Many Catholics have been distraught by the radical departure from the basic and elementary message of the Catholic faith which, for 2,000 years, has always presented itself as the single Truth by which mankind will find salvation. Why is it that one of the globe’s most popular Catholic evangelists, Bishop Robert Barron, can go live on television and openly promote the idea that if a practicing Jewish non-believer in Christ, Ben Shapiro, were to simply follow his conscience, albeit under the auspices of God’s grace in Christ, he can escape the judgment of God and be saved in the last Day? Why is it that, when given the chance to clarify this (click here, Q&A begin @ minute 28:00), he shows no remorse for it, but rather persists in defending himself regardless of his promotion of indifferentism? Of course, Bishop Barron attempts to get this mess within the orange cones of Catholic orthodoxy by suggesting that the 2nd Vatican Council spoke to the possibility of attaining to salvation outside the confines of the Catholic Church and her physical sacraments. I’ve already written extensively (see here, here, and here) on why Barron’s public presentation still comes far from faithfully communicating the teaching of the Church even with the grant of said exceptional possibility. Notice how in the Q&A linked above, Barron resists from being so bold and frank about the dreadful consequences of living this life in unbelief in our Lord Jesus Christ by responding with the following to his critics:
“… Do you see the full implications of the position you seem to be taking….all those who never heard about Jesus Christ….all those who have said ‘I know about about Jesus Christ, but I don’t accept Him’….every single one of them….I mean billions and billions of people are going to hell, period…I’m just trying to hang on to what the Church is offering to us as a more hopeful understanding of how God’s grace operates….I’m just not willing to say ‘Yeah that’s the good news of the gospel but the overwhelming majority of the human race is destined for hell, or is already in hell…I just don’t think that is in line with the instincts of the gospel, nor, clearly is it in line with the teaching of the Church”
Catch that? The idea that the overwhelming majority of the world is without hope and destined for hell is not “in line” with the instincts of the gospel. On what authority does he derive this audacious claim? Why is it that the St. Paul, the author of half the New Testament, can insist to his Gentile audience the following?
“The message of the cross is foolishness to them who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18)
For St. Paul, those who do not receive the Gospel with repentance, faith, and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ are perishing. That seems to be pretty all embracing by a straight forward reading without any speculative agendas being imported from the wisdom of man. Was St. Paul not “in line” with the instincts of the Gospel? Perish the thought!
Or how about when St. Paul, in writing to his own beloved Gentiles, described the status of their life on earth before being baptized into Christ with the following hopeless description:
“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:11-13)
Apparently, Bishop Barron would have to say that St. Paul’s description here is not “in line” with the instincts of the Gospel nor of the teaching of the Catholic Church. For St. Paul, Gentiles prior to conversion were (1) without Christ, (2) aliens and strangers to the promise of God, (3) without God, (4) without hope, and (5) far away from the blood of Christ. How audacious of him! Did not St. Paul realize that these Gentiles were likely laboring in invincible igorance?!?! How presumptuous! He should have gotten “in line” with the “instincts” of the Gospel. It is not like He was personally commissioned by the crucified and risen Lord Himself to go and preach the gospel to the Gentiles.
In one other place, St. Paul has the following expectation for men who do not obey the Gospel. For the unbelievers, they await the Day “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed“. (2 Thes 1:9-10)
This would be another example of how St. Paul, per the logic of Bishop Barron, was simply not “in line” with the instincts of the Gospel, otherwise he would have “hung on” to something far more “hopeful” that everlasting punishment for the majority of the human race.
