Reconciling Judas: Evangelizing the Theologians

In this Crisis Magazine classic, Edward T. Oakes, S.J. looks at the troubling tendency of theologians to abandon the historic faith.

In 1968, a professor of theology at the University of Regensburg wrote a modestly sized treatise on the Apostles’ Creed called Introduction to Christianity. Its impact, however, was anything but modest, for the book so captivated Pope Paul VI that he made its author archbishop of Munich (and later cardinal, one of his last appointments to the college); and just a few years later, the new pope, John Paul II, summoned the same man to Rome to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His name, of course, was Joseph Ratzinger.
Not many books have changed history, but this one certainly did, not just for the author personally but also for the wider Church. For it would be hard to exaggerate the influence of this bookish Bavarian, not just on John Paul II (perhaps the most influential pope in history) but on Catholics worldwide through the cardinal’s role as doctrinal overseer and enforcer of magisterial orthodoxy, and now, as the Supreme Pontiff himself. What made the book itself so remarkable was not just its deft use of the Apostles’ Creed to explain Christianity to the lay reader or its acute analysis of unbelief and the secular mind. An even greater virtue of the book was the future pope’s keen analysis of why the promising spirit of Vatican II failed to bring about a reunited Christianity and a re-Christianized Europe.
According to Ratzinger’s analysis, post-Enlightenment Christianity in Europe had been conned into adopting an evangelical strategy too superficial in its approach and too intimidated by Enlightened objections to Christian doctrine. He illustrated the reasoning behind this anemic strategy with a parable, one that Søren Kierkegaard once recounted about a fire that breaks out backstage right before a circus is set to perform. In panic the stage manager sends out one of the performers — a clown as it happens, and naturally already in costume — to warn the audience to leave immediately. But the spectators take the clown’s desperate pleas as part of his schtick; and the more he gesticulates the more they laugh, until fire engulfs the whole theater. This, said Kierkegaard, is the situation of Christians: The more they gesticulate with their creed, the more laughable they seem to their skeptical neighbors, until the world becomes engulfed in the flames of war and mutual hatred — a hell on earth as prelude to the hell after death. If only these Christian clowns had first thought to change out of their goofy costume, he implied, the theatergoing world might have been spared.
Kierkegaard did not explicitly say just what kind of funny clothes he thought Christians should now strip off to make their message of impending doom more credible. But whatever costume this Danish philosopher felt Christians should doff, his parable, at least for the professor from Regensburg, does not get at the real dilemma of preaching the gospel to a secular culture. The very news that a fire is on the way — and, above all, that we can be spared by the simple expedient of a belief in a transworldly message (why not just leave the theater?) — strikes the contemporary secular spectator as much more incredible than any costumed language in which it might be couched. Change the rites of the Mass from Latin to the vernacular, call on nuns to modernize their habits, introduce guitars and folk music in the Church’s worship, address the modern world in tones of respect and hope, praise modernity for its achievements — the core of the message will still seem absurd to the secular mind.
So maybe Kierkegaard misled us with his famous parable. Perhaps another story is more appropriate. For that reason, the future pontiff began his book with an even more somber narrative, one of the fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm. Once upon a time, a poor widow sends her young son Hans into the village to fetch a simple meal, and along the way into town he discovers a lump of gold. Thrilled, he heads back home to show his mother his amazing good luck. But no sooner has he started back than he meets a knight who persuades him to exchange the gold for the knight’s steed. “The better for plowing!” the knight assures the boy. Further down the way, a farmer explains that the widow can’t eat a horse, so why not exchange the horse for the farmer’s cow? After making this seemingly reasonable bargain, the boy continues home but then meets up with a neighbor carrying a goose under his arm. Of course the widow wants a meal today, says the neighbor, so why not exchange cow for goose? Done. Finally, nearly home, he meets up with a boy who tells him that if he exchanges the goose for a whetstone he can keep his knife sharpened for slaughtering any number of geese in the future. Done again. But when he gets home he notices the clumsy stone in his pocket and, puzzled at its presence, throws it away before crossing the threshold of his home, none the sadder and certainly none the wiser.
