By Christopher Wells
A new document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith highlights “some aspects of Christian salvation that can be difficult to understand today because of recent cultural changes.”
The Letter, entitled Placuit Deo, is dated 22 February, the feast of the Chair of Peter, and is addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church --and more generally, to all the faithful.
What is neo-pelagianism? What is neo-gnosticism?
Placuit Deo focuses especially on two modern tendencies: on the one hand, a kind of “neo-pelagianism,” an individualism that believes human beings can save themselves; and, on the other, a form of “neo-gnosticism,” a vision of salvation that would consist entirely in interior union with God, while disregarding relationships with other people, and with all of creation.
Pope Francis, the Letter recalls, “has often made reference,” in his ordinary magisterium (or authoritative teaching), to these two tendencies, which “resemble certain aspects of two ancient heresies,” without being identical to them. “Both neo-Pelagian individualism and the neo-Gnostic disregard of the body deface the confession of faith in Christ, the one, universal Saviour.”
God's plan of of salvation
After considering how the contemporary world views Christian salvation, the heart of the Congregation’s Letter lays out the human desire for salvation; the unique role of Jesus Christ as Saviour and salvation; and salvation in the Church, the Body of Christ. In this way, it explains God’s plan of salvation through Christ and His Church, emphasizing both the work of freeing us from sin and raising us up to sharing in the divine life of the Trinity. It also points out the necessity of the sacramental “economy” through which God desires to save the human person.
This vision of Christian salvation, in contrast to the tendencies toward neo-pelagianism and neo-gnosticism, necessarily calls Christians to be missionary. This includes “sincere and constructive dialogue” with those who believe in other religious traditions, while continuing to await “the definitive coming of the Saviour.”
Humanity's final destiny
“Total salvation of the body and of the soul is the final destiny to which God calls all of humanity,” the Letter concludes. “Founded in faith, sustained by hope, and working in charity, with the example of Mary, Mother of the Saviour and first among the saved, we are certain that ‘our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.’ ”
The full text of Placuit Deo can be found on the Vatican website.