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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pope Pelagius?

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The essence of the heresy of Pelagius, a holy monk who went badly wrong, is denial of the dogma of Original Sin and the effects of Adam’s transgression upon the whole human race. Pelagianism holds that man is not in a fallen state and that his free will alone is able to reach perfection in virtue, even if grace may assist in the endeavor. The existence of an original Paradise and state of human perfection in Adam and Eve are also denied, with death and concupiscence viewed as natural to man. Pelagius also anticipated by more than a thousand years the Lutheran master-heresy of justification by fiducial faith in Christ alone, with no interior transformation and elevation to a state of grace.


In its view of human origins, Pelagianism is remarkably compatible with the present-day neo-Catholic synthesis of the Genesis account and the pseudo-scientific myth of the evolution of molecules into men. The neo-Catholic synthesis is an element of neo-Modernism, which (to quote Father John Hardon’s landmark Catholic dictionary) “attempts to reconcile modern science and philosophy at the expense of the integrity of the Catholic faith.” For the sake of the neo-Darwinian creation myth, Paradise is eliminated and Adam and Eve are presented without preternatural gifts, including immortality, as merely the apex of an evolutionary process in a world filled with disaster and death for hundreds of millions of years before their appearance, along with other first humans, on the evolutionary scene.

Pelagianism is also remarkably compatible with the liberal Jesuit, Seventies-era theology of the current occupant of the Chair of Peter. Before him, however, this neo-Pelagianism or semi-Pelagnianism was germinally present in the Vatican II document Gaudium et spes (GS). Heavily influenced by the French modernism of Congar, Daniélou and de Chardin, and full of unwarranted optimism, bordering on the fatuous, concerning post-Christian “contemporary society,” the “modern world” and the exercise of human freedom therein, the document is easily recognized in retrospect as ground zero of an explosion that obliterated the Social Kingship of Christ as the foundation of Catholic social teaching.  The Social Kingship doctrine was to be replaced by a pan-religious “civilization of love,” a term coined by Paul VI and echoed incessantly by John Paul II, which represents precisely the post-Christian utopia condemned by Pope Saint Pius X in his letter to the French bishops reprobating the proto-Modernist Sillon movement.

As no less than Cardinal Ratzinger observed in his commentary on GS, the document’s attempt to present a vision of human freedom that is not first and foremost Christological and thus rooted in the operation of sanctifying grace was a failure that has led to what he described as an “avalanche” of adverse consequences for the Church:

The section [of GS] on freedom, in which the Constitution deliberately takes up the theme of modern thought, is one of the least satisfactory in the whole document…. [T]he standpoint adopted is, for the Christian, an unreal one.  The omission of Christology from the doctrine of the image likeness of God… once again imposes its consequences.  The attempt to lead up to the Christian doctrine of man from outside, and thus to render what faith affirms about Christ generally acceptable, has led to the mistaken decision to leave aside for the present what essentially belongs to the Christian faith, as being supposedly less susceptible of dialogue.  [Ratzinger, Joseph in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, ed. Herbert Volgrimer (London: Burns & Oates, 1969), p. 137] (emphasis added here and throughout)

Avoiding the revelation of Christ and His liberating grace as the font of true freedom (“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”), GS presents a pre-New Testament view of freedom that “transfers the text from the perspective of faith to that of natural theology…” The covenantal nature of man’s freedom vis-à-vis God is passed over in silence as is the fact that “Israel—representing mankind—was not in a position to carry out what the Covenant offered, but inevitably experienced the law as a yoke…”

GS systematically avoids discussing the passing of the Old Covenant in favor of the Blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant as the gateway to human freedom through the transformation in Christ.  Ratzinger continues: “It is impossible to prescind from the fact that the promised life ultimately came not from freedom in fulfilling the Law, but from the death of him who allowed himself in accordance with the Law to hang on the tree as a transgressor of the Law (Gal. 3:12 ff) ….” GS, he concludes, abuses the Old Testament in order to hide the New:

To tear Ecclus 15:14 from these contexts in the history of revelation and to use it in support of a colourless philosophical doctrine of freedom, represents not only an unhistorical reading of Scripture but also an unhistorical and therefore unreal view of man. The general doctrine of freedom developed in the conciliar text cannot therefore stand up either to theological or to philosophical criticism….

