Travesty of the truth
THE expression appears in the Acts of the Apostles. St. Paul warned the elders of the church of Ephesus to be very watchful because “when I have gone, fierce wolves will invade you and will have no mercy on the flock.” (cfr 20,28-38) And he continued by saying that “even from your own ranks there will be men coming forward with a travesty of the truth on their lips to induce the disciples to follow them.”
These words acquire immediate relevance as we see them turn to reality especially nowadays when the perversion and distortion of the truth that comes from God is done not by those who are openly against God, the Church, or religion itself, but by those who appear to be for God, for the Church and religion in general. That is why Pope Francis in his latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate is also warning us today of some fake forms of holiness that manage to beguile many faithful. He cited two main ones: Gnosticism and Pelagianism.
Of Gnosticism, he said that it is “a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and
feelings.” (36) He said that Gnosticism is a distortion of the truth about what holiness is because “a person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge he possesses, but by the depth of his charity.” (37)
“Gnostics do not understand this,” he said, “because they judge others based on their ability to understand the complexity of certain doctrines. They think of the intellect as separate from the flesh, and thus become incapable of touching Christ’s suffering flesh
in others, locked up as they are in an encyclopedia of abstractions. In the end, by disembodying the mystery, they prefer ‘a God without Christ, a Christ without the Church, a Church without her people.’”
Pelagianism, on the other hand, is the belief that holiness can be achieved mainly if not exclusively through man’s effort alone, with hardly any help of divine grace. It clearly goes against what St. Paul said that everything, especially holiness itself, “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.” (Rom 9,16) Not that human will and exertion are irrelevant in the pursuit of holiness and everything that is good and proper to us. They are, in fact, indispensable, but only as means, as evidence and consequence of the working of God’s grace and his mercy.
A Pelagian spirituality often insists on the performance of practices of piety without checking if indeed these practices lead one to God. We have to be wary of these travesties, perversions and distortions of the truth about sanctity. They can be marketed by those inside the church who actually are wolves in sheep’s clothing or devils dressed as angels of light.