"sensus fidei"

Could you please explain this concept to me? I looked it up in the Catechism, but I don’t really understand it. Could you simplify it for me please? :o

It’s a belief that isn’t established by the heirarchy of the Church but recognized by the heirarchy. Doctrin that rises up from the laities sense of the faith. Ever wonder why no one ever tried to sell fake relics of the Blessed Mother? The sensus fidei. Because of the sensus fidei no one would have bought them anyway. The heirarchy of the Church didn’t say that one must believe that Mary went to heaven body and soul but the heirarchy recognized that what has been believed in common by the faithfull was a teaching of the Holy Spirit and is true. The Immaculate Conception is another example. One doesn’t find it as an obvious thing to believe from the bible. It is obvious to the faithfull. The common Christian’s sense of what is true found it very reasonable to believe. It’s source may be vague in the layers of recorded history but that it has been believed by the anchors of authoritative Church teaching is not vague. The Immaculate Conception has been a part of the sensus fidei for centuries before the heirarchy made it dogma. The Orthodox believe it as strongly as Roman Catholics but they just didn’t see any reason to make that sensus fidei dogma.The Bishops are supposed to be very sensitive to the sensus fidei. It’s probably the most obvious source for them hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church IMO.

I’ve got the big green Catechism, which has a glossary:

Sensus Fidei: a supernatural appreciation of the faith shown by the universal consent in matters of faith and morals manifested by the whole body of the faithful under the guidance of the Magisterium.

And isn’t that a bunch of big words! :wink:

I think most of the confusion comes from the word, “appreciate.” It doesn’t always mean “be grateful for” something. I looked it up in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.

After doing that, I think sensus fidei means the God-given grace to believe that the Church is the one Jesus founded, and that her Magisterium teaches infallibly about faith and morals.

So, when I wondered why (in the process of converting), for instance, the Church teaches that “the pill” is immoral, I took it on faith that she is right, and spent my time finding out why she is right instead of wasting it on why she is “wrong.”

And now I know why the Church is right - and that increases my faith!

I hope this helps. God bless you. :signofcross:


First of all, I think it is safe to say that everyone has difficulty understanding this. After all, it is a divine mystery, so only God can fully understand it. Nevertheless, we are able to comprehend aspects of divine mysteries at least on some level, so I will take a shot at it.

Imagine the following situation. And my example will sound a bit silly, but please don’t think that I am not taking your question seriously. Silliness just happens to be part of my nature.

A (Fictional) Story About Rose Windows:

Let’s say that you are a church architect. And let’s say that God likes church buildings to have rose windows. So the Holy Spirit inspires you to put rose windows in the churches you design. You never received a visit from the Archangel Gabriel telling you to do this, and you never came across a Bible verse directing you in this way either. Rather, deep down in your heart, you simply had an intuitive sense that God wants rose windows in churches. Of course, you are not the pope or a bishop, and you as an individual can lay no claim that what you feel about rose windows is clearly a manifestation of the will of God. After all, you could be right or you could be wrong. For all you know, maybe you have a psychological predisposition towards rose windows.

Later you attend the National Convention of Church Architects and discover that all the other architects also have a deep-seated belief that God wants rose windows in churches! At first you thought it was just something that you experienced, and you were willing to admit that you could be mistaken. But what does it look like now? It looks like that it certainly could be not only the working of the Holy Spirit, but the working of the Holy Spirit on a grand scale!

Plus the caterers at the convention admit that they, too, have this deep-seated belief about rose windows, as does the janitor of the building, the news reporters covering the event, and other people who aren’t architects! Well, it certainly seems like we could start calling this the theological Doctrine of the Rose Window. But you and everyone else exercises wisdom and prudence, and wait for the Church authorities to provide some guidance.

Along those lines, the pope and bishops (i.e., the Magisterium) witness this phenomenon and likewise admit that they, too, have this feeling about rose windows. They declare it, therefore, to be a manifestation of God’s divine will. Through a very mysterious and mystical way, God has brought all his people into the realization that he wants rose windows in churches, and yet no one individual can actually put his finger on exactly where and how God planted this idea into his heart & mind. Everyone just kind of “knew”, and they knew it all along. This way of all the members of the Church intuitively knowing a certain aspect of divine revelation is an example of Sensus Fidei. My rose window example has a major flaw, though, which I will point out in a moment.

Connection Between Sensus Fidei and the Deposit of Faith:

Sensus fidei is one of the ways God gives revelation intended for the whole church. Because it is considered “public revelation”, it must be rooted in the Deposit of the Faith (i.e., the teachings of the Faith handed on to us from the time of the Apostles). I say this because the Church does not expect any new public revelation beyond that (at least not until the Second Coming).

