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New CDF document is clear and succinct, but why was it needed?

Titled “Placuit Deo,” the new document, although quite short, effectively reaffirms the Christocentric focus of Dominus Iesus.

Archbishop Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, speaks at a March 2018 news conference.(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The arrival of the new document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Placuit Deo, blessedly came and went without any sort of incident Thursday morning. Styled as a letter to bishops, the CDF document is pretty low down on the standard totem pole of magisterial documents. Its topic — neo-Pelagianism and neo-Gnosticism — more specifically Pope Francis’ use of the terms, could have been the stuff of kerfuffle. Thanks in large part to the deft handling and cool demeanor of the CDF’s new Prefect, Archbishop Luis Ladaria SJ, the thing went off without a hitch.

As the Catholic Herald noted, the document is essentially of the genre we call these days “explainers”: it explains what the Holy Father means when he uses the terms “neo-Pelagianism” and “neo-Gnosticism”, and more importantly, what he does not. The document itself is short and to the point. It says what it means to do and why it means to do it, does it, and tells the reader it is done. “The present Letter is intended, in light of the greater tradition of the faith and with particular reference to the teachings of Pope Francis, to demonstrate certain aspects of Christian salvation that can be difficult to understand today because of recent cultural changes,” the letter says — and it does what it says.

“Pope Francis,” the letter continues, “in his ordinary magisterium, often has made reference to the two tendencies described above, that resemble certain aspects of two ancient heresies, Pelagianism and Gnosticism.” It goes on to explain that Pope Francis hears a sort of rhyme with the ancient heresies in certain modes of thought and expression fairly common in contemporary culture and intellectual activity.

He is not the only one.

The document also draws on the Christocentric focus of an earlier CDF document, Dominus Iesus, and places the mission of evangelization firmly and squarely within the framework of a Church that exists for the purpose of bringing the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, the one mediator, to all men and every creature. “The knowledge of the fullness of life into which Christ the Savior introduces us propels Christians onward in the mission of announcing to all the joy and light of the Gospel,” the document’s conclusion reads. “In this work, Christians must also be prepared to establish a sincere and constructive dialogue with believers of other religions, confident that God can lead ‘all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way’ towards salvation in Christ.”

It is tough to argue with the substance of that, and pointless to quibble with any part of how it is couched. In sum, it is a solid document — more than merely solid, really — that does what it says and does not try to say or do anything else.

Why this document, though? Why a document about this subject, and why now?

Certainly, the quality of the document reflects Ladaria’s leadership: it is tight, even terse in its efficiency, relying on its subject matter to convey the sense of urgency without histrionics. The subject is one that has raised questions: Pope Francis is given to lexical idiosyncracy, a proclivity that has caused him trouble before. An explanation of what, exactly, he means by neo-Pelagianism and neo-Gnosticism was for this reason in order. The reason we got the document now is, in one sense, quite pedestrian: because the document was ready. That’s the nutshell version Ladaria gave in answer to a query from a journalist at the presser, and it is a loose paraphrase, only not quite a verbatim quote.

It is interesting, though, that the Prefect of the CDF should have been at such pains to make clear that the dicastery — until recently styled La suprema — invested with enormous power on paper though rather underused during the reign of Pope Francis — was just about its business: nothing more, and nothing less. The thing that makes this interesting is that it really does seem to be the case. A return to normal operations in the CDF could mean a reassertion of the Congregation’s power within the Vatican is in the offing. That could prove very interesting, indeed.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 213 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. A return to normal operations by CDF as La Suprema? How absurd when still another clarification of Pope Bergoglio’s flood of theological ambiguities and errors is required and that for his accustomed mode “reinterpretation,” in this case of “neo-Pelagianism” and “neo-Gnosticism”. What in fact is more Pelagian than his own “authentic Magisterium” of conscience as the creator and ultimate arbiter of all moral norms? And what in fact is more Gnostic than his own “God of surprises” that commands through a papal Oracle of Rome that the greater number of sacramental Marriages are null and void but that free unions of fornicators and adulterers are “real marriages”?

  2. If I understood it correctly, this might be read to mean that people who thought Pope Francis was yelling at them when he called people “Neo Pelagians” were incorrect. People thought by Neo Pelagians, he was in general yelling at traditional Catholics. This letter would make it seem that he was not.

  3. I just heard learned that F’s Lenten retreat was given by “Rev.” Mendonça, a “poet-priest” from Portugal who promotes “queering” the Church, in tandem with a “nun” who handles the networking – I guess by making sure schools get infiltrated with LGBTQ etc ideology.

    So NO THANK YOU – I am now 1000% convinced of the diabolical influence being cultivated by the pontiff formerly known as Cardinal Bergoglio. I distrust every word he says, and every act he does, and every person in his entourage.

    And I just saw (after the suggestion of a commenter) the video of Pope F’s appallingly abusive gesture of prying apart the praying hands of an altar boy at the Vatican (Nov 2013).

    When he first came out on the balcony in 2013, I had no idea who he was (that in itself I now realize was a very bad omen), but to my great surprise, without any knowledge of him whatsoever, when I saw him appear, I was instinctively repulsed, and blurted out “uh-oh” in front of my wife and kids.

