle

Monsignor Entwistle was the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.