Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

The German Synodal Path: Noteworthy or not worthy?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 08, 2020

We now know a good deal about what is advocated in the draft documents arising from the so-called “Synodal Path” in Germany. Of course it is all predictable, because it is all simply a summary of the points on which secularists and the Catholic Church disagree, with the Synodalists on the side of the secularist cultural mainstream. If you consult our news summary of the radical changes called for by the German synod and bother to click through to the detailed account in L’Espresso—and I am not recommending that you should—the truth of this judgment will become immediately clear.

This is simply the latest example of the modern “sensus infidelium” (sense of the unfaithful) at work in a Church which has not in our times found the courage to eliminate from membership those who no longer accept the Catholic Faith as revealed by Christ through Scripture, Tradition and the clarifications of the Magisterium of the Church. It is pointless to debate with internal non-believers, or even to admit their claim to be “Catholic”. Any sort of democracy of values makes absolute nonsense of revealed religion. Yet revealed religion is the only means we have of transcending our own constantly shifting human/cultural blindness.

But if you did bother to investigate, you could quickly reduce the “Synodal Path” to the following fatuous claims:

  • We now know that men and women are the same, so there can be no distinctions in roles or authority among them. Since this is impossible, God cannot have intended it, and any such differentiation must be rejected as purely human/cultural, including distinctions in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
  • We now know that human affection and sexual desire may take many different forms and be expressed in many different ways. Therefore, it is impossible to say that some forms and expressions are better than others, or that some are right and some are wrong. And since this is impossible, God cannot have intended such judgments, and any such differentiation must be rejected as purely human/cultural.
  • In shaping Catholic doctrine and Church policy, it is necessary to recognize and correspond with the sensus fidelium, which is to be defined as the expression of the dominant attitudes of today’s scientific culture as adopted by those who consider themselves to be members of the Catholic Church. It is this “sense of the faithful” (or, as I put it above, this sense of the unfaithful) that rightly guides and shapes what the Church teaches in every age.

A hundred absurdities

In these points, the drafters of the “Synodal Path” texts manifestly do nothing but accuse the Church of their own sin, which is to be willfully culture bound. Applied to any number of issues, this self-absorbed mode of analysis leads to absurd conclusions, none of them ascertained either by faith or reason, since all of them are rather obviously rooted in the human passions as shaped and voiced by the zeitgeist. Moreover, it is these same vain and wayward desires which the revelation and grace of Jesus Christ are expressly intended to correct. And yet the German “Synodal Path”, like so much allegedly Catholic thought and action in the modern West, is simply a rehash of the very same sins and errors under which Christ and the apostles suffered so much precisely to free their converts from them, through the proclamation of the Gospel.

To listen to those who are shaping this “Synodal Path”—and to secularists and modernists everywhere who choose to retain the Catholic name—you would think that they regard their alleged superior understanding of reality as something new. You would assume that the Church has never before come into contact with these alleged truths which we “now know” as modern and scientific men and women. You would surmise that the Church must be schooled to take into account a whole set of fresh facts and impressive new theories so that she might better distinguish truth from error and good from evil.

But nothing could be farther from the truth. In the first place, “modern science” and those who claim to follow in its ways can only observe and describe; faith and morals are outside the material realm, and science does not deal with “oughts”. In the second, what these devotees of an enlightened scientific culture are observing and describing today are simply the habits of the same old paganism—of which every generation of Christians has been fully aware, right back to Christ Himself. What we are faced with yet again in this latest instance is simply the standard pagan pride and passion, lust and disobedience which Christ and the Church insist must be rejected in favor of Christian humility, self-control, sacrificial love, and obedience to the Father’s will.

Consider, for example, St. Paul:

Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness. You did not so learn Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus. Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. [Eph 4:17-24]

Or St. Peter:

Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake. Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. [1 Pet 1:13-21]

Or St. John:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever. Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us. [1 Jn 2:15-19]

Or Christ Himself:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God…. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…. But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart comes evil thoughts murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile. [cf. Mt 5:3-12, Mt 15:18-20]

Pride and lust, arrogance and impurity: These are what defile. But what else lies at the heart of these efforts to change the nature, structure and teachings of the Church?

Nothing new under the sun

There is nothing new under the sun but Jesus Christ, who makes all things new (Rev 21:5), including transforming us by the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:2). To lapse back into a pre-Christian, pagan futility in the name of Christ is very likely the greatest of blasphemies, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which Our Lord himself said could not be forgiven (Mt 12:30-32). At a certain point of absurdity it only plays into the hands of the enemy to discuss and debate. The German “Synodal Path” is nothing but the blind leading the blind. Both leaders and followers will fall into the pit.

