Catholicity, Inculturation and Newman’s Sensus Fidelium

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John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Los Angeles to Dublin, Nairobi to Taipei, Moscow to San Salvador: the faith of the Catholic church assumes such diverse cultural forms that it is difficult if not impossible to specify a normative sense of the one faith catholic. Yet we persist in trying to specify the basis for the catholicity of the faith, understood not only as description of a world-wide faith, but as a source of unity even within the church itself. Augustine understood catholicity to be the universal agreement by all sectors of the church about what constituted the truth of faith. Vincent of Lerins held that it was that which was believed everywhere, at all times, and by everyone. Things no longer seem so simple. Inculturation - the adaptation of the faith to various cultures, and the appropriation by diverse cultures of specific traditions and theologies - has meant that the catholicity of the faith is now strained by pluriformity of faith expressions, even after the magisterium has spoken. How do we approach this problematic of catholicity and inculturation of faith in tension with each other?


Also appeared as “The Sensus Fidelium and Catholicity: Newman’s Legacy in the Age of Inculturation,” in John Henry Newman: Theology and Reform, ed. Michael E. Allsopp and Ronald R. Burke (New York: Garland Press, 1993). Reissued in Charles Curran and Lisa Fullam, eds., The Sensus Fidelium and Moral Theology, No. 18 (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2017).