The Bishop's Discernment of the Sensus Fidelium
This dissertation inquires into the necessity, process, and structure of the bishop's discernment of the local church's sensus fidelium. As an authentic source of saving knowledge of God such that its reception brings union with God and others, the sensus fidelium ought to be a source for episcopal teaching. In his reception of the sensus fidelium, the bishop continues to learn and to be transformed by the apostolic faith, and is in turn better able to teach the faith with authority. If the bishop's reception of the sensus fidelium is integral to his ability to teach the apostolic faith in an authoritative manner, then the orthopraxis of that reception is of great importance. One aspect of that orthopraxis is the bishop's discernment of the sensus fidelium. As a ministerial habitus, discernment has implications both for the bishop's personal transformation and for his ability to place his spirituality at the service of the apostolate. The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and the structures of the Society of Jesus are employed as a comparative model of discernment. The Spiritual Exercises offers a way of viewing discernment as a virtue that develops one's capacity for both reception from and union with God and others. Discernment in the Society of Jesus is undertaken to foster unity of understanding and purpose at the service of the Society's apostolate. Structures promoting discernment and relating spirituality to authority provide insights into how discernment may be developed within the larger church. Chapter One indicates that the bishop's discernment must become a virtue, that is, it must both be continually undertaken and personally transformative of his own capacity to know and respond to the Holy Spirit. Further, it must take into account in a positive and constructive manner other sources of authority, or of knowing God, within the church's historical context. Chapter Two analyzes the virtues and structures currently considered normative for the bishop's ministry in the local church. While ecclesial documents encourage dialogue, spirituality, and various virtues to aid the bishop's ministry, they leave undeveloped a coherent description of the relationship between discernment and the bishop's spirituality and authority, and do not sufficiently address the bishop's formation by the sensus fidelium of the local church. In order to better realize the ideals offered by these documents and to more sufficiently conceive how the bishop comes to personally symbolize the local church, Chapter Three and Chapter Four present the spirituality of the Spiritual Exercises and structures of the Society of Jesus. Chapter Five then constructs a model of episcopal discernment in the context of communion ecclesiology and in light of the insights of the Jesuit tradition in order to demonstrate how elements of Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit institutional structures may either illuminate episcopal self-understanding and practice or be adapted to the advantage of dialogical discernment within the local church.