A short history of synodality Part 3

The synodal process, from the early Church to the pontificate of Pope Francis

By Honorine Grasset / France

What has happened since Vatican II?

The last council was a moment to rediscover synodality as experienced at the international level.

Refusing to ratify documents the Roman Curia had prepared before Vatican II even got underway, the Council Fathers collaborated with experts and became involved in the drafting of new texts in a different way.

After having experienced for four years the richness of this mode of government of the Church, Paul VI created the “Synod of Bishops” in 1965.

The list of Synod assemblies convened since then shows the importance of this institution. The more recent assemblies have focused on the Word of God (2008), the family (2014-2015) and the Amazon (2019), for example.

The pontificate of Pope Francis is particularly characterized by the conviction that the Church is essentially synodal.

Is this a form of democracy?

No, the synod is not a parliament. Synodality cannot be confused with party politics in which the minority camp is submissive to the majority camp’s position.

“The risk would be to spontaneously come to the assembly already having a certainty about what the Church should do,” notes Routhier.

“At the Synod on the Amazon, we saw that everyone came with their own solutions or opinions on ordinating the viri probati. But the question the participants had to answer was rather: ‘Church of Amazonia, how is God calling you to announce the Gospel?,” Routhier notes.

While the fruit of the synodal process is the result of the communion of the people of God, it is not, however, a compromise, synthesis or consensus.

“We must recognise that ecclesial authority assumes a necessary service of communion and decision-making,” Isabelle More] emphasises.

“The quality of listening is one of the fundamental criteria. Authority is the guarantor of unity in fidelity of Jesus Christ. If the final result is different from the initial intuition, it’s a good sign!” she says.

What are the challenges of synodality for the Church today?

Synodality unfolds the ecclesiology developed by Vatican II: that all the baptised participate in the life of the Church as members of the People of God.

But Morel issues a cautionary note.

“There can be no fruitful synodality without training the baptised, including priests and bishops,” she says.

“To be useful to the life of the Church, one needs an ‘enlightened conscience’,” she adds.

The renewal of synodality also appears to be a sign of the times, expecially in the way power is exercised in the Church.

“The Church no longer needs monarchs,” recently stated Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops.

“The path of synodality” — said Pope Francis in 2015 on the fiftieth anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops — “is the path that God expects of the Church of the third millennium.”