Pope Francis: Synodality is what the Lord expects of the Church

Vatican City, Nov 29, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s theological commission Friday that synodality will be key for the Church in the future.

“Synodality is a style, it is a walk together, and it is what the Lord expects from the Church of the third millennium,” Pope Francis said Nov. 29 in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

The pope said that synodality is a topic close to his heart and thanked the International Theological Commission for producing a document on the theological roots of synodality in the Church published in March 2018: “Synodality in Life and Mission of the Church.”

“You have shown how the practice of synodality, traditional but always to be renewed, is the implementation in the history of the People of God on the way, of the Church as a mystery of communion, in the image of the Trinitarian communion,” Pope Francis said.

Synodality, as defined in this document, is “the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God.”

The CDF document noted that in the history of the Church, synods and councils were nearly interchangeable terms for formal ecclesiastical assemblies. It said that the more modern view of a synod as something distinct from a council does not go back even as far Vatican Council II, and that its development was accompanied by the neologism of “synodality.”

Speaking of the Church as “synodal” by its nature is something novel, the commission said, and requires “careful theological clarification.”

“I thank you for your document because today we think that doing synodality is joining hands and going for a walk, partying with the boys … or doing a survey of opinions: ‘What do we think about the priesthood of women?’” he said.

Pope Francis then stressed that “synodality is an ecclesial journey that has a soul that is the Holy Spirit.”

“Without the Holy Spirit, there is no synodality,” he added.

The pope’s audience with the International Theological Commission marked the 50th anniversary of the commission’s formation. Francis said that St. Pope Paul VI created the commission as “a new bridge between theology and the magisterium.”

“He also wanted the diversity of cultures and ecclesial experiences to enrich the mission entrusted by the Holy See to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” he said. “In fact, as theologians from various contexts and latitudes, you are mediators between faith and cultures, and take part in this way in the essential mission of the Church: evangelization.”

“You listen to what the Spirit says today to the Church in different cultures to bring to light ever new aspects of the inexhaustible mystery of Christ,” he said.

Pope Francis also commented on the International Theological Commission’s latest document “Religious Freedom for the Common Good” published in March 2019.

“The sincere respect of religious freedom, cultivated in a fruitful dialogue between the State and religions, and between religions themselves, is … a great contribution to the good of all and to peace,” the pope said.

The pope highlighted the document’s critique of the ambiguity within an “ethically neutral” State, which, he said “risks leading to an unjust marginalization of religions from civil life to the detriment of the common good,” noting that this is “the legacy of the Enlightenment.”

Among the 30 members of the International Theological Commission’s 2014-2019 session were two Americans: Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M.Cap. and Sr. Prudence Allen of the Religious Sisters of Mercy.

Pope Francis told the theologians that the study of theology requires “humble and constant prayer” and “openness to the Holy Spirit.”

He also stressed the importance of “feeling in the Church and with the Church,” citing St. Albert the Great’s maxim: “In the sweetness of fraternity, seek the truth.”

“We don’t do theology as individuals, but in the community, at the service of all, to spread the flavor of the Gospel to our brothers and sisters today, always with sweetness and respect,” he said.

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  1. I am asking this question in earnest: does a pope have the authority to make the church a “synodal church” (per the stated “designs” however ambiguous) and declare “this is what Jesus wants?”

    • All faithful synods are walks together (as per the International Theological Commission, 2018), but are all walks together faithful synods? Who is Pachamama?

  2. Synodality in Life and Mission is adjectival citing attributes “Sweetness of brotherhood, one in mind, discernment [Apostolic], welcoming, listening. Rather than substantive Kerygma. “You listen to what the Spirit says today to the Church in different cultures to bring to light ever new aspects of the inexhaustible mystery of Christ” (Pope Francis). Nuanced here is finding religious diversity in cultural pluralism. Rather than Kerygmatic direction a re-discovery of Christ. Reminding us of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. “There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it” (Hemingway). Paris or Synod the former a journey of literary formation the latter a journey of gospel formation.

    • From your comment–a not-so-subtle difference between “gospel formation” and formation in the gospel?

      Perhaps we are reminded, then, of the Prussian historian Leopold von Ranke, no friend of progressive Hegelianism and (according to Lord Acton) fairly balanced toward the papacy, in his History of the Popes. Von Ranke saw the mystery of God as manifesting Himself through diverse units of culture to be understood, finally, only from within. He concluded his study with this: “High above all conflict–this hope we can never relinquish;–there will yet arise from the ocean of error, the unity of a conviction, untroubled in its steadfast security,–the pure and simple consciousness [!] of the ever-enduring and all-pervading presence of God.” [So, make a mess of things, and the Spirit will provide?].

      But, fear not about cultural relativism, for in section 108 (Synodality and the Mission of the Church), for example, we do find clarifications such as this: “It is worth remembering these dispositions: participation in the life of the Church centred on the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation; listening to the Word of God in order to enter into a dialogue with it and put it into practice; following the Magisterium in its teachings on faith and morals; the awareness of being members of each other as the Body of Christ […]”.

      “Worth remembering” these “dispositions”. . . Merriam-Webster Definition of disposition. “1a : prevailing tendency, mood, or inclination. b : temperamental makeup. c : the tendency of something to act in a certain manner under given circumstances.”

      • After six years of counter point [more dissonance than harmony] morality there remains hope. That I need constant reminder of.

        • Added to my response: It’s worth remembering is an afterthought. Dispositions are not convictions [P Beaulieu suggests as much in his response]. Proclaiming Christ Crucified as exclusive savior and living the commandments is conviction. Ecological conversion [lest we forget Amoris, the goddess of the Andes, and so forth and so on] changes the conversation on faith and morals, the Eucharist and confession.

  3. I ask this question of Pope Francis: If synodality is what the Lord expects of the Church why did he give the keys of Heaven only to Peter and tell only him what you bind on earth is bound in Heaven and what you loose on earth is loose in Heaven. If the Lord truly wanted “Synodality” would he have not given this responsibility to ALL the apostles rather than just to Peter? Can you answer this for me, Pope Francis? P.S. I see another “dubia” moment here. My question would be simply ignored.

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