Anyone who has followed the path taken by Protestant theology in the past two centuries, and by Catholic theology in the past four decades, already knows the point of this story: All the costume changes in the world won’t matter if the messenger has squandered his treasure by altering his message to suit the convenience of the audience. For Ratzinger, creeds matter only if what they proclaim is true, and if Christians deep down don’t really think so, then all the translation strategies in the world will mean nothing:
The worried Christian of today is often bothered by questions like these: has our theology in the last few years not taken in many ways a similar path? Has it not gradually watered down the demands of faith, which had been found all too demanding, always only so little that nothing important seemed to be lost, yet always so much that it was soon possible to venture on to the next step? And will poor Hans, the Christian who trustfully let himself be led from exchange to exchange, from interpretation to interpretation, not really soon hold in his hand, instead of the gold with which he began, only a whetstone, which he can be confidently recommended to throw away?
The results of this not-so-wonderful exchange have now descended upon us: plummeting church attendance and a secular culture grown aggressively anti-Christian. Little surprise there, for the Church now trumpets its gospel with a most uncertain tocsin. As the late and renowned historian of dogma Jaroslav Pelikan brutally observes in Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture (the fifth of his five-volume The Christian Tradition), “The modern period in the history of Christian doctrine may be defined as the time when doctrines that had been assumed more than debated for most of Christian history were themselves called into question: the idea of revelation, the uniqueness of Christ, the authority of Scripture, the expectation of life after death, even the very transcendence of God.”
Add to this mix doubts about the existence of hell and the need for the atoning death of Christ on the cross, then no wonder more and more struggling and confused believers say to themselves, “Why bother?,” and no wonder secular culture regards with such contempt the pathetic attempts of self-styled liberal believers to play catch-up ball with modern advances.
But perhaps the greatest harm done by this step-by-step sell-out is the damage Christians inflict on themselves by continuing to go to church while calling into question, secretly or openly, such central doctrines as the divinity of Christ and His atoning death. For when that happens, professions of faith become hollow and words are used without meaning them. In other words, Christians turn themselves into liars by showing up for church while hedging their bets even as they profess their Faith. In one of his Parochial and Plain Sermons, fittingly called “Unreal Words,” John Henry Cardinal Newman gets at this point directly when he says:
To make professions is to play with edged tools, unless we attend to what we are saying. Words have a meaning, whether we mean that meaning or not; and they are imputed to us in their real meaning, when our not meaning it is our own fault. He who takes God’s Name in vain is not counted guiltless because he means nothing by it — he cannot frame a language for himself; and they who make professions, of whatever kind, are heard in the sense of those professions, and are not excused because they themselves attach no sense to them.
Jesus Himself admonishes us in just these terms when He says: “But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). But what is true of individuals is even truer of the Church, for when ambivalence and equivocation take hold of the faithful in the very act of reciting the Creed, the Church will be choked off from the very graces it was founded to give to the world — again as Cardinal Newman, in that same sermon, foresaw:
The invisible Church has developed itself into the Church visible, and its outward rites and forms are nourished and animated by the living power which dwells within it. Thus every part of it is real, down to the minutest details. But when the seductions of the world and the lusts of the flesh have eaten out this divine inward life, what is the outward Church but a hollowness and a mockery, like the whited sepulchres of which our Lord speaks, a memorial of what was and is not? And though we trust that the Church is nowhere thus utterly deserted by the Spirit of truth, at least according to God’s ordinary providence, yet may we not say that in proportion as it approaches to this state of deadness, the grace of its ordinances, though not forfeited, at least flows in but a scanty or uncertain stream?
A scanty, uncertain stream indeed. How else can we explain the dearth of vocations in the industrialized West, the empty churches in Europe, the abysmal ignorance of the Faith among nominal Christians, the closing of Catholic schools in this country and Canada, the notorious violation of their vows by some priests (however few or many that number may be), even the very fact that the internal precincts of the Church have become one of the battlefields in the Culture Wars?
