A synod (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 συνοδος 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.

Uses in different CommunionsEdit

Orthodox usageEdit

In Orthodox churches, synods are composed of bishops and are the primary vehicle for the election of bishops and the establishment of inter-diocesan ecclesiastical laws.

Roman Catholic usageEdit

Local synodsEdit

Synods in Eastern rite churches are simliar to synods in Orthodox churches.

Synods in the Latin rite church take the following forms:

Particular councils are non-permanent synods of Latin-rite bishops from particular regions and are of two types: plenary councils, which consist of bishops of a nation and are convoked by two-thirds vote of the national episcopal conference, and provincial councils, which consist of the bishops of an ecclesiastical province and are convoked by the metropolitan with consent of a majority of the suffragans. Bishops of the territory (including auxiliary bishops) as well as non-bishops who head particular churches in the territory (i.e. territorial abbots and vicars apostolic) vote at plenary or provincial councils, though a few other members of the territories concerned (such as presidents of Catholic universities and curial officials) are invited and participate as advisors.

A diocesan synod is a non-permanent meeting of the clergy and laity of a particular church summoned by the diocesan bishop as an advisory council on legislative matters. Only one bishop (the diocesan bishop) holds voting power, and in dioceses without auxiliary bishops, he may be the only bishop actually in attendance. The other members of the diocesan synod, including any attending auxiliary bishops, act only in an advisory capacity, leaving the decision on whether to issue a law to the diocesan bishop.

A national episcopal conference is a permanent body consisting of all the Latin rite bishops of a nation. Bishops of other sui juris churches and Papal nuncios do not belong to episcopal conferences by law, though the conference itself could invite them to join on an advisory capacity or with vote (can. 450).

Both particular councils (can. 445) and diocesan synods (can. 391 & 466) have full legislative powers over their subjects. This contrasts with the powers of national episcopal conferences, which only issue supplementary legislation when authorized to do so by decree of the Holy See. Any such supplemental legislation must also be confirmed by the Holy See (can. 455).

General synodsEdit

The Roman Catholic Church also has two synods composed of members from the entire church:

The Synod of Bishops is a novelty 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.

The Roman Catholic Church believes that an ecumenical council is a non-permanent synod of all the bishops in communion with the Pope and is, along with the Pope, the supreme earthly authority for the entire Christian 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. Before laws issued by an ecumenical council oblige or before teachings issued by an ecumenical council are considered authentic, they require the confirmation of the Pope, who alone has the right to promulgate them (can. 341). It should be noted that this view of the characteristics of an ecumenical council is very different to that held by other Christian denominations.

Anglican usageEdit

In the Anglican Communion, General 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 the bishop in his 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.

Lutheran usageEdit

In Lutheran 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.

Presbyterian usageEdit

In the Presbyterian system of church governance the synod 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.

Reformed usageEdit

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 Dutch Reformed churches (and their North American counterparts), the "synod" is a denominational meeting of representatives from each local classis.

Some notable synodsEdit

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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