April 27, 2016, Wednesday — The Next Synod: The Return of “The Peace of God”?

“The Pope would like to dedicate the next Synod of Bishops to the theme of peace.” —The Italian news agency ANSA, in a short news article released this morning in Italy. The question of what topic the next Bishops’ Synod would focus on was discussed in a meeting of the Synod’s leadership in Rome on April 18 and 19; this is the first story that claims to give reliable information about what the topic will be

“Other proposals of the participants were the themes of ecumenism and married priests. But how to develop a strong initiative in favor of global peace is said to be the topic that most interests the Pope at this moment. He is said to have had in mind for some time the desire to find ways to appeal to all other religions for a significant commitment capable of saying “no” forever to war.” —Ibid.

“In the eleventh and twelfth centuries many a village grew up in the shadow of the church, in the zone of immunity where violence was prohibited under peace regulations.” —The great medieval historian Georges Duby, speaking of the medieval practice of the “Peace of God” in his A History of Private Life: Revelations of the Medieval World, p. 27)

A Return to “The Peace of God”?

The next Synod of Bishops’ will discuss how the Church may take action, together with other Churches and other faiths, for world peace, according to the Italian news agency ANSA in a report this morning. (link)

The next Synod of Bishops will focus on “action for world peace,” ANSA reported under the headline “Papa vuole Sinodo su azione pace globale” (“The Pope Wants a Synod on Global Peace Action”).

Among the points to be discussed, according to the report, would be some sort of mechanism to call for a truce when the wars involve members of different religions.

This type of “Truce of God” or “Peace of God” was occasionally called for during the Middle Ages by Church authorities, and secular leaders would agree with the religious authorities not to continue hostilities for a certain time.

If this report is correct, then the next Synod will not be about allowing priests to marry, or about how to restore Church unity (ecumenism), but rather, in a sense “presupposing” that unity in regard to certain matters like war and peace, it will be about how the role of the Churches, marginalized for many centuries following a time when the role of the Church, at least in Europe, was central, can once again be central in support of peace and against the tragedy of war.

jpegIn this sense, the Synod would aim to place the Church, and other men and women of faith outside of the Church, including non-Christians, that is, followers of other faiths, at the center of key decision-making processes in an age that had been thought to have become (in the sense of Francis Fukuyama, photo) definitively secularized, “liberal,” and so, “post-Christian.”

The “Peace of God” or the “Truce of God” (Latin: Pax et treuga Dei; German: Gottesfrieden; French: Paix de Dieu; Catalan: Pau i Treva de Déu), Wikipedia tells us, “was a movement in the Middle Ages by the Catholic Church that applied spiritual sanctions to limit the violence of feuding. It began with very limited provisions in 989 A.D. and survived in some form until the thirteenth century” — so, for about 300 years.

The great French medievalist Georges Duby (1919-1996), a historian who specialized in the social and economic history of the Middle Ages, summarized the widening social repercussions of “Pax Dei” (“The Peace of God”) in this way: “The Peace and Truce of God, by attaching sacred significance to privacy, helped create a space in which communal gatherings could take place and thus encouraged the reconstitution of public space at the village level … In the eleventh and twelfth centuries many a village grew up in the shadow of the church, in the zone of immunity where violence was prohibited under peace regulations.” (Duby, Georges and Ariès, Phillippe, A History of Private Life: Revelations of the Medieval World, 1993, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, p. 27)

Such a “zone of immunity” where no violence can occur, this “sanctuary” recognized by all the parties to a conflict, is what several Vatican officials have told me they feel is needed in the Middle East, and in other situations of conflict, where the victims of war include many children and women.

This idea may be the capstone idea of the pontificate of Pope Francis, an idea as audacious as it is obvious — for no one can deny that the suffering of innocent civilians in war situations is barbaric, and should cease.

The idea would seem to me to create a sort of “International of Faith” (unlike the Communist International) or a sort of “Global Faith Initiative,” where politicians of all parties and all faiths would be constrained to take into account the activity of unified groups of believers on behalf of peace.

Clearly, among the first areas where this would be important would be:

—in the Middle East, and

—in Ukraine.

In this sense, the hypothesis of a “religious off-ramp” to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, where the Orthodox and the Catholics, bound by their common witness to Christ, would work together against all forms of mutual incomprehension and mutual suspicion — suggested in my Letter #22 of three weeks ago (link) — may not be so far-fetched as it might seem.

In fact, it may be precisely what Pope Francis has in mind, and this may explain more of the “deep background” behind the meeting in Havana, Cuba, on February 12 between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill (photo below).


The document that the two men signed that day (link) included specific language on both the Middle East and Ukraine.

” Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution,” the two said in Paragraph 8. “In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.

“We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East,” Francis and Kirill continued in Paragraph 9. “In raising our voice in defense of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.”

Then, in Paragraphs 26 and 27, Francis and Kirill spoke about a “religious off-ramp” to end the hostilities which have wounded Ukraine and brought much suffering: “We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.

They continued: “It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.”

The ANSA Story

Here is an English translation of today’s ANSA story.