For that reason, I hold that the primary cause of all that ails the Church in modern times stems from this prior capitulation to the Enlightened agenda so well adumbrated by Cardinal Ratzinger in his epochal book. Sometimes this capitulation is openly admitted, even celebrated, as in the slogan that was so popular in the Sixties and Seventies: “The world sets the agenda for the Church.” Many trends in theology are also quite open about this capitulation. St. Paul says, “We destroy arguments, demolishing every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). In total contrast to such Pauline courage would be the pusillanimity of those theologians who take the opposite tack by capitulating to every Enlightened thought to make the gospel captive to it.
Take, for example, the Jesuit Rev. Roger Haight, whose book Jesus: Symbol of God perfectly illustrates Catholic theology’s recent declension from gold to whetstone. What follows is a kind of catena of citations from the book — a catena plumbi, as it were — to show what I mean:
My understanding of the resurrection does not support the necessity of an empty tomb in principle. Resurrection faith today is not belief in an external miracle, an empirical historical event testified to by disciples, which we take as a fact on the basis of their word. Although that may describe in fact the belief of many Christians, it is no ideal. A reflective faith-hope today will affirm Jesus risen on the basis of a conviction that Jesus’ message is true; because God is the way Jesus revealed God to be, Jesus is alive.… Because it was Jesus whom people experienced as risen, and not someone else, one must assume that Jesus had a forceful religious impact on people.… In the view proposed here, the external event that helped mediate a consciousness of Jesus risen was Jesus himself during his ministry. Or, to be more exact, after his death, the disciples’ memory of Jesus filled this role [emphases mine].
In other words, the resurrection of Jesus differs in no fundamental way metaphysically from the way Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi continue to live on in the memory of those who have been inspired by their respective messages. With a thesis like this now afloat in the professional journals, theology has clearly reached the point where it thinks it can bargain with modern unbelief using a whetstone for legal tender. What Father Haight has given us, in effect, is a christology equally suitable to the followers of the slain Beatle, John Lennon, whose fans gather each year at Strawberry Fields in New York’s Central Park (their Golgotha) on the anniversary of his assassination (their Easter), fondly recall his memory, proudly affirm that his message is true, and recognize him for the forceful impact he had on people (as he once blurted out to a reporter when he was on tour in South Africa, and to immense controversy, “We’re more popular than Jesus”).
But let us now ignore that one book as merely symptomatic and turn to all those sermons on Easter Sunday that inform the congregation that “Jesus died as a man and rose as a community” or warble on from the pulpit that the risen Jesus is “not a he, but a we.” Or as one campus minister said in my hearing at a church service (I will forbear to call it a Mass, although such was its billing), “Let us now worship that sense of Ultimacy we sometimes call God.”
I recall another occasion when an ex-priest from Denver (who edits one of those depressing “homily helper” newsletters) got caught speaking incautiously to the religion editor of the Rocky Mountain News. “No, I don’t have a personal relation with Jesus,” he averred. “My pastoral approach is to gradually wean people away from the individual to the corporate reality.” To possible objections that might arise from a more careful and exacting exegesis of the New Testament’s resurrection narratives, the man merely sneered and, borrowing an arrow from Father Haight’s quiver, called these gospel depictions “the Polaroid Jesus, someone you could photograph on Easter Sunday.” The reporter recounting these recherché opinions seemed rather nonplussed and wondered what could ever motivate Christians to consent to such an obvious, wholesale liquidation of their own company store, to which the man replied that an “allegiance to a Jewish male affronts the modern commitment to ethnic and gender diversity.”
It is because of views like these that I hold that the first (but in no way exclusive) task of the New Evangelization is to evangelize Christians. This task, as I say, is daunting and requires, among its other skills, that the orthodox be alert to what I call “pod-people talk,” using here an analogy drawn from that classic sci-fi flick, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the famous cult movie about aliens who try to take over the planet by kidnapping hapless humans and forcing them to spend a night in large pods the size of body bags. Upon awakening from these awesome contraptions, the earthlings would have been zapped into alienhood: They emerged from their pods still looking and acting exactly as their past humanity would lead one to expect, but in essence they were aliens, fully intent on taking over the planet. For me the fascination of this plot derives from the way the loved ones of these newly alienized beings came to suspect something might be amiss. For although the Los Angeles English of the aliens was completely idiomatic and accent-free, there was yet something vaguely unsettling about their demeanor and sentences. A kind of subtext to their ordinary communications made their loved ones edgy and uneasy, until finally one or another of the disguised aliens would say something so utterly out of character that there could be no doubting their new identity.
