“Begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which leads you to truth.”
Bishop Robert Barron.
A friend of mine on Facebook recently tagged on my page a short YouTube clip of Dr. Ralph Martin being interviewed by Matt Fradd on his podcast “Pints with Aquinas.” The topic was Bishop Robert Barron (again) and his alleged soft-peddling of the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation. You can access the video clip here. I was not going to respond to the many distortions of Barron’s views in the video since I have already previously blogged on Ralph Martin’s baseless accusations against the good Bishop, but the latest video does deserve a response and so here I am.
The video begins with Matt Fradd making all of the usual genuflections towards the false civility that most of Barron’s critics always begin with. He graciously grants to Bishop Barron a nod of approval by noting that he (Fradd) does not think Barron is a “heretic.” Such magnanimity should not go unmentioned. I mean, it is comforting to know that the man who is the head of the largest Catholic evangelization effort in the United States, if not the world, is not a heretic. I was deeply concerned that he might be, so I am relieved to learn that a major Catholic podcaster has given the Bishop his Imprimatur. I can sleep better now. But all sarcasm aside, Fradd’s words really are an exercise in false civility insofar as he immediately follows his podcasting CDF seal of approval with a serious accusation that makes it clear that what is to follow is not going to be in praise of Barron. He sets the uncivil tone for what is to follow by stating that even if Barron is not a heretic he is, nevertheless, leading people astray and giving the real heretics false comfort through his (allegedly) ill-advised comments on salvation outside of the Church. Fradd thinks Barron is just far too squishy on this issue and is not giving people the full Gospel package. In other words, Barron is not a heretic, but he is a promoter of “Gospel lite.”
Fradd then dredges up as evidence (once again) what by now has become a permanent set piece in the traditionalist’s man cave of petty nitpickery: Bishop Barron’s interview with Ben Shapiro. Fradd says Barron missed an opportunity to tell Shapiro that he needed to “repent” and accept the Gospel. But that is just sniping silliness of the highest order. Thank God Bishop Barron did not approach the interview as an opportunity to convert the poor Jew to Christ right then and there through an in-your-face provocation. Barron knew full well that Shapiro is a highly educated and intelligent man who is aware of the Christian claims concerning Christ. Shapiro, in other words, has heard the Gospel. And yet he remains unconverted. And I dare say that Bishop Barron therefore understood quite well that some kind of “altar call” moment was not in the offing. Indeed, Barron was responding to a question that Shapiro asked that shows that Shapiro does understand the claims of the Gospel. Because he asked Barron whether or not he (Shapiro), being a Jew, is “just screwed” with regard to salvation – – a question that showed that Shapiro understands quite well the Christian claim to Christ’s exclusivity. Fradd then shows that he has either forgotten the interview or did not ever really watch it with a sympathetic eye in the first place. Because he says that Barron could have at least told Shapiro that Jesus represents the “fullness of Judaism.” The problem for Fradd is that Barron says just that to Shapiro and presents Jesus as the fulfillment of Judaism. And in my own interview with Barron at the Word on Fire Institute studio in Santa Barbera, Bishop Barron points out that he was trying to evangelize Ben Shapiro precisely through this appeal to Judaism’s fulfillment.
Finally, Fradd’s claim that Bishop Barron should have told Shapiro to “repent” is so tone deaf from a historical perspective that one wonders if Fradd has the slightest sense of what a Jew “hears” when a Christian tells them, point blank, to repent. The sad history of Christian anti-Semitism has created within the Jewish soul a visceral negativity toward such overtures since what a Jew “hears” when a Christian asks them to repent are the echoes of that entire history. Therefore, Bishop Barron, far more sensitive to such subtleties than Fradd, chose the better path of a civil dialogue and conversation rather than the dead end of hortatory admonition.
So quite frankly, Fradd does not know what he is talking about. You can watch the full interview with Shapiro here. And you should view it since most of Barron’s critics never seem to bother to watch the entire interview wherein Bishop Barron clearly communicates a robust version of Catholicism to Shapiro, while at the same time respectfully acknowledging the beauty of Shapiro’s Judaism. I really wish these uber conservative pit bull critics of Barron would just drop this Shapiro bone already. Because I would wager good hard cash, and lots of it, that if Shapiro does convert, it will have a lot to do with Barron and nothing at all to do with the Matt Fradd’s of the world. In fact, it will be in spite of the Matt Fradd’s of the world. In fact, while I am at it, it is Matt Fradd who needs to repent of his superficial Christian triumphalism that is the biggest evangelization conversation stopper imaginable.
