The relation of sensus fidelium to Amoris laetitia

The *sensus fidelium * is not necessarily a simple concept that is easily defined in one sentence. Here is a summation of what it is:

  1. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, ‘the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father’ and bears witness to the Son (Jn 15:26), all of the baptised participate in the prophetic office of Jesus Christ, ‘the faithful and true witness’ (Rev 3:14). They are to bear witness to the Gospel and to the apostolic faith in the Church and in the world. The Holy Spirit anoints them and equips them for that high calling, conferring on them a very personal and intimate knowledge of the faith of the Church. …
  1. As a result, the faithful have an instinct for the truth of the Gospel, which enables them to recognise and endorse authentic Christian doctrine and practice, and to reject what is false. That supernatural instinct, intrinsically linked to the gift of faith received in the communion of the Church, is called the sensus fidei, and it enables Christians to fulfil their prophetic calling. …
  1. As a theological concept, the sensus fidei refers to two realities which are distinct though closely connected, the proper subject of one being the Church, ‘pillar and bulwark of the truth’ (1Tim 3:15),[3] while the subject of the other is the individual believer, who belongs to the Church through the sacraments of initiation, and who, by means of regular celebration of the Eucharist, in particular, participates in her faith and life. On the one hand, the sensus fidei refers to the personal capacity of the believer, within the communion of the Church, to discern the truth of faith. On the other hand, the sensus fidei refers to a communal and ecclesial reality: the instinct of faith of the Church herself, by which she recognises her Lord and proclaims his word. The sensus fidei in this sense is reflected in the convergence of the baptised in a lived adhesion to a doctrine of faith or to an element of Christian praxis. …

It is important to note:

But Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent speech to the International Theological Commission, clarified what “sensus fidelium” means and what it does not mean. The Pope said pointedly, “It is unthinkable to mention it (sensus fidei) in order to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium.

Also important to note is:

Therefore Lumen Gentium speaks first about the people of God and the sensusfidei that they have,[74] and then of the bishops[75] who, through their apostolic succession in the episcopate and the reception of their own specific charisma veritatis certum (sure charism of truth),[76] constitute, as a college in hierarchical communion with their head, the bishop of Rome and successor of St Peter in the apostolic see,[77] the Church’s magisterium. Likewise, Dei Verbum teaches that the Word of God has been ‘entrusted to the Church’, and refers to the ‘entire holy people’ adhering to it, before then specifying that the pope and the bishops have the task of authentically interpreting the Word of God.[78] This ordering is fundamental for Catholic theology. As St Augustine said: ‘Vobis sum episcopus, vobiscum sum christianus’.[79]

And finally, from a homily of Pope John Paul ll:

  1. “Vobis … sum episcopus, vobiscum sum christianus” (“For you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian”): these words of St Augustine were re-echoed loudly in the texts of the Second Vatican Council, in its magisterium.

Recently, I read a blog that referenced the *sensus fidei * as a means of gauging the authenticity of Amoris laetitia, but that is an improper use of the sensus fidelium according to what Pope Benedict XVl said to the International Theological Commission; and, improper by all that I have read about it being a criterion for Catholic theology. Nevertheless, the blog brings up some points to think about. Here is a link to the blog:

Any other insights into the sensus fidelium would be appreciated.

I can only imagine what priests and bishops and tribunals must deal with on a daily basis given the state of marriage since Vatican ll. Ultimately, my question is this: What role did the *sensus fidelium * play in Amoris laetitia’s formation?

None. It didn’t even follow what the Synod advised.

Well, the bishops do make up a part of the sensus fidelium, the Holy Father does too. But they don’t make up it’s entirety, or even most of it.


The final report of the synod to the Holy Father reads much the same as AL. I keep hearing this point of view that the synod’s views were not presented in AL, but I have yet to see any evidence of that.

To say that there was no sense of faith from the bishops present in AL is simply false and a low blow to the Holy Father. Every single point from the synod may not have been addressed in AL but If there is a specific point you or others want to address about your perceived shortcomings of AL then start another thread.

