Widespread confusion over procedures and process continues to be one of the less attractive hallmarks of Synod-2015. Thus it was perhaps inevitable that, over the weekend, there were several media reports to the effect that another procedural crisis was at hand: that Cardinal Petér Erdő had been denied the opportunity to speak after his introductory intervention last Monday; that a decision had been taken that there would be no final report; etc. In order to clarify the situation, we spoke with a highly knowledgeable and experienced Synod father, who indicated the following:
Cardinal Erdő made a deliberate decision to cover the entire Instrumentum Laboris [IL] – the Synod’s working document – in his first intervention on October 4; speculations that he had been “denied the microphone” for presentations of the second and third parts of the IL, because of aggravation in some quarters with his first intervention, seemed rather overwrought. (At the Saturday press briefing, Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi, SJ, said that Erdő’s comprehensive reflection on the entire IL had been planned all along, as had been briefer introductory remarks to each section of the IL by one or another of the Synod presidents. Readers may draw their own conclusions about what precisely happened here – beyond the usual confusions over process – but the chief point remains: there has been no punitive “silencing” of Cardinal Erdő.)
In response to a question from the floor during the Synod general assembly’s first free-discussion period, Synod general secretary Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri stated that there will be a Synod final document, that it will be voted on section-by-section, that the decision to publish it or not would be made by the Holy Father, and that any further changes in the procedures to be followed by the language-based Synod discussion group (the circuli minores) would be publicly announced. This is all on the record.
Moreover, on Saturday, October 10, Cardinal Baldisseri said that the reason Part Three of the IL (which contains the greater part of the controversial material being debated at Synod-2015) was already being discussed in the general assembly – a point that some weekend commentators found disturbing – is that so many Synod fathers had indicated a desire to speak on it that there would not have been enough time for their interventions under the normal procedures; thus permission had been given for them to speak on Part Three earlier. This explanation, too, is on the record.
Finally, those familiar with the leaks so characteristic of Roman ecclesiastical and journalistic life will understand that the final report will, inevitably, get into public circulation. XR2
Divided as it is into three weeks, it’s not quite right to think of Synod-2015 as having a quarter-pole, a half-mile pole, etc. But with the conclusion of its first week, the Synod has certainly turned the first corner of its particular course and is moving into the backstretch, before it rounds the final corner and heads into the home stretch in its third and concluding week.
Much to its credit, the Synod general secretariat released the first reports of the thirteen language-based discussion group, the circuli minores, written in the languages in which the groups’ discussions were conducted. There is a wealth of material in these reports: three from Francophone groups, four from Anglophone groups, three from Italian groups, two from “Iberian” (i.e., Spanish/Portuguese) groups, and one from the German group. There were also some striking similarities across the reports from the circuli, among which the following strike me as of particular interest:
⇒ While many groups praised the “See-Judge-Act” methodology that seems to have framed the ordering of the Instrumentum Laboris, many of the circuli questioned whether this ordering of things was appropriate to the Synod’s final report, or indeed to a truly ecclesial document. “See-Judge-Act” was the motto and method of the Jeunesse ouvriére chretienne [Young Christian Worker] movement, founded in Belgium in the early 20th century by Fr Joseph Cardijn, whom Paul VI created a cardinal in 1965. The method had a considerable influence throughout the world Church, and especially in Latin America, as a way of analyzing social situations (“See”) in light of the Church’s social doctrine (“Judge”) in order to determine appropriate pastoral, social, cultural, and political initiatives (“Act”). There was no questioning of its value in those circumstances. But several groups questioned its utility as the framework for an ecclesial document that, in their judgment, ought not begin with sociology (and, according to one group, less-than-adequate sociology at that), but with Revelation, including Scripture.
