In The Eyes of Faith, Ormond Rush presents the sensus fidelium as an organon of the Holy Spirit allowing for both the reception and the “traditioning” of revelation. His hermeneutical approach to the question of the presence and purpose of the sensus fidelium in the life of the church employs reception as both a formal category for systematic exploration and as a guiding interpretative principle. The book’s argument unfolds over three parts in which Rush advances a trinitarian foundation for reception with particular regard for the role of the Holy Spirit; describes the development of the canon of scripture as a normative process of reception resulting from the interaction between sensus fidei and sensus fidelium; and explicates the teaching office of the church in relation to the sensus fidelium.
Part One begins with a trinitarian foundation for revelation that emphasizes the role of the Spirit in the reception of God’s saving revelation. Since God’s revelation is an invitation to join in the divine life, there is coherence between the Spirit’s activity in the immanent and economic trinity. The Holy Spirit is envisioned as the principle by which Christ’s grace is received in the economy of salvation, a role that reflects Rush’s conception of the immanent trinity: “the Spirit is the receptio, in the mutual exchange between Father and Son” (26). This trinitarian formulation serves as the foundation for Rush’s ecclesiology, which describes the church as a community of reception. The ongoing reception of revelation in diverse times and localities makes the church’s communion universal. Rush indicates, “If the church is called to be an icon of the trinity, and receptio is at the heart of the trinitarian communio . . . then receptio must be at the heart of, and indeed constitute, ecclesial communio on all levels—vertical, horizontal, and temporal” (49). The implication of this insight is that discernment of the Spirit is best carried out in dialogue with others; the church is the context not only for reception, but also for dialogical discernment of the Spirit.
In Part Two, Rush proposes that it is not the content of the scriptural canon alone that is normative for the church’s articulation of revelation. Rather, given the sensus fidelium, Rush theorizes that the process of canon formation is itself normative for the exercise of ecclesial authority. The social character of the development of scriptural texts is presented as a dynamic exchange between sensus fidei and sensus fidelium that culminates in a canon reflective of the consensus fidelium. The sensus fidelium is therefore not only necessary for the church to recognize revelation, but also for it to discern God’s revelation in diverse expressions of the faith.
Finally, Rush concludes in Part Three that “a dialogic relationship between the sensus fidelium, theology, and the magisterium” is necessary for the church to fulfill its teaching office (175). The teaching office is understood in light of the church’s call to be prophetic, which necessitates both the preservation of the apostolic faith and its ongoing communication within new times and contexts. The explication of the canon’s process of development in Part Two is applied to the process of teaching: “The exemplar and norm par excellence for how the Holy Spirit works in the reception and traditioning of revelation is the working of the Spirit within the formation, canonization, and inspiration of Scripture. Consequently, a pneumatology of Scripture is normative for a pneumatology of the exercise of the teaching office” (184). While hierarchical authority had a role within the development of scripture, the function of that authority was influenced by and dependent upon the sensus fidelium. Similarly, then, the process by which the church recognizes and teaches revealed truth ought to contextualize the magisterium of bishops by placing it into communication with the teaching authority of the sensus fidelium and theologians. These three sources of authority may be distinguished from each other, but Rush maintains that the effective exercise of the church’s teaching office is predicated upon their mutual, dialogically-based reception.
The Eyes of Faith successfully employs reception as an ecclesiological hermeneutic. The resulting outline for a systematic theology of revelation is truly significant for its foundational engagement with pneumatology. Rush’s trinitarian emphasis allows him to move the sensus fidelium into its essential place in the church’s existence and mission. Hermeneutical theory is incorporated in an illuminating manner, and the book’s central claims are well developed through terms defined with reference to ecclesial documents and modern theologians.
The theological coherence of Rush’s thought makes it a potential tool for both verification and challenge of the church’s ecclesial praxis. While Rush describes the spectrum of persons who participate in expressing the sensus fidelium and indicates the necessity for ecclesial structures that encourage dialogue, however, his sketch of existing dialogical structures needs greater detail. For instance, in describing the necessity of mutual reception between bishops and theologians, Rush refers to the spirit of the process of reception, but does not adequately indicate the location or context within which that reception might take place. Further explication and evaluation of existing dialogical structures would serve to underscore the importance of Rush’s argument and challenge the church to consider the practical application of his conclusions.