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The Synod of Bishops and Modernism: Introduction

On September 15, 2018, Pope Francis released Episcopalis Communio (EC), an apostolic constitution that reorders the norms on synods. The Sovereign Pontiff, taking up one of his own speeches given on October 4, 2014, on the eve of the Synod on the Family, expresses himself thus:

“The Synod of Bishops must increasingly become a privileged instrument for listening to the People of God: ‘For the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, that with Him we may hear the cry of the people; to listen to the people until breathing in the desire to which God calls us.’” (EC 6)

So, the modernist idea of ​​religious evolution starting from the new needs of the “people” appears immediately: the content of the faith, clearly evolving, cannot be deduced from the ‘revelation’ faithfully taught by the Magisterium, but from the listening to the people.

These principles had already been amply clarified at the Synod on the Family, and are here included in the very constitution which defines the synodal institution. It is the ecclesiological evolution that leads from conciliar errors to more specifically-Bergoglian errors, the famous “synodality” that has been talked about so much since the beginning of this pontificate.

The synod of bishops, understood in the post-conciliar sense, is an application of the collegiality defined in Lumen Gentium (LG). It was instituted by Paul VI on September 15, 1965 by the motu proprio Apostolica Sollicitudo.

Understood in the theological sense of LG, the college of bishops would possess a power of divine origin over the universal Church with the pope and under his direction. As this college could not be assembled permanently to exercise this so-called power, Paul VI established a consultative and representative body of the world episcopate, meeting periodically, to involve it in the government of the universal Church.

If effective collegiality, as defined in LG, seems impractical, the synod becomes the organ of an “affective” collegiality, no less dangerous because of the modernist mentality, as EC says in several passages:

The pope must listen to the bishops who, in turn, listen to the people of God, the true “voice of God” as Pope Francis reminds us, the true theological place and the source of “revelation.”

With customary ambiguity, EC no.5 states, citing first LG 25, then John Paul II’s Pastores Gregis (2003):

“It is certainly true, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, that ‘when Bishops engage in teaching, in communion with the Roman Pontiff, they deserve respect from all, as the witnesses of divine and catholic truth; the faithful must agree with the judgment of their Bishop on faith and morals, which he delivers in the name of Christ; they must give it their adherence with religious assent of the mind.’”

Then he continues, “But it is also true that ‘for every Bishop the life of the Church and life in the Church is the condition for exercising his mission to teach.’”

If the first quotation still has the traditional meaning of the Magisterium, the second introduces the modernist concept of “life”: the vital immanence of the divine in the Church, understood precisely as the people, is the condition for the bishop to know the needs to which he must respond.

And in fact, the text of EC continues: “The bishop is thus both teacher and disciple. He is teacher when, endowed with the special assistance of the Holy Spirit, he proclaims to the faithful the word of truth in the name of Christ, head and shepherd. But he is a disciple when, knowing that the Spirit has been bestowed upon every baptized person, he listens to the voice of Christ speaking through the entire People of God, making them ‘infallible in credendo’- infallible in his faith.”

The text continues: “Indeed, ‘the universal body made up of the faithful, whom the Holy One has anointed (cf. 1 Jn. 2:20, 27), is incapable of erring in belief. This is a property which belongs to the people as a whole; a supernatural sense of faith is the means by which they make this property manifest, when ‘from Bishops to the last of the lay faithful,’ they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals.’”

The text then draws the consequences: “So the Bishop is called to lead his flock by ‘walking in front of them, showing them the way, showing them the path; walking in their midst, to strengthen [the People of God ] in unity; walking behind them, to make sure no one gets left behind but especially, never to lose the scent of the People of God to order to find new roads.’”

“A bishop, who lives among his faithful, has his ears open to listen to ‘what the Spirit says to the churches’ (Rev 2:7) and to the ‘voice of the sheep,’ also through these diocesan institutions whose task it is to advise the Bishop, promoting a loyal and constructive dialogue.’”

The text here quotes a speech by Pope Francis on September 19, 2016 and Evangelii Gaudium. The concept is clear: while reaffirming the magisterial authority in a general way, it emphasizes that the bishop discovers the way to follow by following the sense of the divine inherent in the people.

Indeed, it is nowhere said that the bishop is to look for principles of action in revelation or in the constant teaching of the Church: he is to seek them in listening to the people, especially if he is organized in “body.”

The Synod will ensure that this voice of the people, gathered by the bishops, reaches the pontiff, who can prophetically discern revelation in the life experience of the Church. This is what EC tells us in no.6 cited above:

“The Synod of Bishops must increasingly become a privileged instrument for listening to the People of God: ‘For the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, that with him we may hear the cry of the people; to listen to the people until breathing in the desire to which God calls us.’”

