From biblically anorexic to eloquently biblical
by George Weigel
The Relatio Finalis [final report] of Synod 2015, adopted on Saturday evening by the Synod Fathers, is a massive and encouraging improvement over the Instrumentum Laboris [working document] that was the baseline for the Synod’s work. The tremendous difference between the two documents illustrates just how fruitful a path the Synod walked over three sometimes-challenging weeks.
Laden as it was with sociology, and not-too-good sociology at that, the working document was, at more than a few points, hard to recognise as a Church document. The final report is clearly an ecclesial text, a product of the Church’s meditation on the Word of God, understood as the lens through which the Church interprets its contemporary experience.
The working document was biblically anorexic. The final report is richly biblical, even eloquently biblical, as befits a Synod meeting on the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council and its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum.
At times, the working document seemed almost embarrassed by the settled doctrine of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage, on the conditions necessary for the worthy reception of Holy Communion, and on the virtues of chastity and fidelity. The final report reaffirms the Church’s doctrines on marriage, Holy Communion, and the possibility of living virtuously in the post-modern world. And it does so without cavil, even as it calls the Church to a more effective proclamation of the truths it bears as a patrimony from the Lord Jesus himself, and to more solicitous pastoral care of those in difficult marital and familial circumstances.
The working document was virtually silent on the gift of children. The final report describes children as one of the greatest of blessings, praises large families, is careful to honor special-needs kids, and lifts up the witness of happily and fruitfully married couples and their children as agents of evangelisation.
The working document made something of a hash out of conscience and its role in the moral life. The final report does a much better job of explaining the Church’s understanding of conscience and its relationship to truth, rejecting the idea that conscience is a kind of free-floating faculty of the will that can function as the equivalent of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
The working document was full of ambiguities about pastoral practice and its relationship to doctrine. The final report, while not without some ambiguities, makes clear that pastoral care must begin from a bottom-line of commitment to the settled teaching of the Church, and that there really is no such thing as “local-option Catholicism,” either in terms of regional/national solutions to challenges or patish-by-parish solutions. The Church remains one Church.
The working document was also ambiguous in its description of “family.” The final report underscores that there can be no proper analogy drawn between the Catholic understanding of “marriage” and “family” and other social arrangements, no matter what their legal status.
Mercy and truth sometimes seemed in tension in the working document. The final report is far more theologically developed in relating mercy and truth in God, and thus inseparable in the doctrine and practice of the Church.
The working document was not much from a literary point of view, and was more than a little laborious to digest. The final report is quite eloquent at a number of points and will enrich the lives of those who read it, however much they may disagree with this or that formulation.
In sum, the final report, though not without flaws, goes a very long way – and light years beyond the Instrumentum Laboris – in doing what Pope Francis and many Synod fathers wanted this entire two-year process to do: lift up and celebrate the Catholic vision of marriage and the family as a luminous answer to the crisis of those institutions in the twenty-first century.
Read more: www.mercatornet.com
Read more: www.mercatornet.com