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Synodality, Primacy, and the Role of Theology By Msgr. Paul McPartlan, S.T.L., D.Phil. A word heard more frequently in Catholic circles nowadays, particularly as a result of the teaching of Pope Francis, is “synodality.” In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis referred to it when talking about relations between separated Christians in light of the working of the Holy Spirit: How many important things unite us! If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another! It is not just about being better informed about others, but rather about reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us. To give but one example, in the dialogue with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and their experience of synodality. Through an exchange of gifts, the Spirit can lead us ever more fully into truth and goodness.1 There are various echoes of Pope John Paul II here. In his apostolic letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte (2001), he called for the Church to become “the home and school of communion” and for the promotion of a “spirituality of communion” that would take St Paul’s teaching on the body of Christ seriously. For example, it would mean welcoming the gifts that our brothers and sisters in Christ have received and appreciating each one not only as a gift for them “but also as a ‘gift for me.’”2 In his encyclical letter on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint (1995), he famously said that ecumenical dialogue “is not simply an exchange of ideas”. “In some way it is always an ‘exchange of gifts,’”3 and he had in mind the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) about the sharing of gifts that properly occurs within the communion and catholicity of the Church.4 So we are firmly in the context of an ecclesiology of communion, with an emphasis on the work and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who gives the gift of communion (koinonia) to the Church (see 2 Cor 13:13). Synodality is highly prized among the Orthodox and Pope Francis wishes Catholics to learn from Orthodox experience in a spirit of communion. In fact, synodality is normally interpreted as actually referring to the communion life of the Church, with a particular accent on some of its manifestations, such as episcopal collegiality and the holding of synods. The 2007 Ravenna Document, agreed by the international Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue, likens the word synodality to another, “conciliarity,” and says that both come from the word “council” (synodos in Greek, concilium in Latin), “which primarily denotes a gathering of bishops exercising a particular responsibility.”5 So synodality primarily refers to the communion or collegiality among bishops which is particularly manifest when they gather in councils or synods. However, it adds that “in a more comprehensive sense” the word refers to “all the members of the Church,” to the communion of all the baptized, and it says: “each member of the Body of Christ, by virtue of baptism, has his or her place and proper responsibility in eucharistic koinonia (communio in Latin).” “Conciliarity [synodality] reflects the Trinitarian mystery and finds therein its ultimate foundation.”6 We shall return to the link with the Trinity, but let us note for now the fundamental link between the fellowship of the bishops and the communion of all the baptized. The former has what

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Chicago Studies Winter 2017  
Chicago Studies Winter 2017  

Volume 56:2