    I have since learned that there were many things I didn’t know then, chief among them that the “Cardinal” standing with him was the sex abuse coverup Cardinal Danneels.

    So this is the situation – this pontiff is the hand-picked candidate of the cabal of Cardinals and bishops who were willing to torture children and ensured that the Church got smashed from 2002 until 2013, all to sate their aberro-sexual and power obsessions…and now these criminals are running the Church from Rome.


    What is salvation – a happy feeling of contentment, satisfaction? Is not most of what they say just sanctifying grace?

    What difference does it make who’s a gnostic or who’s whatever if hell is empty?

    Is anything the Vatican publishes these days worth the paper it’s printed on?

  5. Cardinal Ladaria is acting as Prefect unlike his predecessor who only now is addressing the errors inherent in Amoris Laeititia. A sound reading with knowledge of precisely what Gnosticism and Pelagianism is finds myriad indication in Amoris. And anyone with perspicacity [forgive me now I’m being arrogant] knows “neo-Pelagianism and neo-Gnosticism” references the Pontiff’s thought. And of course Ladaria must “veil” his language and be obscure when questioned by an eager Press with exactly what and who this document is about. My guess is the Pontiff will not dismiss the Cardinal at this time since his policy of silence deflects responsibility for his “neo-Pelagianism and neo-Gnosticism” leaving most confused. Confusion is the sickness he wishes upon us to further his agenda.

    • If you think that Ladaria is suddenly reprimanding the Pope, I think you are sadly mistaken. The implicit criticism of Mueller is equally unwarranted.

    • Chris an excerpt from a LifeSite article by Diane Montagna explains my point well, “In an address on Christian Humanism delivered in Florence’s famous cathedral, Pope Francis said that Pelagianism ‘prompts the Church not to be humble, selfless and blessed. And it does so with the appearance of being a good. In facing ills or the problems of the Church it is useless to look for solutions in conservatism and fundamentalism, in the restoration of practices and outdated forms that even culturally aren’t able to be meaningful.’ But is this what neo-Pelagianism really means, according to the Vatican? In a letter released today, targeting neo-Pelagianism and neo-Gnosticism as two contemporary errors that can be obstacles to salvation, the Vatican’s doctrinal office made no connection between these erroneous ‘tendencies’ and Catholics who adhere to the Church’s tradition. It also doesn’t mention rigidity or anything about neo-Pelagianism meaning those who ‘observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past'”.

      • As for Pelagianism, its ringleader Pelagius and his acolytes Celestius and Julian of Eclanum held that God has given man free will and therefore he has the capacity of exercising and achieving salvation and that in any case, Jesus was no more than a good example. St. Augustine, who knew perfectly well the overriding importance of the free gift of grace and who was also very familiar with St. Paul’s doctrine on grace, rejected this. Strange to say, AL seems to hold that grace is not sufficient for those in so-called “irregular” situations. Besides, AL has not even one quote or reference from St. Augustine, the Doctor of Grace. Pelagianism failed to grasp the essential nature of grace for salvation. Doesn’t AL fall into the same trap?

        Gnosticism is such an enormously complex and varied phenomenon which affected the Church especially in the second and third centuries, that the impression I get is that PF is using the oft-repeated “raising a strawman” fallacy in this case, because what he calls “neo-Gnosticism” seems to have no connection to the real Gnosticism of those early Christian centuries. Rather, his use of the terms “neo-Gnosticism” and “neo Pelagianism” seems to be a way of attacking his detractors whom he constantly denigrates as “rigid”, “Pharisees” and other nasty names. Would St. Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen and the rest of the Fathers who combatted Gnosticism recognize as some variety of it what PF calls “neo-Gnosticism”. The same question can be asked regarding whether St. Augustine would consider what PF as attacks “neo-Pelagianism”. I doubt it very much.

  6. Father Peter:

    Yes, I must read the article…thank you.

    I have recognized F’s resort to “re-defining” pre-existing terms in order to attack what he disdains: the truth and goodness and beauty of Catholic traditions.

    By so re-defining words he accomplishes 2 bad aims simultaneously: he steals the truth from other people by erasing the memory of the genuine evil signified by those words; and he simultaneously steals the proper response of revulsion against what is genuinely evil, and manipulates “the pueblo” into feeling revulsion against what is good.

    In my view it is a mark of the diabolical, showing someone long under the influence of “unholy spirits.”

    I consider him deliberate and well-practiced in the low arts of agitprop, double-speak and disinformation. I assume it is a manifestation of the “neo-Jesuitical” brain-washing that has replaced Catholic formation in the Jesuit seminaries. Something that does not produce a man imitating Christ, like Fr. Hardon or Fr. Schall or Fr. Fessio, nor a man like Edmund Campion.

    • Chris, “In my view it is a mark of the diabolical, showing someone long under the influence of “unholy spirits'” parallel’s my deepest concerns. As a hypothetical most expect the Antichrist clearly diabolic, whereas if God were to permit a final trial before Judgment based on religious deception what is occurring seems feasible. My invariable measure in this is revision of Christ’s Gospel.

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