Norms, he said, "give Pelagianism the security of feeling superior, of having a precise bearing," while Gnosticism "leads to trusting in logical and clear reasoning, which nonetheless loses the tenderness of a brother's flesh."
The attraction of Gnosticism, he said, is "a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feeling."
Likewise, in Cardinal Joseph Ratzingers' 1986 spiritual exercises, the future Pope Benedict XVI also condemned the Pelagian trend in modern society, calling it a "vice" and saying those who accept Palegianism "do not want forgiveness and in general they do not want any real gift from God either. They just want to be in order."
"They don't want hope, they just want security," he said, adding that "their aim is to gain the right to salvation through a strict practice of religious exercises, through prayers and action. What they lack is humility which is essential in order to love; the humility to receive gifts not just because we deserve it or because of how we act."
In Thursday's letter, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said a "new form" of Pelagianism is spreading in today's culture in which 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 thought, 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," the letter said.
However, a new form of Gnosticism is also widely diffused, promoting an understanding of salvation which is "merely interior, closed off in its own subjectivism."
"In this model, salvation consists of improving oneself, of being intellectually capable of rising above the flesh of Jesus towards the mysteries of the unknown divinity," the letter said. "It presumes to liberate the human person from the body and from the material universe" in which God is no longer found, "but only a reality deprived of meaning" and "easily manipulated by the interests of man."
Comparing the two heresies is intended as a simple recognition of "general common features, without entering into judgments on the exact nature of the ancient error," the letter said, emphasizing that there is a vast difference between modern, secularized society and the social context in which the heresies were born.
However, "both neo-Pelagian individualism and the neo-Gnostic disregard of the body deface the confession of faith in Christ, the one, universal Savior," the letter said, and reaffirmed that "salvation consists in our union with Christ."
Man's search for salvation and Christ as Savior
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The letter noted that each person, in their own way, seeks happiness and tries to obtain it through the means they have available.
Yet this desire is not always explicitly expressed, and is frequently "more secret and hidden than it may appear," revealing itself only in situations of crisis, the letter said, noting that this desire can often be manifested as a desire for better health or economic well-being, and can be expressed as a need for interior peace and peace with others.
It also takes on the character of endurance and the desire to overcome pain, fighting off the "evil" of error, fragility, weakness, sickness and death.
Faced with these aspirations, the letter said, faith teaches that in rejecting all attempts at "self-realization," these desires "can be fulfilled completely only if God himself makes it possible, by drawing us toward Himself."
"The total salvation of the person does not consist of the things that the human person can obtain by himself," such as wealth, reputation or knowledge, the letter continued, noting that if redemption were judged solely according to the needs of mankind, "how could we avoid the suspicion of having simply created a Redeemer God in the image of our own need?"
The letter then emphasized that God has never stopped offering salvation to his people, and that this redemption has a concrete name and face in Jesus Christ.