Placuit Deo: A Stealth Correction of Francis?
by Christopher A. Ferrara
March 3, 2018
Placuit Deo, the rumored new encyclical from Pope Francis, turned out not to be an encyclical at all but rather a brief letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). While providing some orthodox commentary on the necessity of grace and the sacraments for sanctification, along with a good deal of ambiguous Vatican II-speak on “Christian salvation” — versus non-Christian “salvation”? — the letter focuses, curiously enough, on a term Francis has consistently abused in his more or less continuous jeremiad against “rigid” Catholics: Pelagianism.
In Evangelii Gaudium (EG), Francis infamously denounced the supposed “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism” of Catholics
“who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.”
There is no logical connection between Pelagianism and being “intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past” — as if the practice of the Faith in keeping with Tradition involved a mere “style”! Rather, the essence of Pelagianism, as the Catholic Encyclopedia explains, is found in the following propositions:
- “Even if Adam had not sinned, he would have died.
- “Adam’s sin harmed only himself, not the human race.
- “Children just born are in the same state as Adam before his fall.
- “The whole human race neither dies through Adam’s sin or death, nor rises again through the resurrection of Christ.
- “The (Mosaic Law) is as good a guide to Heaven as the Gospel.
- “Even before the advent of Christ there were men who were without sin.”
These propositions reduce to the single notion that man can achieve salvation by his own efforts in the practice of virtue, with divine grace merely providing a certain degree of assistance.
But the “rigid” Catholics that Francis seems to see under every bed and around every corner have no confidence whatever in the ability of human effort alone to save them, which is precisely why they are so strongly attached to the doctrines and discipline of the Church, a supernatural institution founded by Christ Himself to mediate sanctifying grace to men. If anything, it would appear that in disparaging strict adherence to the doctrines and disciplines of the Church that God founded for the salvation of souls, it is Pope Francis himself who is tending to Pelagianism.
Enter Placuit Deo, which provides (along with a definition of Gnosticism) a definition of “neo-Pelagianism” that clearly departs from the demagogic distortion that Francis has been promoting over the past five years:
“A new form of Pelagianism is spreading in our days, one 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 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”
Even this definition is a bit squishy, given that it is expressly intended to be consistent with “the teachings of Pope Francis.” But the teachings of Francis are barely cited in the document. There are only four passing references out of 29 footnotes, one of which is to his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, whose first draft was written by Benedict XVI not long before his mysterious abdication. There is no reference at all to the disastrous Amoris Laetitia, nor any suggestion that neo-Pelagianism involves the “rigidity” of observant Catholics.
Tellingly, Placuit Deo’s definition of Pelagianism refers to “purely human structures,” not the doctrines and disciplines of the Holy Catholic Church. Francis, however, never used the phrase “purely human structures” in the document Placuit Deo cites in support of its definition.Rather, in the cited document, an address to a Catholic convention in Florence, Francis referred back to his own definition in EG, wherein he denounced “structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe” — meaning, obviously, the structures, rules and “habits” of traditional Catholicism, which he belittles as “a particular Catholic style from the past.”
Is Placuit Deo, then, an attempt to sanitize Pope Francis’ obnoxious equation of traditional Catholicism with “promethean neopelagianism” so as to blunt rising opposition among clergy and laity (and a small number of bishops) to his reformist mania? Or, as Diane Montagna of Life Site News has put the question: “Is new Vatican doc on neo-Pelagianism at odds with Pope’s preferred pejorative?”
In introducing Placuit Deo to the press, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, S.J, Prefect of the CDF, asserted that there is “no special reason” it is being published now. But why else would this curious document suddenly appear with barely any prior notice? If there is a better explanation, I would like to hear it.