Any intellectual or theologian who has ever met me will confirm that I am a lightweight, a bit of fluff, a common-or-garden dullard, or worse.
My saving grace is that I am self-aware of my handicap, and thus constantly look to higher authorities for guidance and discernment. I found one of these yesterday which helped me to better understand some troublesome jargon I had earwigged as a distant associate of the Vatican in the last five years. That jargon is the title of this piece.
Here’s the start of this article by Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey. [I have never visited North America, but my media studies tell me that NJ is not famous for much that is good, and that might be just my misunderstanding: that Bishop makes a great deal of sense to me].
Two words are frequently found on the lips of Pope Francis in his addresses and homilies. One is the word “neo-Pelagian;” the other, “neo-Gnostic.” Both words have a long and complicated history. The first is much easier to explain.
Pelagianism designates a school of thought made prominent by the British monk Pelagius (360-418 A.D.). Living in Rome, he was a contemporary of St. Augustine. In response to the moral laxity of the day, Pelagius placed great emphasis on the innate goodness of the human person.
According to Pelagianism, Adam’s sin altered his own relationship with God. It did not affect his descendants. Human nature has not been corrupted by original sin. Thus, an individual is able to fulfill the commandments and choose the good without any special gift of grace.
Pope Francis detects traces of this type of thinking in those people today who act as if salvation depends on human strength or on merely human means. The Pope sees this error in those who would reduce the gospel to a social ideology, make spirituality simply a process of self-awareness or reduce the life of faith to a vestige of an outdated past.
The Pope discerns Pelagianism in the tendency toward restorationism. He rules out any dealing with the Church’s problems by a recourse to “a restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful.” (Pope Francis, “Address to the Leadership of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America during the General Coordination Meeting,” Rio de Janeiro, July 28, 2013).
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis warns against “the self-absorbed promethean neo-Pelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.” He further laments that “a supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying” (Evangelii Gaudium, 94)……
Something tells me that, as commonly happens, this post by me will light an incendiary under CP&S’s perch. Then again, more likely, readers may tactically withdraw, and this post will be submerged to drown with all those other rarely read ones. C’est la vie.