Next up in the video is Fradd’s guest Dr. Ralph Martin. Martin actually begins well and says a lot of things with which I am in deep agreement. Namely, that the post-Vatican II pastoral strategy of accommodating the Church to the currents of modernity has been a failure. He rightly points out that the Church opened itself to the culture at exactly the same moment when that same culture was undergoing a massive revolution. I, like Martin, lived through the sixties and he is exactly right to highlight how imprudent the Church was to uncritically embrace the world at that moment in time without a hard and fast set of criteria for discerning spirits. Martin then goes on to say that this led to the weakening of the Gospel and the full expression of the faith. It also led to religious relativism and indifferentism that drained the Church of its vitality. Correct again.
But then he says that since Barron was trained in that milieu and was probably influenced by it, that Barron’s alleged softness is simply part and parcel of this same dynamic. This is simply outrageous. But as I have noted in previous blog posts with regard to Balthasar and von Speyr, Martin, while feigning “respect” and speaking in soft, dulcet tones, has no problem with maligning orthodox thinkers if they do not toe the line of his theological agenda of promoting a very narrow reading of extra ecclesiam nulla salus. The fact is Barron is most certainly not a partisan of the post Vatican II silly season and has spoken often, and quite forcefully, against it. In fact, in the broader Catholic theological landscape Barron is considered to be an arch conservative by most liberals precisely due to his constant condemnations of the silly season distortions and of liberal theology in general. Martin shows zero evidence of having read Barron’s’ more scholarly works wherein he makes his case against the “beige Catholicism” Martin accuses Barron of promoting. Books like “The Priority of Christ” and “Vibrant Paradoxes” stand out as deep theological critiques of the liberal Rahnerian trends in the post Vatican II Church. Furthermore, even in his more popular videos he alludes to these critiques frequently. One wonders therefore what Martin’s deeper agenda is since he clearly cherry picks his way through Barron’s videos in order to find the “gotcha” nuggets that he thinks show Barron’s true colors as a universalist saboteur.
Martin goes on to lament, once again, that the post Vatican II silly season led to the Gospel not being preached. I agree with that. But why is he linking Barron to that?? It is bizarre in the extreme to accuse Barron of being part of the tendency to attenuate the preaching of the Gospel given Barron’s manifest success at evangelization. But Martin seems blind to that success. He weakly acknowledges that he appreciates that Barron has indeed “helped a lot of people.” But Martin is in a pickle here since his tired narrative is that Barron’s approach to salvation outside of the Church does not work as a motivation for evangelization. It is simply an evangelizing show-stopper according to Martin. His constant refrain is that unless we retrieve a more narrow reading of extra ecclesiam that we just won’t have the gumption to preach Jesus anymore. Martin repeats over and over that because of views like Barron’s on salvation nobody really worries anymore about salvation for non-Catholics. It is all just loosey-goosey, milquetoast Catholicism now and Barron is part of the problem since his words are “leading people astray.” And so Martin cannot properly and fully acknowledge that Bishop Barron, and the organization he has created, is the most effective evangelizer in the contemporary Church. He cannot state that clearly and with honesty since to do so would undercut his entire argument – – an argument he has pegged the current reinvention of his career as a slayer of the universalist dragon on. Facts are stubborn things and the fact is Bishop Barron’s style of evangelizing has caught fire in the Church. But hey, we need more Hell cowbell in Martin’s universe or else we will all become Rahnerians apparently.
