So perfectly has Ladaria’s cloaking device been functioning since his appointment in July last year, no one has really even bothered to ask where he’s been. I suppose we assumed that he understood the irrelevance of his dicastery under the New Paradigm since the abject failure of Gerhard Muller’s efforts – quite voluble in the closing years of Benedict XVI but immediately subdued and diffident after March 2013 – to get the Germans to come back to the Faith, or at least to stop openly declaring themselves schismatic. History will show that one of the most significant changes under Francis has been the irrelevance-ing of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – perhaps reflecting the Bergoglians’ total lack of interest in Catholic doctrine as the term has always been understood.
But Hark! Ladaria speaks! Of course, as one would expect, the first thing he said at today’s press conference in Rome was a declaration of loyalty to Francis: “I am in a deep and spontaneous harmony with the Pope.” After that it got interesting.
Placuit Deo, “It pleased God,” is a letter from the CDF – not an “instruction,” just a “letter” – addressed to the bishops of the world, on “neo-pelagianism” and “neo-gnosticism.” In short, the letter is an attempt to offer a doctrinally sound and reasonable definition of the terms that have often featured in recent papal writings and speeches.
FYI: Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, Gregory Burke Present “Placuit Deo”, March 1, 2018. (In Italian)
These tendencies, it says, “resemble certain aspects of two ancient heresies,” without being identical to them. “Both neo-Pelagian individualism and the neo-Gnostic disregard of the body deface the confession of faith in Christ, the one, universal Saviour.”
As a friend in the Vatican told me, the letter at least “pins an authentic, authoritative meaning to the terms, and that’s significant because that’s just not something we do these days. It means that from now on, this is how these words are going to be understood, at least officially, so they can no longer just be flung like a rock at anyone who happens to annoy.”
Someone else suggested that it was Ladaria attempting to politely correct or at least clarify the pope, but this is probably going too far. The letter was approved for immediate publication by Francis, so seems unlikely that it is taking away one of his favourite toy guns, or even significantly restraining his own loosey-goosey way of using theological language.
Even more interestingly, it does actually seem to be identifying a genuine problem in modern, secularist society, a pattern of thinking that has sunk deep into what’s left of Catholic culture:
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.
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. In this model, salvation consists of improving oneself, of being “intellectually capable of rising above the flesh of Jesus towards the mysteries of the unknown divinity.” 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.
As to the pope’s use of the terms, Ladaria responds, “Clearly, the comparison with the Pelagian and Gnostic heresies intends only to recall general common features, without entering into judgments on the exact nature of the ancient errors.”
“There is a great difference between modern, secularized society and the social context of early Christianity, in which these two heresies were born. However, insofar as Gnosticism and Pelagianism represent perennial dangers for misunderstanding Biblical faith, it is possible to find similarities between the ancient heresies and the modern tendencies just described.”
Is it possible that Ladaria has taken upon himself the task of Catholicising Francis, at least for the official record? Does that mean he has joined the ranks of the internet’s Francis-Explainers? Does it make him the Jimmy Akin of the Vatican? Can we call this “12 Things to Know and Share about Promethean Neo-Pelagianism”? “What the pope really meant was…”
If nothing else, it’s a relief to read something coming out of Rome that isn’t just another sample of jargon-wallpaper, and at just over 3000 words it’s actually possible to read the thing in one sitting and get the gist. The jargon is not entirely absent, but at least it starts with the assumption that words have meaning. It reads like a minor document of the early Benedict era: cheerful “Catholic-lite,” instead of the demoralizing spell cast by the guttural, anti-rational Black Speech of Bergoglio. In short, it’s the best we can say about the current Vatican; we can’t expect anyone in there to substantively address the ongoing catastrophe, but at least today we didn’t get a beating. That’s something…
Meanwhile, where were we?
One of the aspects of this pontificate that many find “confusing” is the frequent use of terms and expressions that are never defined, “promethean neo-pelagian” “anthropocentric immanentism” … an apparently never-ending smorgasbord of choice Bergoglian effusions, usually aimed at un-named and only vaguely identifiable targets.
It is one of the more useful principles of rational discourse that we have to start with a general agreement about what words mean. At least we do if we are going to understand who, exactly, is being insulted, and how. Behind this, of course, is the usually un-articulated assumption that words are actually intended to mean things. People who think Reason is important and useful will always start with this assumption. This is why other people who want to dupe and fool and use such people will always play with words without defining them.
