Francis and the ecclesiology of Amoris Laetitia

The apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris Laetitia, is a landmark document not only for the pontificate of Francis, but also in the history of modern papal teaching.

This is not simply because of its approach to the hot-button issues of marriage and sexuality, but especially because of its vision of the Church.

Amoris Laetitia continues to develop Francis’s ecclesiology in a very interesting direction.

Collegial and synodal
First, Amoris Laetitia’s view of the Church is collegial and synodal.

Francis quotes his first exhortation Evangelii Gaudium seventeen times, Vatican II’s constitution on the Church in the modern world Gaudium et Spesnineteen times, but also ten documents of national bishops’ conferences (Spain, Korea, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Australia, the council of the Latin American bishops CELAM, Italy and Kenya).

This is consistent with Francis’s ecclesiology before Amoris Laetitia, but it is also a genuine development of the Bishops’ Synod itself.

What this new exhortation adds is the extensive use of the documents of the Bishops’ Synod of 2014 and 2015 – 136 quotations in total.

To be sure, Francis’s predecessors used to quote from synodal documents, but in order to confirm what they wanted the Synod to say: that was part of most bishops’ frustration with the Bishops’ Synod as an institution.

Francis’s Synods of 2014 and 2015 have been for the first time a real expression of a Church where “episcopal collegiality” is not just in the books (particularly in the document Lumen Gentium of Vatican II), but is real (effective and not just affective) – in which the bishops and the pope cooperate together to the maturation of the discernment of the Church over a particular issue.

This is new because the “synodal process” of Francis is something that never happened before: a synod in two steps and a synod with a real freedom of debate. Continue reading

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