A Reader Critiques My “Assisi” Article

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A reader read my Assisi article , and responds with the following 3-pointed critique (all in Italic). After the block quote, I respond further down below regular font (w/ some bold).

  • You charge +Barron with indifferentism (and more or less universalism), both in the Shapiro interview and in his failure to recant in the opportunity for clarification during the Q&A.

To begin, +Barron does in fact clarify his Shapiro interview. He Specifically says he was answering a narrow question That Shapiro posed: “Am I screwed?” +Barron’s response is no, you are not just screwed, the Church teaches there can be salvation outside the Church. As Bishop states, he was saying can be, not will be, not don’t worry about it, but that it is possible. He even states that if Shapiro had asked, “how am I saved?” He would have invited him to come into the fullness of the Catholic faith.

So at this point, does your charge of indifferentism stick? I would have to say no. Both in the interview and in the clarification it is pretty clear that he first says non-Christians can in theory be saved, and then he describes what that might look like, while maintaining that salvation is found within the Church.

  • You then use +Barron’s quote about his unwillingness to declare that the majority of humanity is destined for, or is already in, hell because such a notion isn’t in line with the instincts of the Gospels to throw into relief the true instinct of the Gospel which is a Pauline-esque speaking of the truth (no matter how harsh) that the Church is the single truth by which mankind finds salvation, or perhaps just the stating of the harsher sides of the truth.

I don’t think the quote portrays the meat of +Barron’s argument, which is grounded in two facts. One, we know it is possible for salvation outside of the Church, and 2. that we do not definitively know the number of people in Hell. Therefore, we can hope, but not state or expect, that no one will go to hell. The scriptural quotations of St. Paul also do not emphatically state that the majority of mankind is damned. 2 Thes 1:9-10 is the closest, but speaks to the return of Christ which has yet to happen. We simply cannot know the contents of hell this side of eternity. We can certainly speak, however, to our hope that all of humankind is saved through Christ while also speaking about the horrors of hell that awaits those who reject Christ.

  • In attempting to trace the roots of +Barron’s supposed indifferentism and universalism, and the origin of the softer modern instinct of the Gospel, you bring us to the rise of syncretist thought that is illustrated and made concrete in the Assisi prayer meeting of 1986, which you hold as lending itself to syncretism and relativism.

While referencing St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI’s denial that the interreligious prayer meeting lends itself to syncretism or relativism, you provide absolutely zero evidence to prove them wrong. You pretty much freely assert with no evidence that the event was syncretist, but what is freely asserted is freely denied.

You don’t examine documents, statements, or speeches from the event, nor do you look at what actually occurred. The quote from Benedict XVI specifically calls on us to remember 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.” I find that you have not adequately defended your position on this point. In fact, the fuller context of Benedicts XVI’s letter has two quotes worthy of reproducing here, the first comes directly after the quotation in your piece and outlines that the meeting is not one of theologians hashing out new theologies of common ground amongst the world religions:

For this very reason, John Paul II declared at the outset: “The fact that we have come here does not imply any intention of seeking a religious consensus among ourselves or of negotiating our faith convictions. Neither does it mean that religions can be reconciled at the level of a common commitment in an earthly project which would surpass them all. Nor is it a concession to relativism in religious beliefs” (ibid., n. 2).

The second, gives evidence that the organizers were careful to try and dispel any notion of syncretism.

However, here too, it is only right to avoid an inappropriate confusion. Therefore, even when we are gathered together to pray for peace, the prayer must follow the different uses proper to the various religions. This was the decision in 1986 and it continues to be valid also today. The convergence of differences must not convey an impression of surrendering to that relativism which denies the meaning of truth itself and the possibility of attaining it.

Given that the two main supports of your argument (+Barron and Assisi) fail, the thesis that we must return to an Apostolic instinct of the Gospel that entails the rejection of ecumenicism, interreligious dialogue, and hope for the salvation of all, must likewise be rejected.

 

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Thank you for taking the time to give your best review. I will respond to your 3 pointed critique.

