A synod (/ˈsɪnəd/) is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. The word synod comes from the Greek σύνοδος (sýnodos) meaning "assembly" or "meeting", and it is synonymous with the Latin word concilium meaning "council". Originally, synods were meetings of bishops, and the word is still used in that sense in Catholicism, Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy. In modern usage, the word often refers to the governing body of a particular church, whether its members are meeting or not. It is also sometimes used to refer to a church that is governed by a synod.
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 is entrusted to a permanent synod.
In Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, synods of bishops 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.
A sobor (Church Slavonic: съборъ, "assembly") is a formal gathering or council of bishops together with other clerical and lay delegates representing the church to deal with matters of faith, morality, rite, and canonical and cultural life. The synod in the Western churches is similar, but it is distinguished by being usually limited to an assembly of bishops.
The term is found among those Eastern Orthodox Churches that use Slavic language (the Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox Churches), along with the Romanian Orthodox Church.
The presence of clerical and lay delegates is for the purpose of discerning the consensus of the church on important matters; however, the bishops form an upper house of the sobor, and the laity cannot overrule their decisions.
Kievan Rus' chronicles record the first known East Slavic church sobor as having taken place in Kiev in 1051. Sobors were convened periodically from then on; one notable assembly held in 1415 formed a separate metropoly for the church in the Grand Duchy of Lithuanian lands.
Important sobors in the History of the Russian Orthodox Church are:
A bishop may also call a sobor for his diocese, which again would have delegates from the clergy, monasteries and parishes of his diocese, to discuss important matters. Such diocesan sobors may be held annually or only occasionally.
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. A synod generally meets every three years and is thus designated an "Ordinary General Assembly." However, "Extraordinary" synods can be called to deal with specific situations. There are also "Special" synods for the Church in a specific geographic area such as the one held November 16-December 12, 1997, for the Church in America.
While the words "synod" and "council" usually refer to a transitory meeting, the term "Synod of Bishops" or "Synod of the Bishops", is also applied to a permanent body established in 1965 as an advisory body of the pope. It holds assemblies at which bishops and religious superiors, elected by bishops conferences or the Union of Superiors General or appointed by the Pope vote on proposals ("propositiones") to present for the pope's consideration, and which in practice the pope uses as the basis of "post-synodal apostolic exhortations" on the themes discussed. While an assembly of the Synod of Bishops thus expresses its collective wishes, it does not issue decrees, unless in certain cases the pope authorizes it to do so, and even then an assembly's decision requires ratification by the pope. The pope serves as president of an assembly or appoints the president, determines the agenda, and summons, suspends, and dissolves the assembly.
Modern Catholic synod themes:
Meetings of bishops in the Roman empire are known from the mid-third century and already numbered twenty by the time of the First Council of Nicaea (325). Thereafter they continued by the hundreds into the sixth century. Those authorized by an emperor and often attended by him came to be called ecumenical, meaning throughout the world (as the world was thought of in Western terms). Today, Council in Roman Catholic 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:
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 (such as 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:
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.
In Lutheran traditions a synod can be a legislative body at various levels of the church administration. It can also refer to an administrative region or an entire church body. Lutheran synods of the 1500s were only clergy gatherings such as those in the pre-Reformation church. Synods were held annually and dealt with only spiritual matters.
The inclusion of the laity in gatherings termed "synod" began with the Reformed churches and spread to the Lutherans. In the 1600s, Reformed-style synodical governance was adopted by the Lutheran congregations in the United Duchies of Jülich-Cleves-Berg when the sovereigns ceased to play a hand in church matters. A combination of consistorial and presbyterial-synodal style governance was instituted in the Prussian Union of Churches under Frederick William III of Prussia. Lutherans who immigrated from Germany and Scandinavia also adopted this form of synod, because the lands they immigrated to had no state church. The specific design of the synods took guidance from philosophies of organizational governance used at the time such as those modeled after the influence of Kant and Hegel. When the German monarchy and the sovereign governance of the church was ended in 1918, the synods took over the governance of the state churches.
A few Lutheran churches, such as the Church of Sweden or the Evangelical Regional Church in Württemberg, allow for the formation of political parties (also known as nominating groups, church party or colloquy circle) to nominate candidates for the Synod as a legislation; it is an extension of the idea of multi-ideological democracy within the church. The Missouri Synod also has nominating groups, but they are not officially recognized by the Synod and are not closely linked to any secular political parties as in Sweden. Larger nominating groups include Jesus First/Congregations Matter and the United List.
