One good thing about all these synods…
One thing about these regular major synods in Rome is that they stimulate book publishers. You will no doubt remember some of the books Ignatius Press published around the time of the two synods on the Family. I reviewed some of them under the deliberately humorous title “The Ignatius Press conspiracy to control the synods on the family”. Similarly, in the wake of the Amazon Synod, with its push for married priests, publishers have begun to release books on celibacy.
- The Case for Clerical Celibacy: Its historical development and theological foundations (second edition) by Alfons Maria Cardinal Stickler, new from Ignatius Press.
- Friends of the Bridegroom: For a renewed vision of priestly celibacy by Marc Cardinal Ouellet, new from EWTN Publishing.
New books on the diaconate (and the question of whether it can be opened to women, also agitated at the Amazon Synod) have not been so quick to appear, no doubt in part because the question is under study by Pope Francis at the moment. But Ignatius Press addressed this over fifteen years ago in at least two books:
- Most importantly, Priesthood and Diaconate: The recipient of the Sacrament of Holy Orders from the perspective of creation theology and Christology, by Gerhard Cardinal Müller in 2002. Cardinal Müller sensibly assumed the overwhelming likelihood that John Paull II’s definitive judgment—that the Church cannot ordain women to the priesthood—could be extended to any conferral of the Sacrament of Orders at all.
- And also in a book by Aimé Georges Martimort, Deaconesses: An Historical Study, which was first published in 1986, and is now harder to find.
Because of this publishing activity, and for other reasons, the annual occurrence under Pope Francis of major synods, which had been established under Pope St. Paul VI to be held only every three years, has had some very positive results for the Church. This is true in spite of the constant opportunity for agitation that these major meetings present.
One can debate the value of an increasing “synodality” in the Church. Properly understood, synodality is the fruit of a fuller awareness of episcopal responsibility, especially in its connection with the universal Church. But in our time, synodality is a painful work in progress because it is obviously not always properly understood. What one cannot debate, however, is that the best scholarship on the many complex topics addressed at these synods is produced by Catholic scholars whose Catholic identity is very firmly rooted, and who are deeply committed to the authentic renewal of the Church.
This is nothing new. To take but one example, I found the same thing to be true when, as a doctoral candidate, I studied the connection between the Observant Reform of the Dominican Order in the fifteenth century and that Order’s defense of the papacy against both conciliarism in that century and Protestantism in the next. The plain fact was that those friars who had fallen away from the rule and into all manner of “relaxation” in religious life had neither the inspiration nor the drive to do significant intellectual work, let alone laborious writing. But those who strove mightily to bring the Order back to strict observance of its rule were motivated enough to serve the Church not only intellectually but in many other ways as well.
The great majority of what was written, and nearly everything that has been preserved, came from the pens of those who were committed, not to the world but to the Church.
Now, while the larger culture may still lionize those who say, do and write what it wants to hear, the truth of the matter is that the heavy lifting in the Church is always done by those whose faith runs deep enough to distinguish them from the constantly eddying spirit of the world. That’s one reason I do not fear the agitation which accompanies the major synods within the universal Church. In the course of each of them, regardless of temporary setbacks here and there, the roots of Catholic spirituality and Catholic intelligence are strengthened, and both are spread just a little bit more thoroughly throughout the Church.
Again, the reason is clear, and it is not only the best publishers and the best authors who are willing to do the necessary work, instead of merely going with the flow. This is what all seriously-committed Catholics do, each in his or her own sphere. And it is exactly what those who drift with the tide do not do, and never will do.
As Chesterton once observed of dogs in the water, only the living move up stream. Another way to put this? Only the living go to the Source.
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