“Papa wants Synod of global peace action”

Among the hypotheses, there advances the one of calling a “halt” to wars involving religions

(ANSA) – VATICAN CITY, APRIL 27 – The Pope would like to dedicate the next Synod of Bishops to the theme of peace. After the topic of the family, on which Francis entrusted the discussion during the last two Synods that led to the formulation of the Amoris Laetitia document, it is the topic of universal peace — ANSA has learned — that is most dear to the pontiff, who would like it discussed in the next Synodal assembly, involving the world’s bishops.

The topic was discussed on 18 and 19 April in the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod, in the presence of the Pope who attended throughout.

Other proposals of the participants were the themes of ecumenism and married priests.

But how to develop a strong initiative in favor of global peace is said to be the topic that most interests the Pope at this moment. He is said to have had in mind for some time the desire to find ways to appeal to all other religions for a significant commitment capable of saying “no” forever to war.

So, not on priestly celibacy….

There had been reports that the next Synod would take up the issue of priestly celibacy, that is, the question of whether priests might be allowed to marry. In December, the Italian Vaticanist Sandro Magister suggested that the next Synod of Bishops would focus “on the question of married priests.” (link)

Press Office Summary

Here is the Vatican Press Office summary of the April 18-19 meeting at which the General Secretariat of the Synod discussed possible topics for the next Synod.

There is no mention in this communique of any specific topic.

First meeting of the 14th Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops: fruitfully combine primacy, collegiality and synodality, 20.04.2016

Vatican City, 20 April 2016 – During the days 18-19 April the first meeting of the 14 th Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops took place, chaired by the Holy Father Francis.

The work of the Council began with an intervention from the general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, who thanked the Holy Father for his presence and for the recent publication of the post-Synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

All the Council Members seconded these words, demonstrating the broad welcome the document has received from the particular Churches throughout the world.

The Council then went on to consider the results of the consultation undertaken to decide on the theme of the next Ordinary General Assembly, among the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Episcopal Conferences, the Oriental Churches and the Union of Superior Generals.

After wide-ranging debate, various suggestions were made to be proposed to the Holy Father for his evaluation.

The Members then turned their attention to the revision of the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, the final item on the day’s agenda.

In this regard Msgr. Fabio Fabene, under-secretary of the Synod of Bishops, gave a report on the Study Seminary organised for the purpose by the General Secretariat, following the Holy Father’s address on 17 Octopber 2015.

The Council Members divided into Circuli minores to consider the matter in depth, and finally presented in plenary session a report on their work.

From the groups’ reports it emerges that the emphasis on synodality and collegiality must always be connected to the exercise of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, to link primacy, collegiality and synodality in a fruitful way.

To conclude, the Holy Father thanked the Council Members for their contributions and for the spirit of fraternal communion in which the meeting took place.

[End, Communique on the April 18-19 meeting]

This all depends on the credibility or reliability of the ANSA report, but ANSA, in cases like this, has usually been quite reliable. It was ANSA reporter Giovanna Chirri who reported, first in the world, that Pope Benedict XVI was going to resign (link).

She launched that report while he was still speaking to his cardinals on the morning of February 11, 2013, while the rest of the Vatican press corps, unable to understand the Latin Benedict was speaking — some of the cardinals present later said they had a similar problem(!) — did not realize anything special was happening…

On the “Inner Peace” of Pope Francis

In this connection, since we are talking about action for peace, it seems fitting to reflect for a moment on the “inner peace” that Pope Francis says he has felt since the day of his election ad Bishop of Rome — March 13, 2013.

This “inner peace” has been a gift that he received unexpectedly, he said in an interview published one year ago, on March 13, 2015, the second anniversary of his pontificate.

The interview was done by Valentina Alazraki for the Mexican broadcaster Televisa. Here is a link to the Vatican Radio English translation (link).

Short Pontificate?

In the interview, Francis recounted his election on March 13, 2013.
A nice article by Edward Pentin (link) summed up the interview as follows:

As the second vote took place, Francis told his interviewer, he was praying the Rosary — “I usually pray three Rosaries daily” — and he added that he felt “great peace, almost to the point of insentience.

Francis continued to feel such peace when “everything was resolved,” and this, for him, “was a sign that God wanted it.”

From that day on, Francis continued, “I have not lost it (this sense of inner peace). It is ‘something inside’; it is like a gift.”

Asked if he liked being Pope, Francis replied, “I do not mind,” but the only thing he would like to be able to do would be to “go out one day, without being recognized, and go to a pizzeria for a pizza.”

The Pope has often said he believes his will be a short pontificate, and in the interview, he repeated he had a “feeling” it would be brief, maybe four to five years or even two to three.

“It’s a somewhat vague sensation,” Francis said. “Maybe it’s like the psychology of the gambler who convinces himself he will lose so he won’t be disappointed and if he wins is happy. I do not know.”

(End section drawing on Pentin’s piece)

Here are some further passages from the interview, published by Vatican Radio (link):

“The phenomenon of a conclave vote is interesting,” Francis said.

“There are very strong candidates. But many people do not know who to vote for. So six, seven, names are chosen that are a kind of depository, while people wait to see who to definitively vote for. This is how people vote when the group is large. I was not the recipient of definitive votes, but provisional ones, yes.”

