Rorate Caeli

“A permanent parliament in which Jesus Christ is no longer preached, conversion to Truth and Grace no longer called for”: Bishop Aguer on the Synod on Synodality

The Synodality of the Church
by Most Rev. Héctor Aguer
Archbishop Emeritus of La Plata, Argentina
January 21, 2022

The [preparatory phase of the] XVI session of the Synod of Bishops was recently inaugurated with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica [October 10, 2021].

Since its creation by Paul VI, over the years the Synod of Bishops has practically become an institution of ecclesial government. In reality, it is a resource that has been exercised in various and varied ways since ancient times in the different regions and ecclesiastical provinces, convoked by the patriarchs. It is not the purpose of this note to trace a history of synods, a reflection of ecclesial life that is fascinating and allows us to appreciate the organization of the local churches and their relationships. It is part of the admirable richness of the Catholic Church. It is also evident in this history that the holding of a synod was an attempt to confront difficult situations or crises, and to overcome deformations of the faith. It is not an extravagant invention but arose naturally, as an expression of the fact that the Church of Christ is a communion.

The word synod expresses the march in history of the Church-as-Communion. It comes from the Greek, which also shows the ancient and oriental origin of this institution. Synod is syn-hodós: the preposition or adverb syn, i.e., with is placed before the noun hodós, path, go along a path together. The Greek term is feminine, it goes with the article he; one would have to translate then [into Spanish] “la vía,” the way or the route. This is how, in synodal meetings or assemblies, joint decisions were taken, after study and debates. The episcopate, the successors of the apostles of Jesus, exercised the charge imposed on them to keep watch (skopeîn: to look down from above, from on high, in order to be able to see how things were going and to judge about them with authority). The service or ministry of the bishop is that of a sentinel, an expression of love for Christ and his people. We have documents of great relevance in the post-synodal exhortations of the great pontiffs St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It is to the Bishop of Rome, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, that the presidency of this institution belongs. It is he, the Pope, who indicates the themes and the pastoral attitudes that should sustain them.

During the opening Mass for the two-year run-up to the XVI Synod in October 2023, the Supreme Pontiff reiterated his already well-known orientations. He said once again that the Church must not be a “neat and orderly” place but rather “attached to reality and its problems,” must enter into the “rocky roads” of the life of the world, must be ready for the “adventure of this journey,” must not be afraid of uncertainty nor take refuge in excuses, judging that there is no need for something new because “it has always been done this way.” He advocated, according to the media, for “a Church that meets the challenges of the modern world.”

This language has been repeated for at least half a century, a time in which it is undeniable that the Church has fallen into a dreadful night, except for momentary and local gleams that allow us to sustain hope in the action of God and His mysterious providence. The pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI diligently guarded those gleams. But that is now in the past.

The organization approved at the Roman summit for the XVI Synod will include, as announced, a phase of consultation of the faithful for which a questionnaire will be sent to each diocese. I have also heard talk of a kind of general synod of the whole Church, like a permanent parliament. In the meantime, Jesus Christ is no longer preached, conversion to Truth and Grace is no longer called for. The sins that are denounced are the costly proliferation of weapons, the destruction of nature, deforestation, the carelessness that promotes climate change, and, more recently, the moral obligation to be vaccinated against Covid.

The Church has been trapped in a rationalist, Kantian-inspired moralism. God, the mystery of Christ and his saving work—under the influence of Practical Reason. How terrible is the responsibility incurred by the pastors of the Church if they do not call for conversion with apostolic fervor! It is very painful to see from this desolate corner of Argentina that the fervent love transmitted by the Word is more to be expected from a pastor of an evangelical church, not even from the great churches of the Reformation, more ruined than the Catholic Church.

It is true that this evangelical preaching includes a certain fundamentalism and pseudo-charismatic excesses, but it makes the Truth resound before a world where sin reigns unhindered: Jesus will come again in glory for the judgment of the world and the conclusion of history. It is the reality proclaimed in the Nicene Creed: Et iterum venturus est cum gloria iudicare vivos et mortuos, cuius Regnum non erit finis. It is the truth that must be believed in the humble fervor of faith, without indulging in millenarian nonsense, because only God knows when; for as long as this when lasts, in this silence, the mystery of salvation—which we must offer unceasingly to every man and every woman—is being exercised. The cold and dry moralism, and the imprecations for its non-fulfillment, needs to be enlivened by the grace of love, because without it, it will not be able to obtain any effect. The political apparatus of the Church, which is deployed to the “political correctness” that reigns in the world, will prove an unbearable burden if it does not serve the charge that the Risen Lord, before returning to the Father, entrusted to the apostles.

Synod, walking together along the way—what is it? The modern (or better modernist) Church emphasizes the syn: what counts is to “be together.” Where does it lead us in its “going out”? In his conversation with his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus tries to explain to them His return to the Father; He tells them that He is going to prepare a place for them: in the Father’s house there are many dwelling places; you know where I am going and you know the way. Thomas asks him: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” Jesus answers him, “I am the way (ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς) and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6); as several Fathers of the Church point out in their interpretation, He is the Way that gives access to the goal, which is Himself as Truth and Life.

Synod: to walk together the way that is Jesus. This is the way that the Church must announce with full conviction and love, freeing herself from the moralism that has trapped her and confines her in the suffocating atmosphere of Practical Reason. And, contemplating with joy and love this Way, which is the only one that has a way out, let her lead the world along it. For this is the purpose for which the supernatural Mystery of Faith has been entrusted to her, which she must transmit.