The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on March 1 issued a letter, Placuit Deo, addressed to the bishops of the Church regarding “certain aspects of Christian salvation.”
This relatively short document offers several points for rich reflection by Christians.
The letter presents itself as repudiating two trends in the Church today, which it sees as echoes of the ancient heresies of Pelagianism and Gnosticism. But in practice, the letter uses these examples not to condemn particular people or groups, but to invite all people into a deeper understanding of salvation by also understanding what it is not — namely, it is not something that we can earn (Pelagianism) or purely interior/intellectual in its nature (Gnosticism).
“Both the individualistic and the merely interior visions of salvation contradict the sacramental economy through which God wants to save the human person. 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,” Placuit Deo asserts.
Rather, the letter states, salvation is a gift, freely given by God to us. We can choose to accept it by participating in the grace of the sacraments and the life of the Church, all of which draws our whole person out into community with others. Which is why, the letter notes, at the Last Judgment, “each person will be judged on the authenticity of one’s love ... especially regarding the weakest.”
This ties in strongly with the evangelizing vision put forward by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium and elsewhere, that going out and encountering others is an essential part of salvation. It is not that we earn our salvation or that good deeds are merely some extra nicety. But between those two ideas is the sublime reality of how unconditional love of others, lived out in concrete ways in the sacramental life of the Church, unites us to Jesus Christ and the salvation of the Incarnation.