VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Salvation in Christ is a gift of God
that cannot be earned by human efforts alone, and it is not simply some kind of
interior transformation, but touches the way Christians live in the world and
relate to others, said a new document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of
"Both the individualistic and the merely interior visions
of salvation contradict the sacramental economy through which God wants to save
the human person," said the document "Placuit Deo" ("It Pleased God")
on "certain aspects of Christian salvation."
Released at the Vatican March 1, the document was the first
issued since Archbishop Luis
Ladaria became prefect of the doctrinal congregation in July.
The document, approved by Pope Francis in mid-February,
focuses on two errors Pope Francis has said seem to underlie the statements and
attitudes of a growing number of Christians: neo-Pelagianism, the idea that people can save themselves
by being strong and very disciplined; and neo-Gnosticism, in which the
focus is so strongly placed on knowledge that it ends up despising the body, the
physical needs of others and the creation of a community.
"Salvation cannot be reduced simply to a message, a
practice, a gnosis (knowledge) or an interior feeling," Archbishop Ladaria
said in his presentation of the document. It flows from a personal encounter
with Jesus Christ, which in turn leads to incorporation in the church and an
effort to live as Jesus did, especially in attention to the poor and the
suffering, he said.
Responding to reporters' questions, Archbishop Ladaria said
it is probably easier to identify traces of neo-Pelagianism than neo-Gnosticism
because "we all have a tendency toward self-sufficiency."
The document, he said, "does not want to point
fingers," but does want to draw people's attention to "the tendency
of self-sufficiency" and "the tendency of isolation, which does not
take into account that salvation is something eminently communitarian."
To respond to "both to the individualist reductionism
of Pelagian tendency and to the neo-Gnostic promise of a merely interior
salvation," the document said, "we must remember the way in which
Jesus is savior."
"He did not limit himself to showing us the way to
encounter God, a path we can walk on our own by being obedient to his words and
by imitating his example," it said, but he became the way, and a relationship
with him is essential.
"Furthermore, this path is not merely an interior
journey at the margins of our relationships with others and with the created
world," it said, because Christ "assumed the entirety of our humanity
and lived a fully human life in communion with his Father and with others."
Understanding the role of the church, "the community of
those who have been incorporated into this new kind of relationship begun by
Christ," is essential for combatting the tendencies of self-sufficiency
and isolation, the document said.
"The participation in the new kind of relationships
begun by Jesus occurs in the church by means of the sacraments, of which baptism
is the door, and the Eucharist is the source and the summit," it said.
Reaffirming age-old Christian teaching, the document
insisted "total salvation of the body and of the soul is the final destiny
to which God calls all of humanity."
Since the church is "the universal sacrament of
salvation," all Christians are called to share the good news of Christ and
invite others to a relationship with him, it said. But, citing the teaching of
the Second Vatican Council, it also said "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' toward salvation in Christ."
Archbishop Ladaria said the Catholic Church continues to
affirm Vatican II's teaching that the one church of Christ "subsists in
the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the bishops in
communion with him."
"But it adds immediately," he said, that "many
elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its (the Catholic
Church's) visible structure."
"It's not that the church has turned back from this
definition, this declaration, this affirmation of the Second Vatican Council.
No," he said. "Naturally, the Catholic Church is and will continue to
be committed to ecumenism out of this conviction" that God is at work in
other Christian communities as well.
"The church recognizes this and does so willingly,"
Archbishop Ladaria said.