Yesterday Pope Francis traveled to the heart of Renaissance Italy and conjured up the image of a Christian Humanism threatened by ancient heresies. Speaking in Florence’s famed Duomo at the Fifth National Ecclesial Congress of the Italian church, the pontiff seized on this year’s theme of “Jesus Christ, the new humanism” to warn against the “temptations” of Pelagianism and Gnosticism.
Christian Humanism, according to Francis, is all about humility, selflessness, and beatitude. “These features tell us that we must not be obsessed with power, even when this assumes the appearance of a useful or functional power in the social image of the Church,” he said.
Pelagianism takes its name from a fourth-century British monk who taught that human nature is untainted by original sin and thus choosing good over evil is within the power of the unaided mortal will. This “leads the Church not to be humble, selfless and blessed,” said the pope. “Often it leads us even to assuming a style of control, of hardness, normativity. Rules give to the Pelagian the security of feeling superior, of having a precise orientation.”
Gnosticism, from the Greek word for knowledge, is the name given by historians to dualistic views held by a range of heretical groups in late antiquity. For Francis, it “leads us to place our trust in logical and clear reasoning that, however, loses the tenderness of our brother’s flesh.”
Let’s see. Which members of the hierarchy, which theologians, which lay intellectuals assume a style of control, of hardness, of laying down norms? Which convey a sense of superiority by valorizing logical and clear reasoning over tenderness for others?
It’s hard to imagine any of them missing the point.