(also known as a council
) is a council of a church
, usually a Christian
church, convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. An ecumenical council
is so named because it is a synod of the whole church (or, more accurately, of what those who call it consider to be the whole church.)
The word comes from the Greek σύνοδος meaning "assembly" or "meeting", and it is synonymous with the Latin word concilium — "council". Originally synods were meetings of bishops, and the word is still used in that sense in Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Sometimes the phrase general synod or general council refers to an ecumenical council. The word synod also refers to the standing council of high-ranking bishops governing some of the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches. Similarly, the day to day governance of patriarchal and major archiepiscopal Eastern Catholic Churches in entrusted to a permanent synod.
Uses in different Communions
In Orthodox churches, synods are meetings of bishops within each autonomous Church and are the primary vehicle for the election of bishops and the establishment of inter-diocesan ecclesiastical laws.
Roman Catholic usage
In Roman Catholic usage, synod and council are theoretically synonymous as they are of Greek and Latin origins, respectively, both meaning an authoritative meeting of bishops for the purpose of church administration in the areas of teaching (faith and morals) or governance (church discipline or law). However in modern use, synod and council are applied to specific categories of such meetings and so do not really overlap.
Council in canon law typically refers to an irregular meeting of the entire episcopate of a nation, region, or the world for the purpose of legislation with binding force. Those contemplated in canon law are the following:
- An ecumenical council is an irregular meeting of the entire episcopate in communion with the Pope and is, along with the Pope, the highest legislative authority of the universal Church (can. 336). The Pope alone has the right to convoke, suspend, and dissolve an ecumenical council; he also presides over it or chooses someone else to do so and determines the agenda (can. 338). The vacancy of the Holy See automatically suspends an ecumenical council. Laws or teachings issued by an ecumenical council require the confirmation of the Pope, who alone has the right to promulgate them (can. 341). It should be noted that the role of the Pope in an ecumenical council is a distinct feature of the Roman Catholic Church.
- Plenary councils, which are meetings of the entire episcopate of a nation (including a nation that is only one ecclesiastical province), are convoked by the national episcopal conference.
- Provincial councils, which consist of the bishops of an ecclesiastical province smaller than a nation, are convoked by the metropolitan with consent of a majority of the suffragan bishops.
Plenary and provincial councils are categorized as particular councils. A Particular council is composed of all the bishops of the territory (including coadjutors and auxiliaries) as well as other ecclesiastical ordinaries who head particular churches in the territory (i.e. territorial abbots and vicars apostolic). Each of these members has a vote on council legislation. Additionally, the following persons by law are part of particular councils but only participate in an advisory capacity: vicars general and episcopal, presidents of Catholic universities, deans of Catholic departments of theology and canon law, some major superiors elected by all the major superiors in the territory, some rectors of seminaries elected by the rectors of seminaries in the territory, and two members from each cathedral chapter, presbyterial council, or pastoral council in the territory (can. 443). The convoking authority can also select other members of the faithful (including the laity) to participate in the council in an advisory capacity.
Meetings of the entire episcopate of a supra-national region have historically been called councils as well, such as the various Councils of Carthage in which all the bishops of North Africa were to attend.
Synods in Eastern Rite Catholic Churches
are similar to synods in Orthodox churches in that they are the primary vehicle for election of bishops and establishment of inter-diocesan ecclesiastical laws. The term synod
in Latin rite
canon law, however, refers to meetings of a representative, thematic, non-legislative (advisory) or mixed nature or in some other way do not meet the qualifications of a "council." Examples include:
- The Synod of Bishops is an innovation from the Second Vatican Council, introduced by the decree Christus Dominus. It is an advisory body of the Pope, whose members are elected by bishops from around the world. The Pope serves as its president or appoints its president, determines its agenda, summons, suspends, and dissolves the synod, and can also appoint additional members to it (can. 344). Members of the synod express their opinions on matters on an individual basis (i.e. no decrees or resolutions are issued by the synod), but the Pope, at his option, can grant it that power, in which case its decrees or resolutions are approved and promulgated by him alone (can. 343). The Synod of Bishops is suspended when the Holy See is vacant.
