PRESS CONFERENCE TO PRESENT THE LETTER “PLACUIT DEO” OF THE CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON CERTAIN ASPECTS OF CHRISTIAN SALVATION
INTERVENTION BY CARD. LUIS F. LADARIA, S.I.
PREFECT OF THE
CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
Holy See Press Office
Thursday, 1° March 2018
Following the publication of Dominus Iesus (2000), various theologians asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to further examine certain aspects already enunciated in that Declaration, suggesting a new Document on Christian salvation. In this respect, after having carefully studied this important issue, in collaboration with the Consulters of the Congregation, the Letter Placuit Deo on certain aspects of Christian salvation is presented today.
The publication of this Letter, addressed to the bishops of the Catholic Church, and more generally, to all faithful, was decided in the Plenary Session of the Congregation, which took place on the days 23 to 26 January 2018, and approved on 16 February by the Holy Father who asked for it to be published as soon as possible. The Document is intended, “in light of the greater tradition of the faith and with particular reference to the teachings of Pope Francis, to demonstrate certain aspects of Christian salvation that can be difficult to understand today because of recent cultural changes” (Chapter I, no.1).
What are the cultural transformations that obscure the confession of Christian faith, proclaimed by Jesus, the only and universal Saviour? The Holy Father Francis, in his ordinary Magisterium, often makes reference to two tendencies that resemble, in certain aspects, two ancient heresies, Pelagianism and Gnosticism, although there is a great difference between today’s secularized historic context and that of the first Christian centuries.
In particular, “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” (no. 2). On the other hand, “a new form of Gnosticism puts forward a model of salvation that is merely interior, closed off in its own subjectivism. … It presumes to liberate the human person from the body and from the material universe, in which traces of the provident hand of the Creator are no longer found, but only a reality deprived of meaning, foreign to the fundamental identity of the person, and easily manipulated by the interests of man” (no. 2).
This Letter is intended to address these reductionist tendencies which threaten Christianity today, and to reiterate that salvation, according to the plan of the Covenant of the Father, consists in our union with Christ (cf. Chapter II, nos. 2-4).
I would now like to briefly consider the anthropological and Christological part of the Letter (cf. Chapters III-IV), leaving to the Secretary the task of illustrating the ecclesiological part (cf. Chapters V-VI).
Does salvation still interest man today? Yes, our experience indeed teaches us that each man is in search of his own realization and happiness. Very often this aspiration coincides with the search for physical health, economic wellbeing, inner peace, and serene coexistence. Alongside this positive desire for good there is the struggle against every type of evil: ignorance, fragility, disease, death (cf. no. 5).
With regard to these aspirations, faith in Christ teaches us, rejecting any pretence of neo-Pelagian self-fulfilment through possession, power, science or technology, that nothing in creation can fully satisfy man, because God has destined us for communion with Him and our heart will be restless until it reposes in Him, as Saint Augustine writes (cf. no. 6). The Holy Father calls these tendencies “neo-Pelagian” because they have in common with Pelagianism the tendency to forget the work of God in us.
Furthermore, it is necessary to remember that the origin of evil is not found, as taught by the ancient Gnostic doctrines and re-offered today in a certain way, in the material and corporeal world. The “faith proclaims that all the universe is good … and that the evil that is most damaging to man is that which comes from his heart” (no. 7). The separation from God caused by sin leads to the loss of harmony between men, and between man and the world, introducing the reign of disintegration and death. “As a result, the salvation that faith announces to us does not only pertain to our inner reality, but to our entire being. In fact, it is the whole person, body and soul, that was created by the love of God, in His image and likeness, and is called to live in communion with Him” (no. 7). According to Christian faith, not only the soul but also the body craves salvation.
To understand more deeply the great newness of Christ the Saviour, ignoring these tendencies briefly recalled, it is necessary to remember the way in which Jesus is Saviour: “He did not limit Himself to showing us the way to encounter God, a path we can walk on our own by being obedient to His words and by imitating His example. Rather, Christ opens for us the door of freedom, and becomes, Himself, the way” (no. 11).
Jesus, the incarnate Son of the Father, is the sole Saviour. He “bears witness to the absolute primacy of the gratuitous acts of God” (no. 9), showing the groundlessness of the neo-Pelagian individualist perspective, because grace always precedes, though demanding it, any human work. At the same time, “by means of the fully human action of His Son, the Father wanted to renew our actions, so that, conformed to Christ, we are able to fulfil ‘the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them’ (Eph 2:10)” (no. 9).
Likewise it is clear that the salvation Jesus has brought does not occur solely in an inner way, in an intimist and sentimental form, as implied by the neo-Gnostic vision. Indeed, inasmuch as the Son was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), becoming part of the human family, He “has united Himself in some fashion with every man” (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, 22) and has established a new order of relations with God, His Father, and with all men. It is precisely in the relationship with God and with brothers that man finds his complete fulfilment.
It is hoped that this Letter may help the faithful to become more aware of their dignity as “God’s children” (Rom 8:16). Salvation cannot be reduced simply to a message, a practice, or a gnosis, but rather as an inner sentiment. As Benedict XVI wrote: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (no. 8; Encyclical Letter Deus caritas est, no 1).
*Bulletin of the Holy See press Offfice, 1st March 2018