From the Synod Hall: The “unchanging two-thousand year tradition of the church” (?)

News bits emerge here and there from the synod in Rome, for example in the very well-written blog of Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, “On the Road Together,” which I heartily recommend.

There is also the “Synodenblog” of Abbot Jeremias Schröder OSB, president of the Ottilian Benedictines, which is the real topic of this post. What the abbot says about the “unchanging two-thousand year tradition of the church” will be of interest to Pray Tell readers, for misunderstanding have often arisen here around what is supposedly unchanging throughout church history.

Abbot Jeremias writes today (my translation):

Again and again, speeches in the aula speak of the unchanging two-thousand year tradition of the church. This disturbs those who know what it was really like. One (speaker) recalled the blessed theologian and cardinal John Henry Newman, who wrote a famous essay in 1845 with the title “On the Development of Christian Doctrine.” On Saturday there spoke a synod father who, in three minutes, gave a rapid summary of the changes in medieval teaching on marriage. As I congratulated him afterward, he said, “That was the topic of my doctoral thesis.”

This is also interesting: Abbot Jeremias refers to “an American church leader” who warned of the dangers of regional competence and made reference to Luther and Erasmus of Rotterdam – he obviously means Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia. The abbot remarks:

And only at the end (of Chaput’s speech) does one note, if one notes it then, that, in a cryptic manner, an important synod figure was in fact accused of being a second Martin Luther.

And this: it seems that one speaker spoke of the “smoke of Satan in the synod aula.” Oh my.




  1. Nothing has changed. Jesus taught in cathedrals that had organs and choirs singing in Latin, the inner circle is still primarily married Jewish men, women have no voice (wait…), the prelates traveled by donkey or ship to Rome, their scribes use quill and parchment (traditionalists still use the clay tablets!!), we still have public crucifixions, etc.


    Has there ever been a time in our church history where there HASN’T been change of some sort?

  2. I did like the Abbott’s reference to Nicea Canon 8, that Cathar priests embracing orthodoxy be welcomed into ministry, and that they must minister communion to those in second marriages. He also states that this canon is the foundation of the Orthodox praxis.

    Is that also a subtle hint I wonder? We need to contemplate then whether refusal to extend communion to such is the heresy (tongue only somewhat in cheek).

    1. @Martin Badenhorst OP:
      But note – it is disputed what Nicea Canon 8 means, and some maintain (with good evidence, I gather) that it refers to those who remarry after the death of their first spouse. Apparently some in the early church wanted to prohibit communion to them.

      In all these discussions it is good to bear in mind that the question is always going back to the sources (e.g. finding precedent for more generous practices earlier in our tradition) and also reading the signs of the times for how the Lord might be calling us to develop doctrine – even if in ways not found thus far in our tradition.


      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        Yes, how many times a person could be married was an issue, and there have certainly been Christian societies where most widows were culturally expected to remain widowed.

  3. Fr Martin:
    I know the translations say ‘so-called cathari’ (ie ‘pure ones’), but surely ‘Cathar’ is anachronistic, for the 4th century? The canon is said to be aimed at Novatianists, who condemned remarriage after the death of a spouse.

    Fr Anthony:
    There was a kerfuffle over this last year; Sandro Magister trumpeted Giovanni Cereti’s recycling of an argument he first published in 1977, that Nicea c8 mandated toleration of remarriage after divorce, but critics easily discovered that the argument was challenged at the time by a French Jesuit, Henri Crouzel:
    Henri Crouzel, ‘Un nouvel essai pour prouver l’acceptation des secondes noces après divorce dans l’Eglise primitive”, Augustinianum, Dec. 1977; ‘Les “digamoi” visés par le concile de Nicee dans son canon 8’, Augustinianum, Dec. 1978.

    True, but interestingly enough, in some times and places this canon would have come down very hard on men who lost wives in childbirth, and often looked to remarry …

  4. It would seem more appropriate to quote what people say rather than assume what they mean. There’s already enough confusion over who says what.

    If the Abbot wished to name the ‘obviously’ Archbishop Chaput, he could have done so. But to first name him here and then insert his [bracketed] name as the source of a quotation does both men a disfavor and gives truth a black eye.

    1. @Sean Keeler:
      I disagree. In this case the words of Archbishop Chaput had already gone public and were posted as his words at the conservative CNA website (to which I linked), so I was simply filling in this public information for readers who may not have known that. Everything I wrote is the truth so I don’t think it was given a black eye.

  5. Has there been mention of the Orthodox practice of ‘economy’? If apostolic churches permit remarriage without a Catholic-style annulment process, then why is the Roman Rite so up in arms over annulments and the judicial mechanics of this process?

    Matrimonial economy is a practice which the Orthodox clergy, and our Orthodox brothers and sisters, have practiced for quite some time now. It strikes me as terribly inconsistent that some prelates will fight to maintain the Roman status quo. The Roman status quo, however, is easily contradicted by the routine practice of our “Eastern lung” (to use, I think, John Paul II’s metaphor).

    I suspect that this synod is not interested in results, but rather in a “who’s more orthodox” contest.

  6. Thanks for the response, Father. I read the referenced CNA article, and the original quote from Archbishop Chaput is:

    “Brothers, we need to be very cautious in devolving important disciplinary and doctrinal issues to national and regional episcopal conferences – especially when pressure in that direction is accompanied by an implicit spirit of self-assertion and resistance.”

    This does not sound as though Archbishop Chaput is challenging the “dangers of regional competence” as you wrote. It sounds more like a legitimate concern that different conferences might come up with different resolutions and further fracture the teachings of the Church. There is an enormous difference between the two.

    1. @Sean Keeler:
      I accurately reported what the Archbishop said, and I stand by it. You seem to want to defend what he said and shield him from critique. Fine. He still said it.

  7. #3 & #7

    Which is why my tongue was only somewhat firmly in my cheek.

    We Dominicans have a long relationship with Cathars. Which heresy constantly flares up in different forms. The notion that all things physical are evil, or the creation of satan or some other equal and opposite to the God of Jesus, is quite common since it simplifies theodicy.

    It is quite easy to see that the gnostic heretics referenced by Nicea would have been uncomfortable with just about any marriage. So both/and in this matter. Any second marriage would have been an awful thing to them anyway. On the other hand, the world of Orthodoxy’s use of this canon cannot simply be dismissed.

    We have had a persistent infection of Marcionism in our attitudes to the Old Testament, and to the Jewish people. Some of it still present despite advances in dialogue and Scripture Scholarship.

    We have then ask whether Manicheaism and its kissing cousins, Catharism and Albigensianism has not left a pool of infection in our attitudes to marriage and whether that drives us more than the Gospel.

  8. View from the Pew:
    Regarding: Archbishop of Philadelphia
    – Archbishop Charles of Philadelphia seems to be echoing the curia of John Paul II which did not want the regional bishops conferences to do much of anything with out first consulting the curia who in effect had veto power. Efforts of the US bishops on topics such as women, or the new translation of the John Paul II missal are examples of the bishops’ conferences having been stymied.
    – The Archbishop highlights the importance of unity by drawing attention to the Reformation. The Reformation highlights how the church at Rome failed in unity by its unwillingness to address its own errors and wrongs. From this then we see how a call for unity only is valid if the church at Rome works for that unity. “Unity” is best preserved by the work and the changes needed to foster unity.
    – The metaphor of hospitality is a good metaphor if we include an open door. With an open door the metaphor signals that willing hospitality which draws people into that community ready to greet them. The Holy Spirit does not speak to the Church only through the baptized she speaks to and throughout the whole world as an exemplar of unity.

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