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What is the difference between a synod and a council?


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#1 Father Stephanos

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 03:54 PM

Some use the words "synod" and "council" interchangeably when referring to assemblies of bishops and church officials, convened for solving or resolving specific issues and/or regulating matters of ecclesiastical doctrine and discipline.

Are the words "synod" and "council" interchangeable?

In other words, should the gathering of bishops and church officials in Nicaea in the year 325 be properly referred to as:

Holy 1st Ecumenical Synod or Holy 1st Ecumenical Council or does it matter?


Thank you and God bless you.

With agape in our Lord Jesus Christ,
+ Father Stephanos

#2 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 03:56 PM

Synod is from the Greek; council is from the Latin. No difference.

#3 Father Stephanos

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 08:11 PM

Synod is from the Greek; council is from the Latin. No difference.

I do not believe so; synod does not actually mean the same thing that council means; there is an important difference between the meanings of the words.

With agape in our Lord Jesus Christ,
+ Father Stephanos

#4 Matt Varley

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 08:37 PM

Having been brought up as a Roman Catholic, and living in the U.S., I am accustomed to hearing the word council (of bishops) used mostly in the context "Ecumenical Council." Perhaps it is just idiosyncratic to me, but the word council has the connotation "ecumenical," and the word synod has the connotation "local (gathering of bishops)".

#5 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 09:04 PM

synod n. 1. A council or an assembly of church officials or churches; an ecclesiastical council. 2. A council or an assembly. [Middle English, from Latin synodus, from Greek synodos, meeting, assembly]

council n. 1.a. An assembly of persons called together for consultation, deliberation, or discussion. b. A body of people elected or appointed to serve in an administrative, legislative, or advisory capacity. c. An assembly of church officials and theologians convened for regulating matters of doctrine and discipline. 2. The discussion or deliberation that takes place in such an assembly or body. [Middle English counceil, from Old French concile, from Latin concilium]

What's the difference?

#6 Father Stephanos

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 09:10 PM

Having been brought up as a Roman Catholic, and living in the U.S., I am accustomed to hearing the word council (of bishops) used mostly in the context "Ecumenical Council." Perhaps it is just idiosyncratic to me, but the word council has the connotation "ecumenical," and the word synod has the connotation "local (gathering of bishops)".

We Orthodox Christians of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” of our Lord Jesus Christ call our assembly of bishops and church officials, convened for solving or resolving specific issues and/or regulating matters of ecclesiastical doctrine and discipline, a synod (σύνοδος), not a council (συμβούλιον). The word “synod” comes from the word σύνοδος (synodos) in Greek, no word in Latin. The word “council” comes from the word συμβούλιον (symvoulion) in Greek, concilium in Latin.

The meaning of the word “ecumenical” in the phrase “Holy Ecumenical Synod” is having “worldwide scope or applicability;” it does not mean “being involved with forming or working for unity among different denominations or religions.” Simply put, a Holy Ecumenical Synod is a holy synod of the Ecumene where “ecumene” is the entire area of the known inhabited world where the faithful, of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” of the Nicene‑Constantinopolitan Creed, live. A Holy Ecumenical Synod is an officially convened gathering of all the hierarchs and church officials of the ecumene of the one Holy Orthodox Catholic Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Further, in order for a holy synod to be termed ecumenical, it must be accepted as being ecumenical by a later holy synod which also is considered to be ecumenical and/or it must be accepted as being ecumenical by a preponderance of the faithful of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” of our Creed.

The Holy Orthodox Catholic Church has always gathered and will always gather in holy synod, not council. If hierarchs gather in council and not a holy synod, then we know that these hierarchs are not of the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. For example, we celebrate the Holy 7th Ecumenical Synod (Holy 7th Synod of the Ecumene), not the Holy 7th Ecumenical Council. Why? Properly speaking, although both a holy synod and a council are hoped to be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, at a holy synod all official members are expected to show up, and they have an equal vote. More importantly, the vote cannot be overruled by anyone except for the preponderance of devout laity of the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed or another holy synod that is equal to or greater in authority than the holy synod called.

It is this last fact that some people seem to misinterpret into assuming that a council and a synod are the same. A lesser synod can always be overruled by a greater synod. As an example, an Archdiocesan Synod (lesser synod) can be overruled by a Patriarchal Synod (greater synod). A synod that is not a holy synod of the ecumene (lesser synod) can always be overruled by a holy synod of the ecumene (greater synod). Orthodox Christians hold that when a synod is gathered together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that synod will always eventually be confirmed by an equal or greater synod than itself. The point of confusion arises since a lesser synod seems similar in function to a council in that a lesser synod can be overruled by a greater synod. However, although this is true, a lesser synod cannot be overruled by just one hierarch, whereas only one hierarch can override a council.

At a council, everyone may also have an equal vote, but the council can be overruled by another person who is not present at the council. For example, simply put, the Roman Catholic Church uses a council system, not a synodal system. The Roman Catholic Pope does not meet and vote with his Cardinals as in a synod, but the Cardinals meet in council, and then the Pope tells them whether they are correct or not. This is not the tradition or way of the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. The only time the Roman Catholic Church uses more of a synodal system is when it votes to replace a Pope who has died. In this case, there is no Pope to tell the Council of Cardinals whether they are right or not, and there is no other redress either.

Many people are familiar with councils in their local parishes and secular forms of government. For example, the decisions of a parish council may be overruled by the parish, the priest, the hierarch, a diocesan council, or a synod. A city council may have its decisions overruled by the citizens of the city, the mayor, or a court, etc.

