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

Pope Francis greets Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria, who as prefect of the CDF, leads the International Theological Commission. Credit: Vatican Media.

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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