Synod is the exact translation of the Greek noun synodos. It is interesting to collect the elements from which the word is formed: syn, as an adverb, means “whole, all together, at the same time,” and as a preposition it can be translated “with, by means of.” The noun synodos, indicates gathering, assembly, and also fellow travellers. The word syn is composed with hodos, meaning “way, route, guide” (it is feminine in Greek); from there is also formed méthodos, or method.
Historically, in Christian antiquity, a synod was called the convocation and meeting of the bishops, according to ecclesiastical provinces, each presided over by the metropolitan, who met in assembly to discuss matters of utmost importance, define doctrines, and condemn and refute heresies, noting the assortment of these errors, in contradiction to the Didache, the origin of which is apostolic. Two main features to bear in mind: the protagonists are always bishops, successors of the apostles of Jesus, and the duration is fixed in time, not excessively long.
The name synod has been used to signify only those meetings that are designated, i.e., an exclusively theological, ecclesiastical use. The history of the Church offers numerous testimonies of the interchange between synod and council, the latter name coming from the Latin, as we shall see below.
Aristotle rightly affirmed that the road, as a movement, is identified by the end; the goal is what allows us to recognize the road that leads to it, identifying it by where it leads. To give a banal example, if one wishes to go to Mar del Plata, one will not take the road that leads to Cordoba.
Concilium is an exquisitely Ciceronian voice. According to Cicero, nature “conciliates” us, unites us, first and foremost, with the gods, the fathers, and the fatherland. Concilium is equivalent to junta, or congress. History has reserved concilium to designate the universal convocation in the Church; synods are rather partial meetings, of a country, a region, a group of nations. Council and synod are synonymous. The reference to God and to the biblical Fathers – that is, to Tradition – identifies the Church and its councils. Synodus or synhodos, the Latin transcription of the Greek noun is in classical usage, and is also found in the writings of the Holy Fathers of the West.
The linguistic reference on which I have dwelt is not idle; it brings us closer to the nature of the realities addressed. The name is the thing.
The recent synod proposed by Rome has novel and unusual characteristics. It has been going on for two years, with consultation extended, through the dioceses, to the whole Church. The whole thing is an exaggeration, impossible to realise; the alleged democracy hides the reality: the results will be decided by the Pontiff, and it is difficult for him to give up the voluntary management of the guidelines he wants.
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