And speaking of Rahner … Martin rightly criticizes Rahner’s theory of anonymous Christianity. But Bishop Barron does not share Rahner’s view of anonymous Christianity since in order to do so you also have to buy into Rahner’s theology of nature and grace. And Barron rejects that theology in favor of Balthasar’s alternative theological constructions. But Martin dislikes Balthasar as well – – “Dare We Hope” and all that pious bilge about Balthasar being a closet universalist – – and so he just speaks of Rahner negatively in a generic way and leaves the impression that Barron is in that camp as well, without any further reference to Balthasar. Once again, facts are stubborn things and if Martin cared about the targets of his accusations he would take the time to actually get the facts straight. Barron is not a Rahnerian. To be fair, Martin does not explicitly call Barron a Rahnerian. But he discusses Rahner within the general conversation about Barron’s views on salvation without any qualification or nuance, leaving the impression that whatever theological distance there might be between Barron and Rahner, that it is of little importance to his broader point concerning Barron’s alleged errors. This is called “guilt by association” and it is a shoddy form of argumentation.
Martin seems of late to have taken a hard turn to the Right and therefore seems to be of the view that such distinctions as the one between a Rahnerian and a Balthasarian theology of nature and grace, are of little importance since it is just modernist turtles all the way down no matter where you turn. He seems to just lump all post Vatican II theology together as just so much obfuscation and liberal jabberwocky. And that is what the traditionalists do as well, although Martin is not, apparently, a radical traditionalist. But on this point he is since it matters little to Martin that Barron and Balthasar both disagree sharply with the liberal turn among Rahner’s epigones and that both emphasize the concrete and absolute uniqueness of Christ in the order of salvation. It seems to matter little to Martin that Balthasar was excoriated for decades by the theological guild for being a reactionary romantic for holding on to the absolute uniqueness of Christ. But none of that matters to Martin because Balthasar dared to gore his sacred cow. Namely, that most non-Catholics are probably going to Hell.
Martin bristles at that latter accusation and it comes through in the video. He says this is a misrepresentation of his views since he is not obsessed with people being in Hell but is instead interested in how we can get people to Heaven. But this is actually a misrepresentation of what I, and others, have said on the matter. What I have pointed out is that if you follow the theological logic of Martin’s biblical exegesis on passages such as the Dominical statement on the “wide and narrow path,” and if you connect the dots of his exegesis of Lumen Gentium 16, and if you follow the logic of his exegesis of extra ecclesiam, that a clear picture emerges of a theologian who thinks it is very, very, very hard for a non-Catholic to avoid Hell. I am not making a claim about what causes Martin to lose sleep or what it is that interests him or motivates him to get out of bed in the morning. I am a theologian, not Dr. Phil, and I am simply drawing some rather clear conclusions from Martin’s own publicly stated theological positions.
If you doubt me watch the very end of the video. Because at the end Martin drops the mask. In the midst of making a perfectly wonderful statement about the necessity to preach the Gospel in order to help people have access to all of the means of grace with which God has gifted his Church, he ends by saying that without access to these vessels of grace it is “almost impossible” for “most ordinary people” to avoid the downward spiral into the hell of sin and separation from God. I think that is a pretty clear indication that Martin has a deeply pessimistic view of salvation for non-Catholics. And the irony here is that Martin makes a huge deal of the fact that Balthasar, at the end of Dare We Hope, quotes Edith Stein who says that it is virtually impossible for a person that has been transformed by grace to reject God in a final way. Martin sees that as a cleverly closeted heresy. And yet here he is flirting with the opposite heresy and saying it is “almost” impossible for a person without the Catholic sacraments to be saved. And so is Martin a closeted Feeneyite?? Probably not, just as Balthasar is not a closeted universalist.
What becomes clear in the midst of his various fulminations is that he also has a very bleak and dim view of non-Christian religions. He chides without much nuance the modern Catholic emphasis on inter-religious dialogue. He seems to give it little weight and goes out of his way to mention such dialogue as one of the negative aspects of modern Catholic theology. Granted, there is a lot of abuse in the theological guild on this topic and there are many Catholic theologians who now trend toward a kind of “pluralism of religions” approach to the question of salvation. But if that is all he is alluding to then why not say so explicitly and why not also then affirm the good that can come from such dialogue? Once again… because it does not fit his narrative that outside of the visible Church it is pretty much just the darkness of ignorance and idolatry. And this too is one more of the ways in which Martin is showing some affinity for the radical traditionalist movement.
