Pope Francis on the modern-day versions of Gnosticism and Pelagianism

This article Pope Francis warns of two paths to holiness explains the teaching of the Pope on this point quite well. It is a criticism that applies to many conservatives and traditionalists, so it has been rejected or ignored by those who should accept its correction. I don’t have anything to add. Please read and consider what the article says.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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27 Responses to Pope Francis on the modern-day versions of Gnosticism and Pelagianism

  1. Vyto says:

    Pope Francis really is on target with his comments. And thanks Ron for bringing his comments to our attention.

  2. Tom Mazanec says:

    Gnostics stress the intellect, while Pelagians stress the will.

    I find it interesting that these are the two signs of a spiritual soul…reason and free will.

  3. sircliges says:


    How accurate are these labels of Gnosticism and Pelagianism? 

    It is easy to observe that the rationale for such an identification between defenders of orthodoxy and the Commandments on one side, and Gnostics or Pelagians on the other, is very weak, not to say preposterous.

    In fact, the “Gnostic” person whom the Pope illustrates has none of the specific characteristics of truly Gnostic doctrine, but has all the defects the Pope supposes to exist in his theological adversaries. 

    So Pope Francis — feeling himself to be the victim of the (quite reasonable) accusation of supporting situation ethics, and having refused to answer the dubia and many other questions and observations — now formulates the ludicrous accusation that such faithful Catholics would be, for some obscure reason, also “Gnostics.” That means he sees them not just as heretics, but “adherents to one of the most sinister ideologies” (40), without giving one single characteristic that is specific of true Gnosticism, and limiting himself to mentioning some general attitude of “being superior”, or “rationalist”, or “knowing more than the others” —that is, nothing specific at all. It could be just as well, or better, be applied to the learned theologian who supports situation ethics.

    • Maurilio Piazza says:

      Pope Francis IS being accused unreasonably and unjustly of supporting situation ethics and, in general, of thinking heretically.

      In my comments to “Does Opposing the Pope really help the Church?” and “A Call to Faith”, I refuted:

      1) the 5 Dubia (and everyone supporting them, including Seifert, Spaemann and Strumia) as violating the “fidei numquam deficientis” doctrine as well as being structurally antinomical and otherwise logically flawed, therefore objectively irreceivable;

      2) Seifert’s “purely logical” argument as being in fact a paralogism based on his gross misinterpretation of the text, thus refuting his accusation that Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia supports situation ethics;

      3) points 5 and 6 of the final declaration of the conference “Catholic Church, where are you going?” (Rome, April 7, 2018) as being falsified by Can. 844, thus refuting the declaration’s purpose to accuse Pope Francis of teaching against points 1 to 4, i.e. against the existence of intrinsically evil acts.

      Prof. Pierantoni, whom you quoted above, is among those unreasonable and unjust accusers, a self-proclaimed “faithful” Catholic among other self-proclaimed champions of Catholic orthodoxy who are in fact themselves at fault doctrinally. In particular, he is among those actively responsabile for unlawfully downgrading unwanted passages from AL to non-magisterial opinion as a way to circumvent their obligation to acknowledge and respect that magisterium and then feel free to treat it as heretical or heresy-producing, under the same grievously erroneous presupposition as in the 5 Dubia, i.e. that popes are in any way capable of heresy, which violates the “fidei NUMQUAM deficientis” (“NEVER-failing faith”) doctrine of Vat I.

      Inasmuch as Prof. Pierantoni, in his own judgments, is a magisterium unto himself opposing the real magisterium of Pope Francis and the magisterium of Vat I about the indefectible faith of each pope, he is grievously at fault, no matter his rationalizations and his attempts to place himself outside, or rather above, the Pope’s reproach.

    • sircliges says:

      Like I said here,


      This is a personal opinion that I respect, but is not Magisterium. The dogma focus about PUBLIC infallibility of the Pope, who cannot teach definitively something wrong; but the dogma doesn’t say about the thinking of the Pope “in foro interno”. What you say is a necessary logical foundation, actually isn’t necessary.
      The Bishop Vincent Ferrer Gasser, in his official speach of July 11 1870 at the I Vatican Council, did say that the Pastor Aeternus werent’ an official stance about the hypothesis of the heretical Pope.
      So you cannot infer by the dogma what you are infering.