The whole text gives scarcely a hint of the discord which runs through man and which is described so dramatically in Rom. 7:13-25. It even falls into downright Pelagian terminology when it speaks of man “sese ab omni passionum captivitate liberans finem suum persequitur et apta susbidia…” [The full sentence in English translation reads: “Man achieves such dignity when, emancipating himself [!] from all captivity to passion, he pursues his goal in a spontaneous choice of what is good, and procures for himself through effective and skillful action, apt helps to that end.”]  (emphasis added)

The problem is not solved, Ratzinger notes, by the immediately following declaration: “Since man’s freedom has been damaged by sin, only by the aid of God’s grace can he bring such a relationship with God into full flower.” The phrase “full flower” [plene actuosam] implies human flourishing without grace and ignores “the extent of the human dilemma… which calls man into question to his very depths and makes him unfree…”—meaning the consequences of the Fall and man’s bondage to the devil before the coming of the Redeemer. To suggest that man’s elevation from the state of original sin by grace leads merely to a “full” flowering of human nature “means that an all events semi-Pelagian representational pattern has been retained,” the subsequent interpretation of which has “led to anodyne [inoffensive] formulas which it need not necessarily have given rise to at all.” [Ibid., p. 138]

Finally, Ratzinger observes, GS’s failure to take human alienation and decadence seriously for the sake of the Council’s posture of optimism about the modern world “does not mean to think highly of man, but to deceive him about the gravity of his situation.” (Ibid.)  Who can reasonably deny that this very deception is at work in the Church today? The Council’s avoidance of “the problems of human freedom… also meant that only freedom of choice was dealt with…” The true freedom of “the children of God” is what should have been presented, “whereas the conciliar text is incapable of any opening to its significance.”  [Ibid., 138-139]

Quite an indictment, however muted, from the Modernist-leaning Father Ratzinger, a peritus at the Council and the future Pope Benedict XVI. As John Allen notes in his biography of Cardinal Ratzinger, Father Ratzinger’s critique of GS (published in 1969) was motivated in part by an experience during his time on the theological faculty of the University of Tübingen which led him to see “that the kind liberalizing he had supported within the Church at Vatican II was leading to chaos because any sense of what is distinctively Christian about the Church was being lost: all anyone seemed to care about from the Council was Gaudium et spes and ‘the signs of the times.’” [Allen, John. Pope Benedict XVI: A Biography of Joseph Ratzinger (New York: Continuum, 2000), p. 83]

Today, the Church is afflicted by a Pope who seems to have been deposited on the Chair of Peter by the whirlwind of that ecclesial chaos, which already alarmed Father Ratzinger in the 1960s. We have a Pope unlike any before him, who indulges in an endless jeremiad against the legalists, latter-day Pharisees and “rigid Christians” he purports to see everywhere in the Church, while ignoring the laxity and the collapse of faith and discipline that led John Paul II to lament a “silent apostasy” Bergoglio seems determined to accommodate as the new ecclesial normal.

And while Bergoglio condemns “casuistry” on the part of those who simply defend the indissolubility of marriage without exception, he resorts precisely to casuistry in order to contrive neo-Mosaic “exceptions” to the Sixth Commandment based on an obscure “discernment” of “concrete situations,” so that public adulterers who purport to have effected “second marriages” can in “certain cases” be admitted to Holy Communion without ceasing adulterous sexual relations with people to whom they are not married.

More to the point here, the same Pope who has infamously condemned “the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those 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” has spent the past four years engaging in precisely a neo-Pelagian program of the pursuit of human flourishing without Christ, a program whose origin Father Ratzinger rightly traces to the language and reception of Gaudium et spes.

