Official positon

I have a question about a certain book that I read. It is called “Catholicism” it is by Richard P. Mcbrian. It is over 1000 pages and when I read twice, I took it to be an official catholic statement about the faith. I have recently found out under not to comfortable of conditions that this book is not definitive and could even be heretical.

Please enlighten me on the status of this book according to official Catholic teachings. If it is not an accurate assessment of the Catholic Churches teachings why would they allow such a book to exist without trying to do something about it.

All information on this subject will be very appreciated. Also I should say that I am very impressed with this book and deeply disappointed to find that it does not accurately state the faith of the Catholic Church. I have been under the assumption that it did for a number of years now.

The Church does not halt the publishing of opinion or misguided teachings about Catholicism.

However the Church does have a mechanism to separate the wheat from the chaff as it were. The book you refer to does not have an imprimatur or nihil obstat.

Imprimatur means it’s free from doctrinal error, nihi obstat that there’s no objection to its publication. It does not guarantee that they are good entertaining reads however :stuck_out_tongue: Nor does it guarantee that there are no errors at all. Just freedom from doctrinal errors.

But if you’re looking for an accurate representation of Catholicism, it’s best to start with books that do have an imprimatur and nihil obstat.

And I would suggest that the best place of all to start, is the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is approved at the highest levels and is available on-line at the Vatican website.

Fr. McBrien’s published works are widely regarded among believing catholics as masterworks of undermining the faith in vague words and phrases that can be easily parried and denied when challenged explicitly. It’s not that what he writes is objectively wrong in most cases, but that it allows people to walk away with utterly the wrong impression on numerous issues. The book itself has no innate authority and opinions expressed within are simply Fr. McBrien’s. In case you can’t tell, I’m not a fan. Neither is the USCCB:

If that’s been your major source for years, consider starting over with an easily readable text like “Catholicism for Dummies” (no offense intended!) and then moving on to the actual catechism (or reading the compendium of the catechism fist since it’s a LOT shorter and less, umm, drowsiness inducing!). The latter two ARE official teaching texts of the church while the former at least has an imprimatur and nihil obstat (reviewed by a bishop and declared free of outright error, though this is not necessarily an outright endorsement of all opinions, choice of words, etc).

It does not have an Imprimatur or Nihil Obstat. In fact, the US Bishops specifically issued a report on this book, a rarity.

No, it is not a solidly Catholic book.

Here is a commentary:

I am all too aware of the official position as I have come up against it often with many Catholics and in extensive other readings on the Catholic faith. I think I do have a grasp on official teachings now by default. It would take to long to cite the differences I have with the Church on a large number of issues, on papal authority, euthanasia, contraception, the problem of other religions in regards to heaven and hell, attitude towards homosexuals, etc. There are countless other smaller issues. I have not come to them by gut reaction.

Thank you for your response.

Perhaps the worst thing about this book is its title, which can give people this misimpression that it is an official or at least definitive description of Catholicism.

You’re welcome. I sincerely hope your perception of Catholicism is not substantially formed by hacks like me on the internet versus Fr. McBrien’s book. The church’s actual positions and underlying theological reading are worth knowing, even if you find you don’t agree in the end. Please don’t assume that Fr. McBrien has done a thorough job of articulating “both sides” of disputed issues. Actual, scholarly defenses of genuine Catholicism are available and in many cases quite readable. sorry if I’m repeating myself, I’d just hate to have you disagree with what you mistakenly believed to be the catholic Church’s position on certain things. Strawmen are everywhere these days…

Thank you again. I do realize the nuances are often subtle and important. I wont cease to do research but I am absolutely now against the Catholic faith-- I was already on the fence before!

It occurs to me that there must be many McBrian sympathisers and that they must form groups or orders or meet somewhere online to talk. I know it probably goes against your faith and how you believe but could you direct me to some sources for this?

You mean like this:

Even if you heartily agree with everything these folks believe, I’d encourage you not to join or participate. It’s fundamentally dishonest for folks to call themselves catholic if their actual beliefs are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Catholicism. Better to be honest about what you believe than to try to appropriate a label for the respect and institutional momentum it possesses.