But Bishop Barron has also condemned religious relativism and indifferentism and in no uncertain terms. Some months ago Bishop Barron gave a perfectly wonderful sermon on the oration by Saint Peter in Acts where Peter affirms that Jesus is the sole path to salvation. You can access Barron’s sermon here. And Bishop Barron begins by saying that his “first move” in explaining this statement from Peter to a modern, skeptical audience would be to just let it sink in and allow it to speak to us on its own terms. He wants the “hardness” of Peter’s speech to have its full impact. Barron says he wants people to be uncomfortable with it in a good way. He wants people to wrestle with it and to not summarily dismiss it as a piece of Christian triumphalism. Because Christ really is the sole path to salvation and Saint Peter is preaching truth here. Barron states this clearly and with a punch. Only then he says do we go on to his “second move” where we acknowledge that there can be salvation outside of explicit faith in Christ since there are “seeds of the Word” scattered throughout the world. Barron is in good company here since many Church fathers also spoke of the “logoi spermatikoi” that can be found in places outside of the Church. And God’s christological grace can therefore find acceptance in the non-Christian soul owing to the fact that Christ is in some inchoate way already present in those seeds of the Word. Indeed, those seeds can also be found in non-Christian religions, albeit in an opaque way, and therefore non-Christian religions, as Vatican II affirms, can also contain some truth. It isn’t all darkness and idolatry outside of the Church. And Martin and those like him who cast aspersions at non-Christian religions need to beware of a certain religious relativism of their own. Namely, that there is only one true religion and all the rest are pretty much the same – – they are all just univocally false. But among non-Christian religions there are better and worse forms of religious constructions, with the worse forms often being condemned by practitioners of many of the world’s “higher religions.” In other words, it isn’t just the Church that can sniff out a dangerous religious trend.
As I have said before, I have had the pleasure of teaching many Muslim and Hindu students and I challenge anyone to watch, as I have, a 21 year old Muslim girl take out her prayer rug in the middle of the university library, in full view of everyone, and to bow down in deep and reverent prayer, and then deny that the movement of God’s grace is present in that act in some way. I challenge anyone who would watch that to say that what that young woman is doing is just dark ignorance and idolatry. And if Matt Fradd were there, he would have walked over to her and politely told her that she needed to repent, instead of affirming the positive aspects of what she just did and to build on that going forward in friendship. Indeed, I wish the Protestant and Catholic students I taught showed such devotion and reverence. In fact, many of my Catholic students told me that witnessing the Muslim students at prayer shamed them and made them want to be more prayerful Christians themselves. I guess I am just too “beige” in all of this and too much like Bishop Barron and do not really believe in the primacy of Christ. Or maybe, just maybe, it is Bishop Barron who better understands the primacy of Christ since he, unlike Martin, sees Christ everywhere and does not confine him, like a prisoner in shackles, to the sacramental economy of the Church. The sacramental economy of the Church is the height and summit of all worship, and a liturgical capstone to all of creation. And in a very real sense all of the grace from God that is in the world mysteriously flows through those sacraments first. But the sacramental economy is not in an either-or, zero sum, competitive game with all of the other seeds of grace in the world. Christ fulfills the religious aspirations of the world, precisely as He clarifies and corrects them, but he does not merely destroy them and replace them with something utterly alien. And if this were not so then the non-Christian would never recognize the truth of the Gospel when it arrives. It would seem foreign, extrinsic, and strangely alienating in an intrusive way. As Goethe puts it: “If the eye were not already sunlike, it could never see the sun.”
No less a light than C.S. Lewis also recognized this truth of the logoi spermatikoi which is why in “Mere Christianity” Lewis lists three ways that God gets knowledge of himself inside of us. First is the moral conscience. Second is what he calls “good dreams,” by which he means the full panoply of the human religious imagination. And third is God’s special Revelation through the Jewish faith and into Christianity. And this is Bishop Barron’s exact view as well. And it is my view too, and a boat load of others, up to and including all of the modern Popes. And Martin probably shares some semblance of this view as well, but he so weakens it in his rhetoric concerning salvation outside of the Church that it amounts to its virtual denial.
