Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2018 / 13:10 pm
The first stirring sentences of the new CDF letter to bishops, Placuit Deo, reject the very notion of a "new paradigm" by which "the newness of the Holy Spirit" could somehow mean a departure from the fullness of revelation which has already been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Yet quickly the document turns to a different kind of "newness," a newness which resembles the ancient errors of Gnosticism and Pelagianism, about which Pope Francis has frequently warned.
In the Vatican press conference, the new CDF prefect, Archbishop Ladaria, reiterated that the new errors are not exactly like the old ones, but they are similar. So it bears recalling what the old errors were with a view to how the document discusses the challenge these new errors pose to our understanding of salvation itself.
Pelagianism, old and new
The original Pelagianism arose in Rome, defeated almost single-handedly by one giant of a bishop theologian: Saint Augustine.
Because Pelagius did not believe in original sin, he thought grace was something like our "natural capacities" to will and do the good. Pelagius taught that God wound us up with all the right equipment, and so long as we followed the model of Jesus' moral example, we could will and do the good by ourselves. Salvation was finally up to our individual effort, and was in no way dependent on the assistance from God or others. Augustine rightly saw in this a pagan Stoicism masquerading as Christianity, and thus he aimed to convert by way of preaching that supernatural grace is not something innate, but something which must expand our capacities to a greater end, which must renew and refresh our interior will, and which, by the gift of faith and charity, can graciously assist our own effort to fulfill God's commandments.