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Wednesday, June 08, 2011



Well that was a surprise ending.


That a prominent Catholic theologian, at one of the most prestigious Catholic universities in the United States, would speak this way about a fundamental element of Christian faith, is a sad commentary on the state of the Catholic academic world today. Increasingly, it seems, theology is becoming more and more disengaged from its biblical roots, with a kind of free-wheeling, make-it-up-as-you-go quality.

With this kind of guidance, no wonder so many of our youth are confused and either drift away or choose to leave the faith. How to correct this sad state of affairs, both within the Catholic academic world and as a part of the catechesis of our youth, is a monumental challenge to the modern Church. Based on our track record, I hesitate to say, I am not at all certain that we can successfully address it.


Mulder, you took the words right out of my mouth!

It was McBrien? I thought it was your run of the mill layman.


I assumed this was a university student, not a university professor, of theology, no less. He does not even know his own subject.

Up to this point I would have given Father McBrien the benefit of the doubt in terms of at least knowing what the Church teaches, whether or not he agrees. We all know him to be a dissenter, but I am profoundly disappointed. It appears he does not even understand what he is dissenting from.

In fact, I'll bet Bill Maher has better grasp of Church teaching. Most atheists know theology quite well despite their bluster and misrepresentations for attention.

Brian J. Schuettler

Brilliant, Carl. You demolished McBrien's presentation as bogus liberal Jesuitese.
I just know, with McBrienesque certitude, that NCR will want to publish this as a counter-point argument.

Lauri Friesen

Poor, sad Fr. McBrien. He misses out on so much of the beauty of being Catholic by doubting everything he "believes". I don't know how you can live with and study and learn about your faith for decades without becoming more and more sure about the truth of the promises of Christ. Oh, well, I'll just resign myself to being a justifiable target of Bill Maher's obnoxious rantings and continue to live in the peace and joy that my faith brings to my life everyday.

fr. richard

Carl, I think you handled this muddled piece of mush very well. McBrien can't even seem to grasp Maher's venom, much less the Resurrection.

Ed Peters

CO asks "what Catholic doesn't struggle at times with doubts about what he believes or what the Church teaches?"

Well, me, for one. Mind, that's no compliment to me, no accomplishment of mine, but rather, a testament to the extraordinary love that God has shown me in never letting me doubt the veracity of any Church teaching, correctly understood, etc. Indeed, I've never even reflected on it, till I saw Carl's post.

What I shudder at, is how often I fail to live up to those teachings, or even, how superficially I understand some of them. But actual "doubts", as I understand some others to have struggled valiantly against, I've never had to confront them.


Carl E. Olson

Ed: I'm mindful of Newman's statement, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." But, alas, we do live in an age marked by doubt, and my experience is that many if not most Catholics do have or have had doubts about this, that, or the other thing. As for myself, I've not had doubts as a Catholic, but while in Bible college, as an Evangelical, I went through a period of extreme doubt. It was, in the end, a time of grace, because I saw that I needed to more seriously examine the intellectual and spiritual roots of my faith.

Ed Peters

Understood, esp. the Newman quote, which I use whenever I lecture on c. 751. I'm just an example of serendipity in this matter, but now, I'm a little more appreciative of the fact, and grateful for it. :)

Dale Price

That reminds me never to ask the Rev. McBrien for directions.


QFE, Mulder. I'd also add *rimshot*.

The problem with Fr. McBrien's thinking is that he starts from radical skepticism and thinks he can step-over Bill Maher, a radical skepticist. Folks like Maher have you the moment you grant them legitimacy for their radical skepticism. The right place to start is "radical skepticism is not legitimate because X, Y, and Z. Now let's discuss the Resurrection."


Before more comments flood in, can I just say that we should say what's wrong with the statement and try and refrain from speaking badly about the writer of the statement, who is a son of God.

You know, it is possible for good well-meaning people to say really false things. It happens all the time. I think we could say that the statement wasn't as sharp as we should like, and prone to serious misunderstanding, and charity probably recommends that the priest clarify or retract his remarks. But, there's no reason to be antagonistic to him.


Carl E. Olson

You know, it is possible for good well-meaning people to say really false things.

Mark: Very true. But Fr. McBrien has a long history (several decades worth!) of undermining Church teaching, dissenting from Church teaching, unfairly criticizing the Magisterium, and foisting huge amounts of bad theology on unsuspecting Catholics. (I say this as someone who has read a great deal of his writings.) Which is not to say that personal attacks are alright; rather, he often has deserved strong criticism, including questioning of how well-meaning he really is. His track record suggests his motives are mixed, at best.

peter l

Fr. McBrien seems to be struggling with faith and seems to be looking for answers in the wrong place,perhaps the places he should be looking for answers are the one's Carl points out.This is something i have never struggled with myself,fortunately,even with the strong Atheistic voice in our midst at the moment.

My local Chapel has just started putting the Eucharist on the alter one day a week,always a monday,for those who want to devote one hour to be in our Lord's presence.I spend half an hour in prayer and the other half hour in his presence,letting him speak to me.The hour seems so short,considering i spend it kneeling for pennance.This practice has recieved a good attendance and i hope it continues for a long period of time,i always feel consoled while doing this.

I hope people like Fr. McBrien and those struggling with belief and faith,can someday see the evidence that Carl puts forward as confirmation that the Ressurection is a truly historical Fact.Spending time in the presence of the Eucharist,is another.God Bless.

Brendan McGrath

That surprise ending where the identity of R.M. is revealed, it's like an ending of a "Lost" episode! And the incredible thing about it is that the identity is revealed not like, "And here's who it is: it's Richard McBrien," it's revealed in a sentence that's not directly about that revelation (heh, revelation)! Anyway, that's totally a "Lost" moment there.

Shifting gears: one thing I WOULD like to see addressed is something I wonder about -- yes, we have certitude/certainty (though I've seen them defined differently) about, say, the Eucharist, because it is God who reveals it, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. I.e., IF it's granted that 1) there is a God, 2) that this God has revealed Himself/Herself, and 3) that this revelation has taken place in salvation history (among the Israelites and culminating in Christ), is contained/transmitted in Scripture and Tradition, and authoritatively taught by the Catholic Church -- i.e., IF all that is granted, THEN yes, various articles of the Catholic faith are certain (e.g., Real Presence).

But the question is, can we have certainty not just on WHAT God reveals, but certainty THAT God reveals in the first place? I get that through various philosophical arguments (i.e., reason), we can arrive with some sort of "certainty" at God's existence (that's relatively "easy," I think), but can we do anything more than show that it's not UNreasonable, or that it's somewhat probable, that this God has revealed Himself, and that this revelation is what the Church teaches?

I'm asking all of this genuinely; I'd like to hear a good answer. In brief: "how do we know 'for certain' that God has revealed Himself, and that that revelation is in the Catholic Church"? To put it another way: do we need to have faith not just in WHAT God reveals, but faith THAT God is revealed in the first place?


Brendan, I have been in your predicament in the past. I would suggest that you read some books about the development of Catholic philosophy, specifically St. Thomas Aquinas. Two very helpful books I've read recently (both from Ignatius Press) are Love of Wisdom, by Chervin; and 50 Questions on the Natural Law, by Rice. Once you've accepted the argument that God exists, then the other steps fall into place with reasonable thinking.


Brendan, the witness to God's revelation was real, so real that it transformed the world ... "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us -- that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete" (1 Jn 1-4).

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