The Bergoglian Manifesto known as Evangelii Gaudium (EG), wherein “promethean neopelagian” Catholics are derided for their orthodoxy, is itself a neo-Pelagian prescription that calls for the perfection of the world through dialogue and mutual cooperation that will supposedly produce “a new order of human relations,”  “new directions for humanity,”  “a new mindset which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few,”  “a new political and economic mindset,” “new forms of cultural synthesis,”  “new processes in society,”  “new horizons for thought” and “a new social situation…”

The Bergoglian utopia, quite in the spirit of GS and the “civilization of love” promoted by Paul VI and John Paul II, is to be realized by the followers of any and all religions:

An attitude of openness in truth and in love must characterize the dialogue with the followers of non-Christian religions, in spite of various obstacles and difficulties, especially forms of fundamentalism on both sides. Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities.

This dialogue is in first place a conversation about human existence or simply, as the bishops of India have put it, a matter of “being open to them, sharing their joys and sorrows.” In this way we learn to accept others and their different ways of living, thinking and speaking. We can then join one another in taking up the duty of serving justice and peace, which should become a basic principle of all our exchanges. A dialogue which seeks social peace and justice is in itself, beyond all merely practical considerations, an ethical commitment which brings about a new social situation. (EG 250)

This call for a post-Christian pan-religious brotherhood is followed by the usual Modernist disclaimer that what is being advanced is not being advanced: “In this dialogue, ever friendly and sincere, attention must always be paid to the essential bond between dialogue and proclamation, which leads the Church to maintain and intensify her relationship with non-Christians. A facile syncretism would ultimately be a totalitarian gesture on the part of those who would ignore greater values of which they are not the masters.”

But, of course, a facile syncretism involving “all believers” in the utopian project is exactly what is being proposed, as even one still frame from the now infamous “Pope Video”  on “interreligious dialogue” makes clear:

To be sure, EG adverts to a role for the Gospel in the building of this neo-Pelagian utopia, and even the assistance of grace in the enterprise (which Pelagius himself allowed for), but nowhere is it suggested man is simply incapable of universal brotherhood outside the Mystical Body of Christ, wherein sanctifying grace alone makes possible the social metanoia that would renew the face of the earth.  Rather, EG, based on nothing more than the opinion of the International Theological Commission, asserts that “Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live ‘justified by the grace of God’, and thus be ‘associated to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ’.”

The vague to appeal to the mere following of conscience as a ground of justification through a vague “association” with the Paschal mystery, even when the conscience is errant, is another problem to which GS opened the door.  As Father Ratzinger observes in his commentary: “As regards the binding force of erroneous conscience, the text employs a rather evasive formula. It merely says that such a conscience does not lose its dignity.” (Op. cit., p. 136) But while Aquinas teaches that conscience, being the voice of reason, must be followed even when it errs, he also teaches, as Ratzinger points out, that reason “must know about God’s law [his emphasis].” Thus, as the Church teaches, guilt attaches to one whose conscience, deformed by habitual sin, buries its own knowledge of the divine precepts, whereas “The doctrine of the binding force of an erroneous conscience in the form in which it is propounded nowadays, belongs entirely to the thought of modern times.” (Ibid.)

But it is just this modern notion of the binding force of an errant conscience that Pope Bergoglio propounds in Amoris Laetitia, 303:

Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace. Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. (emphasis added)

In other words, someone who knows his conduct violates the Sixth Commandment can continue in his adultery if his conscience supposedly informs him that God does not expect more of him “for now” and that he is justified in God’s sight without alteration of his objectively sinful behavior.  On the basis of this utter novelty in moral theology, the errant conscience of the habitual sinner is transformed into an informed conscience right with God. No Pope in the entire history of the Church has lent his name to such an atrocity.

In an important address in 1991, delivered to a bishops’ workshop in Dallas, Cardinal Ratzinger further developed his critique of the modern notion of conscience and its baneful effects upon the Church’s mission:

In the course of a dispute, a senior colleague, who was keenly aware of the plight to being Christian in our times, expressed the opinion that one should actually be grateful to God that He allows there to be so many unbelievers in good conscience. For if their eyes were opened and they became believers, they would not be capable, in this world of ours, of bearing the burden of faith with all its moral obligations. But as it is, since they can go another way in good conscience, they can reach salvation.

