The Church must pay attention to the sensus fidelium, or “sense of the faithful”, when exercising its teaching authority, but never confuse that sense with popular opinion on matters of faith, Pope Francis has said.
The Pope made his comments in an address to members of the International Theological Commission, a Vatican advisory body.
“By the gift of the Holy Spirit, the members of the Church possess the ‘sense of the faith’,” he said. “It is a question of a kind of ‘spiritual instinct’, which permits us to ‘think with the Church’ and discern what is consistent with the apostolic faith and the spirit of the Gospel.”
The Pope said the Magisterium, the Church’s teaching authority, has the “duty to pay attention to what the Spirit tells the church through authentic manifestations of the ‘sense of the faithful’.”
But he told the theologians this sense “must not be confused with the sociological reality of majority opinion. That is something else. It is therefore important, and it is your task, to elaborate the criteria that permit discernment of authentic expressions of the ‘sense of the faithful.’”
Citing his predecessor, Benedict XVI, Pope Francis said theologians “must always listen to the faith as lived by the humble and little ones, to whom it has pleased the father to reveal what he has hidden from the learned and the wise.”
Joking that he was not trying to give “publicity to the Jesuits”, the Pope recalled that even his order’s founder, St Ignatius Loyola, used to teach the catechism to children.