Now, before the reader wants to pounce on me with those passages of holy Writ which possibly speak to exceptions to the above, for which I will comment farther down below, I want to take a moment here and lay the heat off Bishop Barron’s woeful misjudgments and pin-point a deeper cause to the collapse from the true instincts of the Gospel which far pre-dates Word on Fire Catholic ministries, and goes as far back as prior to the 2nd-Vatican Council. I don’t wish to chart the absolute origins (for that we can return all the way back to that old lying serpent of old), but one particular event in Catholic history illustrates in a most fundamental way the collapse I am speaking of. I am referring to the 1986 Assisi Prayer Meeting convened by St. John Paul II. At this meeting, the Pope had invited members from all religious and pagan traditions to gather into a joint effort at praying for world peace, tranquil co-existence, an end to violence and hatred, etc,etc. One only needs to see brief moments of this video clip to see that this was enough to cause many faithful Catholics to be offended by the abject indifferentism on display (and this affects all the Christian communities present at this horror of a meeting). What would all of the sudden cause the highest ranking prelate of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1980s to have invited all of this? Well, it was only two months after this first Assisi prayer meeting (more, unfortunately, would come in future years) that John Paul II gave an address to the Roman Curia wherein he himself explains the conceptual origin of the Assisi event. Yes, that’s right. He tried to reconcile this with the Christian faith. He says to the Curia:
“The Assisi event can thus be considered as a visible illustration, a lesson of facts, a catechesis to all intelligible, of what presupposes and means the ecumenical commitment and commitment to interreligious dialogue recommended and promoted by the Vatican Council II.”
“In fact, the appropriate key of reading for such a great event arises from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council”
Thus, for St. John Paul II, the Assisi meeting was a visible illustration and catechesis of what was envisioned by the 2nd Vatican Council. Now, did this, for John Paul, entail that religious syncretism, pluralism, relativism, and indifferentism is correct? Of course not. He writes in the same address to the Curia:
“Presenting the Catholic Church that holds the Christian brothers at their hands and all together who join hands with the brothers of other religions, the day of Assisi was like a visible expression of these statements of the Second Vatican Council. With it and through it we have succeeded, by the grace of God, to put into practice, without any shadow of confusion and syncretism, our conviction, inculcated by the Council, on the unity of principle and end of the human family and on the sense and on the value of non-Christian religions “(9)
Thus, we have a straightforward assertion, much like from Bishop Barron, that this woeful meeting in 1986 was not committed to syncretism and relativism. We at least know that Pope John Paul did not himself think that the event necessarily implied these evils. On many other occasions, the same Pope denounced relativism and other related errors.
To no great atonement, even Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2006 message to Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino for the 20th anniversary commemoration of the first Assisi prayer meeting, attempts to say the very same thing:
“In order not to misinterpret the meaning of what John Paul II wanted to achieve in 1986 and what, to use his own words, he habitually called the “spirit of Assisi”, it is important not to forget the attention paid on that occasion to ensuring that the interreligious Prayer Meeting did not lend itself to syncretist interpretations founded on a relativistic concept.”
Got that? An “interreligious Prayer meeting” does not, says Benedict, “lend itself” to syncretism or relativism. Let’s rehearse that again: An interreligous Prayer meeting does not lend itself to syncretism or relativism. My guess is that you can try to repeat that over and over again, and somehow we are expected to just believe it. Good luck with that. In any case, it is important to see that for both these Popes, the scandalous video clip above does not entail any hint of syncretism of religions, but remains faithful to the 1st commandment of the holy Decalogue, “You shall have no other gods before Me“. Whatever amount of lubricated mental gymnastics has to be done to maintain both the Assisi event and the singular-objective exclusivity of the Christian revelation as made clear in the 1st commandment, one must at least understand that the two greatest Popes following the 2nd Vatican Council were at least confessing that syncretism and relativism were still erroneous, and that these evils were somehow avoided in the process of the inttereligious events of Assisi, along with many other similar train wrecks. It is no wonder, therefore, that Bishop Robert Barron feels 100% entitled to the sort of mushy gushy presentation of the Gospel he gives to his audiences. We need not point fingers at him.