What shocked me about this assertion was not in the first place the idea of an erroneous conscience given by God Himself in order to save men by means of such artfulness—the idea, so to speak, of a blindness sent by God for the salvation of those in question. What disturbed me was the notion that it harbored, that faith is a burden which can hardly be borne and which no doubt was intended only for stronger natures—faith almost as a kind of punishment, in any case, an imposition not easily coped with.

According to this view, faith would not make salvation easier but harder. Being happy would mean not being burdened with having to believe or having to submit to the moral yoke of the faith of the Catholic church. The erroneous conscience, which makes life easier and marks a more human course, would then be a real grace, the normal way to salvation. Untruth, keeping truth at bay, would be better for man than truth. It would not be the truth that would set him free, but rather he would have to be freed from the truth. Man would be more at home in the dark than in the light. Faith would not be the good gift of the good God but instead an affliction.

If this were the state of affairs, how could faith give rise to joy? Who would have the courage to pass faith on to others? Would it not be better to spare them the truth or even keep them from it? In the last few decades, notions of this sort have discernibly crippled the disposition to evangelize. The one who sees the faith as a heavy burden or as a moral imposition is unable to invite others to believe. Rather he lets them be, in the putative freedom of their good consciences.  [paragraph breaks added]

A “sanctifying grace” presumed to be more or less universal among men who are generally presumed to be in good conscience, dissociated from any act of faith in Christ or even basically moral behavior, would not be sanctifying grace at all—a divine gift superadded to fallen nature. It would, rather, be an intrinsic attribute of Pelagian man, who has never fallen in the first place. Pelagian man, able to save himself without faith, baptism or the Catholic Church, is precisely the man of the Bergoglian vision, engendered by the conciliar novelties of “ecumenism,” “dialogue” and “interreligious dialogue,” which have indeed crippled­—nay, all but ended— “the disposition to evangelize” on the part of post-conciliar churchmen.

On this view, faith and baptism are reduced to Pelagian forms of assistance to a human enterprise that is nonetheless quite able to succeed without them.  Far from the pages of EG or the endless, meandering oral output of Pope Bergoglio is the constant teaching of the Church that she alone possesses the means by which there can be peace among men of good will. As Pius XI declared during the interim between the two World Wars:

Because the Church is by divine institution the sole depository and interpreter of the ideals and teachings of Christ, she alone possesses in any complete and true sense the power effectively to combat that materialistic philosophy which has already done and, still threatens, such tremendous harm to the home and to the state. The Church alone can introduce into society and maintain therein the prestige of a true, sound spiritualism, the spiritualism of Christianity which both from the point of view of truth and of its practical value is quite superior to any exclusively philosophical theory. The Church is the teacher and an example of world good-will, for she is able to inculcate and develop in mankind the "true spirit of brotherly love" (St. Augustine, De Moribus Ecclesiae Catholicae, i, 30) and by raising the public estimation of the value and dignity of the individual's soul help thereby to lift us even unto God.

There exists an institution able to safeguard the sanctity of the law of nations. This institution is a part of every nation; at the same time it is above all nations. She enjoys, too, the highest authority, the fullness of the teaching power of the Apostles. Such an institution is the Church of Christ. She alone is adapted to do this great work, for she is not only divinely commissioned to lead mankind, but moreover, because of her very make-up and the constitution which she possesses, by reason of her age-old traditions and her great prestige, which has not been lessened but has been greatly increased since the close of the War, cannot but succeed in such a venture where others assuredly will fail.  (Ubi Arcano Dei, nn. 42, 46))

And, as Pope Saint Pius X declared against the errors of the utopian dreamers of the Sillon movement, whose dream is now obviously the Bergoglian program:

This, nevertheless, is what they want to do with human society; they dream of changing its natural and traditional foundations; they dream of a Future City built on different principles, and they dare to proclaim these more fruitful and more beneficial than the principles upon which the present Christian City rests.

