On this greatest of holidays, Nathaniel Peters has an essay on Pope Francis' beautiful reflection on grace and pelagianism.
One of the greatest theological diseases we find in contemporary Catholicism is pelagianism, the notion that we’re all basically good people whose moral improvement and salvation is the result of our good actions. In this mindset, God’s grace becomes less consequential because it’s less necessary. At its heart, Christianity is about doing good things.
Throughout history, great theologians have combated pelagianism: Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and, in our own time, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Benedict XVI. They have reminded us that, at its heart, Christianity is a love story in which God seeks us out and draws us closer to himself. The first move belongs to God, and any real good we do is a gift from him, enshrouded with his own love. In this understanding, God’s grace has the primacy and priority.
In his homily for the Chrism Mass yesterday, Pope Francis underscored this, calling out implicit pelagianism by name:
It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.As we hear God’s call to evangelize and serve, we do so mindful that we are responding to a gift received. We are no longer our own, and we no longer operate by our own powers. But the more we respond, by grace, to the grace that we have been given, the more grace grows in us, making us more and more alive.
As we seek the Lord and His grace, Francis reminds us that our encounter with Him is a gift, freely given to us and unearned by us. Our good works are not what earn us grace. They are grace, working in us.
His gift to us was earned, but not by us.
Happy Easter to all.