The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the Letter Placuit Deo on March 1, 2018, to the bishops of the Catholic Church, addressing the danger of old heresies that can confuse an understanding of the faith. The letter, signed by Archbishop Luis F. Ladaria, S.I., prefect of the congregation, points out how cultural changes make it difficult for many to accept aspects of the Catholic Faith.
“The contemporary world perceives not without difficulty the confession of the Christian faith, which proclaims Jesus as the only Savior of the whole human person and of all humanity,” the letter says. And because “individualism centered on the autonomous subject tends to see the human person as a being whose sole fulfillment depends only on his or her own strength…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, reconciling us with the Father and dwelling among us in the Spirit”
The letter describes this phenomenon as “neo-Pelagianism,” referring to a heresy in which the individual’s salvation is achieved by the individual rather than through Christ. Another danger described in the letter, what Pope Francis calls neo- Gnosticism, suggests that salvation results from an inner relationship with God and not in relation to others.
Such heresies can grow in a culture in which the individual is seen as “radically autonomous” and “salvation depends on the strength of the individual or on purely human structures.”
The letter suggests that in such a model salvation amounts to self-improvement, and a person “intellectually capable of rising above the flesh of Jesus towards the mysteries of the unknown divinity.”
The letter notes that neo-Pelagian individualism and neo-Gnostic disregard the body and deface the confession of faith in Christ. As the letter asks, however, “How would Christ be able to mediate the Covenant of the entire human family, if human persons were isolated individuals, who fulfill themselves by their own efforts, as proposed by neo-Pelagianism?”
Contrary to the two heresies, the letter reaffirms that “salvation consists in our union with Christ, who, by his Incarnation, death and Resurrection has brought about a new kind of relationship with the Father and among human persons, and has introduced us into these relationships, thanks to the gift of the Spirit, so that we are able to unite ourselves to the Father as sons in the Son, and become one body in the ‘firstborn among many brothers’ (Rom 8:29).”