The news in religion today focuses on the “Synod on Synodality” currently being held in the Vatican. Many Catholics are seriously concerned about what’s being discussed by the assembled clergy. Longstanding teachings of the Church appear threatened. Of course we won’t know what will come of it all until it’s over and its deliberations have been somehow formalized. Whenever that might be and whatever might come of it, it’s the current focus of the Catholic world, and of much of the non-Catholic Christian world as well.
One thing, though, is already clear: Even respected theologians and high-ranking clerics can make foolish statements right out in front of God and everybody. Robert Royal reports:
Meanwhile, in recent days, a theologian invited to speak to the whole Synod announced that, “When we reach the consensus that the Church is constitutively synodal, we will have to rethink the whole Church, all the institutions, the whole life of the Church in a synodal sense.” A participating bishop openly affirmed that it will be necessary to depart from Apostolic Tradition. And they’re far from being the only ones making such radical claims.
Really? If the Church is not what Apostolic Tradition defines it to be, then what is it? A debating society? A forum for tracking fashions in convictions and conduct? I can’t put my finger on it; can you?
I’d always understood the function of a church – any church – as the conservation and promulgation of a body of doctrine. For the Catholic Church, that body of doctrine originated with Jesus of Nazareth: what He taught those who followed Him when He wore human flesh. It was passed down to us through the Apostles, with emphasis on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
If the Church is to depart from that, will it still be the Church?
Other Christian denominations have diverged from Catholic doctrine in some ways. They all recognize some limits, specifically the doctrines expressed in the Nicene Creed. But beyond the Creed several of them appear to hold that denominational teaching enjoys some latitude. Perhaps that is inherent in the existence of Christian denominations that aren’t Catholic. Still, you’d expect there to be a doctrinal core, provided by Christ Himself, from which none of them would dare to depart. In at least one regard – the nature and requirements of marriage – that seems not to be the case.
Let’s pass in silence over such matters as whether women can be ordained and whether priests should be allowed to marry. The Gospels don’t address those things. If Christ ever said anything on those subjects, it was not recorded in a document the Church regards as trustworthy. But on some subjects He was quite explicit:
Then some Pharisees came to him in order to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?”
He answered, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?”
Jesus said to them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way. Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”
There you have it: Marriage: man plus woman, indissoluble except in cases of adultery. That absolutely rules out same-sex marriage and divorce for any reason other than adultery. Yet there are Christian denominations that permit both those things. Go figure.
Apparently the Synod is entertaining the possibility that the Catholic Church will depart from that teaching.
This is not to say that the Church has never made a mistake, nor that it is forbidden to correct itself when the occasion warrants it. But if the Synod should somehow cause the Church to depart from the explicit teachings of its Founder, what are we to make of it? What are its roots? Whence cometh its authority?
I’ve addressed this subject before. It’s a difficult one, complicated by the possibility that one or more of the four Gospel evangelists “got it wrong.” Yet on matters of doctrine, they’re remarkably consistent. That reduces the odds that the Redeemer’s teachings were somehow distorted in the recording.
The Synod has some way yet to run. There’s no way to predict what it will pass upward to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, nor what the pope will endorse and proclaim ex cathedra.With Jorge Bergoglio on the Throne of Saint Peter, anything is possible. Catholics throughout the world should pay attention…and perhaps our non-Catholic Christian brethren should do so as well.