(1) I think your giving far too much credit because of technicalities. I already made it clear that neither Barron, Benedict, nor John Paul explicitly endorse indifferentism *by profession*. Thus, pointing to places where they technically get into the orange cones of orthodoxy doesn’t bake any bread. Here’s why. Let’s try and use a different question which has similar answers:

Questioner: “Bishop Barron, is it possible for me to live with my girlfriend outside of marriage, continue to have sex, and refuse to listen to Catholic Church that I need to repent and be sexually pure, and then still make it to heaven if I die before being sexually pure”?

Barron: “Sure, yes. It’s possible. You just need to be sure your only in venial sin in and through doing all of this. Pope Francis wonderfully explains how levels of culpability can be so low as to prevent people from being in mortal sin, c.f. Amoris Laetitia

Questioner: “Now, what if I asked you this question off camera like for just you and me, and you had the chance to elaborate like you did not on worldwide television, would you add anything for the sake of clarity”?

Barron: “Well, I would just lovingly invite you to consider living a pure life”

Now, Whatarip, do you see how this is more problematic than you originally saw it? You can’t just be *technically correct* to avoid a practical indifferentism. Imagine if Shapiro died that night and was roasting in the flames of hell. Do you think he would have the resolve to say, “Ya know, Bishop Barron sure did not give the urgency that was needed for me to truly consider escaping the wrath of God through Jesus Christ….but he was technically correct that I could have made into heaven through my conscience and sticking with Judaism”. If you think this is all reasonable, then I would say you’re the perfect audience I have in mind when I wrote this article.

(2) Your second point, which is basically that (1) its technically possible to be saved outside the visible confines of Catholicism and her physical sacraments, and (2) we don’t know who is in heaven or hell, really does not interact with anything I actually said. I neither said (1) was wrong, nor that (2) is wrong. Thus, my point remains standing afoot because you did not engage with what I actually said. My point was this – Barron thinks that it is pessimistic and anti-gospel to figure that the majority of the human race is going to hell. That is what he said. I provided Scriptural verses which tell us the opposite. Let me ask you – Would you feel comfortable going on live television and saying “Those who accept our message of the cross and repent are being saved , but to those who do not believe, they are perishing”? I don’t think you would. Neither would Bishop Barron, at that. That is a perfect illustration of the problem. Now, if you really want my robust defense of the massa damnata perspective, I suggest you read the articles I linked in this original article in question, and you will see more Scriptural texts (besides 2 Thes) which prove my point.

(3) You are correct that I pointed out how both St JPII and Benedict XVI thought that the Assisi prayer event “technically avoids” syncretism, relativism, and indifferentism. But I would invite you to re-read my article. I make explicit citation from St. Paul that the esoteric “pieces and parts” communion with the false religions does not sufficiently avoid what the Scripture describes as being forbidden. For example, Paul wants to restrict the Corinthians from eating meat sacrificed to idols, even if they buy it in the marketplace, and even if they had nothing to do with the original cultic exercise of sacrificing to the pagan gods, because of this principle that they cannot partake in the table & cup of demons together with the table and cup of Christ. Now think about that. Someone could technically say, “Hey Paul. It is as simple as this. I did not partake in that ritual, and therefore I can do whatever I want with this meat”. And yet here Paul, so concerned about the exclusivity of true worship, ventures to prohibit eating such meat lest someone has the chance to be dabbling indirectly into false worship. For heaven’s sake, inviting a Buddhist, Hindu, Shintoist, and a Muslim into a large meeting place and giving them the instructions to do their prayers as they please , while you (i.e. the Catholic) do your own thing on the side, and that this is supposed to manifest the profound partial communion already existing between the Church and the world religions, is surely getting very close to that technical boundary of indifferentism, and it practically gives off that precise effect. Moreover, I brought to the fore how Paul doesn’t compartmentalize the perishing population of the world into their partial communion via rays of light which cohere with the fullness of divine revelation in Christ. Rather, he says they are “perishing”. He says, “To those who do not receive our message, they are perishing”. There is no use in laboring to identify commonalities between the perishing and the saved if the former is indeed perishing and the latter is indeed alone saved. Paul is working with a different set of premonitions and presuppositions. I don’t think your *technically correct* defense of the Assisi meeting actually engages with my critique because I already made it clear how the attempt to be technically correct doesn’t make for a successful escape for the practical commission of indifferentism.

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