    • Ron Conte says:

      An official speech is not an authoritative interpretation of a Council. The teaching of Vatican I on the never-failing faith of the Pope is doctrine.

    • sircliges says:

      Actually, the official speech of Gasser IS an authoritative intepretation of the Council. Gaspare’a speech is also referred 4 times in footnotes of Lumen Gentium.

      I ask you to discern your theological opinions from the dogma itself. The dogma focuses about the never failing teaching of the Pope. His inner mind is another separate and debatable question.

    • Ron Conte says:

      A Council has greater authority than an individual Bishop. So a Council’s teaching cannot be limited by, or subject to, that lesser authority. We don’t believe in the interpretations of Magisterial teaching, but in the teachings themselves.

      The doctrine (it’s debatable whether it is infallible) is the “never failing faith”, and faith is a theological virtue. So this teaching is in addition to the ability of the Pope to issue teachings that are in themselves infallible. His own personal faith cannot fail. By prevenient grace.

    • sircliges says:

      Can you point out what is the specific part of the Pastor Aeternus teaching the never failing faith (meaning the own personal faith)?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Session 4 : 18 July 1870
      First dogmatic constitution on the Church of Christ
      Chapter 4
      7. This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine.

    • sircliges says:

      Mmm, maybe you are right, but maybe not. It refers to the office of predication.

      The precise formula of the dogma is delimitated to the ‘ex cathedra’, which implies, by definition, a cathedra – a pulpit.

      Maybe we have made a detour from the original topic. But the point is that you – I am talking to Maurilio Piazza – cannot despise as heretics all the critics of Pope Francis. Surely the Pope suffers for unfair critics too, but there are also fair critics. You cannot mock the flock.

    • Maurilio Piazza says:


      I reproached, not despised, and I pointed out grievous or grave errors, but never called the errors “heresy” (not even in wider sense) and never treated those leaders violating the “fidei numquam deficientis” doctrine and spreading disunity in the Church as heretics who are outside of Church communion, though they are in real danger of falling away through their own fault, dragging many into the same ditch.

      The extent of a pope’s immunity from heresy is not so much of a detour from the topic: it’s the real issue behind the bulk of our papal discussions here (I’m assuming that you believe the infallible dogmatic fact of Pope Francis’ valid election) and behind many or most of the criticisms against Pope Francis at large. If everyone in the Church believed that a pope cannot be in any way a heretic, many such criticisms would be barred and would not even take place, and many discussions would happen in radically different terms. So the true understanding of the objective meaning of “fidei numquam deficientis” is key and crucial, and such objective meaning is already there, since it is an objective magisterial doctrine distinct from the dogma – and as such it is binding in its rightful degree.

      I agree with Mr. Conte that it’s debatable whether the “fidei numquam deficientis” doctrine is infallible/definitive: I’ve never stated in my posts that it is definitive, and in fact I tend to believe it’s non-definitive. Think of it as an error comparable in gravity to the “one-will” opinion prior to the “two-wills” definition, or to maculatism prior to the “immaculate conception” definition, or to fallibilism prior to the “ex cathedra infallibility” definition. Violation of the “never-failing faith” doctrine is so grave that the impending schism hinges on it: without it, such schism would be prevented. Jesus wants unity in His Church, and I would consider myself not writing in vain here if I could help dissuade at least one soul from committing schism, whether openly or hiddenly, wittingly or unwittingly.

      I read your quote from Gasser: concerning the petrine charism (“veritatis et fidei numquam deficientis charisma”), he was dealing with its first aspect, the “gift of truth” (“veritatis… charisma”) i.e. papal “infallibility”, a matter which he rightly connected to Jesus’ words “Thou art Peter etc” and pertaining to each pope’s ability to issue NEW infallible statements ex cathedra, which was the formal object of the dogma.

      We instead are dealing here with the second aspect of the same petrine charism, the “gift of never-failing faith” (“… fidei numquam deficientis charisma”) i.e. papal “indefectibility”, a distinct matter which the Dogmatic Constitution itself connects to Jesus’ words “Simon…, I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail”.

      Now, “faith” here is Simon’s personal theological virtue of faith, as Mr. Conte righty pointed out. In the context of the Dogmatic Constitution, it refers to that first act of definitive faith “Thou ar the Christ etc.” which was enabled in Simon by the gift of truth and which established Simon as Peter – and refers, by extension, to each pope’s personal adherence to all definitive truths already established by the Church at any given time.

