Towards the Plenary Council – Part Two

Synodality and the Plenary Council

Synodality is not a word that is familiar to most Catholics.  There have been synods all through the history of the Church. They were especially important in the first millennium of the Church’s life.

The word comes from two Greek words ‘syn’ meaning ‘with’ and ‘hodos’ meaning ‘way’ or ‘path’.  It means something like ‘being on the way together’.   And we know from the Acts of the Apostles that before Christians were called Christians, they were known as those who belonged to the ‘Way’ (Acts 9.2;18.25,26; 19.9,23; 24.14,22).  This resulted in all Christians being involved in the crucial decisions of the whole Church under the leadership of the apostles and elders. We find a significant example of this in the Acts, Chapter 15.  This chapter deals with what is sometimes called the Council of Jerusalem.

The context for this gathering was the controversy in the very early Church about whether Gentiles could become Christians without first becoming Jews and taking on the demands of the Jewish laws and customs.  This was a very divisive controversy and its resolution was crucial for St Paul and his mission to the peoples who did not come from a Jewish background.

So at this gathering of the Church those most concerned spoke:  Pharisees who had become believers (Acts 15,5-7), Peter (v.7b-11), James (v.13-21), Barnabas and Paul (v.12).  James’ speech is significant because he was the leader of the Jerusalem community in whose midst the meeting took place.  And finally there was the decision to write a letter to all the various churches accompanied by chosen delegates: the apostles and elders with the whole Church decided to choose delegates from among themselves to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.” (22-23).  This action took place in the midst of the whole Church. It was done together with the leaders and gave a voice to all who were concerned with the issue at stake.

This is something of a model for Synodality.  It is a model that we will see was at work in the proceedings of Ecumenical Councils which we will discuss in coming weeks.

By Fr Frank O’Loughlin



Plenary Council


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