Agreed. Perhaps my response didn’t make that as clear as it should have been. Always the danger when offering a quick response before going to bed.

It was more geared towards the specific issue of those individuals who interpret AL as creating a change in teaching on the reception of Communion for those Divorced and Remarried who do not live as brother and sister, or a change in teaching on whether or not there are such things as absolute moral norms (e.g. intrinsically immoral actions) or that sex outside of marriage is justified in some circumstances. Which would seem to be an interpretation inconsistent with the Church’s consistent teaching and wasn’t a proposition accepted or passed by the Synod participants. There have been a few rumors going around of late that the Synod “accepted that interpretation”, but that wouldn’t agree to the evidence.

Of course, aside from that specific misinterpretation of the text of AL, which is mostly based on the text of chapter 8 of AL and certain footnotes, there was much that AL contains which faithfully reflected the discussions of the Synod and whose interpretation is undeniably faithful to the Church’s teaching Magisterium.

The bishop’s sensus fidei (sense of faith) is clearly present in the synod’s final report to the Holy Father, and also AL; that point is so apparent that it really wasn’t what I was going after in my original post, but I’m glad e_c brought it up because it is a part of the sense of faith of people who are faithful to God; not to mention the fact that no one else was in this discussion otherwise.

With my OP, I was really going after the faithful, married laity - how did their contribution to the *sensus *fidelium contribut to the formation of AL. I thought it was clear that AL was a bottom up document, not top down; AL came from the Holy Father who followed synod of bishops who worked to create a report that reflected the sensus fidelium of the faithful in their dioceses.

If anyone actually read the entire OP, they might deduce my opinion which I will now give. The overriding purpose of Vatican ll was to give the sensus fidelium more light so it could be seen more clearly by the Church. The worsening state of marriage has lead to a need by the Church to address the state of marriage and families since the last papal document on marriage and family, Familiaris Consortio. FC didn’t seem to take the sensus fidelium of the faithful laity very far. AL, as is evident in the synod’s report, has taken the sensus fidelium and actually used it this time.

I suppose it depends on how you would apply this in a concrete sense. For example, the idea of a sensus fidelium does not mean that the Church is, or could be, a democracy in the sense that Dogmas, teachings or truth could be subject to a majority vote as they are in many protestant churches. Truth is truth no matter how many believe in it (just ask St John Fisher, alone of all the Bishops of England in his defence of the Church). But of course that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a general sense to the faithful when, as a whole, we express our faith.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 92 gives us some insight into how it operates: “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.”

Could you explain more about how FC didn’t seem to involve the sensus fidelium, but AL did? I’ve not heard that interpretation before, so would been interested to understand more. Both are post-synodal apostolic exhortations which were formed by the discussions of the attending Bishops and Cardinals, so came about through the “same process”.

It’s simply my opinion about FC. I’ve formed the opinion based on how FC reads and what I’ve seen on the ground. It reads as a top down document with little consideration for the faithful in irregular situations who would like to participate in the sensus fidelium by way of receiving the Eucharist; but, FC was written in 1981, and the bishops were apparently not ready, by guidance of the Holy Spirit, to take any further steps toward the direction that AL has gone further into.

AL reads very much like a bottom up document, as does the synod’s report to the Holy Father. I see as an explanation to this a greater awareness, or acceptance, on the part of the bishops, of the realities that the faithful are living. This appreciation of the realities that the faithful are living is not some form of democracy within the Church, but an acknowledgment of the under appreciated ways in which God gives His graces to those who fall outside of canonical constraints.

In some ways, I agree with what you’re saying. A desire of those in “irregular situations” to receive the Eucharist is a good thing, and to be strongly encouraged. We must always be, and encourage others to be, moving towards the Lord throughout our lives. We must also remember that Scripture and the Church’s constant teaching tells us we can only receive the Eucharist when in a State of Grace and when not consciously burdened by unconfessed mortal sin. This might sound difficult, but we must remember that Christ himself asks us to repent of our sins; that involves an ongoing conversion of life as well as a conversion of spirit. Otherwise we would be “justified” on faith alone, which is not what the Church teaches on the true nature of salvation and what we need to do in this life.

