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The German ‘Synodal Path’ and the Road to Emmaus

On January 30, with the first assembly in Frankfurt, the “Synodal Path” of the German Catholic Church reform begins — a “journey” without the observance of canonical regulations that a real synod would require. During the next two years, the 230 members, including 69 bishops and 69 lay persons (progressive) of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) will focus on four themes, according to the statutes: “Power, participation, and separation of powers” (read: democratization of the Church and emancipation of the German Church from that of Rome); “Priestly way of life” (read: marriage of priests); “Women in Church ministries and offices” (read: women’s access to the ministries of diaconate and priesthood); “Sexual morality” (read: new sexual morality).

“Synod,” “Synodality,” “Synodal Path,” and “Synodal Journey” are words often used over the past five decades. It was September 15, 1965, while the Second Vatican Council was being celebrated, when Paul VI, “by carefully surveying the signs of the times,” established “a permanent Council of bishops for the universal Church,” the Synod of Bishops, in order “to adapt the means and methods of the holy apostolate to the changing circumstances and need of our day” (apostolic letter Apostolica sollicitudo). The Greek name of the most ancient meetings of bishops was chosen: nodos, which is composed of the preposition syn, or “with,” and odòs, which means “path, road,” which suggests the idea of “walking on a path together.” Yes, but where?

Frequently, in the midst of all this “walking together,” one is reminded of the words of Dante Alighieri: “And I became like those who stand as if / they have been mocked, who cannot understand / what has been said to them and can’t respond” (Inferno, XIX 58–60).

Yes, because of excessive highlighting of sinodality, the new element of collegialism introduced into the Church’s heart after Vatican II, we see a human Church. We turn more to the assembly than to Christ. We pay more attention to opinion than faith: “a Church that rests on the decisions of a majority becomes a purely human Church. She is reduced to the level of what is feasible and plausible, of what is fruit of one’s action and one’s intuitions and opinions. Opinion takes the place of faith” (J. Ratzinger, Una compagnia sempre riformanda, Meeting of Rimini in 1990).

With regard to the image of walking, how can one fail to recall the famous account of the disciples of Emmaus (Lk. 24:13–35)? It has been represented by Christian art of all time, including the short — lasting about 13 minutes — oratorio Historia dei Pellegrini di Emmaus by Giacomo Carissimi (1605–1674), one of the greatest Italian composers of the 17th century.

Duo ex discipulis Iesus ibant in castellum nomine Emmaus, the Historicus II (tenor) sings at the beginning, narrating how two disciples of Christ were directed to the village of Emmaus, about seven kilometers from Jerusalem. A three-voice choir immediately intervenes tenderly: Ite felices, ite beati — Go happy, go blissful — and interrupts their affliction over the Good Friday tragedy. Et factum est dum loquerentur de his omnibus quæ acciderant, ipse Iesus appropinquans ibat cum illis, the Historicus I (soprano) sings to tell that while the two wayfarers talk and discuss, Jesus — whom they don’t recognize — approaches their path.

Here is the Christian path! A “logical” path, toward a destination indicated by Jesus in person. O stulti et tardi corde ad credendum! Nonne hæc oportuit pati Christum, et ita intrare in gloriam suam? Christ (baritone) sings, reproaching them, as they couldn’t understand that the Messiah had to suffer these things before entering into His glory.

Commenting, the choir — almost the sky at sunset — repeats its song: Ite felices, ite beati. And the Historicus I takes up the narration by saying Jesus explained to the two disciples the passages of the Bible that concerned Him: Cum igitur Iesus interpretaretur discipulis in omnibus Scripturis quæ de ipso erant[.] Christian walking does not call for a human activism or an oriental wandering. Rather, it requires Jesus, who starts walking with us and teaches us everything, from the books of Moses to the writings of all the prophets.

The story resumes to say how, on arriving to the village where they were headed, Jesus pretends to continue the journey. But the two disciples, in a delicate two-part passage, affectionately hold him because expirat iam dies, et umbræ inclinantur, the day is far spent, and the shadows are lengthening. Jesus enters the village, the Historicus II tells. Sitting at the table with them, he breaks the bread and disappears from their sight.

Now that they have opened their eyes and recognized Jesus, the two tell each other how they felt their hearts burn when he was with them. Eamus, let us go, they say one another, and — as if illuminating the first shadows of the night — praise the glory of the Risen One. The whole choir repeats that invitation, in a broad and rhythmic way: Eamus, surgamus, canendo dicamus: “O Christi victoria, o triumphalis, o immortalis resurgentis gloria” — let us go, let us rise, let us sing the victory of Christ, the immortal glory of the Risen One.

Those saddened (or rather bored) by the empty formula of “walking on a path together,” in which the divine law gives way to renewal, might be consoled with Carissimi’s Historia dei Pellegrini di Emmaus, useful to the sacred pastors to lead the people of God to eternal pastures.

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