FEATURE: Prefect of CDF Archbishop Ladaria: ‘Salvation Cannot Be Simply Reduced’

Discussing ‘Placuit Deo,’ Warns Against Neo-Pelagian and Neo-Gnostic reductionisms

Photo by Zenit Vatican Correspondent - Deborah Castellano Lubov

“Salvation cannot be reduced simply to a message, a practice, a gnosis, or an interior sentiment,” warned Monsignor Ladaria Ferrer, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on presenting yesterday, in the Holy See Press Office, the Letter “Placuit Deo

So is entitled the letter published by the former Holy Office, following the request of numerous theologians, explaining that the purpose is to reflect further on the Declaration “Dominus Iesus” of September 2000, of the same Congregation, signed by the then Prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, on the subject of Christian salvation.  Because “the teaching on salvation in Christ must always be deepened,” especially some “aspects of Christian salvation that can be difficult to understand today, because of the recent cultural changes,” explains the Introduction to “Placuit Deo,” whose publication Francis approved last February 16. However, “the Church does not go back” on Dominus Jesus, stated Archbishop Ladaria today, despite the controversies, which that document raised in the ecumenical field, where it affirms that “the Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity – rooted in the Apostolic succession – between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church.”

In regard to the interreligious dialogue, Dominus Iesus explains that non-Christian religious traditions, although reflecting “a ray of that truth which enlightens all men,” are neither complementary nor parallel. However, “ Christ’s work and that of the Spirit outside the confines of the Church, cannot be excluded: namely, for one who is not formally a member of that salvation it’s accessible in virtue of a special grace that, in any case, comes from Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

According to Archbishop Ladaria, “the fundamental point of that document is the salvific universality of Christ, that is, there is but one Savior, Christ.” And the new Letter “Placuit Deo” is in this very same line. However, the problem is that “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” (Placuit Deo, 2).

The risks that the Letter puts one on guard today are Gnosticism and Pelagianism, to which Pope Francis’ teachings often makes reference.  They were heresies born in the context of the first centuries of Christianity and that “represent perennial dangers for misunderstanding Biblical faith” (Placuit Deo, 3) According to Neo-Pelagian Christianity “the individual, understood to be radically autonomous, presumes to save oneself without recognizing that, at the deepest level of being, he or she derives from God and from others. According to this way of thinking, salvation depends on the strength of the individual or on purely human structures, which are incapable of welcoming the newness of the Spirit of God.” (Placuit Deo, 3).

Neo-Gnosticism, instead, propounds “a merely interior vision of salvation which, marked by a strong personal conviction or feeling of being united to God, does not take into account the need to accept, heal and renew our relationships with others and with the created world.” (Placuit Deo, 2). However, then one reads “how could it be possible for the salvation mediated by the Incarnation of Jesus, his life, Death and Resurrection in His true body, come to us, if the only thing that mattered were liberating the inner reality of the human person from the limits of the body and the material, as described by the Neo-Gnostic vision?”

The question of Christian salvation is not material only for theologians. Chapter III explains this well, where it affirms, with a less theological and more immediate vocabulary for all, that “every person, in his or her own way, searches for happiness and attempts to obtain it by taking recourse to the resources one has available.” This means, on one hand, hope for physical health, greater economic well-being, interior peace, peaceful coexistence with one’s neighbor and, on the other hand, the overcoming of pain, fragility, sickness and death.

In face of all this, continues Placuit Deo, “the total salvation of the person does not consist of the things that the human person can obtain by himself, such as possessions, material well-being, knowledge or abilities, power or influence on others, good reputation or self-satisfaction.” (Placuit Deo, 6). Therefore, in response to the Neo-Pelagian tendencies of today’s culture, the faith affirms that “no created thing can totally satisfy us, (6), as Saint Augustine had already intuited in the incipit of the Confessions: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”

In regard to Neo-Pelagianism, “Placuit Deo” reaffirms that “according to Biblical faith, the origin of evil is not found in the material, corporeal world experienced as a boundary or a prison from which we need to be saved”, given that “the evil that is most damaging to man is that which comes from his heart.” (Placuit Deo, 7), as several evangelical passages teach.

The answer to the Neo-Pelagian and Neo-Gnostic reductionisms is Christ Himself, “Savior and Salvation,” Chapter IV calls Him, where it explains that “He did not limit Himself to showing us the way to encounter God, a path we can walk on our own by being obedient to His words and by imitating his example.” (Placuit Deo, 11). Whereas the “Way” that Christ talks about (“I am the Way,” (John 14:6) “is not merely an interior journey at the margins of our relationships with others and with the created world.” (Placuit Deo, 11).

And the place in which to receive the salvation of Jesus is the Church, which Chapter V treats, explaining in synthesis that “the salvation that God offers is not achieved with our own individual efforts alone, as Neo-Pelagianism would contend. Rather, salvation is found in the relationships that are born from the incarnate Son of God and that form the Communion of the Church.” Then, “because the grace that Christ gives us is not merely interior salvation, as the Neo-Gnostic vision claims, and introduces us into concrete relationships that He Himself has lived, the Church is a visible community. In her we touch the flesh of Jesus, especially in our poorest and most suffering brothers and sisters.” (Placuit Deo, 12).

With these premises, “The knowledge of the fullness of life into which Christ the Saviour introduces us, propels Christians onward in the mission of proclaiming to all the joy and light of the Gospel. [24] In this work, Christians must also be prepared to establish a sincere and constructive dialogue with believers of other religions.” Because God can lead to salvation in Christ “all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way,” concludes Placuit Deo.

In other words, according to Monsignor Morandi, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who was also present at the presentation, “the Church makes an effort to proclaim the Gospel, the true Good News of Salvation, to all men. He linked this proclamation with the willingness to establish a sincere and constructive dialogue with believers of other religions.”


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