Of course, God in his infinite wisdom and mercy has instituted the Sacrament of Confession so that we can be absolved of any sin if we truly repent of it and have a firm intention to change our ways. So for those in irregular situations there is always a “path to holiness” available regardless of the specific nature of their situation’s “irregularity”. Certain types of irregularity (e.g. civil divorce after a valid Sacramental Marriage) pose a special pastoral difficulty because of the indissoluble nature of a valid Marriage, which is founded on Scripture.

The ongoing discussion surrounding some interpretations of AL, is that the language is sufficiently broad that some have suggested an interpretation which is inconsistent with the Church’s moral teachings on the sinfulness of sex outside of a valid marriage or the need for a firm purpose of amendment when confessing our sins. More specifically some have suggested that sex outside of a valid marriage does not represent a mortal sin, or that one can habitually/repeatedly engage in sexual activity as part of an “irregular” union (e.g. when not married in the eyes of God) and not require Confession before receiving Communion. This contrasts with the pastoral practice of Familiaris Consortio 84 which teaches that couples in irregular unions who cannot separate for some serious reason (e.g. children are involved, economic dependence etc) must abstain from sexual relations and “live as brother and sister”. That’s not to suggest that the emotional element of a human union isn’t important to the individuals in question, and the treatment of FC 84 offers a pastoral compromise which takes this into account, but FC does so in a manner which is consistent with the Ten Commandments.

The Holy Spirit does indeed guide the Church. But Holy Spirit doesn’t change its mind so that good becomes bad or bad becomes good. Otherwise there is no such thing as a “moral truth” (since all morality could then be subject to change, and we could never confidently make any assertions on what is or is not good). It’s important, not just in AL but in all of the Church’s teachings and documents, to look at all of the information available and consider what has been consistently taught in terms of moral truths and Doctrine. AL does some great work in reiterating the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family, and particularly draws attention to the need to pastorally assist those in difficult situations (“meet people where they are” is the phrase that’s used to explain this). But it’s important that we interpret the document consistently with the Church’s other teachings if we’re to have confidence that it really is the Holy Spirit that is guiding us.

Of course, doctrine has not changed; but that’s not the reason I made this thread, I was hoping to stay out of such an erroneous discussion.

I wanted to point out what I thought was a greater awareness, by the bishops, of the faithful who, through no fault of their own, are/were outside of traditional marriage; yet by their fruits have shown fidelity to a properly aligned sensus fidei, which probably would not have been as discernible to the bishops in 1980-81. The faithful’s sensus fidei regarding marriage would not change over time, it would remain constant; the *sensus fidelium * regarding marriage has been exactly what Church doctrine says it is - indissoluble when in a marriage that God has joined together. The issue AL brings to light is the overwhelming number of marriages that are apparently not of God, and the Church’s inability to cope with them. In reaction to this reality, the cannon for the annulment process has been changed to give bishops more authority in the annulment process, and to make the process easier.

If the ‘sense of the faithful’s’ perception of marriage has not changed, but yet some of them are/were still hamstrung by an institutional process that cannot keep up with the movements of the people in the last 30-40 years…what is the Church to do? I believe the synod has done the right things, as well as leaving the ‘executive decision’ to the Holy Father…and rightfully so.

I believe the sensus fidelium has rightfully changed traditional practices, and some cannon laws that needed to be adjusted in order to accommodate the faithful who wish to remain in the fullest communion with the Church.

A correction is needed here. The indissolubility of marriage is dogma not doctrine.

Ah, ok. I think I understand now.