Heretical is too strong a word. I have read this book many times. It is not an official catechism. It comes under what is called catechetical literature. It is one theologians answers to different questions concerning the faith. Fr. McBrien says many wonderful things in his book. He also says many things that are not what the Church teaches.

Some of his points are absolutely contrary to what the Church teaches. Others are not contrary, but the Church has never subscribed to that position, so one can’t call Catholic that which the Church neither accepts nor rejects. One certainly can’t call Catholic what the Church rejects.

It’s a good read for the theology student. It’s not a good read for the man in the pew. My experience with it when the man in the pew reads it is that he either goes with it, not knowing that there are problem parts or he throws the baby out with the bathwater, throws his arms up in the air, screams HERETIC, ends up in the ER because his blood pressure is through the roof.

But if you’re interested in comparative theology, it’s a great book to read alongside the CCC. I’ve never read it that way. Comparative theology is no my field and I find it boring as heck. Don’t tell the brother with whom I live. He has a doctorate in comparative theology. He talks it up at every meal. I have to sit and listen to it with a smile. :smiley:

Boring stuff. Read another book. The USCCB put out the Catholic Catechism for Adults. It’s excellent. Just go to and go to their bookstore. It’s not expensive.

When people use the term “HERETIC”. Just nod politely and keep walking. People love to throw that word around. Someday, someone is going to use that word incorrectly and run into a heavy duty canon lawyer and there will be fireworks. I saw it once and it was not pretty. The canon lawyer was in this woman’s face closer than her eyeliner. I won’t go into the whole story. But he was a great lawyer and this lady used the term incorrectly and very passionately. When he corrected her, she tried to correct him. Bad idea. :nope: Never try to correct a lawyer.

Just stay away from books that require more work than you’re willing to put into them. But if you want to do the work, read McBrien along with the CCC, so that you can check what he says against what the Church really says.

Does the Catholic Church (or anybody else) have the power to make inaccurate books disappear?

I suppose not and actually in my opinion it is to their credit that they dont do it. I was just thinking along the lines of it being slander or something like that is all.

You may be right. I really can’t speak to any fringe groups as I have not been exposed to them. On the other hand it could be that some fringe groups are more in alignment with Christ than the official position of the Church and the main body of the Church has it wrong. Ultimately that would be my stance at least.

McBrien’s writing would not be slander, because it’s not about spreading gossip about someone. The man is writing his theological opinions to certain questions. The Church allows scholars to do that. That’s why I said above, let’s not run out and scream heresy.

A work can contain many errors, as this book clearly does. I know, because I’ve read it for several courses that I’ve taken and taught. However, in a university classroom, this kind of work is very important. An orthodox professor of catechesis or of systematic theology can use this work to compare and contrast X against Y and explain how one arrives at X and how one arrives at Y. Here is where the good education comes in. You’re teaching the students two systems and pointing out the flaws in the one and the strengths of the other. Without the final outcome, such as the book, you can’t point out the flaws in this method, because you would have no access to the method. If you have no access to the method, then how do you know that it exists and how do you know that it is flawed? To prove that a method for doing theology is flawed, you need a product.

The Church, because she does encourage academic study of theology and the methods used by theologians, the right ones and the flawed ones, is not going to crush a book like this.

This is not like a book that the CDF recently condemned. I can’t remember it’s name. It’s about love and sexuality, written by an American Sister. The reason that her book was condemned and not McBrien’s is because of the intent. Her intent is to say that her position is correct and the Church’s position is wrong. She sets out to teach over the Church.

McBrien does not set out to do this. He sets out to answer questions and he is honest in his responses. He does not say that he’s right and the Church is wrong. He simply says that when he adds 2 + 3 he gets 6. The problem here is that he just can’t add. He never told you that he is more right than the Church. He’s telling you his conclusion when he raises the same questions. He leaves his reader free to accept it or not.

She, on the other hand, attacks her reader, if her reader coincides with the Church and collides with her. Her intent is not to discuss a subject in a scholarly manner. Her intent is to win an argument.

