Short History of Synodality

The synodal process, from the early Church to the pontificate of Pope Francis By Honorine Grasset / France

The Catholic Church has officially begun preparations for the next ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place in October 2023 in Rome. The theme Pope Francis has chosen for the gathering is “For a synodal church: communion, participation and mission.”

In doing so, he is seeking to give new impetus to a syondal process that has involved the whole people of God since the very beginning of the Church.

What is the origin of synods?

From the earliest days of the Church, people gathered to discern when they were faced with a crisis or at a turning point.

The Acts of the Apostles tell that when the early Christian communities needed to resolve certain practical problems or pastoral questions, they held an assembly of believers, called on the Holy Spirit and discussed with those in authority.

“The convocation of assemblies is a very old and traditional practice in the Church. It has taken place with more or less intensity according to the periods of history,” says Gilles Routhier, member of the Synod of Bishops’ theological commission on synodality. Whether diocesan, local or ecumenical, synods or councils can be traced continuously from the early Church to the Second Vatican Council, which marked a real renewal of this practice.

“The Greek word ‘synod’ is originally the equivalent of the Latin concilium or council in English,” Routhier says.

“In a context of crisis, contention or in a period when the Church needs to reform, synods are used so that a common decision can be reached following a process of discernment,” he points out.

St. Cyprian, the third century bishop of Carthage and a Church Father, made it a rule not to decide anything “without your counsel and without the suffrage of the people, according to my personal opinion”.

(This article will be continued next week)