By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Placuit Deo is a "beautiful expression of the Gospel," regarding two "current problems," says Dr Michael Sirilla, Director of Graduate Theology and Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Placuit Deo is a Letter released on 2 March 2018 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and dated the 22 of February, the Feast of the Chair of Peter. It is addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church --and more generally, to all the faithful. This Documents highlights “some aspects of Christian salvation that can be difficult to understand today because of recent cultural changes.”
Dr Sirilla explains that Placuit Deo provides a response and meaning to two problems that Pope Francis has brought up several times in his pontificate, especially in Evangelii Gaudium and Lumen Fidei. He explains that the document correctly clarifies that these two problems, Neo-Pelagianism and Neo-Gnosticism, are not identical to their classical counterparts, but that there are “points of contact.” Dr Sirilla says that the document also interprets and communicates well Pope Francis’ teaching in this area.
Neo-Pelagianism and Neo-Gnosticism
Dr Sirilla defines neo-pelagianism as the “end result of the modern project. We can save ourselves” perhaps imitating Christ but not through his power at work in us. “We ourselves attain salvation by our own efforts.” Neo-Gnosticism is the “view that the flesh and the created order are meaningless and purposeless.” Salvation is interior and subjective. “We need to be liberated from the flesh and the created order and from its absurdity.”
The response to these problems, provided in Placuit Deo is that “we cannot save ourselves and the created order does have meaning.” The Letter addresses Neo-Pelagianism by affirming what the Declaration Dominus Iesus already declared, that “salvation for all humans is found only in Jesus Christ.” How Jesus saves us is a response to Neo-Gnosticism—he does so “precisely in His flesh which He sacrificed on the cross.” We receive this salvation sacramentally through the Church that Christ established. We receive divine life “by means of the visible, tangible Jesus Christ in His mystical body, the Church. And the sacraments…communicate grace visibly to us.”
Dr Sirilla thinks that this document was released now because Pope Francis has identified these two errors as a “real pastoral problem these days.” He sees how the modern manifestation of Neo-Pelagianism has led us to believe that the individual is “radically autonomous and we fail to recognize” that we “derive from God and others.” Developing on the gnostic belief that fails to see that the “material universe is meaningful and good,” the neo-gnostic vision “sees that the person should be liberated from and even perhaps control, dominate the otherwise meaningless material order.” Pope Francis is not the only modern Pope to address these issues. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI did so as well, says Dr Sirilla.
Finally, Dr Sirilla describes the Letter as a “beautiful expression of the Gospel solution to two current problems.” It is written “with theological depth and yet in a way that’s accessible, and understandable, and moving and precise.”