Ever been called a heretic? “Them’s fightin’ words” where I come from. Well, something just said wasn’t a direct accusation of me but struck enough of a cord to make me squirm.
Of course, the heresy to which many of us are prone is as old as Christianity. Variations are so endemic to our human psyche they undoubtedly pre-date Christianity and exist in all great world religions.
An especially virulent outbreak is chronicled in the fourth century fights between the monk, Pelagius and St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo. It flared to epidemic proportions again in the “works righteousness” controversy of the Protestant Reformation. We haven’t resolved it and it hasn’t gone away.
Truly, it’s not about ancient history or abstract theology. I recognize the perversion inside me. It resides in each of us and in our faith communities, even if dormant.
“Pelagianism” distorts our sense of right and wrong. It distracts us from what really matters, leads us to be judgmental of others, and disguises a self-righteous attitude. Yes, indeed, “them’s fightin’ words!”
Today Pope Francis admonished the bishops of Italy against a temptation to Pelagianism. As will any authentic proclamation of the Gospel it applies to all of us, not just to bishops:
Pelagianism brings us to have faith in structures, organisations, and plans that are perfect because [they are] abstract. Sometimes it even leads us to adopt a controlling, tough and prescriptive attitude. The law gives the Pelagian a certain sense of superiority… And it makes its seem as though [the Christian] is doing a good deed.
Francis’ morning admonition, directed to all of us, conveys a sense of urgency in light of the pressing challenges and urgent needs facing our world today:
[I]t is no good seeking solutions in conservative or fundamentalist attitudes, in the revival of types of conduct and forms that are dated and that lack a capacity to be significant even culturally. Christian doctrine is not a closed doctrine that is incapable of generating questions, doubts, queries but it is alive and able to unsettle and enliven people. It has a face that is not rigid, a body that moves and grows and a tender flesh: it is called Jesus Christ.
His is the way of humility, selflessness, the Beatitudes. This makes me squirm. I have to confess that it’s a whole lot easier living within the comfort and certainty of my self-righteous heresy.
My source is the news service, Vatican Voices. The report is available [here]. The bold print in the final quote is mine for emphasis.