- Diocesan synods are irregular meetings of the clergy and laity of a particular church summoned by the diocesan bishop (or other prelate if the particular church is not a diocese) to deliberate on legislative matters. Only the diocesan bishop holds legislative authority; the other members of the diocesan synod act only in an advisory capacity. Those who must be invited to a diocesan synod by law are any coadjutor or auxiliary bishops, the vicars general and episcopal, the officialis, the vicars forane plus an additional priest from each vicariate forane, the presbyterial council, canons of the cathedral chapter (if there is one), the rector of the seminary, some of the superiors of religious houses in the diocese, and members of the laity chosen by the diocesan pastoral council, though the diocesan bishop can invite others to attend at his own initiative. (can. 463)
National episcopal conferences
National episcopal conferences are another development of the Second Vatican Council. They are permanent bodies consisting of all the Latin rite bishops of a nation and those equivalent to diocesan bishops in law (i.e. territorial abbots). Bishops of other sui juris churches and papal nuncios are not members of episcopal conferences by law, though the conference itself may invite them in an advisory or voting capacity (can. 450).
While councils (can. 445) and diocesan synods (can. 391 & 466) have full legislative powers in their areas of competence, national episcopal conferences may only issue supplementary legislation when authorized to do so in canon law or by decree of the Holy See. Additionally, any such supplemental legislation requires a two-thirds vote of the conference and review by the Holy See (can. 455) to have the force of law. Without such authorization and review, episcopal conferences are deliberative only and exercise no authority over their member bishops or dioceses.
In the Anglican Communion, synods are elected by clergy and laity. In most Anglican churches, there is a geographical hierarchy of synods, with General Synod at the top; bishops, clergy and laity meet as "houses" within the synod.
Diocesan synods are convened by a bishop in his or her diocese, and consist of elected clergy and lay members.
Deanery synods are convened by the Rural Dean (or Area Dean) and consist of all clergy licensed to a benefice within the deanery, plus elected lay members.
traditions a synod can be either a local administrative region similar to a diocese
, such as the Minneapolis Area Synod
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
, or denote an entire church body, such as the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
. Sometimes the word is also used of the meeting of the priests of a diocese. In such case, the word carries no administrative meaning.
In the Presbyterian system of church governance
is a level of administration between the local presbytery and the national general assembly
. Some denominations use the synod, such as the Presbyterian Church in Canada
, Uniting Church in Australia
, and the Presbyterian Church USA
. However some other churches do not use the synod at all, and the Church of Scotland
dissolved its synods in the 1980s, see List of Church of Scotland synods and presbyteries
In Swiss and Southern German Reformed churches
where the Reformed churches are organized as regionally defined independent churches (e.g. Evangelical Reformed Church of Zurich
, Reformed Church of Berne
) the synod
corresponds to the general assembly
of Presbyterian churches. In Reformed churches the "synod" can denote a regional meeting of representatives of various classes (regional synod
), or the national denominational meeting of representatives from the regional synods (general
or national synod
). Some churches, especially the smaller denominations, do not have the regional synod tier (e.g. the Reformed Church in the United States
Protestant usage in the Congo
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo
, the vast majority of Protestant denominations have regrouped under a religious institution named the Church of Christ in Congo
, often referred to - within the Congo - simply as The Protestant Church
. In the CCC structure, the national synod
is the general assembly of the various churches that constitutes the CCC. From the Synod is drawn an Executive Committee, and a secretariat. There are also synods of the CCC in every province of the Congo, known appropriately as provincial synods
. The CCC regroups 62 Protestant denominations.
Some notable synods
- Synods of Antioch
- Synods of Carthage 251, 255, 256, 348, 411, 418, 419, 424
- Synod of Ancyra 314
- First Synod of Tyre and Jerusalem 335
- Synod of Hippo 393
- Councils of Toledo
- Synod of Whitby 664
- Cadaver Synod 897
- Synod of Erfurt
- Synod of Charroux, 989
- Synod of Rathbreasail, 1111
- Synod of Cashel, 1172
- Synod of Verona, 1184
- Synod of Toulouse, 1229
- Synod of Dort 1618/1619
- General Synod, Anglican churches
- Holy Synod