Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By James Penrice

11/18/2010 (4 years ago)

Catholic Online (

Sensus fidelium literally means 'sense of the faithful.'

When dissenters challenge the Church, we are given an opportunity to study the truth that is being attacked. In a continuing series of articles on this misguided movement, Catholic Online considers the real meaning of sensus fidelium--and reveals a stunning admission by one of the leaders of the American Catholic Council.

St. Augustine--not the American Catholic Council--helped to define sensus fidelium.

St. Augustine--not the American Catholic Council--helped to define sensus fidelium.


By James Penrice

Catholic Online (

11/18/2010 (4 years ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: american catholic council, acc, dissent heterodoxy, heresy, faithful, magisterium,

GRAND RAPIDS, MI (Catholic Online) - Catholic Online has been reporting about the American Catholic Council (ACC), a dissent group planning a national convention in June of 2011 "in the spirit of Vatican II." Like many such groups, ACC misconstrues-either inadvertently or intentionally-the Church's teaching about sensus fidelium ("sense of the faithful") to justify their agenda.

Article VIII in the ACC "Catholic Bill of Rights and Responsibilities" states: "Every baptized Catholic has a meaningful role to play, through sensus fidelium, in the interpretation of the Gospel, the Church's Tradition, and the Church's structure." One gets the sense here that a baptism certificate becomes an ecclesial voter registration card-that anyone who can merely produce one is entitled to help shape Church doctrine. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sensus fidelium literally means "sense of the faithful." The term originated with the early Church Fathers, and refers to unerring truth sensed or recognized by the entire body of the faithful-from the Magisterium to the last of the laity, according to St. Augustine. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) issued at Vatican II said this about sensus fidelium in section 12:

"The holy people of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name (cf. Heb. 13:15). The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, (cf. 1 Jn. 2:20, 27) cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples' supernatural discernment in matters of faith when from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God (cf. 1 Th. 2:13)."

The Glossary to the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives an abbreviated definition which is helpful: "Sensus Fidei: a supernatural appreciation of the faith (Sensus fidei) 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." The Magisterium is a gift. The Lord promised He would not leave us orphans (John 14:8) and that the Spirit would guide us into all truth (John 16:13).

The Catechism again helps us to understand one of the ways in which He fulfills that promise: "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome." (CCC, 85)

Foundational to sensus fidelium, of course, is establishing who constitutes "the faithful." Does it refer to all who have been baptized, as ACC suggests, or are there qualifiers among the baptized-denoting some as "the faithful" and others as not? Lumen Gentium's reference to 1 John 2:20, 27 provides a key.

These two verses are from a broader passage (1 John 2:18-27) in which the Apostle distinguishes between dissenters who were once members of the body but have placed themselves in opposition, and those who have remained loyal to the faith given them in baptism. He holds that the anointing of the Spirit is manifested through the latter. Verses 26-27 are to the point: "I write you these things about those who would deceive you. As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you. But his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false; just as it taught you, remain in him."

Obviously there are some baptized who dissent from the authoritative teaching of the Church and others who assent. Lumen Gentium asserts that baptism doesn't automatically ensure that one continues in the company of "the faithful"-there is a responsibility placed upon the baptized to give assent both inwardly and publicly to authoritative teaching. Section 11 declares that "reborn as sons of God, [the baptized] must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church."

This responsibility has been reiterated in The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Having become a member of the Church, the person baptized belongs no longer to himself, but to him who died and rose for us. (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 5:15.) From now on, he is called to be subject to others, to serve them in the communion of the Church, and to obey and submit to the Church's leaders, (cf. Heb. 13:17) holding them in respect and affection. (cf. Eph. 5:21; 1 Cor. 16:15-16; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; Jn. 13:12-15)" [#1269]

Any of the baptized who dissent from the faith of the Church-which Vatican II emphatically reaffirmed as the faith authoritatively taught by the Magisterium-have separated themselves from "the faithful."

ACC operates under the premise that there are "truths" which their leaders recognize but the Magisterium does not. Not only does this reject the Vatican II affirmation of Magisterial teaching  as "not just the word of men but truly the word of God," but by logic it would render sensus fidelium impossible to attain. Lumen Gentium dogmatically defined sensus fidelium as applying to "the entire body of the faithful when from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals." Universal agreement among "the faithful" is not possible if "the faithful" includes both those who assent to the Bishops' teaching and those who do not. Under ACC's understanding of sensus fidelium, it would be impossible for this property to even exist.

Concurrently, it is important to understand that sensus fidelium does not mean that universal consent of the faithful is necessary for a doctrine to be true, or that doctrine becomes true by virtue of such consensus. It means that universal consent is possible because the doctrine is true in the first place. Truth emanates from God and comes to the faithful-not the other way around. When the entire body of the faithful recognizes the truth through "supernatural discernment"-not by human reason alone-sensus fidelium becomes the prophetic witness spoken of in Lumen Gentium.

This is what is meant by "The holy people of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office." When the entire body of the faithful agrees with the truth, it is a powerful and prophetic witness to the rest of the world. When "the faithful" is divided, it is a sad and pathetic witness of an institution showing only its human limitations and rejecting its divine identity.