It would seem therefore that according to Martin Bishop Barron’s affirmation of this theology of the logoi spermatikoi isn’t wrong in an absolute sense but is, nevertheless, just far too fulsome and expansive. But he offers no real alternative of his own other than his narrowing of God’s river of grace in the world to a trickle. I will leave it to the reader to decide which construction they think is most accurate theologically. However, it should also be noted that this debate is not a new one since there existed in the early Church some Church Fathers who thought like Martin and had a far more negative view of non-Christian religions. And their path was more “scorched earth” than that of those fathers who favored the logoi spermatikoi approach. And the more negative view won over the Church for many centuries and led to a very narrow interpretation of extra ecclesiam. And, in my opinion, this had disastrous results for the Church on many levels. Therefore, Vatican II’s attempt to retrieve the logoi spermatikoi tradition in the interests of a more nuanced understanding of the movement of God’s grace and a more sophisticated understanding of the sociology and psychology of religious affiliation, represents a true development of doctrine. The new emphasis of Vatican II is no novelty or modernist invention. It has deep roots in the Church’s Tradition. But those roots had been crowded out and lost sight of. And that is why we hold ecumenical councils.
What Martin represents in my view is a reactionary restorationism that seeks to bring back that more exclusivist, scorched earth approach. And his exegesis of Lumen Gentium 16 bears this out. Martin is quick to rush in and inform us, and the good Bishop, that we are all getting Vatican II wrong and that we have an incomplete understanding of Lumen Gentium 16 on the topic. We are informed by Martin that if we look at what the Council really taught we would see that it affirms a narrow reading of extra ecclesiam and that it also affirms, based on some criteria it lists, that it is damn hard for non-Catholics to get on the stairway to Heaven. Martin accuses Bishop Barron of ignoring this aspect of Lumen Gentium and is therefore not giving us the “full truth about Jesus.” That is a pretty serious accusation given Martin’s assertion that he is being civil and respectful toward Barron. I have been criticized by Martin’s defenders for being too hard on him since he is, after all, such a sweet and nice guy who means no harm. I am not so certain of that. He seems perfectly capable of some ad hominem howlers, no matter how “softly” they are spoken with his grandfatherly demeanor. And this is one of those howlers. Bishop Barron is not giving us the “full truth” about Jesus simply because Barron disagrees with Martin’s pinched-up, antiquarian interpretation of Lumen Gentium? Say what you will about Bishop Barron, but I dare say that most ordinary Catholics who run across his materials would never claim that Barron is soft-peddling Jesus and is giving us a “Jesus lite.” Would that most Bishops preached as Barron preaches. The Church would be revolutionized overnight. Which calls into question why Martin is so often critical of Barron all the while ignoring the perfidies of the many true episcopal quislings that litter the modern ecclesial landscape. Perhaps Martin goes after Barron because Barron has a large platform. That would be my guess. In other words, he criticizes Barron because Barron’s style of evangelization – – converting via attraction rather than through infernalist intimidation – – works. Oops.
Martin goes on to describe three criteria that Lumen Gentium enumerates as necessary for salvation outside of the Church that Martin says Bishop Barron ignores. The first criteria for one to be saved outside of the visible Church is that one must be inculpably ignorant of the Gospel. I doubt Bishop Barron disagrees with that. Who would? However, Martin then goes on to add that the corollary of this criterion is that there can be such a thing as culpable ignorance. And I can only surmise that he thinks Barron does not emphasize this enough. But in many ways and in many places Barron does emphasize that Hell is a real possibility which is why we can never accept universalism straight-up. Barron emphasizes the importance of our choices and that they do have eternal consequences. Therefore, it is clear that Barron does teach that culpable ignorance is possible since more often than not people make poor moral choices, not out of pure evil, but because they have failed to heed the movements of grace within and do so out of a cultivated ignorance. So once again, the charge against Barron here is a red herring and is the product of cherry picking from Barron’s numerous videos to find just the right “gotcha” moment. And it is deeply uncharitable of Martin to cherry pick in that manner and it bespeaks a fundamentally dishonest, ad hominem orientation in the service of a deeper agenda.