      In other words, the petrine gift of truth pertains to each pope’s ability to issue NEW infallible statements ex cathedra and is the proper object of the 1870 dogma, whereas the petrine gift of never-failing faith pertains to each pope’s perpetual inability to believe and teach in contradiction with OLD infallible statements, i.e. in contradiction with any definitive truth already established in the Church at any given time (Pastor Aeternus, IV: “… hanc sancti Petri Sedem ab omni semper errore illibatam permanere, secundum… Ego rogavi pro te, ut non deficiat fides tua… Hoc igitur… fidei numquam deficientis charisma…”, i.e. “… this See of Saint Peter always remains immune from all error, according to… I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail… Therefore this gift of… never-failing faith…”). There is room here for error in papal non-definitive magisterium and in a pope’s private opinions, as long as those errors do not directly contradict definitive truths that are already established at any given time, otherwise the pope’s faith would fail. There is also room for a pope’s outward denial of truth against a pope’s own faith.

      So, the petrine gift of truth, except at its inception in its primal instance “Thou art the Christ etc.”, which contitutes the first infallible statement by the Church, implies that each new papal ex cathedra definition cannot contradict any previous definitive and infallible statements – in other words, it implies the gift of never-failing faith. Said otherwise, apart from its very first instance, the gift of truth, in order to be able to operate, needs the gift of never-failing faith as a necessary condition.

      Also, the “gift of truth”, or papal infallibility, is conditional (“ex cathedra”), restricted to a very limited set of magisterial acts, whereas the “gift of never-failing faith” is unconditional (“never”), extending to all acts of each pope where his personal faith is in any way involved.

      Papal critics are a part of the flock, not the whole flock. The Pope makes the flock THE flock, i.e. Christ’s original, fully-featured flock. Each pope is the visible principle of communion in the Church on earth, therefore no pope can validly incur excommunication, because that would mean that the pope would cease to be in communion with himself, which is absurd, yet that would be the logical consequence of him being capable of formal heresy, albeit hiddenly, while supposedly feigning an outward appearance of orthodoxy which would actually be an empty shell and not at all the infused theological virtue of faith of Peter for whose indefectibility Jesus prayed for. It is true, instead, that a pope could have a dead faith, i.e. not actually working through love, but still a true type of infused theological virtue of faith ordered to sanctifying grace (per Vat I’s “Dei Filius, III), which allows for his personal conversion. What happens in this room for each pope’s personal conversion and salvation is a matter of internal forum and, ultimately, known to God alone, except when conditions are met for his beatification and canonization; not so with the objective degree of each pope’s theological virtue of faith, which is still the work of the infused grace of God and must necessarily be always present, never-failing, and publicly known as a truth revealed by God, whether a pope’s faith is living or dead.

  4. stefano says:

    Apparently Modernism doesn’t worry Pope Francis at all.

  5. Mark P. says:

    Whereas conservatives may have needed some correction so as not to clobber people with rules and regulations, it does seem to some degree that the Holy Father does not balance his comments to correct liberals as well. Liberals many times take the smallest hint of relaxation, not to dogma but to practice or application, and then wield the Holy Father’s words as a free for all thinking that they can change teachings so as to become more progressive.
    So a conservative Gnostic seems to take pride in their memorization and trivia of the Church’s teachings, while the liberal Gnostic seems to think they know better than the Church on certain matters and that certain teachings can be eradicated to keep up with the times. So there are practitioners of the two heresies on both sides.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Good. Yes, the gnostic and pelagian criticism work for liberal errors as well as conservative. But it is true that conservatives are not open to criticism, and they assume that the conservative majority opinion can’t be wrong. They also assume that they have nothing to learn from any liberal, even a liberal Pope. So there are faults among conservatives that are causing this rift with the Pope.

    • sircliges says:

      Actually I am a conservative and I don’t see myself in your picture. I am open to criticism and if a liberal says me something true, he’s welcome.

    • stefano says:

      I do not classify myself as a conservative, but I think that what conservatives don’t want to take as a lesson from liberals – no matter if a Pope – is that “all you need is love”.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Properly understood, love includes the entire moral law and all the Sacraments and devotions of the Church. The problem occurs when love is used to oppose the moral law or the restrictions imposed by the true virtue of love (such as chastity).

