Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Q/A with Bishop Barron

This is Bishop Barron doing what he does best:

He's to be commended for fielding questions from non-Catholics. He did that on Reddit a while back. A large part of Barron's appeal lies in how he files off all the sharp edges of traditional Catholic theology. He often panders to modernity rather than challenging modernity. The Q/A showcased both his strengths and weaknesses. 

1. As a Christian, do you ever think, “What if God doesn’t exist”?

His answer was pretty good. One omission is his failure to point that that if there is no God, that not only leads to moral nihilism, but existential and epistemic nihilism.

2. How are Adam and Eve guilty of disobedience if they had no knowledge of good/evil until after they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

His answer was exegetically preposterous but predictable. It reflects the triumph of modernism in mainstream Catholicism. 

It does have the prima facie advantage of instantly dissolving the conflict between faith and evolution. Mind you, evolution is a threat to human dignity. 

3. Why did the disciples betray Jesus despite seeing miracles?

i) His answer regarding the fall of angels bottoms out before getting to the nub of the issue. Even if we grant libertarian freedom, that fails to explain why a sinless angel would find evil appealing. 

ii) Why does he reject the historicity of the Fall vis-a-vis Adam and Eve but accept the Fall of angels? That's ad hoc. 

iii) He has an interesting speculation about how, unlike angels, human moral life unfolds over time, so that we have capacity to regroup after making the wrong choice. Does that mean he thinks angels exist outside of time? It's true, from what little we know, that angels are created as adults. They don't undergo a process of maturation, in the human sense. It isn't clear from that why their choices are frozen. I suspect his position is derived from Thomistic angelology. 

4. Why did the disciples betray Jesus despite seeing miracles?

His answer to the question was pretty good as far is it went, although he omits the explanation given in Mark's Gospel, John's Gospel, and Romans which appeals to divine hardening. That wouldn't mesh with Barron's accommodating, humanistic theology.

5. Why is God almost exclusively referred to as a masculine entity in the Catholic Church?

He really struggled to justify the practice. He began by saying "God is beyond any metaphysical categories". He appealed to negative theology, concluding that "God is not a gendered entity."

i) But having taken that position, it's pretty arbitrary to refer to God as a masculine entity in Christian usage. 

ii) Moreover, his response is confused. Something can be male without being a man while something can be masculine without being male. Masculinity and femininity are more abstract than male/female or man/woman. Inanimate objects can be masculine or feminine. The Iliad is unmistakably masculine while the novels and short stories of Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty, and Helen Hooven Santmyer are unmistakably feminine. The books are sexless, but they exemplify a gendered viewpoint. 

He said Scripture uses feminine metaphors for God. That's true but rare. The language and imagery is overwhelmingly masculine. 

He appeals to the "masculinity of the Incarnation" as giving God a gendered "specification". But that's equivocal. The Son qua Son isn't a man. And the Incarnation is inapplicable to the Father and the Spirit.

He said divine creativity/generativity are more compatible with masculine pronouns. The Father who begets, the Son who is begotten.

But one problem with that appeal is that his apophatic theology empties it of any positive or analogical meaning. Not to mention that many scholars think the tradition of eternal generation/procession is exegetically dubious. 

i) From a Protestant perspective, we could say that since God has chosen to represent himself in overwhelmingly masculine terms, that's sufficient warrant for Christians to refer to him as he has chosen to refer to himself. That requires no independent philosophical justification. Indeed, it would be idolatrous to refer to God contrary to his self-representations.

ii) That said, there is a sense in which both manhood and womanhood are contained in God because God is the source of both. Rather like how male and female characters are the product of a novelist's imagination. Manhood and womanhood must originate in God's mind. They begin as divine ideas. 

Although even in that respect, if we continue with the analogy of a creative writer, there may still be a masculine or feminine bias. For instance, a male novelist usually has both male and female characters, but the female characters are presented from the implicitly masculine viewpoint of the male novelist. (Same holds true in reverse for a female novelist.) 