In fact the only thing interesting about this path is whether the contemporary Church will find the courage and effectiveness to combat it successfully. Will Pope Francis be willing to prohibit practices contrary to Catholic teaching and, if necessary, excommunicate those who in the very name of Christ abandon the Faith He died to to prove? And will the “Synodal Path” in Germany, at long last, awaken the exhausted episcopate of the weary West to Christian reality? I mean the reality that there can be no hope unless the Catholic Church finds a way to cut her losses by insisting that those who remain in communion with her accept the Gospel.

For I am convinced that the time has come, and indeed is already past, when the Church, to renew her effectiveness, must make herself smaller, even if that entails becoming once again a Church that is persecuted. The apostolic leaders of the first Christian communities—that is, the several local churches which made up the growing universal Church—dealt constantly with those who attempted to disrupt the early communities from within, both through false teachings and immoral practices. The letters of Paul, James, John, Jude and Peter are chronicles of the constant effort needed to maintain the purity and commitment of the Christian communities right from the first.

Their solution was always to cauterize the wound through strong preaching, internal discipline, and even, as St. Paul insisted, the formal delivering of a stubborn offender “to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (i.e., excommunication) (1 Cor 5:5). St. Paul was, of course, the Apostle to the Gentiles—that is, not to the Jews but to pagans, whose “new” morality is being advocated along the “Synodal Path”. And what are Paul’s very next words?

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.” [1 Cor 5:7-13]

Note that the word immorality in the New Testament generally, and especially in the letters, refers to sexual practices contrary to the natural law.

Now I know that long quotations can be stumbling blocks. But the ones I have chosen demonstrate the fatuity of the claim that we must change Catholic teaching because “we now know” important realities of which Christ and the apostles were unaware. To the contrary, as we have already seen, to suppose this reveals an astonishing and willful ignorance—indeed, a simple and bleak refusal to know.

Smaller, poorer, and a better witness to Christ

Here is the point: Apostolic zeal has found little place in the Church of the declining West, in which massive numbers of nominal Christians have been pleased to retain the Catholic name and even participate in Catholic counsels while drifting steadily into unspeakable pagan errors and lusts. This process has now visibly extended for at least two full generations, without even mentioning a great deal of invisible rot in academic circles for at least a full generation before that. Moreover, a larger Western Christian cultural decline had, of course, been going on for half a millennium, so that worldly temptations were steadily multiplying as the dominant culture—the locus of wealth, power and human respect—drifted from its partially Christian moorings.

Within the Church herself, this represents not only a failure of discipline; it is also a massive failure in the evangelization of her own members. But both failures have been comfortable failures of zeal, as in the words of Psalm 69 which the disciples applied to Christ:

I have become a stranger to my brethren, an alien to my mother’s sons. For zeal for thy house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult thee have fallen on me. [Ps 69:7-9; Jn 2:17]

The answer to my title question is negative on both counts. The German “Synodal Path” is certainly not worthy, but in at least one extraordinarily important sense it is not even noteworthy. It is just the same old pagan fatigue at work. What is noteworthy is the lesson that, just as Our Lord had to suffer and die in order to rise, in our day His Church must become smaller and poorer in order to become stronger and more vibrant. There is no clearer example of this in the entire world than that of the Church in Germany, which is sustained by the numbers of members who can be induced to remain in the fold to be counted toward the tax revenue to be given by State power to the Church.

Thus the German church, of all the churches in the entire world, today exhibits the strongest contrast between immense wealth and abject weakness. Still, the general pattern is common throughout the West. We should be able to see that this is not because God has forsaken us, but because we have forsaken God. It seems obvious, then, that the Church must learn again to expel—not those among her members who sin, for we all sin—but those who choose to forsake the Faith by refusing to assent to her Divine teachings.

Please, let such as these no longer serve as shades to cover the Divine light by their very participation in the counsels of the Church! For I ask each reader the same question that was posed by the very Light of the world, and posed so repeatedly that it is included in multiple forms* in three of the Gospels:

Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and not on a stand?

* Mk 4:21; Mt 5:15; Lk 8:16, 11:33

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: winnie - May. 11, 2020 12:10 PM ET USA

    This is the best post you have written. Everything you say about the state of the Church in the West is painfully true. You have also pointed out the way the Church has always dealt with the wolves within it.. Benedict 16 said the Church would be pruned and grow smaller but more faithful and fruitful. Now is the acceptable time!