Wednesday, November 18, 2015
POPE FRANCIS UNDERSTANDING OF PELAGIANISM AND GNOSTICISM: AMBIGUOUS OR OUTRIGHT MISUNDERSTANDING OF THESE BY HIS HOLINESS?
Something to consider from Chiesa and the theologian Pietro de Marco:
But I also had to emphasize the ambiguities of the passage in his talk about the “temptations” of the Church - or Pelagianism (the ancient heresy according to which it is possible to pass through the stages of salvation by suitable human effort alone, independent of divine grace) and Gnosticism - with which pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio has hardened his intra-ecclesiastical “quarrel.”
The anti-Pelagian polemic against trust in structures - which ones, precisely? - and excessive organization was already present in the post-war and pre-conciliar season of the Catholic Church. We know what kind of target undue trust in rules is for Francis; but when he affirms that it is “rules that give the Pelagian the security of feeling superior, of having a precise orientation,” and that this type of deviation assumes “a style of control, of toughness, of formalism,” as in fundamentalism and conservatism, we see better at whom his words are aimed but we no longer see true Pelagianism, but rather a few traces of one of its enemies, Jansenism.
Pelagius has nothing to do with the grand Church of Pius XII nor with that modicum of organization, institution, and form that remains alive today. The Church should be concerned about the more plausible theological and pastoral Pelagianism of those who ignore and essentially eliminate sin and grace. But if, for the current pope, the Pelagian is the one who does the contrary, we are losing the discernment of that which is truly grave.
Also troubling is Pope Francis’s reference to Gnosticism, a temptation, he has told us, “that leads to trusting in clear, logical reasoning.” Here too in order to single out for the people’s execration that part of the Church which is seen as culpably cultivating intellect and doctrine, a bit like Saint Thomas Aquinas and countless others, remaining in the end “closed off in immanence.”
The ancient and modern Gnostic spiritualities are, obviously, nothing like this. A more recent and brilliant extension of the notion - as Eric Voegelin has pointed out - concerns the revolutionary activity that, in the name of a Cause, with a simplifying doctrine and rhetoric on its lips, pursues a Reality beyond the true reality. Something of the kind, but post-ideological, Pope Francis could find these days, where he least expects it.
I have already written about how disorienting this arbitrary use of theologically delicate words is. A mistaken use of them, with no criterion but that of delineating targets to be extended at will, does not correspond to the right exercise of justice in the Church. Moreover, it generates doubts if this style is considered acceptable in the person of a pope. Appealing to the consensus of the people, in a cathedral, in order to bash the bishops - because this is how ordinary people have understood it - would be in itself, for the political scientist, a “demagogic” effort at legitimization.