The Actual Definition of Sensus Fidei:

Keeping my example in mind, let us now read the definition of Sensus Fidei from the glossary of the Catechism, and hopefully it will now make better sense (or better “sensus” as the case may be – lol) :

“A supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) shown by universal consent in matters of faith and morals manifested by the whole body of the faithful under the guidance of the Magisterium.”

Of course, my example really had nothing to do with “faith and morals”, which is one of the reasons it’s a bit silly (and this was the major flaw I mentioned above), but I hope you get my meaning.

A Clarification of the Role of the Magisterium:

Unlike in my example, the Magisterium does not have to make an official declaration about every belief associated with Sensus Fidei. As Benadam pointed out, the Church’s teachings about the Immaculate Conception were embraced by Christians for centuries before it was declared to be an official doctrine. But, as my example and the glossary points out, any understanding of Sensus Fidei needs to be done under the guidance of the Magisterium (and such guidance does not necessarily have to come under the form of an official declaration). After all, there are Catholics who try to abuse the general concept in order to get around certain Church teachings on morality (their argument being that if enough Catholics are disobeying the teaching then it must be the Holy Spirit using Sensus Fidei to tell them it’s ok - obviously the whole thing about Sensus Fidei being rooted in the Deposit of Faith is lost on them). In such a case, this belief of a certain group of people is clearly not under the guidance of the Magisterium.

And One Last Comment:

If this thread now goes off-topic into a discussion on whether or not church buildings ought to have rose windows, I apologize in advance.

This paragraph makes a good point for today’s mindset. The sensus fidei could easily be confused with the the concept of democracy. The sensus fidei is not a democracy. Of course many people think the U.S. form of government is a democracy too.:shrug:

And One Last Comment:

If this thread now goes off-topic into a discussion on whether or not church buildings ought to have rose windows, I apologize in advance.

I found the analogy a helpfull tool. I wasn’t aware of it untill now but I have had the feeling all along that Church windows should be rose.:stuck_out_tongue:

This has helped my understanding of the concept. Thank you for your posts!

Would the Church’s teachings on guardian angels be an example of sensus fidei? They’re alluded to in Scripture but not explicitly defined, yet they’re part of the deposit of faith I think.

Faith is an actual sense just like one of our physical senses which is awakened/renewed/healed after we’ve been initiated into the mysteries through the sacraments.

This is the what St. Paul meant when he said we walk by faith and not by sight. He didn’t mean we should irrationally privilege our mere beliefs over the evidence provided by our physical senses, but rather we have this new/renewed sense that gives us a much broader perspective on the totality of reality than do our physical senses alone. This is the faith of Abraham and the rest of the Patriarchs and this is the faith the Apostles spoke about. In short this is the faith testified to in the Bible, and this is the faith I’ve personally experienced since my own initiation.

Now a quick word about beliefs and our senses. There is only a fragile connection between our beliefs and reality even if we limit our discussion to the physical senses and the natural world. There is no guarantee that just because one has experienced something that they will then have correct beliefs which are in agreement with reality. A simplistic example is that one may believe they’ve seen a snake when in reality they’ve only seen a rope. This is one reason you know St. Paul couldn’t have been talking about mere beliefs. Because even beliefs about things we’ve experienced are often wrong. Think about all the beliefs that Judas Iscariot had about Christ? He had an experience of Christ, but he still held wrong beliefs about him. However if we remain open to our experiences then repeated exposure to reality can bring our beliefs in conformity with reality over time.

In summary faith, itself, only indirectly concerns one’s beliefs and is in reality an actual type of sense through which we start experiencing the supranatural world. This together with our physical senses allows the Christian a much broader understanding of the totality of reality than do those without faith. And so this is what guides our pilgrimage to eternity–hence we walk by faith and not by sight.

Sensus fidei is the work of the Holy Spirit in us to cause us to align ourselves with and agree with the teachings of the Church.

For me, one of the best examples of the sensus fidei is the fourth century. Early on, in 325 at Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council had affirmed that Jesus is “consubstantial” (homoousios) with the Father. However, gradually Arian bishops were allowed and recalled, and, in the words of St. Jerome, “The whole world woke up one morning, lamenting and marvelling to find itself Arian.” But the faithful did not accept this–the people rejected this new teaching, and eventually, after 378 and 381 (First Council of Constantinople) the orthodox teaching was affirmed.

This is the Sensus fidei at work–that the faithful as a whole cling to the true faith, with a sense of what fits and what does not, so that even bad teachers in parts of the Church cannot win over the whole.

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