In the course of 40 years of adult life spent in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, it has gradually been borne in upon me that most students attending our elite divinity schools must have spent a night in the theological version of these pods. For although they seem to speak real English, unaccented and fully idiomatic, there is yet something strange and unsettling about the lingo that comes out of their mouths. At first their sentences are merely unsettling and ooze with a slippery vagueness that sounds wrong but which can — with those patient hermeneutical transpositions that so many theologians have made their stock-in-trade — be explained away. But then along comes a Father Haight or an ex-priest caught on tape with a reporter, and suddenly the orthodox wake up with the queasy feeling that the body snatchers have entered the ancient precincts of the Church.
A few years back the Vatican made half-hearted attempts to address this problem with the directive known as Ex Corde Ecclesiae, but the sex-abuse crisis seems to have taken the wind out of the bishops’ sails when the time came to enforce the prescriptions in that document (which was one reason the liberal press, most especially the liberal Catholic press, found the scandal so useful). But however worthy the document or half-hearted its implementation, the problems attendant upon the professionalization of theology, with its huge superstructure of hermeneutical legerdemain, actually go much deeper than anything that the Vatican could address with a mere document.
In the face of this truly mortal danger to the life of the Church, I believe Christians must be evangelized by preachers who deliberately set out to destroy the pretensions of the body snatchers. And to do that they must attack head-on what I regard as the most basic presupposition of the pod people. In my reading of their works, liberal Christians want to make the Christian message easy to believe, and to do so they must first make the New Testament hard to understand — which explains why there must be such a huge superstructure of biblical commentaries and hermeneutical throat-clearing whenever a preacher sets out to preach, and why the end result proves to be so easy on the intellect once the sermon is over. For example, no one could possibly doubt that the disciples “remembered” the ministry of Jesus after His death; and if, by definition, that is all that the resurrection means, who could deny that Jesus “rose” in the mind of the disciples? But to explain how the New Testament could seem to give an impression so at odds with this easygoing view, one must subject the Scriptures to an astonishingly elaborate historical-critical analysis and then try to get the believer to accept the end result as an even remotely plausible reflection of what the New Testament says. No wonder courses in hermeneutics are so popular in elite divinity schools.
In fact, the situation of New Testament interpretation is the exact opposite: I maintain that the Christian dispensation is much more difficult to believe than it is to understand, for its message can be boiled down to a five-word sentence of remarkable simplicity but one that represents a radical challenge to the intellect: We die before we live. Or again, another five-word kerygma: We meet Christ in death. In each case, five simple, easy-to-understand words, but ones that nearly everything about the way the modern world is structured make difficult to believe. In an age of popularized books on neurology from the pen of Oliver Sacks and when most people are intuitively aware of the dependence of consciousness on brain chemistry (just from living in a “Prozac Nation” or from witnessing a relative suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, if from nothing else), these two five-word sentences will immediately strike the hearer as easy to understand but difficult to believe.
Far be it from me to deny the difficulties involved in true belief, as opposed to the thin gruel peddled by our pod theologians. But whatever the challenges facing preachers of the true gospel, we at least have before us the lesson of two centuries of cultural Protestantism and four decades of liberal Catholicism to warn us against the alternative. For both these versions of “Christianity” teach us that a little bit of the gospel is more damaging than would be forthright rejection of the whole package. Watered-down Christianity has only given us absurd hopes, the vision of a non-existent future, lukewarm zeal, a narcissistic ethic, incantatory theology, invented grievances (like the pseudo-allergy to so-called gender-biased language), and a preaching in which, in Dante’s harsh words, “sheep leave church, having been fed on wind.” No wonder T. S. Eliot tartly observed, “We know too much, and are convinced of too little. Our literature is a substitute for religion, and so is our religion.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2004 issue of Crisis Magazine.