What is religious indifferentism, relativism, and syncretism? Well, in the first place, to be indifferent means to be “without difference” between the various religions. Oh, but everyone knows there is differences in content between, let’s say, Hinduism and Buddhism (however much they may intersect). So the “non-difference” being posited by “indifferentism” doesn’t intend to equate the content of religious beliefs, but rather to eradicate whether one religion makes a difference on the path to God versus another religion obstructing that path. All religions lead to God. In other words, to be religiously indifferent is to espouse that all religions, regardless, lead one to God, and not a single one of them is an objective barrier to salvation. In the second place, relativism means something much the same. The religious relativist understands that the path to our Creator is “relative” as opposed to “absolute”. In other words, it is in relation to each person’s own opinion as to what is true, and each opinion of each person is just as good as another’s. And third, the syncretism of religions is simply one step further by syncing, or “putting together in co-operation”, the practices and beliefs of different religions into a cumulative path to heaven which absorbs all the different beliefs as if they, as implied above, are all equally valid and capable of transferring one to an intimate and saving relationship with God (he, she, or it), or the gods, or to one-ness, or the the self, etc,etc.
Now, anyone who reads the Divine Scripture will know right away that the God of Christianity is a jealous God, and abhors religious indifferentism. As stated, we get in the first part of the 10 commandments that God will not tolerate the observance of worship to any other gods besides Him “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Ex 20:5). It is the very same in the New Testament. St. Paul writes:
“Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” (1 Cor 10:20-22)
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:14-16)
Our God will not tolerate religious relativism or syncretism. For Him, it is idolatry, not just to give in to the full blown sacral belief system of paganism, but even to try and dabble into it while trying to hold onto Christianity with the other hand. And this is the heart of my problem with the Assisi’s, the John Paul’s, the Benedict’s, and the Barron’s of this present world. What is being done is not an outright, explicit, and wholesale giving in to the false pagan religions, but some sort of bridging together nonetheless. Now, lest I am being misunderstood. I am not here saying that the 2nd Vatican Council, or John Paul, or Benedict, or Barron want to say that the false content of the false religions can form part of the bridge between, say, Hinduism and Christianity. In fact, John Paul himself describes the false content of the false religions as derived from the evil of the fall. So how do they construct this awful integration of Christianity and Paganism? Well, it is done by first asserting that the fullness of God’s revelation is had in the Catholic Church, whereas all the other religions possess a “ray of truth“, or a portion of what is “good, true, and beautiful“, and to these the Church not only should not, but “must not” reject. How could the Church reject those portions of other religions which are merely a match to the aspects existing already within the full revelation of Christ in the Catholic Church? So you see, there is a place-of-bonding between the religions and Christianity in these pieces and parts of truth. The goal, for John Paul II, is to fully integrate the members of these other religions into the fullness of the Catholic faith by first forging these elements of bonding which exist on the level of these equations between the one Truth of Christ and the pieces and parts that are had by the other belief systems. John Paul liked to emphasize that the Christ-event, since its scope was a recapitulation of the Adamic human race into a 2nd-Adam and into the new Creation, entails an all encompassing unity had by every human creature in its design for reaching the glorious destiny of life with God through this 2nd-Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, even all humans in whatever religion share in this common intended destiny , and right there exists a fundamental starting point of unity. The process of achieving redemption as personally appropriated by each individual can work through these “pieces and parts” of the truth in other religions, and the Spirit of God can work through this to forge commonalities with the Catholic Church, in hopes that one day a full conversion to Catholicism can be reached by all men. If not this, at least a more peaceful and agreeable world to co-exist in without war and human hatred. This is the mentality of John Paul, and by his own authority, the goal of the 2nd Vatican Council.