⇒ There were several criticisms of what was perceived to be a dreary and disheartening negativity in the assessment of the contemporary situation of marriage and the family in Part One of the Instrumentum Laboris (the phrase “parade of horribles” was not used, but that was the general idea); and there were parallel calls, strongly expressed by three of the English-language groups, for the Synod final report to lift up all that was good, ennobling, and life-giving in the Catholic experience of marriage and family life today. As one of the Anglophone reports put it, the Church and the Synod really can’t promote marriage as a Gospel vocation by beginning a synodal document with a laundry list of contemporary marriage pathologies.
⇒ Similarly, at least nine groups wanted the final report to begin with Christ, the Gospel, and the biblical witness to marriage; one Anglophone group proposed that “we should always begin with Jesus;” others urged locating the Synod’s concluding reflections on marriage and the family in the context of the New Evangelisation and the Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.
⇒ Several groups were concerned that the final report, in identifying “anthropological changes” in respect of marriage and family – meaning different and sometimes strange new understandings of what those words mean – make it clear that the Synod fathers found these changes in “the world,” not in the Church, which has a consistent, biblically grounded, and doctrinally formed concept of the human person that endures over time and across cultures.
⇒ Concerns about perceived “Eurocentrism” in the Instrumentum Laboris were found across the language groups, several of which urged that the final report recognise the plurality of social/cultural contexts and pastoral situations the world Church experiences, some of which are quite receptive to the liberating power of the Gospel’s teaching on marriage and the family.
⇒ Picking up an often-unremarked theme from Pope Francis, at least two groups, one French and one Italian, urged that the final report critique the dangers posed by some “absolutist” gender ideologies, which were described as destructive of family life and parenting.
⇒ Several groups raised grave concerns about trends in biotechnology and its capacity to remanufacture the human condition by manufacturing human beings; one of the French groups specifically cited the dangers of cloning, surrogate motherhood, and germ cell manipulation.
⇒ A different French group underscored the importance of male responsibility and fatherhood; that same group urged that the final report lift up the elderly, living within extended families, as a blessing.
⇒ One of the English-speaking groups urged that the Synod propose and promote a catechesis of self-giving (the foundation of the self-donation of conjugal love) as the answer to those currents in western culture that emphasize autonomy and self-assertion; that same group wanted the final report to affirm that the culture of life, which the Church has promoted, is necessarily rooted in the virtues of hope and generosity, and then specified “culture of life” by speaking of the imperative of a vibrant defense of the lives of the unborn, the elderly, and those with special needs.
⇒ One of the Italian-language groups called for Synod-2015 to explicitly denounce child labour, child soldiers, and the abuse of women in prostitution and surrogate motherhood.
⇒ The report from the Synod’s German-language group seemed something of an outlier in its hearty affirmation of the methodology and order of the Instrumentum Laboris, although that group joined with others in asking for something positive about the vocation of marriage at the beginning of the final report, reaffirming that the Church thinks about marriage and the family through the prisms of the creation and the redemption. The German-language group also cautioned against exaggerating the negative cultural trends in late modernity/post-modernity, and called for an affirmation of contemporary culture’s positive aspects (albeit without identifying them).
Speeches – “interventions” – in the Synod general assembly continued all day Saturday. In one of them a Polish bishop, speaking in the name of the entire Polish hierarchy, said that there could not possibly be any change in the Church’s teaching and practice on offering Holy Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried, as doing so would display a both a defective theology of grace and a “false compassion” that implicitly rejected Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Other interventions helped clarify another of the fault-lines that define the more fundamental debates at Synod-2015: the “issues beneath the issues,” as several contributors to Letters from the Synod have called them.
Of particular note on Saturday was the claim, rather insistently pressed by several Synod fathers, that a robust, truth-centered presentation of the Church’s faith, teaching, and practice is an impediment to successful evangelisation. This position is often (self-)described as one of “accepting people where they are” and “opening paths for people” – as if those pastors, lay movement leaders, and ordinary Catholics who have found considerable evangelical and pastoral success in offering what I have called “All-In Catholicism” have not begun with people “as they are” and were more interested in closure than inclusion. (On this matter of “inclusion,” see Archbishop Charles Chaput’s intervention” below.)