Rev. Edward T. Oakes, S.J., Ph.D. is Chester & Margaret Paluch Professor of Theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, the Catholic seminary for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Oakes' articles and reviews have appeared in Journal of Religion, Pro Ecclesia, Theological Studies, First Things, Commonweal and other scholarly and popular periodicals.

  • Christine

    Thank you for your wonderful article. I took my mom to her local parish on Sunday and the Priest’s tired to convince us during his homily that Jesus’ miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes was not his miracle, but that of the people who had “baskets hidden in their clothes” and decided to share their food.

    Needless to say, this homily made me angry, but you got me to think about how grateful I am to have preists at my parish who do a wonderful job catechizing the faithful. I will be praying for Holy Family Parish in Artesia, California and I hope all of you who see this post also do the same, as the church was full of wonderful, faithful people last Sunday who deserve to hear the good news of Christ.

    This experience however was a great blessing and lesson – for when we dumb down the good news, it no longer is good news.

  • Mary

    I find this article quite depressing. Its message is one that I’m afraid is just as true now as when the article was written. A few weeks ago, I visited a friend of mine who was wonderfully enthusiastic about the so-called Jesus Seminar. Had I heard of it? Yes indeed. I cancelled my subscription to a particular newspaper several years ago when, for the third Easter in a row, their obligatory “religious story” was the new revelation (promulgated by the Seminar) that Jesus’ body was undoubtedly eaten by dogs, but that hope lives on! Yet my friend was so delighted to think that she had found a way to believe in Christ’s message without compromising her intelligence!

    The simple fact is that most 21st C. people in the West do not believe in the existence of any world beyond the material. Even those of us who think we do are often so culturally trapped by this pervasive materialism we wind up acting more consistently with it than with a belief in a supernatural world that we do not see. Charles Taylor’s work A Secular Age gives us some interesting insights on how disbelief became first possible and now rampant.

    Most who understand the problem and write about it seem to accept it as an inevitable fact of our lives. But surely, if we do believe in the transcendent reality, we need to be making a serious inquiry into how we break the spell of this disenchantment. That is the question evangelists, and indeed all believers, need to be asking themselves. I wish the author had given some suggestions on this point.

  • R.C.

    At my parish, this past weekend, the priest was a Spanish-speaker whose English is rather difficult to follow. He accordingly appointed a deacon to give the homily.

    The deacon made a variety of good points. But my favorite was the following statement (I’m quoting from memory, but this was his gist): “There are those who try to argue that Jesus convinced the crowd, who’d already brought bread and fish with them, to share around, and that the miracle was how He prompted generosity. Or some such nonsense. But it is nonsense. It’s obvious tomfoolery, neither historical nor good philosophy nor logical even as storytelling, and we can relax and laugh about it even if it sometimes makes us irritated. God can perform miracles, and Jesus was and is God, and anyway He does greater miracles daily through the hands of the priest at every Mass, multiplying Himself to feed the faithful on the food of everlasting life.”

    I relate this to say: There is Hope, Be Not Afraid. It is a minority of homilies which preach unbelief rather than belief. The gift of faith is worn down even among some clergy, but not all, and not everywhere, and the Elect are not deceived.

    And as for Jesuit Rev. Roger Haight’s view of the Resurrection?

    Poppycock, I say. (Actually when I read the excerpt from Haight my first reaction was a punchy and pungent two syllables with strong cattle-ranching associations. But it’s important to keep this blog suitable for family reading.)

    Haight’s weak-tea apostasy is arrant nonsense unworthy of a poorly-schooled eighth-grader, all dressed up in professorial polysyllables like a toddler wearing mommy’s high heels.

    (May God have mercy on his soul.)

  • Tom

    Catholicism in the last four decades has really capitulated to the world and to Protestantism. I wish we’d get back to being Catholic again, rather than trying to be syncretistic, quasi-Protestants.

  • Rosemary M.

