"Prophets are Never Honored at Home”: Prophecy and Synodality in the Catholic Church
"The governance of the Church is no longer prophetic, but apostolic,” wrote Yves Congar in True and False Reform in the Church (1950, 1968). And he continued: "The only valid prophecy in the church is in the service of the church’s apostolicity.” The synodal process is a development of an ancient theological and ecclesiological tradition, but also a response to the crisis of authority and legitimacy of the bishops and of the institutional Church. The lecture will address some of the challenges of thinking about prophecy for a Catholic Church re-learning synodality.
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In the News
The National Catholic Register published the article “The Cat’s Out of the Bag Now, With the Synod on Synodality” in recent light of Cardinal McElroy speaking to how many, including himself, see this synod as an opportunity for changing Catholic doctrines involving women's ordination, Holy Communion's relationship with mortal sin, and sexual ethics. Cardinal McElroy shocked many not due to the topics and ideas he expressed but because he was the first in his position to express them publicly. They are ideas that some people already coincide with the synod and lay voices that this synod focuses on enhancing. This article highlights how the synod exposes people's call for differences and shifts in power, doctrine, and hierarchies in the Catholic church, a very timely topic to Faggioli's presentation.
Photo Credits: Christopher Soldt, MTS
On February 15th, Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, offered the Boisi Center's 20th Prophetic Voices Lecture, ‘Prophets are Never Honored at Home’: Prophecy and Synodality in the Catholic Church.”
His presentation began with a recollection of Machiavelli's book The Prince, his inspiration for his talk, and a description of what Machiavelli coins as "an unarmed prophet." He uses this example to explain the difficulty of a prophet's role while the power parallel to it is unstable. In this case, the power is the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Faggioli claims that the Church needs new ways to proclaim a renewal of the faith–the former job of the prophets. This renewal aims toward a power that is less in the hands of the hierarchy and more in the hands of the faithful. His point being that a synodal church–like the one envisioned by Francis–is where all the people of God have power and become the Church's prophets. Faggioli supports this claim by turning to his area of specialization: the Second Vatican Council. He sees in the conciliar documents the revealed intentions of the council fathers toward an intraecclesial identity characterized by what was later termed ”synodality.” The documents quoted describe a new ecclesiology with the participation of all God's people. Faggioli explained synodality as creating a new brand of prophets balancing out the apostolic power. To support that, Faggioli reminded the audience about Francis’s emphasis that the prophetic function within the threefold office of Christ is the idea that all baptized peoples are prophets, even if they are not all magisterial.
Faggoili continued to talk about the legacy and the limits of Vatican II and gave context to the instability of power within the Church. He described the abuse crisis as the foundation of the instability of legitimacy and the resulting lack of trust in the episcopacy. He called this "parasitic prophetism." Regarding Vatican II, he discussed how the abuse crisis was a sign of the Council's limits and how synodality should be the response. That task is not easy, as Faggioli laid the issues out on the table. He argued that, for this to be successful, the Church has to rethink its voice as a discerning Church. It can not understand synodality as a second wave of Vatican II but rather as a part of the Council’s ongoing reception.
To conclude, Faggioli reflected on how Catholics are often seen as followers of a God that stands against the men and women of today. In order to change that, Faggioli calls for a new prophetism to emerge to counter and transform the hierarchical/apostolic power he defined earlier. He called the Church to reorient its ecclesiology into something that is ultimately immeasurable. This conclusion led to a very interesting and insightful Q&A.
The questions began by exploring the different senses where we use the term “prophetic”; that is, prophets as either proclaimers or critics. Other questions considered topics such as women's role as prophets in the Church, the challenges associated with understanding and explaining synodality, critiques and support of Pope Francis's role in synodality, and the doubt that this reorientation will happen anytime soon as a symptom of the age of disappointment in which we live. The questions and responses fueled a great conversation, and many people, including Faggioli, had the opportunity to share their own knowledge and personal experiences about being a part of the synodal Church today and tomorrow.