One might also note that it is precisely those countries and regions in which Catholic teaching has been regarded as something of an embarrassment by bishops, clergy, and theologians that Catholic practice has become most attenuated, in some instances to the point of virtual disappearance.
In any event, this issue will likely be discussed with considerable intensity along the backstretch, and into the home stretch, of Synod-2015.
Distinguished Senior Fellow
and William E Simon Chair in Catholic Studies,
Ethics and Public Policy Center
Our “voice” for the next three days will be that of Bishop Robert Barron (b. 1959), recently ordained as Titular Bishop of Macriana in Mauretania and auxiliary to the Archbishop of Los Angeles. Bishop Barron is one of the Catholic world’s foremost evangelists and catechists: his media ministry, Word On Fire, is a model of how media old and new can serve the New Evangelisation, and his ten-part “Catholicism” series is arguably the most important visual presentation of the Catholic Church ever made – and not merely for its beauty, but for its profound substance.
Robert Barron holds a PhD from the Institut Catholique de Paris and served as a parish priest, a seminary professor, and the rector of Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary before his nomination as bishop.
Bishop Barron’s keynote address at the World Congress of Families, which preceded the World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis in Philadelphia last month, was received with great enthusiasm. We are grateful to Bishop Barron for permission to reprint it in Letters from the Synod, for the benefit of both Synod fathers and all those around the world who are taking up the Holy Father’s call for careful thought, intensified prayer and serious conversation about how the Catholic Church might best serve marriage and the family in the 21st century. Bishops Barron’s address will be published here in three parts, today, tomorrow, and Wednesday; Part One follows. XR2
by Bishop Robert Barron
That we human beings have been made in the image and likeness of God is one of the best-known doctrines of the Bible, but I don’t think that even devout Christians and Jews have begun to unpack the full significance of this claim. There is no philosophy, no religion, no social theory, no ideology that has ever proposed a more thorough-going affirmation of the human being than the Bible has. Neither ancient programs of perfectibility, nor Renaissance humanism, nor modern progressivism, nor Marxism, nor the contemporary valorization of freedom have come close to holding up the human person as high as do the Scriptures. For the Biblical authors claim that the human being is marked, in every aspect of his existence, by a likeness unto God and that he has been endowed with a distinctive mission from God, and ultimately destined for life on high in union with God.
Atheism, both old and new, is predicated upon the assumption that God poses a threat to human flourishing. Thus Ludwig Feuerbach, the founder of modern atheism, said, “the No to God is the Yes to man!” And Karl Marx, an ardent disciple of Feuerbach, could characterise religion as the “opium of the masses.” And Sigmund Freud, moving down the same avenue of thought, could argue that religious faith is an infantile fantasy, a dream from which an enlightened humanity should wake. Jean-Paul Sartre, the father of existentialism, could propose the syllogism, “if God exists, I cannot be free; but I am free; therefore, God does not exist.” Finally, Christopher Hitchens could propose a book with the simple title God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. All of these atheists take for granted that divinity and humanity are caught in a desperate zero-sum game, whereby the more glory God gets, the less glory we receive, and vice versa. The Bible consistently proposes a completely opposing vision, best summed up in an image from the third chapter of the book of Genesis. While tending his flock on the slopes of Mt Sinai, Moses spied a peculiar sight: a bush that was on fire but not consumed. And from that bush came the voice of the God who identified himself as the One Who Is. The point is this: the closer the true God comes to his creation, the more beautiful and radiant that creation becomes. As God enters into our lives, we are not consumed, and nothing in us is compelled to give way; on the contrary, we are rendered luminous, more fully ourselves.
The drama of human life consists in realizing the full implications of this non-competitive relationship with the living God. The French spiritual master Léon Bloy reminded us a century ago that the only real sadness in life is not to be a saint, that is to say, not fully to become the image of God that each of us is meant to be. What I should like to do in the course of this presentation is to explore the meaning of the imago Dei and to search out the many ways that baptised Christians are summoned to embody it.