To wit: in all this time, no one has been able to nail down what Francis Bergoglio means by his favourite insults, including, “Promethean neo-Pelagian” and “Gnostic”. People who like dictionaries and the Catholic religion know what those words mean, but it has been quite clear that this pope means something quite different by them, a definition he has been extremely careful not to explicate. In fact, what has become clear is that Bergoglio doesn’t mean anything by them, in the usual sense of words meaning things. For him, these terms are merely the stones one fits into one’s sling.
The thing about Placuit Deo is, however, that it rather fails to hit the target. (Quite apart from being a lot of effort over something comparatively trivial. With entire national conferences of bishops declaring themselves functionally apostate one might have thought the first offering from Ladaria’s CDF would have been more… pertinent). It contains some clarification on what the words mean in the theological manuals, which is fine, I guess. But anyone could look up the terms on Google.
What’s relevant is what the pope means by them. And Francis has already offered his definition in the text of his manifesto. “Self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism” means “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.” And this leads to “a supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline” and “a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others…”
But of course, Ladaria’s little letter is irrelevant for another reason.
In all the shouting in the time since the advent of Amoris Laetitia and the New Bergoglian Paradigm, what has rarely been understood is that it is the shouting, the disorder and confusion, that is the point. The fact that everyone is being distracted by the arguing and squabbling is a great deal more important than the substance of the arguments. It’s well documented that Bergoglio is a divide-and-conquer governor, creating rivalries and enmity, factions and divisions, very often through his use of his own private language. He likes to use bizarre and laboured and carefully undefined insults that certainly sound like they mean something, but of course, he’s not telling. So blatant has this political tactic been that it has become the source of ironic jokes among a certain class of Catholic blogger.
This is a pope who has clearly taken the advice of Mao who laughed at the insistence of western politicians that words must have meaning. Bergoglio’s methodology is clearly Maoist in that sense: “We will conquer the world because you fools think that words are labels that are properly or improperly pasted onto things. We know that words are little dynamite sticks in people’s minds and we hold the fuse.”
This is what all demagogues understand that their dupes and shills rarely do. This is why it’s pointless to try to insist on this or that definition of his many creative insults. Who are they pointed at? Anyone who gets in his way. It doesn’t matter if you really are a gnostic or a pelagian. It doesn’t matter if these ancient heresies really are resurgent in the lands we used to call Christendom. What matters is that it is now a term that can be used to label an enemy. Words are tools.
I had heard from sources who studied with him at the Gregorian that Ladaria was a Catholic, not a Bergoglian. My friend helpfully created a bullet-point list:
- He’s very happy to criticise the excesses of modern theology (von Balthasar’s bizarre thought that the Father abandons the Son on the Cross)
- He’s devout and pious,
- He’s apparently fairly open to the SSPX,
- He’s not a careerist,
- He is personally upright and ascetic,
- He has a love for the Fathers of the Church and a genuine appreciation of St Thomas,
- He speaks fluent Latin (and German and English and French and Italian); he’s prepared to have theological disputes in the language of the Church.
- If made a Cardinal (which is likely) I’d say that he’d naturally side with ‘Ratzingerians,’
- He’s Bergoglio’s choice (see below).
- He’s a Jesuit (and we all know not to trust Jesuits)
- He may be unwilling to say or do anything unless given express permission
- He seems (from reading other writings of his that I was exposed to when I studied under him in Rome) to favour the empty-hell theory (or at least a theory approaching this).
- He is not strongly opposed to the ‘theology’ of Rahner (which necessarily rather vitiates his appreciation of St Thomas)
- He turned 73 two months ago and will have to submit his resignation when he is 75 – could be that he’s simply a placeholder.
As a competent academic theologian, albeit one obviously of the soft, “Ratzingerian” neo-modernist school, Bergoglio’s methods are something that a man like Ladaria will probably never understand. Which is why he was an interesting choice for CDF, and why his intervention in the wars is equally interesting – because he’s tackling Bergoglio’s latest-favourite insult, “Promethean Neo-Pelagian” as though it was intended to be an honest and authentic expression of Catholic magisterium.
With this innocuous little object, we can glean a few things about him, but mainly that he is not going to be much help.
 Don’t get too excited. Spoilers! He’s still silent on these things, at least in this document.
 It’s worth remembering that the Dubia of the four cardinals was addressed to Gerhard Muller as prefect of CDF, as well as to Pope Francis. Ladaria has so far not deigned to answer either.
Catch Hilary's Latest in The Remnant Print-Edition: "More Papal Reforms: Last Trappist Monastery in Germany Closes"