ROME – Two ancient heresies, which Pope Francis has often pointed to as “enemies of holiness,” were at the center of a Roman conference on Tuesday, which attempted to explain the Argentinian pontiff’s “upside-down theology.”
“Pope Francis practices a translation of tradition,” said Italian theologian Andrea Grillo, who teaches at the Pontifical Academy of St. Anselmo in Rome. “He moves the enemy from outside to within.”
His remarks took place during a conference titled “Two Enemies of Holiness: Pelagianism and Gnosticism,” on March 12 at the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Grillo was referring to Pelagianism and Gnosticism, the two 1500-year-old heresies that Francis sees reflected in the Catholic Church today. The pontiff condemned these “modern heresies” in his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and again in 2018 with Gaudete et Exsultate.
According to the theologian, there is a clear difference between the pope’s description of these beliefs in these documents and the view that is presented in Placuit Deo, or Pleasing to God, a four-page letter written by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and published March 1, 2018.
“The temptation of Pelagianism,” Grillo said, “can be found in the structural control of abstract beliefs.”
As Francis put it in Gaudete et Exsultate, the modern day Pelagianist is a “museum piece,” who places excessive importance on styles, norms and appearances and therefore risks being “fossilized” or even “corrupted.”
Gnosticism instead leads to relying on one’s own reasoning and intelligence to achieve salvation and hence becomes backward and, in Grillo’s words, “is incapable of transcendence.”
Francis’s insistence on these heresies is aimed at “unmasking the self-referential tendencies” present within the Church, the theologian said. All of this is lost in Placuit Deo, Grillo continued, which instead “took a step backwards” and “lost the context entirely.”
In the document issued by the CDF, Neo-Pelagianism and Neo-Gnosticism “are declined in relations not to the Church but to the world. As if the church were free of temptation and its job was to single out temptations to the world.”
According to the theologian, the letter is filled with “Crypto-Gnosticism and Crypto-Pelagianism” to the extent that he suggested that the document’s name should be changed from Placuit Deo to Placuisset Romanae Curiae, or “Pleasing to the Roman Curia.”
Grillo said that Francis’s “view on tradition is turned upside-down” and therefore leads to a “translation of tradition,” represented by the two ancient heresies, and “moves the enemy from outside to within.”
“It’s not the others who fall into Pelagianism and Gnosticism, it’s us,” Grillo emphasized, “It’s not a criticism toward the outside but a self-criticism of the Church.”
These heresies, he continued, can be found in those within the Church who resist modernity by enclosing themselves in beliefs that often confuse ecclesial tradition with feudal heritage, patriarchal structures and ancient Roman bureaucracy.
Francis’s writings, Grillo said, seem to point to a different way that challenges the Church’s understanding of faith and theology. He highlighted four points where Pelagianism and Gnosticism paralyze the Church:
1. “Incomprehensible translation,” is the term Grillo used to describe the attachment to ancient Latin within the Catholic Church despite the new wave of modernization ushered in by the Second Vatican Council.
2. “Mummified Liturgy,” he said, stands for the “humiliation of real Christian tradition.”
3. “Disordered Woman” instead was used to describe the Church’s lack of real and solid arguments to deny women leadership roles of power and authority within the Church.
4. “Canonical Nihilism,” according to Grillo, is obvious in the Vatican’s canonical and judicial branch, which is struggling to come up with timely answers to modern-day changes affecting people and especially the family.
Quoting Pope John XXIII who inaugurated Vatican II, Grillo called for a church “that has the courage to really listen to the signs of the times.”
“Pelagianism and Gnosticism, these two words drawn from ancient tradition, come back under Pope Francis as two criteria to interpret the challenges that the Church is facing in the modern world,” the theologian concluded, “and announce a church that is willing to expose itself to the world.”