Back to the Beginning
Let us begin our investigation by returning to the endlessly suggestive story told in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis. Most of the controversies surround the Genesis account of creation as an alternative “science” are exercises in missing the point. The key to understanding the initial moves in the Bible is theological and more precisely liturgical. We should notice, first, the difference that obtains between the Scriptural story and the myths of origin found in practically every other ancient culture. In those latter accounts, the order of creation follows upon some primordial act of violence, usually a battle between rival gods, resulting in the victory of one and the dismembering of the other. But there is none of this in the book of Genesis, according to which God creates, not through violence against a rival force or the aggressive shaping of some pre-existing stuff, but rather through a sheerly peaceful act of speech: “Let there be light, and there was light.” The theological tradition has described this process with the phrase creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing), implying that, quite literally, nothing stands between the Creator God and the creatures whom he brings, from moment to moment, into existence. The being of the latter is not “over and against” the being of the former; instead, creation is, in Thomas Aquinas’s remarkable language quaedam relatio ad Creatorem cum novitate essendi (a kind of relation to the Creator with newness of being). On the Biblical reading, the most fundamental truth of things is non-violence, continuity, co-operation.
Next we should notice how all of the elements of creation, as they flow forth harmoniously from God, form a sort of stately liturgical procession: the light, followed by the waters above the heavens, followed by the sea and dry land, followed by the plants, followed by the animals, etc. It is not the least bit incidental to observe that all of those realities were, at one time or another in the ancient world, worshipped as gods. The author of the book of Genesis is effectively dethroning and desacralising them but also giving them their proper place as liturgical actors: all of creation is designed to praise the Creator. St Augustine honours this insight in the 10th book of his Confessions, when he presents all of the elements of creation urging him to “look higher” and insisting that “He made us!”
Coming at the very end of the liturgical procession (which position signals the most important player) is the human being, whose task it will be to give voice to the praise of all creation, to worship God on behalf of the entire universe. This is why the Jewish Scriptural interpreters of the intertestamental period as well as the Fathers of the Church consistently presented Adam as the first priest and the Garden of Eden as a sort of primordial temple. Walking in easy fellowship with the Lord, all of his faculties aligned to God, Adam, prior to the Fall, is in the stance of adoratio (mouth to mouth) vis-à-vis the Creator. This is precisely what authentic worship entails: not something for the benefit of God – for how could God possibly benefit from what he has made in its entirety? – but rather something for our benefit. We become rightly ordered in the measure that we place God at the center of our concern. In the attitude of adoratio, the human being could be compared to a Rose Window in a Gothic cathedral, all of the elements of his person circling harmoniously around a central fixed point. With these clarifications in mind, we can begin to see a first feature of the imago Dei, namely, the priestly vocation of all of the descendants of Adam.
In the second account of creation, we hear that God wanted to make a suitable partner for the first man and so brought forth a variety of animals whom Adam named. The Church Fathers loved this image, for it signaled, they thought, the scientific and philosophical vocation of human beings. It is crucially important to note that Adam named the animals, not arbitrarily, but rather kata Logon, according to the logos or inherent intelligibility placed in them by the Creator. Joseph Ratzinger and many others have argued that the modern physical sciences emerged when and where they did, precisely because of certain properly theological assumptions, namely that the world is not God and that the world, in every detail, is marked by intelligibility. If the world were construed as divine – as it is in most forms of nature mysticism – it would not be a fit object of investigation, analysis and experimentation. By the same token, if the universe were not imbued, in every nook and cranny, with intelligibility, it would not be sought out by inquiring minds. Both of these assumptions are, as I suggested, theological in nature, for both are corollaries of the doctrine of creation. In naming the animals, Adam is literally re-cognising them, acknowledging an intelligible structure that had already been thought into them by a creative intelligence. What we see here is the prophetic or truth-telling dimension of the imago Dei. Just as human beings are designed to praise God on behalf of all creation, so they are intended to name the truth of things, so that, through them, the universe might come to understand itself aright.
