On March 1, Pope Francis published a four-page letter addressing his concerns about two contemporary manifestations of ancient heresies. According to the Crux website, concerns the Holy Father expressed in his letter, entitled Placuit Deo, “pivot on what he sees as a modern revival of Pelagianism, which held that the individual can achieve salvation on his or her own, through human effort; and Gnosticism, which treated salvation as an interior journey that distances the individual from the created world and human relationships.”
Pelagianism, whose great opponent was St. Augustine of Hippo, essentially teaches that grace is not necessary for salvation. We are able to achieve our own salvation, because we are able to choose good without the aid of God’s grace.
Gnosticism, which has infected the Church from her earliest centuries, teaches that only the few possess the divine gnosis (Greek for “knowledge”) necessary for salvation. It teaches that matter is evil, which was in ancient times manifested in two ways: those Gnostics who disdained the flesh and the world and practiced an extreme asceticism, and those Gnostics who, because the flesh and world didn’t matter, practiced an extreme bacchanalianism.
The Holy Father is dead on in his assessments of these modern-day heresies. Modern culture, perhaps especially in the West, is extremely individualistic. It matters not what God has revealed to us through the instrument of His Church. It only matters what I believe. It matters not what concerns my brothers and sisters have, it only matters what’s in it for me.
Pope Francis’ concerns are not far removed from those that I’ve expressed many times in presentations I’ve given for Adult Religious Education and RCIA classes. It is the what I call gnostic solipsism. The Gnostics, as above, believed that only the very few possessed the divine knowledge required for salvation. Today, the very few have been reduced to the individual. In other words: “What matters is what I believe about God. My truth is truth for me. God will save me on the basis of my truth.” Here, there is no need for divine revelation, only the particular ruminations about God and truth of each individual, no matter the depth of his or her learning or openness of spirit to God’s revelation. As well, this personal truth can change day by day, or even hour by hour, depending on the circumstances one faces.
The answer to these modern heresies is that answer to all heresy: speak the truth with passion. Keep to the faith of the centuries. Hold firm to what Christ has revealed. Make a personal commitment to the faith of the Church and pass that faith on to our children. Tell the story. Pray the prayers. Break the bread. It is as it always has been. The only effective response to heresy is adherence to truth as revealed by the One who is “the power and wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24).
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.