Peter Kwasniewski

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Is Jesus Christ the ‘privileged way’ to salvation—or the only way?

Peter Kwasniewski Peter Kwasniewski Follow Dr. Peter

December 17, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Bishop Robert Barron was the featured guest on the December 16th “Sunday Special” episode of the Ben Shapiro Show. In a wide-ranging conversation characterized by his usual aplomb, the bishop touched on the sex abuse scandals, the rise of Protestantism, and the perennial question: Who is saved?

In regard to the last question, Bishop Barron runs into serious trouble with settled and definitive Catholic teaching about salvation.

As Joseph Shaw pointed out in a recent LifeSiteNews post, the mandate of Christ to His apostles was to preach the Gospel, the good news of salvation in His Name and by His Blood, to all peoples without exception—beginning with “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” to whom Our Lord said He was specifically sent (Mt 15:24), and ranging outwards to all of the Gentiles. The Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St. Paul make it absolutely clear that Jesus is, in fact, the one and only Christ or Messiah that God has sent and will ever send into the world, the Redeemer promised to Israel.

It is therefore alarming, to say the least, that a bishop of the Catholic Church would think, let alone say multiple times in a public venue, that Christ is the “privileged route” to salvation—as if there are multiple paths, and those who believe in Christ are taking the speedy Interstate while others are trudging along on country roads or bike trails.

Esteemed popular Thomist Taylor Marshall appropriately tweeted: “Is this Catholic soteriology? Privileged? St Peter said (to Jews): ‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ Acts 4:12.”

We should take this revealed truth with the seriousness with which the Church has always taken it: there is salvation in NO ONE ELSE, for there is NO OTHER NAME by which we must be saved. In the very words of Christ Himself: “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mk 16:16).

What we are seeing in Bishop Barron is the consequence of decades of “official theology” (to use the helpful expression of Dr. Thomas Pink of the University of London) that has, in effect, denied the salvific  universality of the Christian faith and the necessity of the Church as the one ark of salvation—in spite of the fact that these are truths dogmatically taught by Ecumenical Councils. The Council of Florence, for example, proclaims without compromise:

The Council firmly believes, professes and preaches that never was anyone, conceived by a man and a woman, liberated from the devil’s dominion except by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and humanity, who was conceived without sin, was born and died.

In his brilliant essay “Vatican II and Crisis in the Theology of Baptism,” Thomas Pink observes that the mission to the Jews has been practically set aside in recent decades due to social pressures and the fear of looking anti-Semitic—an absurd fear if one believes that Jesus was a Jew born of Jews, who came to ransom His own people and the entire world.

This rejection of a public mission to the Jews is accompanied by continued lip-service to the universality of Christ’s saving covenant. That is, official theology tends still to deny any dual covenant theory—the clearly heretical position that the Jewish people have a saving covenant distinct from that offered by Christ through baptism into the Church to the Gentiles. But while the doctrinal content of dual covenant theology is still officially rejected, nonetheless a pastoral programme presupposing that content is being adopted. And with that pastoral programme, the content of dual covenant theology still slips in at least at the margins of theological expression, again at the very highest levels of the Church. 

Bishop Barron, however, has used language that goes beyond merely endorsing a pastoral program redolent of dual covenant theory; he has asserted some form of multiple covenant theory, by which there are more and less privileged routes to salvation.

We might see this as a distortion of the covenant theology of such popular authors as Scott Hahn. For Hahn, God has progressively revealed His saving plan in a series of covenants, each of which comprised the earlier covenants while attaining greater particularity in pointing to Christ and greater universality in encompassing all men. By the time we reach the New Covenant in the Blood of Jesus, we are looking at the one all-inclusive, definitive, eternal covenant between God and man that fulfills (and in that sense brings to their end) all earlier covenants. Indeed, in the Word made flesh, we have an ontological union of God and man: in Him God and man are one. This makes Him the one and only Mediator for the human race, as St. Paul teaches (1 Tim 2:5); this, in turn, leads directly to the conclusion of St. Peter in Acts 4:12.

For Barron and others of universalist tendencies, on the other hand, the covenants of history appear to be simultaneously enduring vehicles of salvation. So, for example, perhaps the covenant with Adam will suffice for the salvation of pagans, while the covenant with Noah may suffice for the Moslems, and the covenant with Abraham for the Jews. The covenant in Christ is fuller and better—the bishop is certainly willing to admit this—but nevertheless parallel to the other covenants. All of them are paths to God, even if one of them is “the privileged path.”

In such an approach we can discern the influence of many currents of modern theology, such as Hans Urs von Balthasar’s fashionable but impossible thesis about the possibility of the universal salvation of all men, including Judas; Walter Kasper’s radical historicism, by which the ancient confessions of faith have to be relativized in recognition of the progress of the Zeitgeist, so that all religion comes to be seen as a more or less adequate reaching out to the ultimately indefinable; and Teilhard de Chardin’s cosmic ecumenism, whereby all differences and divisions are already pre-overcome in the “Omega Point” towards which the universe is evolving.

Such views are incompatible with Divine Revelation as handed down in Sacred Scripture and Catholic Tradition. They contradict the unanimous and consistent teaching of the Church from ancient times down to the document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, “On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church.”

Catholics are and should be grateful to Bishop Barron for all that he has done to promote the beauty of Catholic culture and for his use of modern media to evangelize the neo-pagans of the twenty-first century, as Fulton Sheen did decades ago in a very different America. But the beauty of the Faith is inseparable from the resounding clarity of its dogmatic teaching, and the evangelization of neo-pagans today has to deliver the same Gospel content if it is to be truly a sharing of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

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Peter Kwasniewski

Peter Kwasniewski holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. After teaching at the International Theological Institute in Austria and for the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austrian Program, he joined the founding team of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, where he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history, and directed the choir and schola. He is now a full-time author, speaker, editor, publisher, and composer.

Dr. Kwasniewski has published seven books, including Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014); Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014); Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017); A Reader in Catholic Social Teaching (Cluny, 2017); and Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018). Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis has been published in Czech, Polish, German, and Portuguese, and will soon appear in Spanish and Belarusian.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over 750 articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church. 

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, please visit his personal website, www.peterkwasniewski.com.