    “But surely, if we do believe in the transcendent reality, we need to be making a serious inquiry into how we break the spell of this disenchantment. That is the question evangelists, and indeed all believers, need to be asking themselves. I wish the author had given some suggestions on this point.”

    Dear Mary, Since I was around 14 years old I have been periodically struggling with this lack of awareness of the transcendent reality as spoken of by Jesus. But for decades at a time, secularity was too much to battle and I joined the world. When I was 65 I reoriented myself to seek God with my whole effort: no t.v. but the news & commentary on it, no books but on Christian subjects, mass as often as possible through the week, 2 hours a week in Eucharistic Adoration confronting the live Jesus in the monstrance, a rosary and Divine Chaplet each night, meditation on my own reality (the Interior Castle of St. Theresa), and believing that my every prayer & thought was open to God. I can’t begin to explain how enormously rewarded I have been for this effort these past 10 years. “Because you have sought Me with your whole heart, I have allowed Myself to be found”. Yes, He has.

  • bill bannon

    And Brown did not believe that Mary ever said the Magnificat (BM page 349)…heck…he didn’t believe in the census near the birth of Christ nor the slaughter of the innocents and no Pope nor Cardinal said boo. And both John Paul II and Benedict in line with Balthsar and Rahner stated that we can’t be positive that Judas is in hell. I’m positive Judas is in hell because Christ said to His Father in prayer: “Those whom that gavest me I guarded and not one of them perished but the son of perdition.” And He said that prior to Judas betraying Him which means he was using the prophetic past tense as Isaiah did in 53:2…” there is no beauty in him nor comliness and we have seen him and there is no sightliness that we might be desirous of him.” Prediction of Christ using the past tense 700 years prior to Christ.

    But to hear the above essay, one would think the highest echelon of Catholicism is forever faultless as liberal biblical attitudes shine and perhaps dominate.
    The failing of all these solution essays within Catholicism is that they always leave the papacy faultless and attack Catholic figures short of the papacy when in fact Popes could have brought the Fr. Haight’s of the world into ecclesiastical court. One gets republished or rebought within Catholicism as long as one does not criticize the captain of the ship. This is structurally financial. Catholics who actually do buy books want this mythic perfect Pope…so all problems are beneath him and he is never responsible for any authors festooning us with error. We are misusing subsidiarity to mean that each Pope is by definition not responsible for anything happening at the local level..regardless of local authority not doing anything.

  • DWC

    We all know, without question, the battle that we need to maintain. Of course, this shall be a battle fought in love and the truth. Mother church has won these in the past when the penduluum swings too far one way or the other. I trust that will continue.

  • Nick Palmer

    A great and well-presented article. Yet, Fr. Oakes’s thoughts should be cause for enthusiasm, not sadness. In “Screwtape” Lewis laments the greying of life, the lack of cause for heroism. At first I found his “celebration” of war as a bit jarring, but it does open the door to heroic and virtuous action.

    Today’s Catholics, even Christians, do, indeed, face a real challenge. One that calls for courage, for learning, for fellowship, and for holiness. Recent health challenges have led me to a new outlook on life. God has become more real. Miracles do happen, and we need to look to Christ.

    We are promised, with an emphasis on “promised,” that God will give us what we need to succeed. No “maybes.” We must strive to be prepared to see, understand, and accept God’s help. Education, like Fr. Oakes’s piece and several recent ones by Mark Shea, is critical. We must arm ourselves to engage in a dialog with the “real” world. I’m now reading Lewis’s “God in the Dock,” and if you haven’t read it, it certainly provides some potent ammunition.

    Thanks Fr. Oakes, for the clarion call! Keep tooting!

  • Bob G

    Three comments:

    1. Most nominal Catholics under age 40 have little idea what the Church teaches, having been catechized by new-age ignoramuses. The Church

  • Gabriel Austin

    The Holy Father did not say that Judas in not in hell. He said simply [and truly] that we do not know. Which is another way of saying – mind your own sins and do not worry about others’.

  • Arturo Vasquez

    For a very tame solution.