For the above reasons, the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church has always gathered and will always gather for solving or resolving specific issues and/or regulating matters of ecclesiastical doctrine and discipline in holy synod, not council.

I hope this helps!

With agape in our Lord Jesus Christ,
+ Father Stephanos

#7 Father David Moser

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 09:14 PM

I don't know about the particular use of the word "council" in most cases, however, in the Russian Church Abroad there are two words that are frequently used to describe the meetings of bishops - the Synod and the Sobor. The Synod of Bishops denotes the standing "executive council" of bishops - a representative group that can act in the name of all the bishops of a self governing Church. The Episcopal Sobor, otoh, denotes a gathering of all the bishops of a particular self governing Church. The term "council" in most cases seems to be reserved for gatherings of bishops, lower clergy and laity and so seems to have a different meaning altogether in modern useage. The decisions of the Synod are subject to the approval of the Sobor and in ROCOR a council would have no actual authority at all, but simply act as an advisory body to the Synod or Sobor of Bishops.

Fr David

#8 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 11:42 PM

Is this a Russian thing, telling non-Russians how to speak their own non-Russian language? A recent immigrant once tried to tell me what the English word honor meant. I'm a native English-speaker, I have a degree in English, I have worked for many years at a very high professional level as a writer and editor of English, yet here was this Russian chemist whose only other credential was a green card telling me how to speak English.

In the English language, there is no difference between synod and council. Their basic sense is the same. As Fr. David says, English-speaking Orthodox of the Russian tradition do use synod to mean the bishops of a jurisdiction collectively and council to mean a larger assembly of clergy and laity, akin to a sobor, but in English they could just as well call the former a council and the later a synod. Roman Catholics distinguish between councils and synods in a manner similar to Fr. Stephanos, but they use synod to mean an actual meeting of bishops, not the bishops themselves collectively, and they call their bishops collectively the "Council of Catholic Bishops." Otherwise, English usage of council and synod is governed by Anglo-American tradition, which is not always consistent: It's always the "Synod of Whitby" but the "Council of Nicaea." It is also usually the "ecumenical councils," which is in no way wrong.

The English word council owes nothing to the Greek word symboulion. It comes from the Latin concilium, formed from con- (together) and calare (to call, to summon), whereas symboulion is formed from sym- (together) and boule (will, determination).

Edited by Brian Patrick Mitchell, 24 August 2012 - 12:02 AM.


#9 Father Stephanos

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Posted 24 August 2012 - 04:43 AM

There is a great deal of difference, even in English, for real Orthodox Christians between a synod and a council. Anyone who does not know, understand, and teach this does not know, understand, and teach what our Holy Orthodox Church teaches. This is basic Orthodox Ecclesiology 101!

The word συμβούλιον (symvoulion) and/or if you prefer συμβουλία (symvoulia) means council in Greek; these words also have other meanings just as many words have more than one meaning. Anyone who does not know this, obviously does not know Greek too well.

Many of those who want a false union with Rome teach that there is no difference between a synod and a council. It is a Roman Catholic teaching to insist as a premise for reunion that there is no difference between a synod and a council. This is why they define the Latin word synodus as council rather than as synod. Just because the Latin word synodus means council does not mean that the Greek word σύνοδος (synodos) has to mean council also. Greek is the language of our Holy Church in her Holy Scripture and Holy Ecumenical Synods. It makes no sense that those who are not Orthodox Christians and/or do not really understand Greek should start telling Orthodox Christians what Greek really means.

Orthodox Christians do not have to accept definitions of words as proclaimed by those outside the Holy Church of Christ, nor even from those inside the Church who do not have a true Orthodox phronema. English is not yet a theological language in and of itself. What I mean by this is for various reasons we have not yet properly translated into English our Holy Scripture, our Holy Creed, etc. Such an action has consequences, and whether English is considered a theological language in and of itself is one of them. Some might want that the English usage of council and synod be governed by Anglo-American non-Orthodox tradition, but that would eliminate the arhce of our Holy Church if a theology of arche is real; if it is not real then we as the Holy Orthodox Church still have had and have the right to transform the English language or any language for the service of our Lord Jesus Christ, just as others do every single day.

For those Orthodox Christians who truly do not want false union with Rome, it is always the Holy 1st Ecumenical Synod of Nicaea and the Holy Ecumenical Synods.

I hope this helps!

With agape in our Lord Jesus Christ,
+ Father Stephanos

#10 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 24 August 2012 - 11:23 AM

My mistake: It's the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Its predecessor was the National Catholic Welfare Council.

#11 Samuel J. Howard

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Posted 27 August 2012 - 04:36 PM

For those Orthodox Christians who truly do not want false union with Rome, it is always the Holy 1st Ecumenical Synod of Nicaea and the Holy Ecumenical Synods.

This doesn't seem to be consistent.

On the ROCOR web site, the term "Ecumencial Council" is used, for instance in a sermon here:

http://www.synod.com...opeterpaul.html

Or in this article by the Priest-monk Andrew (Kostadis):

http://www.synod.com...nfkostadis.html

--Samuel J. Howard

#12 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 27 August 2012 - 08:02 PM

I know of no synod or council; ecumenical, local, or otherwise, that has dogmatically proclaimed on the definitions of the words "synod" or "council". There is nothing on the subject in the Creed.

I don't think referring to the seven "Ecumenical Councils" gets you excommunicated, since the term is referenced in many officially endorsed sources. I really think we can come up with lots better things to get riled about.

Now a "conference" is a very different thing altogether and all I know is that in the current fiscal climate I am not allowed to go to any.

Herman who is being anti-semantic




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