There is evidence the latter perspective exists among the ACC leadership. In an email correspondence with me, one of the members of the ACC national planning committee made a distressing admission. Out of fairness to this person I will protect their anonymity; I did not identify myself as a writer in our correspondence, and this person indicated afterwards that they were speaking on their own behalf, not in the name of ACC. The latter point is irrelevant, as this person does claim to speak for ACC in other venues, and the personal opinion expressed here would discredit anyone who claims to be Catholic from speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church and its ecumenical councils. This ACC leader wrote to me:

"We two clearly have different starting places intellectually when talking about Church structure. For me, it is patently human made-and that is wonderful! We humans are the ones who decide what we proclaim to be 'from God' after all. So, if we mess it up, we have no one to blame other than ourselves."

Vatican II-in whose name the American Catholic Council claims to act-dogmatically reaffirmed the Catholic Church as divinely established by Jesus Christ upon the hierarchical structure of Peter and the Apostles, whose divine authority today's hierarchy of the Pope and Bishops inherit. As long as the American Catholic Council continues to act in the name of the Catholic Church and Vatican II, Catholic Online will continue to expose their errors and educate the faithful about the true Catholic teachings which Vatican II reaffirmed.


James Penrice is an author of nine books, a correspondent for Catholic Athletes for Christ, and a contributor to Catholic Online.


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.


More U.S.

Cargo ship missing after sailing into Hurricane Joaquin Watch

Image of Katie and Keith Griffin (Facebook).


El Faro, a cargo ship, was caught in Hurricane Joaquin, leaving several American crew members missing. Worried friends and family of the missing staff members continue to hope for survivors. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The US Coast Guard announced that they ... continue reading

Oregon shooting hero still in recovery: Donations for his medical expenses surpass $700,000 Watch

Image of Chris Mintz.


Chris Mintz left a happy birthday message for his nonverbal autistic son on Thursday before going to his classes at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Later, he reportedly set off fire alarms as a gunman opened fire. Mintz charged the shooter, was ... continue reading

Two farmers in Michigan unearth woolly mammoth remains Watch

Image of Because of the tight harvest schedule, the farmers gave researchers a single day to unearth the find. Excavators worked intently last week until sundown.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Two farmers in Michigan made a momentous find while they dug a drainage ditch. The remains of a woolly mammoth, enormous tusks intact, was unearthed. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - James Bristle of Lima Township was digging in a soybean field early last week ... continue reading

President Obama shares how Pope Francis's visit to the U.S. makes him want to be better Watch

Image of President Obama with Pope Francis during the pontiffs visit to the U.S.


It has been a week since Pope Francis' historical visit to the U.S. However, his presence and inspiration continues to linger as President Obama revealed he wants to become better after his meeting with the Pope. WASHINGTON D.C. (Catholic Online) - The pope is back in ... continue reading

HURRICANE FALLOUT: At least four people killed in East Coast flooding Watch

Image of All-time rainfall records in both South Carolina and the southern Appalachians are being sorely tested with the new rainfall.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Hurricane Joaquin made quick work of the Carolinas this weekend; flooding has been reported there, and heavy rainfall was reported from the nation's southeast to New England. At least four people were killed because of flooding. The Weather Bureau says that the ... continue reading

Ten Commandments to be removed from capitol grounds Watch

Image of


The Capitol Preservation Commission in Oklahoma, who is responsible for managing the placement of artwork on public property, has voted to remove a Ten Commandments monument from its capitol grounds. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Reuters reported the Preservation ... continue reading

Rumored co-recipients of next Nobel Peace Prize criticized: one responsible for hundreds of American soldiers' deaths in Iraq Watch

Image of Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are rumored to be co-recipients of 2016's Nobel Peace Prize (Laurent Gillieron/EPA).


Secretary of State John Kerry is rumored to be receiving a Nobel Peace Prize after finalizing the Iranian nuclear deal due to his close relationship with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.  LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Kerry's efforts to seal the nuclear ... continue reading

SHOOTERS LAST WORDS TO VICTIM: You're going to see God in one second Watch

Image of Survivors embrace and pray in the aftermath of the shooting which left 9 people and the shooter dead.

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The nation continues to mourn the mass shooting of nine students at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Although the shooter's motive remains a mystery, religion may have been a factor in the killings. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Officials have ... continue reading

Heroic teacher warned classrooms to evacuate during the Oregon college shooting Watch

Image of Oregon shooting aftermath


A shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg left 10 people dead with one teacher shot in the head by a gunman described only to be in his 20's. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Terrifying and traumatic stories were shared by the survivors of the recent open ... continue reading

Christian Targets: College shooting leaves at least 10 dead Watch

Image of Victims were rushed to a nearby hospital (Roseburg News).

By Kenya Sinclair (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced a school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon on Thursday, which left at least ten people dead. Reports have come forward that the shooter was targeting Christian students. ROSEBURG, OREGON (Catholic ... continue reading

All U.S. News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Jonah 3:1-10
1 The word of Yahweh was addressed to Jonah a second ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 130:1-2, 3-4, 7-8
1 [Song of Ascents] From the depths I call to you, ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 10:38-42
38 In the course of their journey he came to a ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 6th, 2015 Image

St. Bruno
October 6: Bruno was born in Cologne of the prominent Hartenfaust family. ... Read More