6. How do I understand Mary’s importance in the Catholic faith? Is it essential?

He cited Eve as mother of the fallen human race. But there are two problems with that claim:

i) He doesn't regard Gen 1-3 as historical.

ii) He's a theistic evolutionist. 

Given his modernist assumptions, what reason is there to think Eve was a real person, much less the mother of the fallen human race?

He appealed to Eve typology. The patristic Eva/Ave anagram. Hence, Mary as the archetype of the church. 

But an obvious problem with that word-play is that it only works in Latin, not Greek or Hebrew. 

He said that in the Rosary we ask Mary to to bear/give birth to Christ in us. 

So in Catholic theology, a human being (Mary) usurps the role of the Holy Spirit. 

Finally, he said that at the Annunciation, God invited Mary's cooperation. But there's nothing in Luke's account about God inviting Mary's cooperation. It's a prediction. An announcement of God's decision. 

7. How can we trust the Bible, when evidence shows the Old Testament isn’t true?

He appealed to Vatican II on different literary genres. He used A Tale of Two Cities as an illustration. The characters originate in the mind of Charles Dickens. He has superimposed an imaginative story on real historical background–the French Revolution. 

He then indicated that Gen 1-3 as well as 1-2 Sam belong to the same genre. The events and conversations are to some degree the result of author's imagination. The narrator of 1-2 Sam didn't have a tape-recorder taking down exactly what David said to Bathsheba.

i) That's a far-reaching approach to biblical narratives. Does he also classify the Gospels as historical fiction? No one had a tape-recorder taking down exactly what Jesus said. Do Gospel writers invent characters, conversations, and events? Is the Bread of Life discourse imaginary? 

ii) How biblical narrators are privy to private conversations, sometimes from centuries prior to the writing (Genesis), or even privy to what the individual was thinking, raises an important issue. But you only need to default to fictional conversations if you regard the composition of Scripture as a strictly natural process, where the sacred authors are confined to mundane sources of information. 

This represents a striking dichotomy among Catholic thinkers who occupy Barron's niche on the theological spectrum. On the one hand he still believes in things like Transubstantiaion, Marian dogmas (the Assumption and Immaculate Conception) and apparitions, but on the other hand he excludes inspiration and revelation as potential sources of information for Bible writers. 

iv) Does he have any evidence that ancient Near Eastern Jews regarded OT narratives like the Pentateuch or 1-2 Sam as historical fiction? 

He then fell back on the tradition of interpretation. The church taught him how to the read Bible. We shouldn't read the Bible apart from the church

i) To begin with, where does theistic evolution fit into the tradition of interpretation? 

ii) What about the Bible teaching the church? Shouldn't the church learn from Scripture? 

iii) Were OT and Intertestamental Jews unable to read the Bible without the aid of the Roman Magisterium?  

8. Did John Henry Newman have any disagreements with the Catholic Church before his conversion?

He appealed to the theory of development, doctrine unfolding but never turning back on itself or contradicting itself. Barron has to say that, but there are major examples of what he denies. Indeed, Pope Francis is creating panic by accelerating that trend. 


  1. The Church Militant gang hates him. One false teacher hating another false teacher.

  2. Do we need to believe in the modern standard of exact recording of words for quotations? It seems that the standard wasn't to get every exact word down, but the meanings down.

    Not that the conversations were imaginary.

  3. 4. Why did the disciples betray Jesus despite seeing miracles?