I’m not sure I’d say the sensus fidelium has changed the traditional practice, since the sensus fidelium is more referring to the faithful preserving dogmas or doctrines (such as the indissolubility of marriage). Whereas the changes in canon law surrounding the annulment process were performed using the Pope’s authority to effect changes in the Church’s laws and governance (so the most “top down” way things are done in the Church). But that’s not to dispute your point on the situation with marriages having changed since FC in 1981.

I suppose the possibility of an increase in apparently invalid marriages raises two further questions:

  1. Why are potentially so many more marriages apparently “invalid” and so able to be the subject of a declaration of annulment in the first place? Either something seems to be going very wrong with marriage formation, or something is going very wrong with individuals’ catechism. From my own marriage preparation I can say that the preparation classes for the couples was pretty robust (so by the end of it we knew what the Church taught and what we were getting into) and the Priest was very strict about having all of the documentation in order before we could proceed. I don’t know about other Parishes or countries, but in mine I think I’d be hard pressed to find a valid reason for an annulment.
  2. Going forwards, what can be done to reduce the number of invalid marriages? We can agree that the reason for entering into a marriage is an exchange of consents to form a lifelong union. So the intention is always that the couple enters into a valid Marriage, even if subsequent detailed investigation reveals some invalidating deficiency. An invalid marriage in of itself is never a good thing. Either the couple or the Priest/Bishop did something “wrong” which wasn’t in accord with the intentions of the couple exchanging consents at the time. We might say that a couple who separate and are able to obtain a declaration of nullity have obtained an outcome which is “positive” in the sense that they are free to Marry another. But we must not use that as an excuse to ignore the real problem, which is that a Catholic couple who thought they were in a valid marriage initially, with all the Grace of the Sacraments, felt the need to separate after the breakdown of their relationship.

I would have thought this to be obvious. Yet I see here some think it is Amoris Laetitiat does not follow the advice of the synod. Go figure. If something that seems to me to be so obvious can be misunderstood, I have zero expectation for anyone here to have any sense of the faithful. Catholic Answers Forum is a microcosm of the problem, where what is most sensational (like the dubia) or the most immediate (personal acquaintances) form this sense. Yet the most obvious reasons why the sense of the faithful has no relevance to Amoris Laetitia is simply time. There is not sufficient time to see the implementation and the knowledge of this document, much less the results. This question should be re-visited in ten or twenty years.

Yes, a function of the sensus fidelium is to ensure protection of Church dogma and doctrine, but it would stand to reason that it would also ensure Church practices and traditions are also in keeping with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Vatican ll was meant to open up the Church to the faithful laity, there would be a theological reason for doing so, it wasn’t just because the bishops wanted to ‘redecorate’ in 1962.

As to your points on marriage: In the last 20 years I’ve witnessed more marriages in the Catholic Church that were not of God than I have that were of God; I wouldn’t necessarily blame the clergy for that, I think it’s the culture. The folks I know who have had valid marriages, in the eyes of God, and then have gotten civilly divorced are all in their 60’s or older, and had fruitful marriages until one spouse decided to be selfish; these are not the people AL is addressing. It’s those differences I see, in the marriages of the last 20 years to the marriages prior to that, that indicates to me that AL was not needed 35 years ago when FC was written.

Read the third quote in the OP. It orders the people of God before the bishops. The people of God includes the bishops, but the bishops do not precede the people of God. So the sensus fidelium doesn’t just work in one direction. It’s clear to me that the synod saw what the faithful were desiring to practice, and saw a need for a change in Church practices. Such things do not happen from the top down, they start at the bottom and are acknowledged by changes from the top. The italicized key word from the previous sentence being “the faithful”, we’re not talking about people who have abandoned their spouse for selfish reasons.

Sure we can see how it has worked out 30 years from now, but that’s not what I’m talking about in the original post. I’m asking what role the sense of the faithful had in the formation of the synod’s report, and thus AL; keeping in mind that the Holy Father is part of the sensus fidelium too.



