Thanks to all for their comments on the “No good without the Catholic Church” post.
I think it necessary to add a bit context.
First, I’d like to address those who have made reference, both here and elsewhere via social media, to Aquinas’ five “proofs” for the existence of God, along with the suggestion that this somehow mitigates what I identified as a flaw in Fr. Barron’s column.
The “five ways” come from the third in a series of three articles (listed below) under the question: “The existence of God,” in the Summa Theologica:
Article 1. Whether the existence of God is self-evident?
Article 2. Whether it can be demonstrated that God exists?
Article 3. Whether God exists?
First, we need to be clear about Aquinas’ intent. In this particular part of the Summa, the Angelic Doctor’s was singularly focused on addressing certain specific questions relative to the existence of God. That’s it.
Now, let’s be clear about Fr. Barron’s intentions.
In his own words, it was “to lay out, in very brief compass, the Catholic understanding of the relationship between morality and the existence of God and to show, thereby, why it is indispensably important for a society that wishes to maintain its moral integrity to maintain, at the same time, a vibrant belief in God.”
The first conclusion one must reach is that in comparing these two treatments we are looking at apples and oranges. Aquinas was attempting to answer whether God exists; Fr. Barron was attempting to argue that a belief in God is necessary for a moral society. These are not comparable intentions.
I’m sure we all agree that Aquinas hit the ball out of the park, but how did Fr. Barron fare in his attempt to provide “the Catholic understanding” of the question at hand?
I maintain that he did rather poorly since a Catholic understanding necessarily recognizes that simply believing in the existence of God is not nearly enough (as evidenced by the fact that the overwhelming majority of people who make up our godless society do not doubt the existence of God and claim to believe in Him, but more on that later.)
You see, a true Catholic understanding (and teaching of the same) necessarily includes reference to the fact that belief in God, if it is to be of any utility in the building of a moral society, must be based in the truth about who God is. That means we cannot speak of a “Catholic understanding” apart from preaching Jesus Christ and His Mystical Body the Church, the Holy Mother that leads mankind in the ways of truth. This to me seems entirely obvious.
Let’s further contextualize Fr. Barron’s column.
As we have already considered, unlike Aquinas, Fr. Barron was not setting about to convince agnostics and atheists about God’s existence. Although he mentions them, they’re not his audience.
So who is?
Fr. Barron was writing for Real Clear Religion, an outlet whose mission is “to help readers of all faiths better understand one another.”
So, again, I ask: How well did Fr. Barron fare? Did he help readers of “all faiths” better understand what the Catholic Church holds to be true about God and morality, even without any mention of the role of the Church and Jesus Christ her divine Founder?
I say no, he did not. Others will disagree and that’s OK.
All of that said, let’s be realistic as it relates to the Church’s mission, which remains, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, to convert the world to Christ by “baptizing all nations, teaching them everything whatsoever that He commanded.”
While people who profess no belief in God are certainly ripe for confusion when it comes to questions of moral significance, the far greater problem in our society is that many of those who claim to believe in God (and that includes even the majority of self-identified voting Catholics here in the U.S.) really believe in a god of their own making who, go figure, just so happens to agree with their personal opinions on practically every major issue of importance!
Get this, according to Pew Research (not definitive, I know, but helpful just the same) atheists and agnostics make up a whopping 5.7% of the population (2012 data), and some of these even claim to have some kind of belief in “God or a universal spirit.”
Think about that: The great majority of people don’t need to be convinced that God exists; they already get that.
What they truly need is to receive what God has entrusted to the Church; they need to hear the good news that God has revealed Himself fully in the Person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who died for our sins, is risen from the dead, established one true Church that He may be known without error, and now gloriously reigns over Heaven and earth as King of kings.
Come to think of it, isn’t this more than just good news, but the Good News?
Of course it is. For my part, I have trouble making excuses for churchmen who choose to keep this treasure in their hip pocket for another day; one that by all indications may never come.
In the case of Fr. Barron, all it would have taken is about 50 words of “Good News” in his essay to make it resemble the “Catholic understanding” he sought to make it. As it is, the operation fell short.
That brings me back to the broader point of my critique of Fr. Barron’s column; it is emblematic of a hierarchy that has been all-too-pleased in this post-conciliar age to abandon its God-given evangelical mission in favor of engaging in generic religious rhetoric, regardless of the audience addressed.