    Yes, I have to agree with Bill Bannon. Where were the leaders in all this? Where are the guardians of orthodoxy? Are John Paul II

  • bill bannon

    Gabriel Austin
    You didn’t even correctly read what I said. It is no wonder that you have not read what Christ said about Judas in several places.

    Me: “And both John Paul II and Benedict in line with Balthsar and Rahner stated that we can’t be positive that Judas is in hell.”

    You: “The Holy Father did not say that Judas in not in hell.”

    Judas’ sin is our business and we know that because Christ took pains to several times speak in dire terms of him which terms are not appropriate for someone bound for Heaven. In another place, Christ states: “But woe to that man through whom the son of man is betrayed for it were better for that man had he never been born.”
    If you will eventually reach heaven, it is better that you were born. Christ calls him a son of perdition when praying to His Father but Christ does not say it to Judas’ face as Christ called Peter “satan” to his face. That is: it was therapeutic rebuke toward Peter but a description in the case of Judas. Acts says that Judas “fell away to go to his own place”. Does that sound like heaven to you?

  • Another Bill B

    At the risk of prolonging what is essentially a digression from this fine article, I have to point out to Bill Bannon that the Catechism mentions Judas in only four points, and one of them seems to take a view that is somewhat different – perhaps more modest – than yours:


    597 The historical complexity of Jesus’ trial is apparent in the Gospel accounts. the personal sin of the participants (Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate) is known to God alone.

  • bill bannon

    Another Bill
    Catechisms can contain error: Ludwig Ott from the Intro to the Fundamentals of the Catholic Faith just before section 9:

    “The ordinary and usual form of the Papal teaching activity is not infallible. Further, the decisions of the Roman Congregations (Holy Office, Bible Commission) are not infallible.”

    Trent’s catechism held for delayed ensoulement which means abortion is not murder at times (Incarnation section) and it held slaves to be property not to be coveted since they belong to your neighbor like all other property (10 commandment comments).

    I’ll go by the obvious meaning of Christ words which you avoided citing like the plague…and rather you fled to the catechism. And Protestants think we are catechism dependent…

  • Lyn R

    This was a wonderful article. It spoke so directly to what we experience in our parish. Our Pastor allows the Deacon to spout any speculative theology nonsense he wants, while his own homilies are meant to be so inoffensive as to be pablum. Being a Catholic today is not for sissies! Speaking of what individual lay people can do: 1. take classes – distance ed if necessary, from a known orthodox school – Augustine Institute, etc. 2. start a Bible Study in your parish using solid coursework – Great Adventure is good; start a book group or apologetics group; invite solid Catholic lay people in your area to present on their favorite topic; form discussion groups for the Sunday readings; email your pastor or deacon when their homily crosses the line, do it respectfully, but thoroughly back up your points; teach youth RE classes; host movie nights using DVD’s from Ignatius press; get the Lighthouse CD kiosk in your parish. Only by becoming joyfully and knowledgeably involved in our parishes can we be available to God to play our small part in transforming our culture.

  • Warren

    I was sitting in at a secular Franciscan fraternity meeting, and an older Friar in the first-order made the observation that Franciscan spirituality is rather prone to being replaced with something else, that is Franciscan in name only. In the history of the order, as with many orders in the church, this seems to be a repeating motif.

    I believe, that what is true of the parts (Orders) is true of the whole (the Church). There is a substitution as Eliot says, of Literature for Religion, and of the real Religion for something that is the same in name only. I see the “rad traddies” and sedevacantists as being only another kind of this substitution, and even though they might be the ones to crow the loudest support for the author of this article’s findings, I hardly think they have a solution to the problem.

    When I read the recent writings of the current Pope, Benedict XVI, and the work of the late great JP2, such as the Theology of the Body, I am aware of a consistent theological and philosophical concern for the predicament of post-enlightenment mankind; our society, our ideas about truth and reality, and our ability to do exactly what the boy in the fairy tale mentioned in the article can do; reverse alchemy, turning Gold into Dross, and once we find it is worthless, we discard it completely. This is the vision of the fall of religion that delights Dawkins and Hitchens, and appalls those of us who see it as a gradual descent of human society into hell.