Also the former Evangelical Church of the Prussian Union, comprising mostly Lutheran but also some Reformed and United Protestant congregations, had church parties in its presbyterial and synodal elections.
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 1993, 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 (such as Evangelical Reformed Church of Zurich or 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 general 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 (for example, the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS)). Historically, these were meetings such as the Synod of Homberg.
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 or CCC, 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.
The Assyrian Church of the East (Classical Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܕܡܕܢܚܐ ܕܐܬܘܖ̈ܝܐ, translit. ʻĒdtā d-Madenḥā d-Ātorāyē), officially the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East (Classical Syriac: ʻEdtā Qaddīštā wa-Šlīḥāitā Qātolīqī d-Madenḥā d-Ātorāyē), is an Eastern Christian Church that follows the traditional christology and ecclesiology of the historical Church of the East. It belongs to the eastern branch of Syriac Christianity, and uses the Divine Liturgy of Saints Mar Addai and Mar Mari belonging to the East Syrian Rite liturgy. Its main spoken language is Syriac, a dialect of Eastern Aramaic, and the majority of its adherents are ethnic Assyrians.
The Church also has an archdiocese based in India, known as the Chaldean Syrian Church of India. The Assyrian Church of the East is officially headquartered in the city of Erbil in northern Iraq; its original area also spread into southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria and northwestern Iran, corresponding roughly to ancient Assyria. Since 2015, the primate of the Assyrian Church of the East is Catholicos-Patriarch Gewargis III.The Assyrian Church of the East claims continuity with the historical Church of the East, but it is not in communion with either Oriental Orthodoxy or the Eastern Orthodox Church. It has a traditional episcopal structure, headed by the Catholicos-Patriarch. Its hierarchy is composed of metropolitan bishops and diocesan bishops, while lower clergy consists of priests and deacons, who serve in dioceses (eparchies) and parishes throughout the Middle East, India, North America, Oceania, and Europe (including the Caucasus and Russia).Cadaver Synod
The Cadaver Synod (also called the Cadaver Trial; Latin: Synodus Horrenda) is the name commonly given to the posthumous ecclesiastical trial of Pope Formosus, held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome during January 897. The trial was conducted by Pope Stephen VI (sometimes called Stephen VII), the successor to Formosus' successor, Pope Boniface VI. Stephen had Formosus' corpse exhumed and brought to the papal court for judgment. He accused Formosus of perjury and of having acceded to the papacy illegally. At the end of the trial, Formosus was pronounced guilty and his papacy retroactively declared null.Church of England
The Church of England (C of E) is the established church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the most senior cleric, although the monarch is the supreme governor. The Church of England is also the mother church of the international Anglican Communion. It traces its history to the Christian church recorded as existing in the Roman province of Britain by the third century, and to the 6th-century Gregorian mission to Kent led by Augustine of Canterbury.The English church renounced papal authority when Henry VIII failed to secure an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1534. The English Reformation accelerated under Edward VI's regents, before a brief restoration of papal authority under Queen Mary I and King Philip. The Act of Supremacy 1558 renewed the breach, and the Elizabethan Settlement charted a course enabling the English church to describe itself as both catholic and reformed:
catholic in that it views itself as a part of the universal church of Jesus Christ in unbroken continuity with the early apostolic church. This is expressed in its emphasis on the teachings of the early Church Fathers, as formalised in the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian creeds.
reformed in that it has been shaped by some of the doctrinal principles of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, in particular in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer.In the earlier phase of the English Reformation there were both Catholic martyrs and radical Protestant martyrs. The later phases saw the Penal Laws punish Roman Catholic and nonconforming Protestants. In the 17th century, the Puritan and Presbyterian factions continued to challenge the leadership of the Church which under the Stuarts veered towards a more catholic interpretation of the Elizabethan Settlement especially under Archbishop Laud and the rise of the concept of Anglicanism as the via media. After the victory of the Parliamentarians the Prayer Book was abolished and the Presbyterian and Independent factions dominated. The Episcopacy was abolished. The Restoration restored the Church of England, episcopacy and the Prayer Book. Papal recognition of George III in 1766 led to greater religious tolerance.