At the close of the first creation narrative, God says to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and all the living things that move on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). These verses have, of course, proven controversial in recent years, since they seem to signal that humans are given an exploitative lordship over the rest of creation. But that is not what is meant here. The sense of the Biblical term “dominion” is stewardship, a lordship indeed, but according to God’s non-violent and loving purpose. The human being is meant to tend and protect the garden, preserving it as a place where God’s Lordship is in evidence. Stamped with God’s image, human beings are the Lord’s viceroys, governing the beautiful creation in God’s name. To exploit, to take advantage of, or to dominate through violence would be utterly opposed to God’s nature, as that nature is revealed in the act of creation itself. If we follow the prompts of some of the early Jewish readers of Genesis, Adam, having properly governed Eden is then charged with Edenising the world, that is to say, establishing the good order of the Garden everywhere. What I have been describing is the properly kingly dimension of the imago Dei.
In a word, the human being’s vocation is to lead all of creation in right praise, to name and understand things kata logon, which is to say, as they are, and finally rightly to order things so as to preserve the integrity and beauty of what God has made. Could God have accomplished all of this on his own? Well, certainly. But he desired to give his human creatures the privilege of participating in his governance of the world. So much attention over the centuries has been paid to the forbidden fruit that we easily enough overlook the extraordinary divine permission given to our first parents: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden, except the tree of knowledge of good and bad” (Genesis 2:16). The Church Fathers interpreted the ranginess of Adam in the Garden as evocative of the human cultivation of science, philosophy, literature, politics, conversation, and art—all of the endeavors that make life worth living. St Irenaeus’s magnificent phrase is apposite here: “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
What I hope is eminently clear is that this vocation cannot be construed as merely private. It is, by its very nature, a vocation for the world, on behalf of the world. I will return to this theme a bit later in the text, but allow me to signal at the outset that so much of the momentum of public opinion is in the direction of privatising religious obligation and vocation. This might be in line with contemporary sensibilities, but it is distinctly unbiblical.
Therefore, a fundamental Scriptural affirmation is that we have been made in the image and likeness of God. This is our pride, our joy, and our vocation. However, a balancing Scriptural assertion is that we have fallen from grace and that the image in us has, accordingly, been compromised. This means that our capacity to function as priests, prophets, and kings is attenuated. Let’s look at the fall first in terms of priesthood. When Adam and Eve grasped at the forbidden fruit, they were arrogating to themselves what is a unique prerogative of God, namely, the determination of good and evil. In so doing, they effectively turned themselves into gods, and this led to their expulsion from the Garden, for it conduced automatically to a suspension of right praise. When anything other than God is the object of worship, the individual worshipper disintegrates and around him the family, society, and culture tend to disintegrate. In the strict sense, orthodoxy (right praise) is always the central issue: when we worship errantly, trouble ensues. This truth is borne out from beginning to end of the Bible, as Israel’s troubles, time and again, are traceable to bad praise, the tendency to run after false gods. We can also see the principle at work in the possessed people whom Jesus encounters: in Mark’s Gospel, for instance, a single person says, “What do you want of us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” This is the split or splintered personality, in the grip of the diabolic, lit. dia-balein (to cast apart).
The grasp at godliness also entails the loss of the prophetic identity, for it involves a move into intellectual arbitrariness. When they seize at the knowledge of good and evil, they commence automatically to name things according to their own whims and private preferences, rather than kata logon, and this in turn conduces toward a corruption of philosophy and science. The great 20th-century Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan pointed out, over and again, how the fallen mind, turned in upon itself, is insufficiently attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible. Finally, following the suggestion of the serpent is a function of bad kingship. Though they are supposed to be good stewards of the Garden, Adam and Eve allow the snake to hold sway, going so far as to submit to his direction and insinuation. Those who are intended to be the viceroys of the Creator God become, instead, lackeys of a wicked ruler—and the result is a disaster for the Garden and a suspension of the program of Edenising the world.
[To be continued tomorrow]
There has been considerable, and welcome, conversation about ecclesial “inclusiveness,” and what that might and might not mean, in the first week of Synod-2015. That conversation has now taken an interesting turn.