Chapter 3: The sensus fidei fidelium in the life of the Church

  1. As the faith of the individual believer participates in the faith of the Church as a believing subject, so the sensus fidei (fidelis) of individual believers cannot be separated from the sensus fidei (fidelium) or ‘sensus Ecclesiae’[80] of the Church herself, endowed and sustained by the Holy Spirit,[81] and the consensus fidelium constitutes a sure criterion for recognising a particular teaching or practice as in accord with the apostolic Tradition.[82] The present chapter, therefore, turns to consider various aspects of the sensus fidei fidelium. It reflects, first of all, on the role of the latter in the development of Christian doctrine and practice; then on two relationships of great importance for the life and health of the Church, namely the relationship between the sensus fidei and the magisterium, and the relationship between the sensus fidei and theology; then, finally, on some ecumenical aspects of the sensus fidei.

1. The sensus fidei and the development of Christian doctrine and practice

  1. As she awaits the return of her Lord, the Church and her members are constantly confronted with new circumstances, with the progress of knowledge and culture, and with the challenges of human history, and they have to read the signs of the times, ‘to interpret them in the light of the divine Word’, and to discern how they may enable revealed truth itself to be ‘more deeply penetrated, better understood and more deeply presented’.[85] In this process, the sensus fidei fidelium has an essential role to play. It is not only reactive but also proactive and interactive, as the Church and all of its members make their pilgrim way in history. The sensus fidei is therefore not only retrospective but also prospective, and, though less familiar, the prospective and proactive aspects of the sensus fidei are highly important. The sensus fidei gives an intuition as to the right way forward amid the uncertainties and ambiguities of history, and a capacity to listen discerningly to what human culture and the progress of the sciences are saying. It animates the life of faith and guides authentic Christian action.

  1. What is less well known, and generally receives less attention, is the role played by the laity with regard to the development of the moral teaching of the Church. It is therefore important to reflect also on the function played by the laity in discerning the Christian understanding of appropriate human behaviour in accordance with the Gospel. In certain areas, the teaching of the Church has developed as a result of lay people discovering the imperatives arising from new situations. The reflection of theologians, and then the judgment of the episcopal magisterium, was based on the Christian experience already clarified by the faithful intuition of lay people. Some examples might illustrate the role of the sensus fidelium in the development of moral doctrine:

i) Between canon 20 of the Council of Elvira (c. 306 AD), which forbade clerics and lay people to receive interest, and the response, Non esse inquietandos, of Pope Pius VIII to the bishop of Rennes (1830),[87] there is a clear development of teaching, due to both the emergence of a new awareness among lay people involved in business as well as new reflection on the part of theologians with regard to the nature of money.

ii) The openness of the Church towards social problems, especially manifest in Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Letter, Rerum Novarum (1896), was the fruit of a slow preparation in which lay ‘social pioneers’, activists as well as thinkers, played a major role.

iii) The striking albeit homogeneous development from the condemnation of ‘liberal’ theses in part 10 of the Syllabus of Errors (1864) of Pope Pius IX to the declaration on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae (1965), of Vatican II would not have been possible without the commitment of many Christians in the struggle for human rights.

The difficulty of discerning the authentic sensus fidelium in cases such as those above particularly indicates the need to identify dispositions required for authentic participation in the sensus fidei, dispositions which may serve, in turn, as criteria for discerning the authentic sensus fidei.[88]

The underlining is mine. It’s what I thought was most relevant to my question.

Does anyone think the *sensus fidei * of the laity contributed to the formation of AL? Or, am I the only one?

In no way has there been anything like an inspired conviction that has always been present in seminal form among nearly all the faithful, lay or not, that claims one can break the 6th Commandment and continue to receive the sacraments.

On the other hand, original sin and its effects are always there.

Here is a helpful article explaining the situation. The final report itself was a product of the Holy Father’s special editing, NOT a result of the second synod’s legitimate votes.

Your right, there has never been a conviction among the faithful that it’s okay to break the 6th commandment. That’s a misconception that keeps being presented. I’m not referring to unfaithful Catholics. I’m referring to the sensus fidelium.

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