“Although structurally it is essentially configured as an episcopal body, this does not mean that the Synod exists separately from the rest of the faithful. On the contrary, it is a suitable instrument to give voice to the entire People of God, specifically via the Bishops, established by God as ‘authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church,’ demonstrating, from one Assembly to another, that it is an eloquent expression of synodality as a ‘constitutive element of the Church.’”

“Therefore, as John Paul II declared, ‘Every General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is a powerful ecclesial experience, even if some of its practical procedures can always be perfected.”

“The Bishops assembled in Synod represent in the first place their own Churches, but they are also attentive to the contributions of the Episcopal Conferences which selected them and whose views about questions under discussion they then communicate. They thus express the recommendation of the entire hierarchical body of the Church and finally, in a certain sense, the whole Christian people, whose pastors they are.” (EC6)

EC no.7 leaves no room for doubt: the consultative character of the Synod is not a diminution of its importance, but on the contrary indicates the necessity of hearing the voice of the People of God in order to discern nothing less than the truth and the good of the Church.

The role of the pontiff will be precisely to discover this truth on the basis of these data, without any reference to revelation and its sources. Here is the text:

“During every Synodal Assembly, consultation of the faithful must be followed by discernment on the part of the Bishops chosen for the task, united in the search for a consensus that springs not from worldly logic, but from common obedience to the Spirit of Christ.”

“Attentive to the sensus fidei of the People of God – ‘which they need to distinguish carefully from the changing currents of public opinion’ – the members of the Assembly offer their opinion to the Roman Pontiff so that it can help him in his ministry as universal Pastor of the Church.”

“From this perspective, ‘the fact that the Synod ordinarily has only a consultative role does not diminish its importance. In the Church the purpose of any collegial body, whether consultative or deliberative, is always the search for truth or the good of the Church.”

“ ‘When it is therefore a question involving the faith itself, the consensus ecclesiae is not determined by the tallying of votes, but is the outcome of the working of the Spirit, the soul of the one Church of Christ.’ Therefore the vote of the Synod Fathers, ‘if morally unanimous, has a qualitative ecclesial weight which surpasses the merely formal aspect of the consultative vote.’”

Two remarks are in order about this fundamental text, which uses two quotes from John Paul II: 1) the Church discovers the truth through a consultative process of the people through the bishops, and through the discernment of the pontiff on these data – and not on the deposit of the faith.

2) The essential role of the pontiff and the Synod is to discern the authentic religious experience of the people among the ‘changing currents of public opinion’: a terrible expression, which places the weapon of arbitrariness in the hands of the hierarchy. As if everything that does not appeal to the elites are no longer an authentic expression of the people, but simply – to use a term currently in vogue – “populism.”

The Synod therefore allows, in a way, for the truth to be discovered from the religious experience of the people; but if this experience turns out to be dangerously traditional or intolerant, despite the filter of the ‘diocesan bodies,’ it can still be downgraded by categorizing it as part of the ‘changing current of public opinion’; and ignored so what the elites demand can be done.

This Protestant-type relationship – from the bottom up – between the people and the episcopate, and between the episcopate and the papacy, already felt in LG and entered into the order of the new code of canon law, is masterfully expressed in the conclusion of EC at no.10:

“Another fruit of the Synod of Bishops is that it highlights more and more the profound communion that exists in Christ’s Church both between the Pastors and the faithful (every ordained minister being a baptized person among other baptized persons, established by God to feed his flock), and also between the Bishops and the Roman Pontiff, the Pope being a ‘Bishop among Bishops, called at the same time – as Successor of Peter – to lead the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches.’ This prevents any one subject from existing independently of the other.”

The conclusion then returns to the ecclesiological reform initiated by the Council and pursued without hesitation by successive pontiffs, those who want to dissolve the papacy, as it is understood in the doctrine of the Church, from a strictly ecumenical perspective:

“Moreover, I am confident that, by encouraging a ‘conversion of the papacy… which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization,’ the activity of the Synod of Bishops will be able to make its own contribution to the reestablishment of unity among all Christians, according to the will of the Lord (cf. Jn. 17:21).”

“By doing so, it will help the Catholic Church, according to the desire expressed years ago by John Paul II, to ‘find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.’”

Basically, it is the new politically correct and anti-populist version of infallibility, tinged with prophecy: an infallibility based on an opportunism which replaces the spiritual needs of modern man – typical of classical modernism – with political needs dictated by the established elites.

Moreover, it is the elites themselves who dictate and describe these “needs.” The very reform of the papacy and the structures of the Church, which are no longer regarded as divine institutions but as a historical phenomena, are part of the response to these “needs.”

In recent years, Pope Francis, in the tradition of his recent predecessors, has convened several synods, which have given rise to attempted revisions of Catholic doctrine. He has now started a two-year “path,” a synod on synodality, intended to reflect on and possibly change the structures of the Church.

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