But, as St. Paul already revealed to us, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are “perishing”. It matters not whether they match with the Christian faith by a common Old Testament Scriptures, i.e. the Jews, they are still “perishing”. Right after saying that those who reject the message of the cross are perishing, Paul specifies that the Jewish audience of his message seek “a sign”, and the Greeks seek “wisdom“, but what is preached is “Christ crucified“, which is the wisdom of God to them who are being “saved“. In another place, Paul makes it clear that the Jews who rejected the Lord and His gospel are “damned”. Paul writes:
“Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” (Rom 11:20-23)
You see here that the unbelieving Jews are “cut off” from Christ and God, and can only be grafted in again through believing. There is no half-saved half-lost being allowed by this dichotomous language. Either you are grafted in by faith, or you are cut off by unbelief. The “spirit of Assisi” wants to affirm that an unbelieving Jew, due to possible reductions to personal culpability, can somehow be both unbelieving and in the process of salvation in Christ, unbeknownst to him, by adherence to conscience and the “good, true, and beautiful” of Judaism. You can search the Pauline corpus for 100 years up and down, and you won’t find a lick of this concept in his writings, nor in any place in the Holy Scripture. Whether this is possible to happen or not, the Apostolic mindset carries with is a set of opposite premonitions and presumptions. The apostle Paul does not carry on in his ministry with these speculative technicalities, but rather asserts to the face of unbelievers that their unbelief has the effect of self-condemnation. When the Jews rejected the gospel, these are the words he gave them:
““It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46)
He told these Jews to their face that they had condemned themselves by their unbelief. How certain is it that we have not seen a Vatican pseudo-intellectual carry this sort of mindset for more than 7 decades? And yet, this is the very apostle who wrote half the New Testament canon.
Now, to return to those “intellectuals” who love to pounce on Romans 2:14-16 and Acts 17:22-31 as a way to forge a whole theology of pagan-salvation, I will say a few comments. In the first place, Romans 2 is clearly not attempting to speak on the salvation of gentiles through obedience to their conscience (I don’t take it to mean gentile Christians whose hearts are circumcised , either). Rather, St. Paul is merely seeking to illustrate that the exterior possession of the Law of God which the Jews received from Mount Sinai is not the only condition upon which to furnish guilt in human beings, since Gentiles show it naturally that they abide by prohibiting from evil and promoting basic good even without the Law, and thus they will be condemned by this manifestation of the “work of the law” in their hearts. The culmination of the argument reaches Romans 3:19 which says that both Jews and Gentiles will be silenced before God as both guilty and condemned without the intervention of Jesus Christ. In Acts 17, the attempt is to hone in on Paul’s seeming implication that the Athenian pagans had been God-worshipers all along since they had an altar “to the unknown god”, and thus, the claim is put out by some, that the pagans had been both pagans and worshipers of the true God together, a sort of mixture of error and truth held in invincible ignorance. That is solemn nonsense. We saw already that Paul does not bridge truth and error together like this. The gentiles “sacrifice to demons”, not to the true God. All the altars that Paul saw in Athens were repulsive to him. In another place, when gentiles were seeking to worship and sacrifice to him because of the mighty deeds done by God through him, Paul insisted that they do not worship him since he was a mere creature, and that God is not worshiped with human hands. Recall also that Paul told the Ephesians that prior to Christ they were “without God” and “without hope” in the world. If we interpret the unclear by the clear, Acts 17 is not furnishing a place for some Rahner-type anonymous Christianity in pre-Christian paganism. Let’s just face it, that is balderdash. It deserves to be thrown into the fire and forgotten forever. Ironically, however, Acts 17 is the perfect homily to illustrate the strength of my argument. At the end of the speech, Paul closes with the following:
“Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
There you have it. Prior to Christian revelation, God may overlook the ignorance of the pagans, but “now” commands all men everywhere to repent in light of the coming day of judgment. How many of the nouvelle théologie theologians who loved to refer to Acts 17 (i.e. “the unknown god”) ever get around, like Paul, to commanding repentance and belief from their audience in the very same paper or lecture? Paul was able to put all of this into one lecture. He demands repentance. Repent from what? From their false religion. Whether it be anti-Christian Judaism (which is false Judaism), Islam, or paganism, they all need to turn away from it and bow the knee to the revelation in Christ as delivered by the Apostles. St. Luke wonderfully records the fruit of repentance of some pagan converts in Ephesus:
“Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.” (Acts 19:19)
Forget about focusing on the bits, pieces, elements, and parts of what are good, true, and beautiful in these false religions, the Holy Spirit moved these Ephesians to light up their old religion on fire, even if it cost them fifty thousand pieces of silver. Their love for God spurred them to hate their false past.
