The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a new letter, Placuit Deo, on the subject of salvation. The letter, approved by Pope Francis, argues that modern culture has difficulty in understanding that Jesus is “the only Saviour”. The letter suggests that “two ancient heresies”, Gnosticism and Pelagianism, have returned in new forms. While Pelagianism sees the individual as “radically autonomous”, Gnosticism suggests that “salvation consists of improving oneself”.
What commentators said
At Catholic News Agency, the theologian Chad Pecknold went back to the roots of Pelagianism, which arose in Rome and was “defeated almost single-handed” by St Augustine. For Pelagius, “salvation was finally up to our individual effort, and was in no way dependent on assistance from God or others.” This was closer to stoicism than Christianity, Pecknold remarked.
As Placuit Deo puts it, certain new trends are “like the old Pelagianism in the sense that ‘the figure of Christ appears as a model that inspires generous actions with his words and his gestures, rather than as He who transforms the human condition by incorporating us into a new existence’ ”.
At the National Catholic Register, Edward Pentin reported from the press conference at which CDF prefect Archbishop Ladaria presented the document. He said that when asked to give concrete examples of neo-Pelagianism and neo-Gnosticism, the archbishop said the Pope wouldn’t “point fingers” but wanted to “point out these tendencies” to “self-reliance and to isolation”.
At Crux, Claire Giangrave observed that the Vatican was still in the business of “smacking down heresies” – although the document admitted that the new Pelagianism and the new Gnosticism were not identical to the older varieties. Nevertheless, the modern errors are both condemned
for failing to recognise the necessity of the Church. “Both Pelagianism and Gnosticism, [the document] suggests, tend to downplay the importance of the Church, suggesting that one can just as easily pursue salvation and a relationship with Christ outside it.”
✣Cardinal says German bishops erred on Communion
Cardinal Gerhard Müller has criticised the German bishops’ planned guidelines on when Protestant spouses of Catholics can receive Communion. Speaking to Die Tagespost, the Vatican’s former doctrinal chief said the bishops had misinterpreted canon law. He described their talk of “individual cases” as a “rhetorical trick”.
Why was it under-reported
Although Cardinal Müller’s remarks were significant, they are only the latest of his many interventions – especially, but not only, on the subject of Communion discipline – since being removed from his post. The cardinal’s comments were not even his most significant statement of recent weeks: last month he wrote in First Things that some theologians’ talk of “paradigm shifts” smacked of the “modernist” heresy. A few years ago a senior cardinal criticising a bishops’ conference would have been big news; not in the Church of 2018.
What will happen next?
The bishops have yet to publish their guidelines in full. They said that Protestant spouses of Catholics can receive the Eucharist if they experience “serious spiritual distress” and affirm “the faith of the Catholic Church”. Critics say that existing canon law does not envisage this: if someone can affirm the Catholic faith, they should be received into the Church. But some German bishops, such as Cardinal Walter Kasper, want to go even further, opening the way to more general intercommunion between Protestants and Catholics.
✣The week ahead
A Mass for bereaved parents is being celebrated at Westminster Cathedral tomorrow. Last year the Mass, celebrated by Bishop Paul McAleenan, drew several hundred people. It was inspired by the experiences of hospital chaplains who accompany parents during their children’s illness. Requests for prayers came from bereaved parents as far away as California.
The ‘24 hours for the Lord’ initiative begins today. Pope Francis will lead a penitential liturgy in St Peter’s Basilica this afternoon, after which for 24 hours a church in every diocese in the world will remain open for Confession and Adoration.
Next Saturday a workshop on a 600-year-old form of plainchant will be held at St Mary’s Church, Dartington, Devon. The plainchant has accompanied the daily office of the Bridgettine Sisters of Syon Abbey since 1415. The event is organised by St Bridget’s Friends. For more information email Adrian Wardle at [email protected]
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