But worse still is the example Martin gives of an instance of culpable ignorance. He says that if you were to invite someone who is a non-believer to a Matt Fradd lecture on Catholicism, and that person declined on the basis that he has a hunch what Fradd will say and he isn’t interested, that that is an example of the kind of culpable ignorance that is damnable. As in, “eternal torment in Hell” damnable, because someone refused to go to a Matt Fradd lecture. One hopes that Martin was just making stuff up off of the top of his head and came up with this brain fart of an example on the spur of the moment. But in reality it is most likely what poker players call a “tell.” What it shows us is the utterly wooden and forensic understanding of salvation that Martin subscribes to. He seems never to have read Newman on the topic and is woefully ignorant of the sociology and psychology of how and why people choose their religious commitments. It bespeaks a naivete about human psychological inertia, mimetic desire, and the role and importance of culture as the chief formator of our worldview. For example, on a few occasions I have had Mormon missionaries come to my door, and before they can even begin their pitch I tell them politely but firmly that I am not interested. And when I dismiss them “with prejudice” I am not the slightest bit concerned that I am now culpably ignorant of Mormonism. God help me if Mormonism turns out to be the right answer in the religion lottery. Martin has no idea, none, zero, nada, of why anyone would come to the conclusion that Matt Fradd is not for them. Perhaps such a person was abused by a priest in his youth. Perhaps he was raised in a wretched form of fundamentalist Christianity and is so scarred by it psychologically that he has a visceral disgust for all things religious. Perhaps he is just a dullard intellectually and is just drifting with the culture. In short, the entire life circumstances of that individual may have created barriers to accepting such an offer. But according to Martin the wretched dude has had the Gospel offered to him and turned it down. If he dies at the moment he will go off to eternal torment. QED. The level of obtuseness to the human condition in Martin’s example is beyond insipid and borders on a kind of inhuman spiritual violence that actually cares very little about the complex humanity of the people Martin seeks to evangelize. For Martin, the man who turned down the Matt Fradd invite isn’t a concrete person, a person with a real history, but an abstraction: one of the many millions of faceless culpably ignorant “others” destined, most likely, for hell.
Another “tell” is when Martin and Fradd say that Barron, in his many interviews with non-believers, never “pulls the trigger” on a true evangelization. This is an even deeper ‘tell” than the previous one since it builds on it and doubles down on its inner rationale. Because what they mean by “pull the trigger” is that Barron in his various interviews does not take on the persona of a “preacher evangelist” and prefers instead to be a “teacher evangelist.” Martin and Fradd interpret that style of evangelization as too tepid since it is unwilling to pull the trigger on the kerygmatic pistol at the key moment. However, Bishop Barron, knowing that his interlocutors are intelligent people who would sniff out in an instant the inauthenticity of someone who was not really interested in a true conversation and an exchange of views, but was instead merely a clerical head hunter looking to convert, knows that they would ignore anything he had to say. There is a distinction between evangelizing and proselytizing and Martin seems unaware of it. Barron is an academic and a gifted teacher. And I spent twenty years teaching undergraduates theology as well. And one thing you learn quickly in dealing with a religiously mixed audience of modern skeptics is that the best form of evangelization is to simply “teach” the beauty of the faith, to explain its inner wisdom and to unpack its existential logic. And I was enormously successful at that and I say that with full pride and without shame. I brought many people to a deeper faith and many others to the faith. And even the ones I did not convert, usually left my classes aware that Catholicism was a force to be reckoned with. Had I opted instead to be an obnoxious, catechism thumping, trigger happy, nitwit I wouldn’t have had any success at all. Barron gets invited to these interviews and is able to get interesting guests on his own broadcasts precisely because he is an intelligent and genuine interlocutor who makes Catholicism interesting and compelling. But according to Martin, Barron is a passive evangelizer who sells out the faith for the sake of a false irenicism. You be the judge. Not everyone has to be a Catholic Billy Graham. And thank God Barron isn’t.
Ironically, the form of evangelization that Martin seems to favor is rather evangelical Protestant in tone and tenor: “I have good news to share! God loves you so much that he sent his Son to die for your sins and take you to Heaven when you die. But beware: You have now heard the Gospel preached and if you reject it now and then die that same God of love is going to torture you for eternity. Here is a tract that explains it all.” No wonder Martin thinks Barron is a sissy girly-man on this issue. For Martin, Gospel preachin’ is for real men who have the stomach for a God of bestial injustice. In Martin’s universe it is actually better NOT to preach the Gospel to someone because given Martin’s wooden and legalistic premises, preaching the Gospel to a recalcitrant slacker is the spiritual equivalent of a game of Russian roulette, with most of the chambers loaded. Martin says that Barron’s views discourage evangelization. I would assert the opposite: Martin’s views make me terrified to evangelize anyone at all. Better to leave everyone in inculpable ignorance if his vision of salvation is true.
