Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Evangelii Gaudium: "No to spiritual worldliness"

Pope Francis devotes five paragraphs to discussing "spiritual worldliness" as one of the temptations faced by pastoral workers. They can be found in Evangelii Gaudium nn.93-97, and they contain the famous/infamous/incomprehensible reference to "self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism".

At the end of n.93, Pope Francis quotes Henri de Lubac:
..... if [spiritual worldliness] were to seep into the Church, “it would be infinitely more disastrous than any other worldliness which is simply moral”.
The quotation is taken from the very end of de Lubac's book translated into English as The Splendor of the Church. The full passage from which the quotation is taken provides an instructive commentary on this section of Evangelii Gaudium.  It comes at the end of a chapter in which de Lubac has presented the analogy between the figure of Mary and the Church, as de Lubac points out that we who are members of the Church do not show forth the light that is seen in our Lady.
.... the greatest danger we are to the Church, the most subversive temptation, the one that is ever and insidiously reborn when all the rest are overcome, and even strengthened by those victories, is what Abbot Vonier called the temptation to "worldliness of mind ... the practical relinquishing of other-worldliness, so that moral and even spiritual standards should be based, not on the glory of the Lord, but on what is the profit of man; an entirely anthropocentric outlook would be exactly what we mean by worldliness. Even if men were filled with every spiritual perfection, but if such perfection were not referred to God (suppose this hypothesis to be possible) it would be unredeemed worldliness". [De Lubac here references Abbot Vonier's The Spirit and the Bride.]
If this spiritual worldliness were to invade the Church and set to work to corrupt her by attacking her very principle, it would be something infinitely more disastrous than any worldliness of the purely moral order - even worse than the hideous leprosy that at certain moments in history inflicts so cruel a disfigurement on the Bride; when religion seems to set up the scandalous "in the very sanctuary itself ..."
None of us is wholly immune to this sort of evil....
Pope Francis' judgement offered in n.97 is strong:
Those who have fallen into this worldliness look on from above and afar, they reject the prophecy of their brothers and sisters, they discredit those who raise questions, they constantly point out the mistakes of others and they are obsessed by appearances. Their hearts are open only to the limited horizon of their own immanence and interests, and as a consequence they neither learn from their sins nor are they genuinely open to forgiveness. This is a tremendous corruption disguised as a good.

I am still on the hunt for the origins of  that phrase "self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism".


Jack said...

There is a passage in Peckler's 'The Unread Vision: The Liturgical Movement in the United States of America, 1926-55'which might explain the Pelagian conumdrum:

"The lack of a liturgically based spirituality for CA [Catholic Action], which would suggest that the Church is sanctified through its personal piety, led potentially to a Pelagian view that Christians through personal piety and good works sanctified the Church and built the reign of God." (Pecklers 1998:99)

Usually Neo-Pelagianism is used to describe those who focus on praxis to the neglect of dogma and doctrine, but the same can be applied to personal piety, hence the papal comment about counting rosaries.

Jack said...

Peckler may have got his idea from Ratzinger

“the other face of the same vice is the Pelagianism of the pious. They do not want forgiveness and in general they do not want any real gift from God either. They just want to be in order. They don’t want hope they just want security. Their aim is to gain the right to salvation through a strict practice of religious exercises, through prayers and action. What they lack is humility which is essential in order to love; the humility to receive gifts not just because we deserve it or because of how we act…”

Now I have a question. A while ago you mentioned in one of your posts something about the "coldness" of abstract art, specifically in the context of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, and that it was something which you might return to in more depth. I'd very much value your opinion, if you ever have time to spare. The building seems to be used in polemical arguments most of the time, which is quite sad.

Joe said...


Thank you for your helpful comments.

I will try and answer your question on Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Jack said...

To put the Ratzinger quote into context, there are two lengthy extracts from ‘Beyond Moralism’ (chapter 2 of Rowland’s ‘Ratzinger’s Faith’ The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI), in which the pelagianism of the pious is juxtaposed against bourgeois pelagianism, the form which we are perhaps more familiar with.
The influence of Giussani is also mentioned in one of the extracts. In his original introduction to ‘The Risk of Education’ Giussani noted that Italy in the late 1950s seemed to be a picture of health, in terms of religious practice: the people well catechised, high levels of Mass attendance etc. However, he made three observations, which led to the birth of CL: there was no profound motivation for belief; faith was irrelevant to social behaviour and its irrelevance was taken for granted; and there was a general climate of scepticism. It’s clear that what unites Ratzinger, Bergoglio and Giussani is their aversion to an extrinsicist notion of nature/grace, which puts them at odds with self-professed traditionalists (who ironically have tried to manipulate the Ratzinger papacy to further their own ends).