As the Synod on Synodality comes to a close, another claim has been spreading through social media: that the synod has promoted love for demons.
It is important to note that this document is not magisterial since it was not explicitly approved by the pope. Also, it was not meant to be definitive. In the Introduction, it says that its purpose “is not to give a detailed analysis of the spirituality for synodality and its theological foundations. This important work needs to be done, but it will require more extensive treatment than is possible here. Rather, it is hoped that the foundations, nature and significance of a spirituality for synodality can be developed in the light of the synodal process itself.”
The controversial quote can be found on page 29:
“What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them, the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled, and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner, such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.”
From the context of the quote, it is obvious that it refers to the sorrow caused by those who see any part of creation corrupted by evil and sin, as well as the love that should inform a Christian heart, even for those who practice evil, in a reiteration of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” principle.
In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas explains:
“The question as to whether the spirits called demons ought to be loved out of charity, must be answered in accordance with the statement… that a thing may be loved out of charity in two ways. First, a thing may be loved as the person who is the object of friendship, and thus we cannot have the friendship of charity towards the demons… Secondly, we love a thing as being that which we desire to be enduring as another’s good. On this way we love irrational creatures out of charity, in as much as we wish them to endure, to give glory to God and be useful to man, as stated above: and in this way too we can love the nature of the demons even out of charity, in as much as we desire those spirits to endure, as to their natural gifts, unto God’s glory.”
Also, it is important to note that the quote in the Synod’s document was not produced by the Synod itself but is rather a citation from a 7th century homily of the great ascetic and mystic Isaac of Syria (also called Isaac of Nineveh).
The early 20th century Catholic Encyclopedia, published under Pope St. Pius X, explains that Isaac was a monk and Nestorian bishop. However, it also clarifies:
“He was author of three theses, which found but little acceptance amongst Nestorians… The precise contents of these theses are not known, but they were of too Catholic a character to be compatible with Nestorian heresy. From an extant prayer of his, addressed to Christ it is certainly difficult to realize that its author was a Nestorian…
Isaac was a fruitful ascetical writer and his works were for centuries the main food of Syrian piety… Isaac’s writings possess passages of singular beauty and elevation, and remind the reader of Thomas à Kempis.”
In 2002, St. John Paul II quoted Isaac of Syria in a context very similar to the one seen in the Synod’s document:
“Monks and nuns, in obedience to the Lord’s call… share in God’s love for all creatures, and they love — as Isaac the Syrian says — the very enemies of truth.”
The first session of the Synod on Synodality is scheduled to end on October 29, 2023, and will resume in October 2024.
Pedro Gabriel, MD, is a Catholic layman and physician, born and residing in Portugal. He is a medical oncologist, currently employed in a Portuguese public hospital. A published writer of Catholic novels with a Tolkienite flavor, he is also a parish reader and a former catechist. He seeks to better understand the relationship of God and Man by putting the lens on the frailty of the human condition, be it physical and spiritual. He also wishes to provide a fresh perspective of current Church and World affairs from the point of view of a small western European country, highly secularized but also highly Catholic by tradition.