    • stefano says:

      I quoted the famous song to signify that clearly moral law was not understood the same way by S.Paul and the Beatles. But now if you quote S.Paul you can be accused to be a gnostic, whereas if you completely mistake the meaning of love that’s OK, as long as you are not a hypocrit conservative.

  6. Paul M. says:

    Pope Francis gives the faithful a good reminder to focus on the theological virtues as a measure of holiness. Would that the document focused more on what this might look like in today’s trying times, rather than criticizing those who know the law but are far from God.

    To generalize so broadly as to lump all those who seek to know the law ONLY with those who seek to know the law AND do it, is to misrepresent many Catholics who are striving to live holy lives in a culture that is attacking the Church and morality on many fronts.

    “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Is this not our calling? Is this not where the grace that Pope Francis writes about in living the theological virtues reaches it’s fulfillment? Is not our greatest Christian witness to be exemplars in both word and deed to a world that has embraced so many vices by calling them goods? Can we do this if we emphasize a “God of surprises” as a God who can only be known “in the heart” but not also in the mind and will and who is the same yesterday, today and forever?

  7. sircliges says:

    Let me quote you the paragraph 29.3 of the Official Relation by Gasser at the Vat 1 Council:


    «(03) Note well. It is asked in what sense the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff is “absolute.” I reply and openly admit: in no sense is pontifical infallibility absolute, because absolute infallibility belongs to God alone, who is the first and essential truth and who is never able to deceive or be deceived. All other infallibility, as communicated for a specific purpose, has its limits and its conditions under which it is considered to be present. The same is valid in reference to the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff. For this infallibility is bound by certain limits and conditions. What those conditions may be should be deduced not “a priori” but from the very promise or manifestation of the will of Christ. Now what follows from the promise of Christ, made to Peter and his successors, as far as these conditions are concerned? He promised Peter the gift of inerrancy in Peter’s relation to the Universal Church: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it …” (Mt. 16:18). “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep” (Jn. 21:13-17). Peter, placed outside this relation to the universal Church, does not enjoy in his successors this charism of truth which comes from that certain promise of Christ. Therefore, in reality, the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff is restricted by reason “of the subject,” that is when the Pope, constituted in the chair of Peter, the center of the Church, speaks as universal teacher and supreme judge: it is restricted by reason of the “object,” i.e., when treating of matters of faith and morals; and by reason of the “act” itself, i.e., when the Pope defines what must be believed or rejected by all the faithful. Nevertheless, some of the most reverend fathers, not content with these conditions, go farther and even want to put into this constitution conditions which are found in different ways in different theological treatises and which concern the good faith and diligence of the Pontiff in searching out and enunciating the truth. However, these things, since they concern the conscience of the Pontiff rather than his relation [to the Church], must be considered as touching on the moral order rather than the dogmatic order. For with great care our Lord Jesus Christ willed that the charism of truth depend not on the conscience of the Pontiff, which is private – even most private – to each person, and known to God alone, but rather on the public relation of the Pontiff to the universal Church. If it were otherwise, this gift of infallibility would not be an effective means for preserving and repairing the unity of the Church. But in no way, therefore, should it be feared that the universal Church could be led into error about faith through the bad faith and negligence of the Pontiff. For the protection of Christ and the divine assistance promised to the successors of Peter is a cause so efficacious that the judgment of the supreme Pontiff would be impeded if it were to be erroneous and destructive of the Church; or, if in fact the Pontiff really arrives at a definition, it will truly stand infallibly.»

    • Ron Conte says:

      There is nothing there that contradicts the gift of truth (Pope’s can’t teach material heresy) and never failing faith (Pope’s can’t commit formal heresy). Of course papal infallibility is not absolute. But notice the assertion that “in no way” should we consider that the Pope can be in “bad faith”. So his interpretation supports my view. The Pope is not personally infallible, but he is preserved from certain types of errors (material and formal heresy) and he can teach without error (papal infallibility).

    • sircliges says:

      I don’t see how could Gasser support your view. He precisely excludes the Pope’s inner conscience from the range covered by infallibility – the opposite of what you have stated.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I’m not saying the Pope is infallible in his thoughts, or even his ordinary teachings. Only that he is preserved from teaching or committing heresy.

  8. sircliges says:

    Who is the most reliable hermeneutic of the dogma? You or this Bishop that was a reference for Lumen Gentium?

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