    Also, most of the disciples likely believed (or still had hope) that Jesus would violently overthrow the Romans. The fact that Jesus was being arrested in the garden of Gethsemane went contrary to that expectation. They fled for their lives. When one or a few fled it was very easy for the others to succumb to the instinct and temptation to flee as well. In other instances when authorities (Roman or Jewish) came to deal with Jesus He was willing and able to diffuse the situation somehow. But that was the first time Jesus was going along with the arrest and they panicked. The miracles of Jesus, of themselves [apart from OT prophecy and theological reflection on the OT and Jesus' veiled teachings about Himself] don't suggest or prove His divinity. From the disciples' perspective they likely didn't understand fully His divinity until sometime after His resurrection. In the heat of the moment at the time of betrayal in Gethsemane, it could have crossed their mind that Jesus could have been a prophet who was a messiah or anointed one without being THE MessiahAnointed One. That's not to excuse their betrayal, but it could make sense of their betrayal. Seeing repeated miracles can desensitize one of their miraculous nature and the moral implications and obligations that impinge upon them. Even though Gehazi saw many miracles wrought by Elisha, he was able to succumb to the temptation to secretly get a financial reward from Naaman contrary to the express public will of Elisha that the miracle of Naaman's healing should be "free of charge" (so to speak). Similar to Jesus' teaching regarding healing in Matt. 10:8 where He said, "freely you received, freely give" (NASB) ["You received without paying; give without pay." (ESV)].

    5. Why is God almost exclusively referred to as a masculine entity in the Catholic Church?

    Great answer by Steve. I'm reminded of a saying (rightly?) attributed to C.S. Lewis that goes something like, "God is masculine that all of creation is feminine by comparision" (paraphrase).


    1. 6. How do I understand Mary’s importance in the Catholic faith? Is it essential?

      Even if we were to grant many of the foreshadowing of and/or allusions to Mary in the OT and Revelation (some of which are highly dubious IMO) none of them would naturally require or lead to the high devotion, focus on, and deep theology regarding Mary that's found in Catholicism and to a lesser extent other Catholic sects. Doctrines and practices which are absent in the earliest expressions of Christianity in the church fathers (though admittedly they do make statements that effectively functioned as the seeds that lead to the later development of Catholic Marian theology and devotion).

      What Bishop Barron leaves out is that it is incumbent on Catholics to believe the official dogmas of the Catholic Church regarding Mary such that to reject them is to endanger the salvation of one's soul. They are infallibly defined as true dogmas, and not optional or speculative. It's supposed to actually be true that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven (though they don't infallibly tell us whether Mary was alive or dead when it happened). It's supposed to actually be true that Mary was a perpetual virgin when there's no historical evidence to suggest it and it goes contrary to the plain reading of Bible that Mary and Joseph has other normal biological children afterwards. It's supposed to actually be true that Mary never sinned her entire lifetime (SINLESSNESS of Mary!!!) because God's grace preemptively worked in her soul at conception so as to keep her a clean vessel for Christ's eventual birth. It's supposed to actually be true that she was immaculately conceived. Despite no Biblical evidence for either her sinlessness or graciously miraculous conception. On the contrary, Biblical data suggests she was a sinner and suffered the effects of the Fall. She called God her savior. Catholics will say that's consistent with her being preemptively saved by her immaculate conception. But that's and ad hoc explanation that's nowhere in context. If Rev. 12:1-2 is an allusion to not only Israel but to Mary (both of which is likely IMO), then Mary suffered pain in giving birth to Jesus (who is the likely the child whom the woman gives birth to). Pain for women in giving birth to children is taught in Genesis to be one of the effects of the curse due to the Fall. If she was immaculately conceived, then it would make better sense that she didn't suffer labor pains.

  4. This is good timing. I listened to 2 mp3s of barron this week to draw myown conclusions.

    In short, I was not at all attracted to his penchant for philosophical blathering. Hot air. Blowing in the wind. I was reminded of Macbeth Act 2 scene 1.

    But seriously, he would rather talk about Newman's contributions than exalt God's word.
    Contrary, I am nonetheless that Churxh Militant has the strength to go for the Catholic jugular. Sometimes I want to tell Voris Protestantism awaits him!!

  5. ...nonetheless impressed...