It has been bothering me for quite a while now, that no one actually knows what synodality means. In this VERY interesting interview with Cardinal Pell, here, he says:
Catholicos, a Greek word, means universal, it doesn’t mean continental or regional. Synodality – I’m not quite sure what it means when it’s applied to the whole of Church life as distinct from the existence of a synod like this. But these things are to be the activities that are to continue to flow along.
I find this worrying, because Cardinal Pell is an informed intelligent man. Some of the others who graced the scene of the Synod, I fear, are neither so well informed nor intelligent. So if Pell didn’t know what synodality is, who exactly did?
This is important as this was what was supposedly going on. Just because they met in a thing called a ‘synod’ does not mean that they were participating in synodality. And just because they said ‘we’re acting synodically’ similarly does not mean that they are. Me and a few mates can turn up to a parliament and say that we’re acting democratically, but we could just be having a game of Poker, a few beers and a packet of crisps. The meeting and the words do not indicate what was actually going on.
So what is synodality. Well, as a callow youth, I wrote a thesis on it. Although you can buy a copy, here, I do not really recommend you do, it is extremely dull (get the one on confession instead, here). The only reasonable definition of it I came across was from ARCIC The Gift of Authority, 1999
In each local church all the faithful are called to walk together in Christ. The term synodality (derived from syn-hodos meaning “common way”) indicates the manner in which believers and churches are held together in communion as they do this. It expresses their vocation as people on the Way (cf. Acts 9.2) to live, work and journey together in Christ who is the Way (cf. Jn 14.6)
So synodality is the way in which the people of God journey along the Way to Him who is the Way. It is the interplay between the different people/roles/elements in the church and between local churches. You can easily see how this definition comes from the Protestant Anglican worldview. And you can see how it can easily be dangerous to a Catholic sensibility.
Here, the danger is in the local/universal church relationship. For Anglicans there is neither need nor, in some cases desire, for close unity, except in name. Thus you can have all being in an “Anglican Communion” looking to Canterbury as a See that once held the whole thing together. But let’s be honest, when you have the position of one bit of the Anglican Communion rejecting the ministry of another bit, and that being accepted, you have to ask in what meaningful sense there is unity. Is it simply a shared history?
I would say that this ‘supra-national’ use of synodality cannot have any meaning if the local churches are equal in authority, and here we see the age old danger of Kaspar’s priority of the local church, wonderfully squashed by Ratzinger/Benedict, but rather like Japanese Knotweed, with deep pernicious roots. It’s evil daughter is Bishop’s Conferences with doctrinal power.
By the way, why should it be Bishop’s conferences? In the image of synodality, which I’ll look at later, the overriding icon is the Bishop celebrating Holy Mass, surrounded by Priests, Deacons, and the Laity. Synodality explicitly takes its image from the diocesan church. Nothing at all to do with Bishop’s Conferences. Indeed I would go so far as to say that they are alien and poisonous to the very idea of synodality.
But we cannot have a bunch of churches with no authority structure, as this would make 'synodality' not work. Imagine a parliament without a speaker, image a family where everyone has an equal voice, and the three children decide to spend the mortgage money on sweets and comics. This is the reason why the Anglicans are currently drifting further and further apart. Synodality on this level demands that something holds it together.
If synodality is the correct interplay within visible elements making up the Church, then the role of the Pope is essential.
So, is this what the Synod was doing? In a word, no. And in a word, it was getting there.
To be continued...