The 2015 Synod of Bishops has concluded. Now begins the process of studying, understanding, implementing, or resisting the various provisions of its final document. Much of this will be in the form of “spin.” Modernists will cheer. “Conservatives” will defend the ever-changing status quo. Traditionalists will rant. And, true to their various positions, each will have cause to do so.
In our cursory read of the most controversial paragraphs of the closing document, it does seem that more than enough wiggle room for heteropraxy can be found in the text. We ask again, rhetorically, when three solemn definitions on no salvation outside the Church can be explained away by the revolutionaries and thus have their essential meaning dissolved, why cannot any area of faith, morals, or practice be similarly corroded?
An observation is in order regarding the polemics that are bound to continue regarding the Synod. In the pages of The Wanderer, a priest theologian made an objection to an article appearing earlier in that same paper. The major thrust of this theologian’s objection is that we cannot say that a given statement is “heretical” or “heterodox” merely because it says that Proposal X is worthy of being given deeper consideration, where Proposal X itself is heresy.
Strictly speaking, his reasoning is correct. However, what ought to be added in the interest of thoroughness is that, in addition to the note, “heretical,”among the labels attached to doubtful or heretical statements (“theological censures”) theologians and the Church herself have employed a host of “theological notes.” These include such descriptive labels as “proposition proximate to heresy,” “proposition savoring of or suspect of heresy,” “erroneous proposition,” “proposition badly expressed,” “proposition exciting scandal,” and “captious proposition,” the last of which Ludwig Ott describes as “reprehensible because of its intentional ambiguity.” (Sound familiar?)
The above list is not exhaustive. Popes have condemned errors with such notes as “false, scandalous, pernicious, rash, injurious to the Church and her practice, insulting not only to the Church but also the secular powers, seditious, impious, blasphemous, suspected of heresy, and smacking of heresy itself, and, besides, favoring heretics and heresies, and also schisms, erroneous, close to heresy, many times condemned, and finally heretical…” (cf. Denz. 1451). There is also my personal favorite, “offensive to pious ears.”
Those with the habitus of theology can carefully weigh some of the Synod’s language in light of these notes.
For a look at the passages that will get the most attention, readers may consult Rorate Caeli’s translations and commentary: The Triumph of Ambiguity – The Synod Final Relatio’s most controversial passages: 69-71, 75, 84-86 (English translation).
John Vennari and Chris Ferrara offer the following brief commentary on the same passages: