Catholic Instinct vs. Catholic Sense

 © Copyright 2007, T. Stanfill Benns (All emphasis within quotes added by the author)

 The instincts or intuition of the faithful

We read from Rev. R. J. Meyers, S.J.: “We ought to cultivate Catholic instincts…the mind trained by Catholic habits of thought tending, by a sort of intuition, towards the light of faith. ‘So alert is the instinctive power of an educated conscience,’ Cardinal Newman says, ‘that by some secret faculty and without any intelligible reasoning process, it seems to detect moral truth wherever it lies hid and feels a conviction of its own accuracy which bystanders cannot account for; and this especially is the case of revealed religion, which is one comprehensive moral fact,’ according to the scriptural text: ‘I know mine and mine know Me.’ Catholic instincts are the result of a thoroughly Catholic life and they are often found in the simple faithful quite as much as in the highly educated,” (Science of the Saints, Vol. 2). And if those instincts seem sadly lacking today, when so many are taken in by con men and pretenders wearing black robes, it can only be laid to the fact that so many have neglected to live “thoroughly Catholic lives.” “A person who lives by faith has a marked aptitude for discerning evil…” (In the Whole Christ, Abp. Emile Guerry).

Dom Chautard states, in his The Soul of the Apostolate: “The faithful have intuitions which do not lead them astray. When a man of God preaches, they gather in crowds. But should the conduct of one in the ministry no longer correspond to what is expected of him, then his work, no matter how cleverly it may be carried on, is injured and is perhaps doomed to ruin past recovery…Souls perceive, by instinct, so to speak, this radiation of the supernatural without being able to clearly define what they feel,” (and this is coming from an author whose work is personally endorsed by Pope St. Pius X.) “Men have a sixth sense to detect insincerity. They do not know why, but an assumed love and charity does not move them. Nothing can supply for the inward fire of goodness that gives warmth and light to the exterior manner of man. The lovableness of the priest therefore must begin from within and must be manifested as Christ’s was by a charming exterior. While the interior spirit is all-important, the outward manifestation is similarly necessary. No one can love what he does not know and no one can adequately know a man’s intimate spirit unless it be suitably manifested by outward acts,” (Rev. Edward Garesche, S.J., The Priest).

Alice Curtayne wrote of St. Catherine of Siena: “She was profoundly interested and absorbed in every human being…Her intuition was immediate, infallible, expressed in incisive phrases that went straight to the core of every matter.” Rev. Leen writes: “‘Faith,’ St Paul says, ‘is the evidence’ — that is, the clear intuition — ‘of things that appear not,’ (Heb. 11:1)…the mysteries of the divine life.” A good secular definition of intuition runs as follows: “(He) experienced an immediate sense of dread, an early warning sign he had come to trust over the years… This sense usually proved to be no sense at all, but his picking up on evidence that didn’t jump out at first,” (The Body of David Hayes, Ridley Pearson). Rev. Kerby encourages priests to develop the faculty of proper interpretation of events. “Experience cannot teach unless it is interpreted…What is more delightful than to meet a priest who possesses this gift of interpretation, who by instinct rather than culture, by intuition rather than intention, traces with throbbing heart the wonderful course of divine Providence in his own life and the lives of those entrusted to his care? ‘Holy men,’ says St. Gregory, ‘in that they are one with our Lord are not ignorant of His sense.'”

Rev. Robert Hugh Benson describes Catholic mysticism as “divine intuition,” although he is careful not to divorce it from the need for the intellect experiencing such union to fortify itself with the reasoning process proceeding from scholastic truth, (Mysticism, a lecture given in 1907). Is this “Catholic sense”? No, for Benson explains that not all possess it or possess it in the same degree; and Meyers intimates that it cannot exist except in those possessing a rightly formed conscience. St. Thomas Aquinas narrowed the distance between the opposite poles of rationality and mysticism. “He strives to hold a middle course between the two,” Rev. Turner says in The Ecclesiastical Review. Thomistic intellectualism consists in “the ability of reason to attain a knowledge of natural truth of the higher order and to elucidate — not to prove as a comprehend — the Mysteries of Faith…Here intuitive perception, the mystic contemplation of higher truths…the affective aspect or feeling is subordinated to dialectical discussion, logical definition, systematic reasoning, clear, cold, calm intellect.” The Church then does not condemn intuition; the Church insists only that it not be at variance with Catholic truth, that it takes second place to Church teaching.

Catholic sense today

A conscience rightly formed cannot be said to be at variance with this truth. Turner concludes with a quote from Townsend’s The Great Schoolmen, pointing out that in any area of study, in all departments of knowledge, the analysis of facts, natures and qualities must be reduced to a system. Given such facts, their arrangement and analysis leading to theories and conclusions is inevitable. “‘If a logical method be allowed in relation to scientific facts or philosophical principles, it cannot with fairness or reason be denied in relation to religion; and if it be of advantage with respect to the former, it cannot be of disadvantage in regard to the latter.’ The problem is, as has been said, a problem of method.” If reason is not to be relied on, what is its substitute? Affections, sentiment, totality of life, “all have their proper place in the struggle of the soul towards a realization of spiritual truth. That place, however, is a secondary one. None of these faculties or functions can, of itself, systemize, analyze, defend or prove.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia says under this topic: “Intuition is a psychological and philosophical term which designates the process of immediate apprehension or perception of an actual fact, being or relation between two terms and its results…All our knowledge has its starting point in the intuitive data of sense experience; but in order to penetrate the nature of these data, their laws and causes, we must have recourse to abstraction and discursive reasoning…Concepts and reasoning therefore are in themselves inferior to intuition, but they are the normal processes of human knowledge.” To say that one has a rightly formed conscience is not the same as saying that this conscience is always heeded; it does not imply personal sanctity. Nor does the assumption of personal sanctity follow from the fact that one is well educated in Catholic truth. But neither does this mean that such education is not a tremendous advantage in detecting dissimulation and the deceits of sophistry, fallacy in logic and hypocrisy.

Therefore it must be admitted that some more than others possess the ability to detect the double-speak and mental gymnastics used by the insincere to escape detection by those they wish to draw into their web. To ignore intuition, so often inspirations of the Holy Ghost; to pretend that such false Catholics do not exist and to even go so far as to plead their case despite the known truth is to fall victim to a most dangerous type of naivete. We resist grace at our own peril.

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