instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, December 09, 2013

Modern Prometheuses

I tease about Evangelii Gaudium's phrase "self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism" because... well, look at it.

But criticism of Promethean attitudes are found in both Evangelium Vitae --
On a more general level, there exists in contemporary culture a certain Promethean attitude which leads people to think that they can control life and death by taking the decisions about them into their own hands. What really happens in this case is that the individual is overcome and crushed by a death deprived of any prospect of meaning or hope.
-- and in Caritas in Veritate:
A person's development is compromised, if he claims to be solely responsible for producing what he becomes. By analogy, the development of peoples goes awry if humanity thinks it can re-create itself through the “wonders” of technology, just as economic development is exposed as a destructive sham if it relies on the “wonders” of finance in order to sustain unnatural and consumerist growth. In the face of such Promethean presumption, we must fortify our love for a freedom that is not merely arbitrary, but is rendered truly human by acknowledgment of the good that underlies it. To this end, man needs to look inside himself in order to recognize the fundamental norms of the natural moral law which God has written on our hearts.
The modern Prometheus claims to be able to define his own nature and to create his own good, and in doing so he creates a monster. He doesn't just fail to do God's will, he fails to do his own will, because man isn't able to define his own nature and create his own good.

Pope Francis sees such a spirit at work in
those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.
AN ASIDE: Note that Pope Francis doesn't say a Promethean spirit is at work in those who remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. He is criticizing only those who, due to such a faithfulness, trust in their own powers and feel superior to others. Such people do exist, and such attitudes are worthy of criticism.

The neopelagianism comes in, I suppose, in the de facto reliance on human actions -- the right prayers, said on the right day in the right language -- for salvation, rather than on Divine mercy. This reliance on human actions may perhaps be more clearly be seen in attitudes towards those who don't follow their prescribed orthopraxis. (As an extreme example, I once came across a condemnation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet as a ruse of the devil to trick Catholics into not praying the Rosary.)

I'll go so far as to suggest the possibility of a neopelagian orthodoxy -- placing one's hope for salvation in believing the right doctrines, according to the right formulas, rather than in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit promised to those who live according to those doctrines, and Whose presence is a guarantee of salvific grace.

The problem, obviously, isn't the "soundness of doctrine or discipline." It's the detachment of both from the living God, the reduction of God's Self-revelation of His presence -- "Behold, I am with you always" -- to a set of rules: "Do this. Think that."

If I wanted a fancy term for this, I'd go with "cargo-cult Catholicism," to acknowledge that the doctrine and discipline are, in fact, from the Church. They aren't inventions of the neopelagians Pope Francis is criticizing, but they are being grossly misunderstood and misused.

To this characterization, the adjective "Promethean" adds, I suppose, a note of self-creation. While the doctrine and discipline are from the Church, the construction of an allegedly necessary and sufficient orthopraxis and orthodoxy has occurred independent of, and in some cases contrary to, her magisterial office.