Well, he's at it again, the "reasonable" Bp. Robert Barron, the quintessential modern bishop who can speak in educated-sounding tones and look all smart and, above all, sound reasonable and unobjectionable to the modern world, but in the end falls flat.
In a recent interview on Ben Shapiro's show, Barron was asked by Shapiro, a well-known conservative commentator who is unabashedly an Orthodox Jew, the essential question — which he termed as "awkward" — could he be saved, since he's Jewish?
There is so much deceptively wrong with that answer, it's hard to know where to begin. But the sneaky part of it is, there's some stuff in it that is right. But the part that is right is shrouded in such obscurity that someone with little understanding would hear that and I think, "Got it. I'm good then. Thanks, Padre."
Barron brings up quickly and then passes over just as quickly the question of relativism in relation to looking to Christ as the path to salvation. He spends so much time tap-dancing around the question, the heart of the answer, that anyone listening to that could be easily forgiven for not really understanding what the final answer is.
Does Barron relegate Our Lord to just one of many paths? Well, no, not exactly. But does he insist and lay out the explicit case for Christ? Well, no, not really. And that is precisely where he fails. If the Apostles, of which he is a successor, spoke in these guarded, halting terms, we wouldn't be here today.
Barron, in typical post-Vatican II language, puts the emphasis on conscience to such a degree that he completely blots out the obligation that a person has to inform his conscience. To leave a discussion about the salvation of a soul on the doorstep of the person's own subjective conscience and not go deeper into what that means is a horrible thing to do.
You've served up an appetizer and treated it as the entree. Bishop Barron, you are so busy quoting St. Paul so much that you fail to quote his divine master sufficiently. Jesus said of Himself, not, "I am the privileged way," but, "I am the way."
To refer to the Incarnate Son of God as "the privileged way" is to damn Christ with faint praise. It's true, all by itself, as a statement just floating out there in the cosmos completely devoid of day-to-day reality. But that's not how life is lived.
That was not the heart of Shapiro's question. Shapiro asked you, flat out, as a Jew: can he be saved? The proper response, which is the complete response, is where the rubber hits the road. And in the case of Barron theology, the rubber definitely does not hit the road.
For example, when saying even an atheist of good will can be saved but then not saying what constitutes good will, that is disingenuous, not to mention uncharitable.
Given the reality of natural law, it's not even entirely clear that one could be an atheist and possess good will at the same time or, if that were somehow possible, it would be a situation that could not long endure, for, in short order, a person would, in the depth of his being, either commit to God or his atheism.
What is good will? It is a willingness to be open to truth. Every man, baptized and unbaptized, has the capacity for truth. Natural Law, as Vatican I states, teaches us that man can, through just his unassisted intellect, arrive at the truth that there is a God, as recorded history has shown since the dawn of man.
God can and does operate through the natural law — He made it, after all. And even the unbaptized must conform themselves to the natural law, at a minimum.
The willingness to proceed down that road, to understand there is something greater than myself and, through an act of the will determine to learn it and follow it where it goes, that is goodwill. My will is good because it is orienting to the truth — not because I'm a nice guy who is polite and has a friendly disposition and personality.
In fact, adhering to natural law must be done — baptized or not. Without that underlying good will, the willingness, again, to be open to and embrace truth, even on a natural level, without that, there is no salvation possible.
The way Barron presents all this is something far short of that. The entire hierarchy, to almost a man it seems, constantly places an enormous overemphasis on conscience and is almost dismissive of the requirement, the demand for good will, the hardcore reality that the conscience must strive for the truth.
Conscience must be properly informed, and the person must be willing to reach out for the truth, to pursue the truth, which as a reminder, Your Excellency, is Jesus Christ, or he has no hope of salvation.
Recall the almost cosmic scene of Pilate and Our Lord at His second trial. Jesus says to him, "Anyone who hears the truth, hears my voice." Of course, meaning that He is truth.
Pilate's answer is modern man's response: what is truth? It was really Pilate who was on trial there before the eternal king, not the other way around. And standing before the divine court, he convicted himself.
Good will, words we will hear in these coming days as the angel says to the shepherds over the skies of Bethlehem, peace on earth to men of good will, those words are the conditional words, the boundaries of conscience. And they are conditional because, whereas God's love is unconditional, salvation is not.
A man doesn't get to decide truth. His freedom is granted to him as a gift with the sole purpose being so that he can discover truth, and having discovered it, then he must conform himself to it.
And truth is Jesus Christ, and the Catholic Church is His visible presence here on earth. Her teachings are, at the end of the day, not her teachings, but His. So a rejection of the Church, active or passive, is a rejection of Christ.
There is a unity between the words of St. Paul: There is no other name under Heaven by which man can be saved, and the Church's constant teaching, outside the Church there is no salvation. The Church is Christ on earth, even to the absolute sense and reality of His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity present in all the tabernacles of the world.
Helpful here might be to consider something actually written before Vatican II, and, by the way, for the vast majority of Catholics out there, there were 19 centuries of the Church's visible existence before Vatican II, and those saints had something to say on all this.
In 1863, 100 years before the Second Vatican Council and echoing centuries of understanding and teaching, Pope Pius IX said the following on this very topic, the very heart of Shapiro's question to Barron, on which Barron whiffed:
It is known to Us and to you that they who labor in invincible ignorance of our most holy religion and who, zealously keeping the natural law and its precepts engraved in the hearts of all by God, and being ready to obey God, live an honest and upright life, can, by the operating power of divine light and grace, attain eternal life, since God … will by no means suffer anyone to be punished with eternal torment who has not the guilt of deliberate sin. But, the Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church is well known; and also that those who are obstinate toward the authority and definitions of the same Church, and who persistently separate themselves from the unity of the Church, and from the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, to whom "the guardianship of the vine has been entrusted by the Savior," cannot obtain eternal salvation.
People have a right — a right — to the unvarnished truths of the Church when they ask. And that right imposes a duty, an obligation, on the person who is being asked to tell them.
A person who either doesn't understand the Church or disagrees with the Church should be disturbed in their soul, their mind, their conscience when they hear the answer. That their conscience bothers them is a good thing. It is God working in them for their salvation.
But Barron, like so many other namby-pamby clergy these days when it comes to these hard questions, refuses to disturb a person's conscience.
They take the effeminate approach of leaving the person untroubled. Maybe they had a nice exchange — notice the word "nice" — but no true evangelization, no authentic announcement of the Good News occurred — no matter how dressed up it was in platitudes and educated terms.
Jesus Christ was not rejected by the Jewish leaders and executed by the Roman authorities because He refused to disturb consciences. When Ben Shapiro, who is greatly admired for his intellect and usually well-reasoned arguments, asks, "Can I be saved?" he deserves the straight up truth of how salvation is conditioned.
Barron did not tell him.