Those of us who are well educated in any field: theology, medicine, art, education, you name it, know the difference between arguing and discussing. You want to put your cards on the table and be heard, but you allow your peers to refute you and you don’t take it personally, because it’s not about you. It’s about the card on the table. The person refuting you can be someone who thinks you’re the best thing since slice bread, but you’re still wrong on this one.

I am sure there are many more examples from his book but here is one I would like you too address that seems to fall under the category of absolutely restating/misstating official Catholic teaching. This is the one that got me into trouble on this forum-- as I was quoting it as if it represented Catholic teaching. I wonder if you would comment on it. It is from page 386 fifth paragraph or so, a direct quote.

“The official doctrine of the Church may be summarized as follows: All religions are related somehow to the Christian economy of salvation; apart from this relationship they have no salvific power; yet their adherents can find salvation even though their religions are not on equal footing with Christianity.” It then goes on to give a very favorable position on other religions and also calls Catholics to enter into a completely new attitude towards them.

Believing that this represented the Catholic Church I was using this to support the argument that many people from many other religions can and probably do go to heaven. I was refuted by another poster with a doctrine called “invincible Ignorance” I was told that this is very rare according to Catholic thinking and also that if someone were exposed to the Catholic faith it would exempt them from qualifying as being “Invincibly Ignorant.”

So where or what is the official position on all of this? Is it possible that there have been enough conflicting statements made by the Church on these subjects that no one is sure what it teaches precisely on this matter?

Also I wanted to mention to you “Jreducation” that I am only interested in comparative theology or else primarily interested in comparative theology so this kind of work does not bore me at all. I feel like it is very difficult to come to the truth of things in any case, but nearly impossible to do if we are not reading outside of our “system”.

I have to state however that although you present the scholarly approach very favorably I have not come to the same conclusion even though I am sure it sometimes operates this way. My extensive reading has led me to believe that it is almost impossible to get a scholar of say, Catholicism to treat the teachings of one protestant faith or another in any fair way at all, and vice versa. If I am reading a work from any one religion and it is describing the stance of another I can feel quite confident it is being presented in a most nuanced and veiled but negative light. I do not believe the reasons for this are entirely devoid of sin.

It seems that education does not heal sin and bias, and sometimes it seems that it only conceals these behind a wall of carefully constructed and deliberate logical arguments.

If by “negative light” you mean “communicated disagreement,” then I’m not so sure you’ll ever be able to get away from this sort of thing, and neither is your pointing to it something meaningful or useful. Presumably, if someone does not belong to a particular religion, there is at least in part a disagreement that has led to such a state. Why should a person stifle and suppress this disagreement? or pretend that they are capable of a sort of objectivity in which they see things as they really don’t, as if they were outside of their own minds, and in the mind of someone else?

Why, your even mentioning this is an example of someone viewing and communicating the methodology of certain religious scholars “in a most nuanced and veiled but negative light.”

It then goes on to give a very favorable position on other religions and also calls Catholics to enter into a completely new attitude towards them.

This is actually official Catholic teaching. His wording is a little fancier, which can be confusing. Watch. This is from the CCC. It is the official position of the Catholic Church.

819 “Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth” are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: “the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.” Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity."

**839 “Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways.”

The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, “the first to hear the Word of God.” The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ”, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”**

841 The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day."

843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life."

**“Outside the Church there is no salvation”

846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336

847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.337

848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”**

Believing that this represented the Catholic Church I was using this to support the argument that many people from many other religions can and probably do go to heaven. I was refuted by another poster with a doctrine called “invincible Ignorance”

From the looks of it, it sounds like you were right and your respondent does not understand “invincible ignorance.” Many people believe that “invincible ignorance” is black and white. If you’ve never heard of Jesus Christ, then you’re invincibly ignorant. However, if someone tells you about Christ and the Catholic Church, you’re not longer invincibly ignorant, because you’ve been told. This is not how invincible ignorance in understood in moral theology.