  • Bob G

    Fr. Haight says we don’t need an actual physical resurrection to know that what Jesus revealed about God is “true.” How do we know that? If the early Christians hadn’t thought Jesus physically rose from the dead, there wouldn’t have been any Scriptures to tell us what he said. After all, a shameful and pitiable death like His is hardly, by itself, a divine endorsement of Jesus’s “message.” It also seems quite remarkably inconsistent for writers like Haight to adopt the viewpoint of post-moderns who deny the existence of any truth–so that even the message of Jesus cannot be in any real sense true.

    And why does Fr. Haight think he’s saying something original? Even I, a non-theologian, have read long analyses, by writers as long ago as Karl Adam, of arguments that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead and the scriptures did not intend to say so. Fr. Adam was just one who showed that an actual physical resurrection is the only fact that makes any sense of the Gospels. And other great scripture scholars have said the same thing. Yet here comes Fr. Haight opining that a physical resurrection is unnecessary. Did he bother to refute those who said otherwise? Probably not.

  • Brett Salkeld

    While Father Oakes’ choice of Father Haight as an example of a theologian giving away the farm is certainly apropos, the suggestion that the kind of theology Father Haight espouses is garden variety for our ‘elite divinity schools’ misses the mark. Just ask Father Haight. Since his publications have veered from the questionable to the downright heterodox, he has been unable to secure work. Our elite Catholic schools are having nothing to do with him. He even recently lost the faculty to teach at Union Seminary in New York, perhaps the major liberal Protestant seminary in North America.
    When it comes to how theology is done at our top schools, Father Haight is the exception that proves the rule. No, not everything is perfect. There are still significant numbers of faculty who have qualms with Humanae Vitae. But to imply that Christological heresy is rampant in our theological faculties is simply irresponsible. The faculty at these schools are just as critical of the Jesus Seminar as Father Oakes himself.

  • Pamela Haines

    Good insight Bill B. re 597 in the Catechism regarding the Catechism not infallible, except when reiterating the infallible teaching of the Catholic Church–which it does on every page. Hopefully, the “intent” in 597 was to be clear that we do not know the “end-result” (practically speaking) of anyone. The words of the Catechism re. Judas are, indeed, hard to reconcile with the words of Jesus in the Bible. Jesus knew the “end result” of Judas, but if he had not spoken the words Bill references, we would not otherwise know. After all, we are also told not to judge–lest we be judged (Mt 7:1)–which is, I assume, the message the CCC is trying to get across. (Although Mt 7:1 is very much misunderstood because it does not distinguish between judgment of a person’s actions and a person’s thoughts. A whole other matter off the subject of, as someone said, the excellent article of Father Oakes

  • Peter

    When I was studying Religious Studies at the University, I encountered several books by Ratzinger. Our Professor of theology mentioned him by name several times, however, I never had seen the cardinal. Obviously on television.

    It was the homily At John Paul’s II funeral which the then Cardinal Ratzinger delevered that strucked me so much. So much so that I said this cardinal should be elected the next pope.

    When I was watching the election of the Pope and saw Pope Benedict the XVI as pope for the first time I was overjoyed and prayed for His Pontificate.

    Time shows us that his teachings, humility and love of liturgy and truth among many other things, that I was right. I pray for the Pope everyday and read many articles about him. May God Bless him!

  • Facile1

    This is the first time and the second article I’ve read so far today written by Rev. Edward Oakes.

    Rev. Edward Oakes died yesterday, December 6, 2013.

    This article originally appeared in the October 2004 issue of Crisis Magazine.

    I was an atheist until 2011. I was so lost for so long. And I know now from this article that part of the problem was my need to render GOD intelligible to myself. And in my efforts to suspend my disbelief, I lost my FAITH.

    I needed a miracle and God sent it. And God sent me a miracle again today in this article, so I won’t repeat history.

    I only wish I read this article earlier. Unfortunately, one will not find what one does not seek. Unless, of course, God first sends a miracle.

    Thank you, Rev. Oakes. And thank GOD.

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