St Anselm of Canterbury

So imprecise in his statements and doubtful in his judgements is the present pontiff that a whole industry has grown up to explain what he means. You will remember the slim volumes of the ‘Theology of Pope Francis’ which Benedict graciously refused to endorse, and the ‘Lexicon of Pope Francis’, with essays by Tina Beattie and Justin Welby.

Now a new exponent of the dark art has entered the lists, at a meeting of the Roman clergy in St John Lateran.

“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.” (The Professor was speaking in the presence of the Holy Father.) It is a phrase of which Thomas Rosica himself would be proud.

Francis – in Grillo’s view – sees the Church as beset from within with modern versions of the ancient heresies of Pelagianism and Gnosticism. These heresies, says Grillo, manifest themselves in the modern church, in four ways: love of Latin; ‘mummified liturgy’; failure to concede positions of authority to women; and undue reliance on canon law.

Supposing this diagnosis of the ills of the modern church to be accurate, readers will ask themselves in what way this relates to Pelagianism and Gnosticism as generally understood.

Pelagianism, you will remember, is the teaching of a dark age Irish monk that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special divine aid or assistance. Gnosticism is an amorphous body of teaching that claims that the material world is created by an emanation or ‘works’ of a lower god, trapping the divine spark within the human body. This divine spark can be liberated by gnosis – spiritual knowledge acquired through direct experience.

Grillo (and Francis, it seems) has evacuated the words of their useful, historical meaning, and turned them into portmanteau terms for his own ecclesiological bêtes noires. Their use is simply intended to apply a veneer of scholarship and learning to a confusion of naked prejudices.

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