Continuing on in Acts 17, Paul says it is a “command” from God to repent, which means that God is not merely inviting or welcoming, but he demands submission, loyalty, belief, and obedience to the gospel as preached and taught through God’s messengers. Failure to do so, like I pointed out above, is tantamount to condemning oneself. Thus, if someone wishes to make the speech of Acts 17 is place to construct a theology of evangelism, I would be more than happy to suggest reading the whole speech, instead of focusing on some foreign importation of anonymous-Christianity into the “altar to the unknown god”.
What then to say about Assisi? Based on what we’ve seen above, Assisi, like Bishop Barron, encourages false religions to pray and live out their false religion, and fails to strictly forbid these practices in order to repent and become Christians as God has “commanded”. Sure, there will be all sorts of asterisks and footnotes as to how Christ is the “privileged way”, etc,etc. But let’s face it, it has no comparison to the apostle. Paul did not refrain from emphasizing this demand for conversion in any of his encounters between himself and unbelievers. How dare we think we should do otherwise? Not only that, but by allowing pagans to pray, one is allowing disobedience to the 1st commandment – “thou shall have no other gods before Me“. Were not the different religions allowed to pray and do their own services at Assisi? What in the name of all that is good causes a prelate of the Catholic Church to endorse such a thing? And the worst of it all, is that no one shouted aloud, like the Apostles, that “God commands all men everywhere to repent for He has fixed a day on which He will judged the world” (Acts 17:30-31). That is precisely what Mr. Shapiro was robbed of when Barron answered his question – “I’m a law-abiding Jews…am I screwed”? Mr. Shapiro, you are commanded by Almighty God to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
At this point, I would like the reader to understand that I am not at all suggesting that either St. John Paul II, nor Benedict XVI (Pope Emeritus), and neither Bishop Robert Barron are *by profession* giving into moral or religious indifferentism. I understand that they work the language to get the technicalities within the orange cones of Catholic orthodoxy (I’ve said as much). The critique here is that the way in which Evangelism is lived out, and the way in which public incorporation of false religions together with Catholicism has been handled, there is simply no reasonable way to conclude that a practical indifferentism is not being caused.
Unfortunately, he Assisi event in 1986 has been followed by many more Ecumenical endeavors, and has pervaded liberal theology ever since. This is the garden from which the Bishop Barron’s of the world grow. It needs to be revoked. We must return to the clarity of objective exclusivity and singularity of true worship. Much more could be said, but the heart of the problem in the Catholic Church is very much rooted in the inability of today’s episcopal hierarchy (not just the Jesuits) to think like the Apostles, as I’ve demonstrated. We’ve lost this, and we have no right to complain about the state of the Church, because all that is happening in the current state of devastation in the Catholic Church is a direct result of this departure from the Apostolic mind with the guise of pseudo-intellectual theologizing. The problem, in sum, is that while everyone is so busy focusing on these technical possibilities we are failing to follow the apostolic mind frame which presumed lostness and need for the sacrament of forgiveness. If Bishop Barron or John Paul II operated from that frame of mind, I truly think their “means” of evangelization would not take the shape they have.
I will end with a farewell quote that St. Paul, the author of half the New Testament, gave to his beloved Corinthians:
“Greet one another with a holy kiss. The salutation with my own hand—Paul’s. If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.” (1 Cor 16:20-23)