On Oct. 31, 1517 — 503 years ago — a German monk, priest, and university professor named Martin Luther began a revolt against the Catholic Church which resulted in a terrible cleaving of Christian unity. He denied or completely refuted dozens of essential and long-held Church teachings.
Luther's revolt has resulted in an uncountable number of doctrinally independent denominations. Today there are roughly 600 million Christians who have followed the man-made traditions that Luther developed and are now formally separated from the Church that Christ Himself established for us all.
Today there is another Fr. Martin who is also publicly revolting against the teachings of the Church. His revolt is also doing damage to both the Church and to individual souls. Father James Martin, S.J. is the darling of the political and theological left. This has its perks. Martin offered the closing benediction at the recent Democrat National Convention, where he was among a carefully selected group of theologically radical religious figures of all stripes. (Whom did you expect at the DNC, Fr. James Altman, who incidentally says that you cannot be a Catholic and a Democrat?)
Jesuit Fr. Martin's primary issue and the main thrust of his revolt revolves around the teachings of the Church on matters of homosexuality. Among several other cringeworthy things, Fr. Martin claims that chastity is not required of homosexuals, that Catholics should reverence gay marriage and, astonishingly, that we as Catholics should support very young children who wish to become transgendered.
With regards to homosexuality, the teachings of both the Catholic Church and Holy Scripture are very clear and well known, presumably even by Fr. Martin, so there is no need to cover them here. (For reference, they are clearly documented in the Catechism — 2357, 2358 and 2359)
Father Martin's beliefs and teachings fly in the face of the 2,000-year-old teachings of the Church on the subject. He justifies his defiance by claiming that: "For a teaching to be really authoritative, it is expected that it will be received by the people of God, by the faithful," adding that the LGBT community has not "received" these magisterial teachings of the Church.
What Martin essentially means is that any group, and supposedly any individual, should be allowed to decide which Church teachings it will abide by and which ones it (or they) will not. This idea is based on the Protestant principle of "private interpretation," which was originated by Fr. Martin Luther beginning in 1517. It is also very telling that Luther had absolutely no idea that it would result in tens of thousands of conflicting and competing doctrinally independent denominations.
In a 2017 interview with The Jesuit Post, Fr. Martin expanded on his justification for refuting Church teaching:
a teaching must be "received" by the faithful. It's a complex topic (and I am no professional theologian) ... for a teaching to be complete it must be appreciated, accepted and understood by the faithful. The tradition is that the faithful possess their own inner sense of the authority of a teaching. That's the sensus fidei or sensus fidelium.
Here we see Martin appeal to the Catholic teaching on the sensus fidei. The concept of the sensus fidei is very complex, but simply put, it is the "sense of the faithful," meaning that the faithful, will "sense" what is true and what is not.
In this same interview, Fr. Martin goes on to further rationalize his denial of Church teaching on the basis of a quote from the Vatican Document "Sensus Fidei," which declares: "The sensus fidei fidelis 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."
In other words, according to Fr. Martin, "Sensus Fidei" teaches that if a doctrine of the Church doesn't quite "feel right" to you, you can ignore it and replace it with something that better suits you. What is interesting here is that Fr. Martin points to a Catholic teaching on the sensus fidei in order to justify his rejection of another Catholic teaching, on homosexuality. How much sense does that make? It would seem that he either misunderstands the concept of the "Sensus Fidei" or deliberately misrepresents it. It is important to understand which it is.
Rather than counting on someone who defies Church teaching to define the term "sensus fidei," we should probably defer to the Church for that definition. The International Theological Commission is a small, select group of theologians who, as a group, advise the Magisterium. In 2012 the commission published Theology Today, which includes a section on the theology and use of the sensus fidei:
The sensus fidelium is the sensus fidei of the people of God as a whole who are obedient to the Word of God and are led in the ways of faith by their pastors. So the sensus fidelium is the sense of the faith that is deeply rooted in the people of God who receive, understand and live the Word of God in the Church.
Father Martin admits that he is not a theologian, but it would be difficult to believe that his understanding of the Catholic sense of the sensus fidei is so faulty that he believes that it can be used to justify his denial of 2,000-year-old teachings of the Church. After all, it is clear that the people of God "are obedient ... [and] are led ... by their pastors."
In this same Vatican document "Sensus Fidei," which Martin references, we find the following in a section on the reception of the sensus fidei, which indicates clearly that his representation of this Catholic concept is, at best, incomplete, and at worst, blatantly dishonest.
"Sensus Fidei" states very clearly that: "the gifts of the Spirit ... are given so as to foster the unity of the Church in faith and communion" (79).
It adds: "[T]he faithful must reflect on the teaching ... making every effort to understand and accept it. Resistance, as a matter of principle, to the teaching of the Magisterium is incompatible with the authentic sensus fidei" (80).
Other sections make it clear that it is "The Magisterium [that is] responsible for ensuring the fidelity of the Church as a whole to the word of God, and for keeping the people of God faithful to the gospel, [and that] the Magisterium is ... the pope and the bishops" (76).
Additionally, we learn that:
The Magisterium also judges with authority whether opinions which are present among the people of God, and which may seem to be the sensus fidelium, actually correspond to the truth of the Tradition received from the Apostles ... judgment regarding the authenticity of the sensus fidelium belongs ultimately not to the faithful themselves nor to theology but to the Magisterium ... [which] exercises its essential ministry of oversight (77).
In all fairness to Fr. Martin, it is possible that he has never read this section of this official Church document. However, as an ordained priest, it is his responsibility to know what the Church believes and teaches.
Given the responsibilities and authority of the bishops and the amount of trouble that homosexuals in the priesthood have caused for the Church, you would think that the leaders of the Church — the Bishops — would be actively engaged in correcting and if necessary, silencing Fr. James Martin. However, since he seems to be everywhere with his pro-LGBTQ+ message, quite the opposite is apparent. We can only conclude that the foxes are indeed in control of the hen house and that the bishops are more than willing to allow him to mislead the faithful.
Either James Martin is woefully ignorant of Church teaching or he is dishonestly proposing the use of the "Sensus Fidei" as justification for his rebellion. Either way, the Fr. Martin of 500 years ago would probably be very proud.
According to Richard Marius, whom many consider to be the best of Fr. Martin Luther's biographers, Luther believed that "The real monarchy in the Church lay not with the bishop of Rome or with any other bishop; it lay with the consensus of all of the Church of the faithful. True doctrine was what the masses of Christians believed to be true doctrine."
Here we see another bastardization of the concept of the sensus fidei from another Fr. Martin. If doctrine is really up to the masses, then who ultimately decides what it really is? The individual, of course. This eventually leads to the reduction of the importance of the Christian message and therefore the gradual destruction of Christianity itself.
Five-hundred years ago, Fr. Martin Luther had a conscience that was well developed enough to wonder whether his teachings were leading people in error: "What if you should be in error and through this lead so many people astray who would then be eternally damned?" he queried.
One can only wonder if the current Fr. Martin has similar qualms.