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.
Louie writes: “the Church, the Holy Mother that leads mankind in the ways of truth”.
The soon to be canonised Pope John XXIII put it this way:
“Mother and Teacher of all nations – such is the Catholic Church in the mind of her Founder, Jesus Christ” (Mater et Magistra).
As an aside, in the same encyclical, Pope John writes unequivocally on the miracle of the loaves (emphasis added):
“[Christ], seeing the hungry crowd of His followers,… was moved to exclaim: ‘I have compassion on the multitude.’ And these were no empty words of our divine Redeemer. Time and again He proved them by His actions, as when He miraculously multiplied bread to alleviate the hunger of the crowds“.
Sons of the Church take note.
Well, I’m edified by what you write here in this follow up, Mr. V.
There is no excuse for falling short, at least if we assume that churchmen ever possessed the treasure in the first place.
Savvy, smooth dialogue actually, from much that I’ve studied over the last decades, doesn’t even convert anyone. Most people are shocked-in a good way–into conversion.
The human heart does not want to be “comfortable.” The human heart seeks Truth. Wherein do we find He Who gave that Truth? Right.
And priests need to say that.
RCR’s mission may be as it states, but I don’t think they filter their viewers by believers v. non-believers. Could Barron have done better? Sure. Could have added those 50 words as you say. I take his purpose to have been perhaps to arm those who believe in God with arguments to defend against those atheists who claim morality can exist w/o God, therefore who needs Him? Your criticism is fair enough with respect to his stated purpose – present a Catholic understanding, and failing to actually tie it in to the need for the Catholic Church. But I think he may have intended a broader purpose despite his description, and simply was a bit careless in his stated description. But, again, this further explanation makes it clear where you are coming from and I don’t necessarily disagree.
Let me clarify a bit further – I agree Barron failed to give an adequate argument for why a truly just morality must be Catholic. Believing in any ol’ god won’t necessarily create a true moral code. You need to have a true and accurate (therefore Catholic) understanding of God to have a true and accurate (as in correct) moral code. He did, however, give a decent argument that without belief in an absolute being, you simply cannot have a moral code that is other than arbitrary. True, his stated purpose appears to be the former, but I think reading his article he may have intended only to address the latter.
Good comments, c matt. Thanks so much! I appreciate the feedback very much.
Father Barron is no Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and will never come close.
Sheen did not water down the Faith to gain converts, and yet he was very successful with what he said and did. Barron is a piece of fluff in comparison.
…and if one takes the aggregate teachings of the Fr. Barron’s of the world and add them into the “Francis effect” equation, what one get is the following:
Church numbers falling in Austria post Francis, a.k.a. back to the new springtime.
But first a few words. I am naturally an optimistic individual. Even in the event of hearing bad new, I try to find the silver lining. Which brings me to the below link:
Now the way I see it, one can look at the above as a Loss or as a Win. If these types of situations leads to “less error being taught” and less “children being abused”, than I for one will have no problem putting it in the W column.
But that is just me.
–of course, you make an, I’d say, extremely valid point.
Fr Barron said: ‘I want to communicate the truth as I see it.’
‘if the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and the sinner appear?’ 1 Peter 4:18
And this is a definite W:
You are right and you are wrong and maybe the twain will meet. “God” is one of those catch-words. Atheists cannot stand it, though they do not define it. The word just suggests some sort of higher power to which humankind is obliged to pay hommage. Indeed, this may well be the only meaning that Fr. Barron’s readership have. In Indonnesia the Muslims have sought to forbid the use of “Allah” by Christians in order to refer to “God”. In this case I agree. Why? I presume that the Muslims there do not want their concept of “Allah” all fuzzyied up by being seen as compatible with the Christian “God” of love. (The Islamic God is not one of love, rather of power.) If I understand Mr. V correctly, he is complaining that Fr. Barron is using a term with multiple meanings–often not compatible with each other. What does this have to do with Fr. Barron.
I find that Mr. V is correct in his critique of Fr. Barron, but not totally so, i.e., he is right and wrong. The audience of Fr. Barron was, I take it, not primarily interested in the CATHOLIC understanding of God, rather in the fuzzy sense that so irritates some Muslims re “Allah”. If Fr. Barron can bring across the connection between a “higher power” (vague meaning) , called “God” (sly way to introduce the word so as later to explain its meaning) and the moral health of a nation, I would suggest that Fr. Barron was correct, At the same time “I” accept Mr. V’s criticism of the limitations of Fr. Barron.
By the way, as a prof. of philosophy I do have problems with Aquaina’s proof of divine “existence”. I follow St. Anselm, naturally as I re-understand him. I would, just to be shocking, claim that, if God (= actual infinity) is, God does not exist and if God exists, God is not. Note I have limited “existence” to the finite and attributed actual infinity to divine being (“esse infinite”). Just tickling philosophically.