‘Not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis, many of them have been a waste of time. Despite all the good to be found in the texts it produced, the last word about the historical value of Vatican Council II has yet to be spoken.’
Joseph Ratzinger in Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987, p. 378.
So when is a council not a Council? For the answer to that question must we always await the long process of reception, the leaden-footed judgement of history? At least in the case of the recent Synod of Bishops we can expect an earlier outcome. The import of the synod, it seems, will be summarised for us in a ‘Post Synodal Exhortation’. In it Pope Francis will attempt to sidestep the judgement of history and pin the moment down. If (as is being rumoured) that pontifical Exhortation had already been drafted before the Synod began, some may conclude that the Pope has a remarkable gift of prophecy – or at least clairvoyance.
But not so. Hardly a bureaucrat has ever lived who was not tempted to write the minutes before the meeting.