The journalist asked if it was true that in the previous conclave he had obtained 40 votes.

Francis immediately responded, “No.”

She insisted on the point, saying that others said it was so.

The Pope replied: “They say so, not me.”

A cardinal said so, says the journalist.

“Well let the cardinal say what he wants,” Francis said. “I too can speak because now I have the authority to speak, but let the cardinal have his say.

“Really, until that afternoon, nothing.

“And then something happened, I do not know what.

“In the room I saw some strange signs, but… They asked me about my health … and stuff. And when we came back in the afternoon the cake was already in the oven. In two votes it was all over.

“It was a surprise even for me.

“In the first vote of the afternoon, when I realized the situation may be irreversible, next to me — and I want to speak about this because of our friendship — was Cardinal Hummes, a towering figure. At his age, he is the delegate of the Bishops’ Conference for the Amazon and is very active pastorally.

“Half way through the first vote of the afternoon — because there were two — when we saw what was happening, he was right beside me telling me not to worry, this is how the Holy Spirit works. That amused me.

“After the second vote when the two-thirds majority was reached, there was applause, there is always applause at this point in the conclaves, so he kissed me and told me not forget the poor and this phrase began to go round in my head and that’s what led me to my choice of name.

“During the vote I was praying the rosary, I usually pray three rosaries daily, and I felt great peace, almost to the point of insentience.

“The very same (peace) when everything was resolved, and for me this was a sign that God wanted it, great peace.

“From that day to this I have not lost it.

“It is ‘something inside,’ it is like a gift.

“I do not know what happened next.

“They made me stand up. They asked me if I agreed. I said yes.

“I do not know if they made me swear on something, I forget.

“I was at peace.

“I went to change my vestments.

“And I went out and I wanted to go first to greet Cardinal Diaz, who was there in his wheelchair, and after I greeted the other cardinals.

“Then I asked the vicar of Rome and Cardinal Hummes to accompany me. Something that was not planned in the protocol.

“Then we went to pray in the Pauline Chapel, while Cardinal Tauran announced my name.

“After I came out and I did not know what to say. And you are the witnesses of everything else. I deeply felt that a minister needs the blessing of God, but also that of his people.

“I did not dare to ask the people to bless me. I simply said: ‘Pray that God may bless me through you.’

“But it came out spontaneously, also my prayer for Benedict.”

“Do you like being Pope?”

“I do not mind!”

What do you like or do not like about being the Pope? Or do you like everything?

“The only thing I would like is to go out one day, without being recognized, and go to a pizzeria for a pizza.”

That would be nice…

“No, I say this as an example. In Buenos Aires I was a rover. I moved between parishes and certainly this habit has changed… it has been hard work to change. But you get used to it. You find a way to get around: on the phone, or in other ways… ”

The journalist asks the Pope about the fact that he has often said his would be a short pontificate and often refers to the possibility of dying of old age …

“I have the feeling that my Pontificate will be brief: 4 or 5 years; I do not know, even 2 or 3. Two have already passed.

“It is a somewhat vague sensation. Maybe it’s like the psychology of the gambler who convinces himself he will lose so he won’t be disappointed and if he wins, is happy. I do not know.

“But I feel that the Lord has placed me here for a short time, and nothing more… But it is a feeling. I always leave the possibility open.”

You also told us that will follow the example of Pope Benedict… This changes a bit the idea of the papacy, because we used that the Pope was an institution created by the Holy Spirit and to the death.

“There were some cardinals who prior to the conclave, in the general congregations, probed the very interesting, very rich theological problem,” Francis replied.

“I think that what Pope Benedict did has been to open a door. Sixty years ago there were no emeritus bishops. And now we have 1400.

“They came to the idea that a man after 75, or close to that age, cannot carry the weight of a particular church.

“In general I think what Benedict so courageously did was to open the door to the Popes emeritus. Benedict should not be considered an exception, but an institution.

“Maybe he will be the only one for a long time, maybe he will not be the only one. But an institutional door has been opened. Today the Pope Emeritus is no longer a rarity since a door for him to exist as a figure has been opened.”

Can you imagine a situation where a Pope retires at 80 as is the case with bishops?

“I can. However, I do not really like the idea of an age limit. Because I believe that the Papacy is a kind of last instance. It is a special grace.

“For some theologians, the papacy is a sacrament. The Germans are very creative in all these things.

“I do not think so (that it is a sacrament), but I want to say that it is something special.

“To say that one is in charge up to 80 years, creates a sensation that the pontificate is at it’s end and that would not be a good thing. Predictability.

“I would not support the idea of putting an age limit on it, but I share the idea of what Benedict did.

“I saw him the other day at the Consistory. He was happy, content. Respected by all. I visit him.

“Every so often I speak with him on the phone.

“As I said, it’s like having a wise grandfather at home.

“One can seek advice.

“Loyal to the death.

“I do not know if you remember when we parted February 28 in the Clementine Hall, he said, ‘My successor is among you, I promise loyalty, fidelity and obedience.’

“And he does.

“A man of God.”

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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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