Since the English Reformation, the Church of England has used a liturgy in English. The church contains several doctrinal strands, the main three known as Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical and Broad Church. Tensions between theological conservatives and progressives find expression in debates over the ordination of women and homosexuality. The church includes both liberal and conservative clergy and members.The governing structure of the church is based on dioceses, each presided over by a bishop. Within each diocese are local parishes. The General Synod of the Church of England is the legislative body for the church and comprises bishops, other clergy and laity. Its measures must be approved by both Houses of Parliament.Councils of Carthage
The Councils of Carthage were church synods held during the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries in the city of Carthage in Africa. The most important of these are described below.Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is a mainline Protestant Lutheran Church headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. The ELCA officially came into existence on January 1, 1988, by the merging of three Lutheran church bodies. As of 2017, it has approximately 3.5 million baptized members in 9,163 congregations. In 2015, Pew Research estimated that 1.4 percent of the U.S. population self-identifies with the ELCA. It is the seventh-largest Christian denomination by reported membership and the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States. The next two largest Lutheran denominations are the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) (with approximately 2.0 million members) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) (with approximately 360,000 members). There are also many smaller Lutheran church bodies in the United States, some of which came into being composed of dissidents following the major 1988 merger. The ELCA belongs to the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation. The ELCA is in full communion with the Episcopal Church, Moravian Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church.Evangelical Lutheran Synod
The Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) is a US-based Protestant Christian denomination based in Mankato, Minnesota. It describes itself as a conservative, Confessional Lutheran body. The ELS is in fellowship with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) and is a member of the international Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC).General Synod of the Church of England
The General Synod is the deliberative and legislative body of the Church of England. The synod was instituted in 1970, replacing the Church Assembly, and is the culmination of a process of rediscovering self-government for the Church of England that had started in the 1850s.Holy Synod
In several of the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches and Eastern Catholic Churches, the patriarch or head bishop is elected by a group of bishops called the Holy Synod. For instance, the Holy Synod is a ruling body of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
In Oriental Orthodoxy the Holy Synod is the highest authority in the church and it formulates the rules and regulations regarding matters of church organisation, faith, and order of service.List of Church of England Measures
This is a list of Church of England Measures, which are the legislation of the Church of England. Since 1970, Measures have been made by the General Synod; prior to then they were made by its predecessor, the Church Assembly. Under the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 (9 & 10 Geo. 5 c. 76), Measures have the same force as an Act of Parliament.
As of July 2010, there were 124 Measures passed and unrepealed.Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), often referred to simply as the Missouri Synod, is a traditional, confessional Lutheran denomination in the United States. With 2.0 million members, it is the second-largest Lutheran body in the U.S., the largest being Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The LCMS was organized in 1847 at a meeting in Chicago, Illinois, as the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States (German: Die Deutsche Evangelisch-Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio und andern Staaten), a name which reflected the geographic locations of the founding congregations.
The LCMS has congregations in all 50 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, but over half of its members are located in the Midwest. It is a member of the International Lutheran Council and is in altar and pulpit fellowship with most of that group's members. The LCMS is headquartered in Kirkwood, Missouri, and is divided into 35 districts—33 of which are geographic and two (the English and the SELC) non-geographic. The current president is Matthew C. Harrison, who took office on September 1, 2010.Pope Symmachus
Pope Symmachus (d. 19 July 514) was Pope from 22 November 498 to his death in 514. His tenure was marked by a serious schism over who was legitimately elected pope by the citizens of Rome.Presbyterian polity
Presbyterian (or presbyteral) polity is a method of church governance ("ecclesiastical polity") typified by the rule of assemblies of presbyters, or elders. Each local church is governed by a body of elected elders usually called the session or consistory, though other terms, such as church board, may apply. Groups of local churches are governed by a higher assembly of elders known as the presbytery or classis; presbyteries can be grouped into a synod, and presbyteries and synods nationwide often join together in a general assembly. Responsibility for conduct of church services is reserved to an ordained minister or pastor known as a teaching elder, or a minister of the word and sacrament.
