What is synodality?

Professor Marco Vanzini offers an explanation of the concept of synodality in the Church. Pope Francis has invited all the dioceses of the world to reflect on this issue and in October 2023 the final phase of the synod will take place in Rome.

Marco Vanzini-June 14, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes

Photo: bishops at the closing Mass of the 2018 Synod. © CNS photo/Claudio Peri, pool via Reuters

Translation of the article into English

Listening to history, dialogue with and in Tradition is for the Church the first form of synodal journey. The Church is a caravan that holds together successive generations with their baggage of experience, of faith understood and lived. Relying on the assistance of the Spirit of truth, the Church knows that Tradition is the site where God continues to speak to him, allowing him to offer the world a doctrine that is always alive and relevant.

The Church has always been conscious of being on a journey. The wayThis is how the Christian faith itself was designated in the first centuries, recalling the words of the Gospel in which Jesus declares that he is "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6). Christianity is the way through which man can walk in order to attain life in the truest sense, that which is found in God himself, in the embrace of the Father. Christ leads us to him in that journey which is our existence on earth and whose steps are essentially interior. They are the steps by which our spirit comes out of its confinement and understands that the meaning of life is love, communion with each person, recognized as a brother or sister in Christ, daughter of the same Father. 

The Church has always been aware of being on the way. In the first centuries, this is how the Christian faith itself was described, recalling the words of the Gospel in which Jesus declares that he is "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6).

The goal of man's journey is not to immerse himself in an individual and "private" relationship with God, nor is the journey to be made alone, but together, in the communion that already exists, even if not fully, in the Church. It is a syn-hodosa synodal journey what we do. On this journey, the Church wants to accompany every man and every woman, the whole human family of which she herself is a part and with which she shares the struggles, sufferings, desires and hopes. 

What the Pope wants

The Church, in fact, "is composed of men and women who, gathered together in Christ, are guided by the Holy Spirit on their pilgrimage towards the kingdom of the Father, and have received a message of salvation to propose it to all. For this reason, the Christian community feels itself truly and intimately united to the human race and its history" (Gaudium et spes, 1).

This is the fundamental conscience that Pope Francis wants to revive in the Church, giving impetus to the reflection on synodality. But if it is true that since its origins the Church has known that it walks together with the world in the Camino who is Christ, then the first awareness to be rekindled is that of his own history as a site of synodality. Indeed, since the day of Pentecost, the Church's raison d'être has been to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ. She has done so through the life of believers, through their witness, through their charity lived and nourished in the Eucharist, through the proclamation of the Gospel and its actualization in every period of history. 

The life of Peter and Paul, of Lawrence and Agnes, the theological genius of Origen, Augustine and Thomas, the progress in the understanding of the mystery of God and of man witnessed to by the Magisterium in the Councils and in its various expressions, the spiritual depth of Teresa and Ignatius, the humility of Francis and the luminous charity of Joseph Cottolengo and Maximilian Kolbe, are expressions of the inexhaustible richness and vitality of Christ and of the Gospel. Without these expressions, this richness would be confined to the past. 

These expressions are the Church's mediation in every age between the Gospel and the present-day life and culture of the people. They are what is called Tradition and, as a whole, constitute a perennial patrimony of the Church, a symphony of voices through which she has made the Word of Christ audible in every age and makes it audible in today's world. The Church, on the basis of the promise of Christ, is convinced that the Holy Spirit coordinates and agrees These voices so that the Word may be heard in its richness, faithfully, without distortion. 

For this reason, the Church advances on her journey by listening, above all, to these voices, constantly drawing on this heritage and bringing it up to date. Otherwise, she would run the risk of remaining anachronistically anchored in the past or of straying from the path, abandoning the "Way" that is Christ to follow fallacious directions. 

Synodality is a historical synodality

To borrow an expression dear to Pope Francis, the Church is a caravan of solidarity that holds together successive generations with their baggage of experiences, of faith understood and lived. In this sense, we can say that the synodality of the Church is first and foremost historicalIn the Church, today's Christians walk alongside those of yesterday and prepare the way for those of tomorrow. And this is thanks to her living Tradition, capable of preserving and updating the Word of God, so as to illuminate with its light the problems and questions of mankind today. 

Listening to one's own history - Tradition - is not easy or taken for granted, nor is dialogue between generations in a family and in society. But in the Church it is an indispensable matter, even more so than in a family and in society. Indeed, at stake is faith in the indefectibility assured by Christ to the Church in her mission of transmitting the truth, with the assistance of the "Spirit of truth" (Mt 16:18; Jn 16:13).

Christian doctrine has a development because it is the doctrine of a subject - the Church - that lives in time and faces the contexts of each time and place. And because the mystery from which it draws - the God revealed in Jesus Christ - is inexhaustible, as is the mystery of man, who is illuminated by this doctrine. But, as J.H. Newman has shrewdly explained, it is a development that does not reject the past, but knows how to appreciate it and continually return to it as a guarantee of true historical continuity. 

In this way, the Church can manifest in her journey a perennial vigor and a capacity for renewal that never fails. Thus, a true deepening of the truth can take place at any time, not just a transposition of past teachings into more current terms and concepts. New aspects of truth, previously unexpressed or even hidden, can emerge under the stimulus of a new historical and cultural context. New insights illuminate previous ones, of which they always prepare and anticipate to some extent, and thus manifest the coherence, the unity of Christian doctrine and its fruitfulness.

Listening to and dialoguing with Tradition and in Tradition is an essential modality of the synodality that the Church needs today. This listening-dialogue is the guarantee that what we intend to offer to the world as a community of believers in Christ will not be simply a solution of human wisdom to the anthropological, ethical and spiritual challenges that the changing times present us. Rather, it will be a human word in which the divine Word is expressed - is incarnated - the only Word capable of truly illuminating, in all its depth, the mystery of man, the meaning of his life and the goal of his journey together with the whole human community.

The authorMarco Vanzini

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