The second criterion Martin lists for salvation outside of the Church is that the individual in question needs to be sincerely seeking God and that such seeking is in response to a true movement of grace to which the individual responds with a choice. I think that is true and I wager Barron does too. What is Martin implying here then when he says Barron ignores these criteria, which would include this one? Is he saying that Barron’s view is that everyone goes to heaven no matter what and therefore there need not be any genuine seeking after the truth of God?? If that is what Martin is accusing Barron of here, and I think it is, then it is just one more example of how despicable Martin can be in the pursuit of his agenda for a narrow reading of extra ecclesiam. Balthasar is clearly lurking in the background here and he is in my view Martin’s real target, his real theological bete noir, and Barron is just caught in the crossfire. And since Martin has already mischaracterized Balthasar’s views as a closeted universalism that makes the Church an irrelevant redundancy, then it makes sense that he is accusing Barron here of fomenting a view of salvation where everyone can just get on the concupiscence party bus and just let her rip with a good old fashioned orgy of libidinous excess, all the while waiting for the inevitable ride to Club Heaven. Party on Garth. But once again, facts are a stubborn thing and Barron has repeatedly and trenchantly taught how important it is for all of us to find our truth in God’s truth which is why we must seek God sincerely. And Barron does this so often, and in so many different venues, that only one who is seeking a reason to discredit Bishop Barron can miss them. Therefore, one cannot avoid the conclusion that Martin thinks Barron isn’t just “misleading” in some of his statements, but is in fact a deceptive liar, since he does not seem to think that Barron’s many statements on this topic are genuine. Which is yet one more reason why I am not buying Martin’s “respect and civility” genuflections as true.
Finally, the third criterion Martin lists is that salvation outside of the Church must involve following one’s sincere moral conscience. Martin affirms the reality of the natural law and that we all have an ability to see the moral law. Furthermore, Martin also correctly affirms that even with our reason following natural law we still need God’s grace to live it. But Bishop Barron not only affirms this, but he makes it the centerpiece of his analysis and even invokes Newman’s line that conscience is the “aboriginal vicar of Christ in us all.” I am at a loss therefore to figure out why Martin thinks that this too is something in Lumen Gentium 16 that Barron ignores. Because not only does he not ignore it, he foregrounds it. Perhaps what Martin is implying is once again something rather dark. Perhaps he is just lumping Barron in with all of those other modern infidels who think that I am square with God so long as I am some kind of a “good person.” That interpretation of what he means when he says that Barron ignores Lumen Gentium on the role of moral conscience as necessary for salvation is the most probable since it is the only one that makes sense in light of Martin’s constant insinuation that Barron is just an insouciant universalist. And remember this: in Martin’s latest book he not only falsely accuses Balthasar of being a universalist but goes on to say that Balthasar and von Speyr, in embracing universalism, have fallen under the spell of a Satanic deception. Therefore, by implication he must think the same of Bishop Barron. Barron too has been Satanically deceived.
Yeah, but Ralph Martin is a nice man who means well. And by the way, spare me the comments about how nasty I am being to poor old Ralph. I have put forward arguments in this long essay. Deal with those. Nor I am being unnecessarily pugilistic. I am responding to a bully with force. If I see a bully attacking my sister I am going to leap into the fray and punch the miscreant in the face. And nobody would then dare say, “Hey dude, you just did the same thing he did!” No I didn’t, and if you cannot see the difference between what I am doing here and what Martin has done, and continues to do, to good people in the Church, then please never read another one of my blogs. It is time for Ralph Martin to repent of his uncharitable attacks on perfectly orthodox church men and women of high stature and enormous accomplishments for Christ and His Church. Because if he doesn’t, he might just find himself someday needing to justify his uncharity before the Lord, along-side of all of the folks who turned down an invite to a Matt Fradd lecture.
Dorothy Day, pray for us.