So when all was said and done, what was the outcome of the Synod of Bishops?
After agreeing the Message from the Synod (the Nuntius – see yesterday’s post), the Synod turned its attention on Friday evening and Saturday morning to agreeing the final list of Propositions. The Propositions go forward to a small group elected by the Synod who do further work on them before submitting them to the Pope as guidance for the future. Normally they are not published at this stage but a copy has been made available online here: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/press/sinodo/documents/bollettino_25_xiii-ordinaria-2012/02_inglese/b33_02.html
There are 51 Propositions. They were read aloud (in Latin) on Friday evening and Saturday morning. The reading took several hours. The Fraternal Delegates were not given the text at this stage and nor, of course, did we have a vote. The Synod Fathers voted on the Propositions both by marking and signing their own texts and by an electronic vote on each Proposition in the full Synod session. I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets when I say that there was not a great deal of dissent on any of the votes although there were, I gather, some significant alterations made to some of the Propositions after they were examined in small groups.
Many of the Propositions simply affirm or re-affirm present practice in the light of the New Evangelisation. However, to my Anglican eyes and ears, there was a significant and clear overall direction emerging which resonates with recent Anglican reflection on mission and the transmission of the faith. Here are eight points worth noting in this respect.
1. A permanent call to mission.
The Synod represents a further development in reflection on the New Evangelisation in that the Roman Catholic Church clearly perceives a permanent call to engage in God’s mission and to the transmission of the faith both in the countries which have been traditional mission fields and the countries traditionally regarded as Christian (see Propositions 6, 7, 40, 41).
It is proposed that the Church proclaim the permanent world-wide missionary dimension of her mission in order to encourage all the particular Churches to evangelize (7)
The Propositions recognise this both in theory and in suggesting various structural responses, including a permanent Council for New Evangelisation as part of every Bishop’s Conference (40), establishing the study of the New Evangelisation in Catholic Universities (30) and the New Evangelisation to be the integrating element in the formation of priests and deacons (49):
Seminaries should take as their focus the New Evangelization so that it becomes the recurring and unifying theme in programs of human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation in the ars celebrandi, in homiletics and in the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation, all very important parts of the New Evangelization.The Synod recognizes and encourages the work of deacons whose ministry provides the Church great service. Ongoing formation programs within the diocese should also be available for deacons.
New Evangelisation therefore comes to occupy a central place within theology and practice similar to that of the mission of God in many of the Protestant Churches and the Five Marks of Mission within the Anglican Communion.
Inculturation is a key concept in the Propositions, introduced as one of the first substantial paragraphs (5). It’s prominence reveals the dilemma at the heart of so much of the transmission of the faith: how do we communicate an unchanging gospel in a changing world? Answers are not supplied but there are significant clues in the rest of the document (12, 13, 19).
3. Secularisation (8)
There is an awareness of secularisation in the Propositions as throughout the documents (8). However there has been little in depth analysis of the problem. The Synod has rather reversed my view of traditional Roman Catholic strengths and weaknesses in theological method. Before the Synod, I held the impression of a Church which was strong in its philosophical theology and weaker in its reflection on Scripture. Actually the Synod has provided wonderful examples throughout of deep Scriptural reflection, many of which will stay with me for a long time. However it has been less strong on philosophical theology. There has been little attempt to analyse the roots and causes of secularisation which I associate with Hans Kung and other theologians of the post war generation.
4. The right to proclaim and to hear the gospel (10, 15, 16)
This is rightly a strong theme. The freedom to preach the gospel is felt to be under attack both in the secularised West and in some places from militant Islam. The worldwide Church needs to make clear its stance not to impose faith on anyone but to assert the right of everyone to choose their religion.
5. Initial proclamation (9)
Proposition 9 calls for major pieces of work to be done on the initial proclamation of the gospel. This work is to be both theological – describing the heart of the gospel – and pastoral – describing strategies for communicating the faith. It calls for serious and welcome attention to the theology of evangelism.
6. Apologetics (17, 18, 19, 20, 54, 55)
A major new initiative is called for here though its shape is less precise. Theologians, universities, new media experts, artists and scientists are all called to be involved. There have been similar calls recently within the Church of England for a major new initiative in apologetics and for more resources to be invested here.
7. Adult Catechesis (28, 29, 37, 38)
Amen to this sentence:
One cannot speak of the New Evangelization if the catechesis of adults is non-existent, fragmented, weak or neglected.
The Synod has rightly paid major attention to the development of catechesis, building on the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Attention is focussed here on the formation of catechists. Again there have been similar calls recently for a new focus on catechesis within the Church of England and for the development of new materials.
8. New ecclesial communities (43)
Finally the Synod is extremely positive and affirming of all that the new ecclesial communities (movements such as Sant’Egidio) have brought to the life and witness of the Church since Vatican 2. Again this has been evident through the Synod. In Church of England language, this is about living out the mixed economy church on a macro rather than a micro level: points of relationship, connection and integration are key between new movements of mission and the established structures of the Church.
Since Vatican II, the New Evangelization has greatly benefited from the dynamism of the new ecclesial movements and new communities. Their ideal of holiness and unity has been the source of many vocations and remarkable missionary initiatives. The Synod recognizes these new realities and encourages them to utilise their charisms in close collaboration with the dioceses and the parish communities, who in turn, will benefit from their missionary spirit.
Overall then there is a significant agenda here. This has been a prayerful, biblical, united and humble Synod which has taken a further step of placing the idea of the mission of God and evangelisation at the heart of the theology and structure and purpose of the Church. It’s been a privilege to take part. Thanks be to God.
If you read the Propositions or the Message please bear in mind that the translations are reasonably accurate but don’t always read that well. It’s worth persevering!