One can certainly know something. I can know all about Mohammed and Islam. But I just can’t wrap my head around it. Something does not compute.

The person who hears all about Jesus and the Church, but continues to feel that to become a Christian or if he’s a Christian, to become a Catholic would give offense to God, has a poorly formed conscience, but it’s the best he has. He has to go with it. He’s not choosing against the Church. His choice not to enter the Church is because he believes that he is honoring God’s commandments. In other words, his choice is not about him, it’s about God.

Until his conscience is rehabilitated, he will continue to find moral fault in some part of Catholicism through no fault of his own. How does the conscience become rehabilitated? It’s different for different people. For me it was never about Christ.

I was the son of a Catholic father and Jewish mother. I knew all about Christ. I was still Jewish. Jesus’ story was a wonderful story of faith, courage, virtue and love. But it was not the story of God. Because my conscience had been formed to believe that man can never be God. That’s invincible ignorance. I couldn’t do anything with that belief. I was convinced that to believe that a man could be God was an abomination.

How did my conscience become rehabilitated? How did it go from a malformed conscience to a correctly formed conscience? It was through the Franciscan Brothers. They rescued my brothers and me from antisemitism. I wanted to know what made these men tick. I accidently discovered a book about St. Francis. After reading it (I was 10), I wanted to know more about this man, Francis not Christ. The more I read about him, the more I started to wonder why such a great man was Catholic.

By the time that I was in my late teens, I finally understood Christ as Francis understood him. I knew then that I had crossed the line from Judaism to the fulfillment of the covenant. The only thing left was to be received into the Catholic Church. That was MY JOURNEY. Not everyone is graced with the same journey from a malformed conscience to a correctly formed conscience. For reasons that we don’t know, God chooses to act differently with different people.

The best analogy that I can offer is medicine. Some people can take certain antibiotics whereas others will die if they take the same medication that saved another person’s life. God knows what will bring a soul closer or push him away.

But people who take invincible ignorance as very black and white, do not understand the complexity of the human mind, the complexity of faith, and the fact that God’s plan is that all should be saved, but he leads men to salvation down paths that are safe for each person. No use leading one down a path that’s just going to make one more oppositional.

Last example, Edith Stein. She did not come into the faith via Christ. She came via St. Teresa of Avila.

Both Edith and I were attracted to the great truths found in Francis and Teresa. At the end of the day, it was Christ who led us to discover him there. He knew who we were and how we ticked. I was an impressionable kid. I needed to be impressed, not know a bunch of doctrines. So he impressed me through francis. Edith was a feminist and a scholar, she he put her in contact with another feminist and scholar, a Catholic mystic.

At that point, if you’re hit between the eyes with that which you know makes sense and you turn away, then it’s no longer invincible ignorance. It’s a fundamental option that you have made.

I believe that it depends where one studies and what your major in theology happens to be. Theology is like medicine. You begin with four years of general study and you finish an M. Div. Then you go off to 3 to 5 years of specialized studies in one of its branches, usually at a school that is strong in your area. Just as you would with medicine. If you want to know about Ophthalmology from the best, you go to Colombia to the Balaguer Institute.

I studied at two Pontifical Universities. They’re known for being very orthodox and very fair. We had Lutherans, Jews, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Muslims and Catholics teaching us. These are universities chartered by the pope himself. As long as the presentations were about their faith and how they arrive at certain answers, the Church has no problem. They could not be there to proselytize. They were very respectful of that.

One the professors for my doctoral dissertation was a Jewish Rabbi who was an expert on Teresa of Avila and Carmelite Mysticism. He’s dead now. He’s the only non-Catholic theologian whom the popes have ever admitted to the Order of St. Gregory, which is a fraternal order for very very orthodox Catholic scholars. Pope Benedict admitted him before the Rabbi died.

As part of my doctoral reading list I had to read Wesley, Knox, Luther, Schweitzer, James, Calvin, Bonhoeffer and there were others but it’s been some 30 years. I wish I could remember some of the names of these Protestant and Jewish writers. I also had to read the QUran and the Babylonian Talmud.

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