EG 94: Gnosticism and Neopelagianism

Vasnetsov_Maria_MagdaleneIn this section of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis zeroes in on a few modern trends of concern:

94. This worldliness can be fuelled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings.

Why gnosticism? The Greek derivation is from the word for knowledge. The practice of a person or group can be based on a certain specialized knowledge. Newcomers are not fully initiated until they have mastered the deeper mysteries of ideology, socialization, and culture. The people involved can indeed be believing Christians–this is not schism or heresy as such. But the intent of the Christian Gospel is openness: the sacraments are enough. In order to be a believer, one need not adopt any particular ideology or way of life of the sub-group. Some leaders or gurus of such groups wield power by determining who is good, who is not, who is in, who is out not by one’s profession of Christian faith or participation in the sacraments. But in a pre-determined (but sometimes arbitrary) addition to faith praxis.

Another common failing:

The other is 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. 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. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity.

Ministers are certainly subject to these tendencies. We need to fight against them vigorously. Knowledge is a great thing, for example; theological training is a great boon to ministry. But we can better use such knowledge to lead people to faith, to belief and discipleship, instead of barring the door.

My sense is that the blogosphere is probably more deeply impaired by these. Sometimes, it’s just a tendency, like a Catholic apologist titling an e-mail service a “secret information club.” Sometimes its a far more serious problem, both for the people who are misled, and for the person who has attracted a number of followers.

Pope Francis expresses serious doubt any authentic evangelization can be accomplished by people or groups tainted by these flaws. And yet such ideologies do attract followers. What to make of that?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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