The Vatican's International Theological Commission has published a new guide to the meaning of the terms sensus fidei and sensus fidelium, reports Catholic News Service.
When a significant portion of the Catholic faithful ignore or reject a church teaching, it is often - but not always - a sign that social and cultural pressures are weakening their faith or that Church leaders simply have not found a way to explain the teaching, said members of the International Theological Commission.
The commission published the document Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church on the Vatican website in late June with the approval of Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The theologians, who were appointed to the commission by Pope Benedict XVI, had been asked to explain the meaning, purpose and limits of sensus fidei and sensus fidelium - the capacity of individual believers and of the Church as a whole to discern the truth of faith.
'The sensus fidei fidelis,' they said, '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.'
While the validity and importance of different Church teachings cannot be the subject of a popular vote, the degree to which they are or are not accepted by most Catholics is important, the commission members wrote.
'When the reception of magisterial teaching by the faithful meets with difficulty and resistance,' the document said, 'appropriate action on both sides is required.'
Catholics 'must reflect on the teaching that has been given, making every effort to understand and accept it,' the document said. 'Resistance, as a matter of principle, to the teaching of the magisterium is incompatible with the authentic sensus fidei.'
At the same time, the theologians said, 'the magisterium must likewise reflect on the teaching that has been given and consider whether it needs clarification or reformulation in order to communicate more effectively the essential message.'
- Cindy Wooden
Read more: Vatican publishes reflection on discerning essentials of faith (Catholic News Service)