Synods Are Not Councils
Guy McClung, J.D., Ph.D.
Catholic Lane August 10, 2015
[Part of the problem that Guy McClung writes about in this excellent essay is that the Greek word for a gathering of people meeting to deliberate on a serious Church matter was called a “synod” since for the first few centuries of the Christian era Greek was the language of the Church. Later, when Greek fell out of favor and Latin became the language of the Church the Latin word for the same type of gathering of people was concilium, and is translated “council.” The first deliberative gathering of the Apostles in Jerusalem is known as the First Council of the Church. In the Orthodox Church, since Greek is the language of that Church, their deliberative bodies are called synods, but the Orthodox none the less are in agreement with the Roman Catholic Church that only General Councils can decided questions of faith and morals for the universal Church. -Abyssum]
Last week when the “presider” at the “meal” at the local protestant-Catholic community
preached that a “synod”” is a “council” and that throughout Church history “synod” and
“council” have meant the same thing, it should have come as no surprise. But I was stunned. Of
course, his words are utterly false. When the shock wore off, I realized that such preaching is
simply the next step being taken by those who want to fundamentally change and subvert the
Embedded progressives criticized the patriarchal pre-Vatican II hierarchy in their summary
mantra. They said the sexist hierarchs wanted the laity to simply, and only, “pay, pray, and
obey.” Over the last several decades, they condemned this type of ecclesiology, but they co-
opted “pay and pray” by demanding more of the faithful’s “time, talent and treasure,” with the
implicit emphasis on “treasure.”
They have paid out over $2,000,000,000.00 of the faithful’s money settling lawsuits against
pederast and pedophile priests and bishops. They spent countless other millions on entities and
programs whose missions and ethos are directly contrary to Church teaching. They have made
numerous positions and offices at parishes full-time paying jobs – orthodox Catholics, true to the
Magisterium, need not apply. Yes, one “trick” question from a “deacon financial manager” at
one church “business” was, “What do you think of the Catechism Of The Catholic Church?” Any
applicant who said anything positive in reply did not get the job.
These folks have also dictated word-for-word, mistranslation-for-mistranslation, illicit actions
and gestures included, precisely how the faithful will pray. Seen anyone lately during the Our
Father assume the orans posture reserved for the priest? Have you ever heard a dissenting
presider change a word of the liturgy?
Still, over the decades, progressives fostered “cafeteria Catholicism” and “buffet belief” based on
alleged private judgment, individual freedom, and the primacy of conscience. In short, they said
you can disobey Church teaching and doctrine, but be sure to say you are following your
conscience or exercising your religious freedom, and throw in some selected quotes from some
Vatican II documents. There was no admonition about forming one’s conscience well in accord
with the Church’s teachings. Nothing in terms of obeying anyone or anything. Freedom and
But now things might change. This fall a few carefully-selected bishops might say some things
that the nouveau hierarchs (a.k.a. heretics) like.
The “assembly” I was part of last week was told that “synod and council are interchangeable”
terms. We were instructed in the history of synods beginning with the first “synod” in Jeruslem,
recounted in the Book of Acts. Further we were told about the “Synod of Vatican II” of glorious
memory – which “mandated” teachings which all the faithful accepted and to which all the
faithful assented. With magisterial solemnity, the presider told us that over the last two millennia
there have been synods of bishops who considered and decided profound theological issues and
resolved ecclesial discussions, and then shared their wisdom with the faithful, the obedient
faithful, in mandatory decrees.
At best this is pastoral malpractice. The irony is astounding, the hypocrisy jaw-dropping. It’s
breath-taking. Yet it is all, unfortunately, believable. The protesting Catholics are getting their
faithful ready to shut down all the “cafeteria Catholicism” franchise locations that they have
opened since Vatican II. After all, a well-indoctrinated Cafeteria Catholic could, with learned
ease, and felt-to-the-core righteousness, reject the new doctrines that are anticipated from the
synod this Fall. They have been trained in dissent for over four decades.
What is the plan to instill solidarity into a group of dissenters that is no longer an organized
flock? Pending a favorable outcome to the synod, progressive strategy will be to convince
“faithful” dissenters that, despite the Holy Spirit’s (supposed) abandoning the Church for almost
2000 years, the light is shining out of the darkness and the now-acceptable virtues of obedience
and respect for Church authority will have a new, correct and meaningful ecclesial reality.
But, a synod is not a council and a council is not a synod. Canon Law for councils is found in
Canons 338-341. Separate and distinct cannons, Canons 342-348, govern synods. Canon 341 on
councils deals with the “binding force” of an ecumenical council’s decrees confirmed or
accepted by the Pope. Canon 343 on synods makes it clear that a synod has no authority and is
“not to resolve [issues] or to issue decrees about them” (unless the Pope, after the synod
concludes, in some way ratifies actions of a synod). Every bishop in the world – “all and only
the bishops who are members of the college of bishops” – are to take part in an ecumenical
council (Canon 339).
For a synod, only certain, not all, bishops are members (Canon 344). Evidently the drafters of the
Code of Canon Law saw synods as agencies of the papacy rather than as an authoritative
microcosm of the college of bishops.
In short, a synod = the pope and the pope = a synod. Canon 344 lays out the total and supreme
control the pope has over a synod, and this includes the synod this coming fall. Start to finish,
top to bottom, the synod is “directly under the authority of the Roman Pontiff;” he convokes it,
ratifies the election of members and/or designates members, determines topics for discussion,
determines the agenda, presides over it, and concludes, transfers, suspends and dissolves it. It
will be incorrect this fall, after the synod, no matter what it does, to say “The bishops of the
Catholic Church said . . .” A pope cannot use a synod as if it were an ecumenical council, as if it
represented all the bishops of the world in agreement, to validate and proclaim new doctrine or
to make a valid infallible declaration of dogma.
Last week I heard in the priest’s homily a comforting, rosy picture of synods down through the
ages and an encouraging depiction of faith-filled acceptance of synodal decrees by everyone.
Nothing was said of the numerous synods which proclaimed and promulgated heresy, synods
which were later corrected, and excoriated by popes and by ecumenical councils, many of which
declared synodal decrees as heretical and issued anathemas of participating bishops.
For example, Arian heretical bishops were notorious for conducting synods packed with only
heretical bishops, synods from which orthodox bishops were excluded. Not surprisingly, the
synods of the heretical bishops issued heretical teachings. These synods, their bishops, and their
actions were condemned by the Church. Many faithful had been led astray, but the faithful had
no obligation to obey anything these synods did or accept anything they said.
Historically, heretical synods have failed, the gates of hell have not prevailed, and Holy Mother
Church has endured. And so it will this Fall should anything contrary to church doctrine, any
heresy, emanate from the synod.
Guy McClung, J.D., Ph.D. received his law degree from the University of Texas and his doctorate in
philosophy from Rice University, with a specialization in the philosophy of law. Unable to give up his day
job as a patent attorney, he writes in his spare time unless that time is spent with his wife of forty-two
years who is pointing him toward heaven. His bedtime reading is St. Thomas Aquinas and the Fathers of
the Church. – See more at: http://www.catholiclane.com/synods-are-not-
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Speaking of False Teachers: A Primer (Part 1)
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The American Address
Clergy Heretics and Heretical Synods: Been There, Done That
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