No, Venerable Brethren, We must repeat with the utmost energy in these times of social and intellectual anarchy when everyone takes it upon himself to teach as a teacher and lawmaker - the City cannot be built otherwise than as God has built it; society cannot be setup unless the Church lays the foundations and supervises the work; no, civilization is not something yet to be found, nor is the New City to be built on hazy notions; it has been in existence and still is: it is Christian civilization, it is the Catholic City. It has only to be set up and restored continually against the unremitting attacks of insane dreamers, rebels and miscreants. OMNIA INSTAURARE IN CHRISTO.  (Notre Charge Apostolique)

Finally, there is the antinomian strain of Pelagianism also clearly evident in the Bergoglian program: the notion, dating back to Apostolic times and reaching its destructive apex with Luther, that “Christians are exempt from the obligations of moral law” in the sense that “as good works do not promote salvation, so neither do evil works hinder it” so long as one has fiducial faith in Christ.  Christians may be under the law, and indeed ought to follow it for the sake of right living and good example, but they are not condemned by it no matter what their transgressions, for their faith alone save them.

For Bergoglio, sins­­—aside from those it is politically acceptable to condemn, which he condemns without ceasing—are of no moment respecting salvation, for Jesus has already made satisfaction for them all, just as Luther believed—especially the sins of the flesh Bergoglio labors to accommodate. As he declared during one of his error-filled improvised sermons at Casa Santa Marta: When we go to confession, for example, it isn’t that we say our sin and God forgives us. No, not that! We look for Jesus Christ and say: ‘This is your sin, and I will sin again.’ And Jesus likes that, because it was his mission: to become the sinner for us, to liberate us.”

We have a Pope who openly professes that Martin Luther was right concerning justification by faith alone.  As the world was delighted to hear during one of the sessions of his “airplane Magisterium”: “And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err.

And so, along with Pelagian man, who never fell in Paradise, we have Lutheran man­, the heir of Pelagius, who never will fall so long as he professes faith in the Christ whose Law he disobeys. Original sin, personal sin, and the fatal consequences of both without sanctifying grace fade from view in Bergoglian theology, just as they have in the theology of post-conciliar churchmen in general.  Speaking of the problem as manifest in the documents of the Synod that Bergoglio rigged in preparation for Amoris laetitia, Bishop Athanasius Schneider observes the ultimately Pelagian outcome:

This omission is serious because, without the acceptance of the truth about original sin and sins in general, one cannot understand properly the redemption of the human race through the sacrifice of Christ at the Cross. If one eliminates the language of sin, one finally also eliminates the true redemption; and one then turns Christianity into a Humanism or into a Pelagianism.  Then there is left only the self-redemption or a religion of a naturalistic moral ethic and pedagogy, or a new religion of ecology and of climate change.

But this is the very religion Pope Bergoglio has been promoting, albeit mixed with occasional expressions of popular Catholic piety in the confusing mélange that has been his theological style from the beginning of his episcopal career—a style that always moves, however, in the same liberalizing direction.

In sum, the same Pope who condemns the “self-absorbed Promethean neopelagianism” of orthodox Catholics—a ludicrous calumny that will haunt the memory of this bizarre pontificate until the end of time—turns out to be something of a neo-Pelagian himself. But in fairness to him, it must be said that he stands at the end of a process of decay that began with the Council in 1962 and is reaching its final stage with this pontificate, the complete embodiment of all the Council’s ill-starred novelties.


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Last modified on Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Christopher A. Ferrara

Christopher A. Ferrara: President and lead counsel for the American Catholic Lawyers Inc., Mr. Ferrara has been at the forefront of the legal defense of pro-lifers for the better part of a quarter century. Having served with the legal team for high profile victims of the culture of death such as Terri Schiavo, he has long since distinguished him a premier civil rights Catholic lawyer.  Mr. Ferrara has been a lead columnist for The Remnant since 2000 and has authored several books published by The Remnant Press, including the bestseller The Great Façade. Together with his children and wife, Wendy, he lives in Richmond, Virginia.