Presbyterian polity was developed as a rejection of governance by hierarchies of single bishops (episcopal polity), but also differs from the congregationalist polity in which each congregation is independent. In contrast to the other two forms, authority in the presbyterian polity flows both from the top down (as higher assemblies exercise limited but important authority over individual congregations, e.g., only the presbytery can ordain ministers, install pastors, and start up, close, and approve relocating a congregation) and from the bottom up (e.g., the moderator and officers are not appointed from above but are rather elected by and from among the members of the assembly). This theory of governance developed in Geneva under John Calvin and was introduced to Scotland by John Knox after his period of exile in Geneva. It is strongly associated with French, Dutch, Swiss and Scottish Reformation movements, and the Reformed and Presbyterian churches.Synod of Bishops in the Catholic Church
In the Roman Catholic Church, the Synod of Bishops is an advisory body for the Pope. It is described in the Code of Canon Law (CIC) as "a group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and meet together at fixed times to foster closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and bishops, to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world."The Synod of Bishops is permanent, even when not in session. Periodically, it holds assemblies, which are either general, if called to consider matters directly concerning the universal Church, or special, if called for problems of a particular geographical area. The general assemblies are either ordinary (held at fixed intervals) or extraordinary (held to treat of some urgent matter).The Synod of Bishops also has a permanent secretariat headquartered in Rome but is not part of the Roman Curia. Pope Francis greatly increased both the authority and influence of the Synod in September 2018.Synod of Diamper
The Synod of Diamper, held at Udayamperoor (called Diamper in non-vernacular sources), was a diocesan synod or council that laid down rules and regulations for the ancient Saint Thomas Christians of the Malabar Coast (modern Kerala state, India), formally uniting them with the Catholic Church. This led to the creation of the Eastern Catholic Syro-Malabar Church, which follows a Latinized East Syriac Rite liturgy.It was convened on 20 June 1599, under the leadership of Aleixo de Menezes, Latin rite Archbishop of Goa. Archdeacon George of the Cross was forced to comply with the wishes of the Archbishop of Goa. This separated the Saint Thomas Christians from the Church of the East in Persia and subjected them directly to the Latin Archbishopric of Goa. The Archbishopric of Angamaly was downgraded to a bishopric under Goa in 1600 AD. Portuguese Padroado rule was thus imposed and the bishops for Saint Thomas Christians were appointed by Portuguese Padroado.Synod of Dort
The Synod of Dort (also known as the Synod of Dordt or the Synod of Dordrecht) was an international Synod held in Dordrecht in 1618–1619, by the Dutch Reformed Church, to settle a divisive controversy initiated by the rise of Arminianism. The first meeting was on 13 November 1618 and the final meeting, the 180th, was on 29 May 1619. Voting representatives from eight foreign Reformed churches were also invited. Dort was a contemporary English term for the town of Dordrecht (and it remains the local colloquial pronunciation).
In 2014 the first entire critical edition of the Acts and Documents of the Synod was published.Synod of Jassy
The Synod of Jassy (also referred to as the Council of Jassy) was convened in Iași (Jassy), Moldavia (present day Romania), between 15 September - 27 October 1642, by the Ecumenical Patriarch Parthenius I of Constantinople, with the support of the Moldavian Prince Vasile Lupu.The purpose of the synod was to counter certain Roman Catholic and Protestant "doctrinal errors" which had made inroads into Orthodox Christian theology and to offer a comprehensive Orthodox statement on the content and character of the faith. Including representatives of the Greek and Slavic Churches, it condemned the Calvinist teachings ascribed to Cyril Lucaris and ratified (a somewhat amended text of) Peter Mogila's Expositio fidei (Statement of Faith, also known as the Orthodox Confession), a description of Christian orthodoxy in a question and answer format. The Statement of Faith became fundamental for establishing the Orthodox world's attitude toward Reformation thought. The major contribution of the synod was the reinforced sense of unity in the Orthodox Church through the promulgation of an authoritative statement agreed upon by all the major sees.Synod of Jerusalem (1672)
The Synod of Jerusalem was convened by Orthodox Patriarch Dositheos Notaras in March 1672. Because the occasion was the consecration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, it is also called the Synod of Bethlehem.
The Synod was attended by most of the prominent representatives of the Eastern Orthodox Church, including six Metropolitans besides Dositheus and his retired predecessor, and its decrees received universal acceptance as an expression of the faith of the Eastern Orthodox Church.Third Council of Constantinople
The Third Council of Constantinople, counted as the Sixth Ecumenical Council by the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches, as well by certain other Western Churches, met in 680/681 and condemned monoenergism and monothelitism as heretical and defined Jesus Christ as having two energies and two wills (divine and human).Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), also referred to simply as the Wisconsin Synod, is an American Confessional Lutheran denomination of Christianity. Characterized as theologically conservative, it was founded in 1850 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As of 2018, it had a baptized membership of 359,426 in 1,281 congregations, with churches in 47 US states and 4 provinces of Canada. It is the third largest Lutheran denomination in the United States. The WELS school system is the fourth largest private school system in the United States.The WELS is in fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) and is a member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC), a worldwide organization of Lutheran church bodies of the same beliefs.