As the second week of Synod-2015 opens, some of the Synod fathers are turning their minds toward the end of the Synod’s third week, when the proposed Synod final report will be voted on (section by section, according to the present plan), after the final report’s drafting commission has taken account of the revisions to the Instrumentum Laboris emerging from the Synod’s language-based discussion groups in the form of modi, or proposed changes.
As the Church’s attention – and the world’s – will be intensely focused on the final report, a consensus is forming among the Synod fathers that the voting process would be best served if the draft final report to be voted upon were available to the bishops in English, French, German, and Spanish, as well as in Italian. According to this emergent consensus, clarity of thought and language will best serve Pope Francis’s pastoral purposes in summoning this Synod and its predecessor; and such clarity can best be achieved if the Synod fathers can read the material on which they will be voting in their own languages. Conversely, the emerging consensus holds, ambiguities in language will be seized upon by various parties in the post-Synod period to forward various agendas or to “narrativise” the Synod on the Family according to previously constructed analytic templates.
If it be objected that the Synod general secretariat simply does not have the capacity to produce such translations of a draft final report being prepared in Italian, it might be remembered that this was not an obstacle to the drafting of the Synod propositions during previous synods (when drafts were available to the fathers for review in the principal European languages, as well as in Latin). Nor should it be a problem today, given the impressive linguistic resources available to the Synod general secretariat from its own staff, perhaps aided by the language-based sections Holy See’s Secretariat of State.
It is likely that this emerging consensus will be reflected in proposals coming out of the Synod’s discussions groups, and perhaps in the Synod’s general assemblies, during Week Two of Synod-2015. XR2
The following intervention was given in the Synod general assembly on Saturday, October 10.
The Holy Father has wisely encouraged us to be both fraternal and candid in speaking our thoughts during this synod.
Just as our thoughts shape the language we use, so too the language we use shapes our thinking and the content of our discussions. Imprecise language leads to confused thinking, and that can sometimes lead to unhappy results. I want to share with you two examples that should cause us some concern, at least in the English-speaking world.
The first example is the word inclusive. We’ve heard many times that the Church should be inclusive. And if by “inclusive” we mean a Church that is patient and humble, merciful and welcoming – then all of us here will agree. But it’s very hard to include those who do not wish to be included, or insist on being included on their own terms. To put it another way: I can invite someone into my home, and I can make my home as warm and hospitable as possible. But the person outside my door must still choose to enter. If I rebuild my house to the blueprint of the visitor or stranger, my family will bear the cost, and my home will no longer be their home. The lesson is simple. We need to be a welcoming Church that offers refuge to anyone honestly seeking God. But we need to remain a Church committed to the Word of God, faithful to the wisdom of the Christian tradition, and preaching the truth of Jesus Christ.
The second example is the expression unity in diversity. The Church is “catholic” or universal. We need to honour the many differences in personality and culture that exist among the faithful. But we live in a time of intense global change, confusion, and unrest. Our most urgent need is unity, and our greatest danger is fragmentation. Brothers, we need to be very cautious in devolving important disciplinary and doctrinal issues to national and regional episcopal conferences – especially when pressure in that direction is accompanied by an implicit spirit of self-assertion and resistance.
Five hundred years ago, at a moment very like our own, Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote that the unity of the Church is the single most important of her attributes. We can argue about what Erasmus actually believed, and what he intended with his writing. But we can’t argue about the consequences when the need for Church unity was ignored. In the coming days of our synod, we might fruitfully remember the importance of our unity, what that unity requires, and what disunity on matters of substance implies.
Cardinal Camillo Ruini served both John Paul II and Benedict XVI as Vicar of Rome – the man who actually oversees the Diocese of Rome for the Bishop of Rome, the pope. He is, therefore, in a distinctive position to assess what some see as a rupture between those two pontiffs and Pope Francis. His remarks, in an interview given to the Catholic News Agency, may be found here, in the online edition of the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund