For the Record: Father Harrison’s Comment on Bishop Barron’s Words to Ben Shapiro

Father Brian Harrison made a thoughtful comment on YouTube, motivated by Michael Voris’ “Vortex” episode critiquing Bishop Robert Barron for his now well known remarks to Ben Shapiro. Father Harrison sent me his comment via email, after he posted it on YouTube.

Below Father Harrison’s comment, I’ve embedded the YouTube video to which he was responding.

To Father’s remarks, I would like to add some comments of my own. Saint Paul makes it clear that justice is not by the Law of Moses. It was never by the Law; it was always by faith. Here is one passage where Saint Paul makes it clear:

Was the law then against the promises of God? God forbid. For if there had been a law given which could give life, verily justice should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise, by the faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to them that believe. But before the faith came, we were kept under the law shut up, unto that faith which was to be revealed. Wherefore the law was our pedagogue in Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after the faith is come, we are no longer under a pedagogue. —Gal. 3:21-25

This is relevant because, as Father Harrison correctly observes below, Ben Shapiro based his claim to salvific righteousness on his observance of the 613 mitzvot (he actually gave the full number: the Ten Commandments and “a solid 603 other commandments as well”) — which is curious, since many of them are absolutely impossible for a Jew to observe today, e.g., those ceremonial precepts rendered unobservable by the destruction of the Temple, and certain penal laws which could not be enforced outside the Jewish theocracy such as it existed before Christ. That last point, with which any practicing Jew will agree, may seem pedantic of me to point out. Perhaps Mr. Shapiro was being a bit rhetorical. Regardless, in referencing the 613 mitzvot, he is clearly identifying his righteousness as based solidly on the Mosaic Law, which cannot give righteousness (i.e., sanctifying grace).

I recommend reading my The Old Law as a Preparation for the New to learn more about this.

Here are Father Harrison’s comments:

Conspicuously absent from this whole discussion, on the part of both Bishop Barron and Michael, is the key word “FAITH”. In answer to Ben Shapiro’s appeal to his own good works – upholding the 10 Commandments and 603 other Jewish laws – on which he bases his expectation of salvation, we needed to hear from Bishop Barron the clear New Testament teaching of St. Paul that good works without faith in Christ are not sufficient for salvation. E.g., “We who are Jews by nature and not sinners among the Gentiles, . . . know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. We have believed . . . that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by works of the law no one may be justified” (Gal. 2:16). Many other passages from St. Paul and the Gospels could be cited to the same effect.

Also, Vatican II doesn’t in fact say that atheists can be saved if they are still atheists (i.e., faithless) right up to the moment of death. (The relevant passage in Lumen Gentium is one of the Council’s well-known ambiguities that have led to much confusion in the last half century.) Scripture flatly contradicts the idea that a faithless person can be in the state of grace and thus ready for salvation, for “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6). Indeed, Vatican I condemned as heresy the idea that even the natural knowledge of God accessible through human reason is equivalent to the divine (supernatural gift) of faith that is necessary for salvation, since (the Council affirms) it is “necessary to divine faith that revealed truth be believed because of the authority of God who reveals it” (Canon 2 on “Faith”, Denzinger 1811). Much less, then, can a person be saved who at the moment of death lacks not only supernatural faith but even a natural, rational, belief in God.

If I had been the one talking to Ben Shapiro, I would have honestly answered negatively his question as to whether he could be saved as a Jew, referring to the above teaching of St. Paul and the infallible Catholic Magisterium about the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation. But I would also add what St. Thomas Aquinas, in his wisdom, taught about this: if a non-Christian perseveres in seeking truth and striving to follow the natural moral law in the light of his conscience, then somehow or other, before the moment of death, God will give him the grace of enlightenment – maybe via an unexpected missionary, an angel, or an interior revelation – so he can repent of sin, explicitly believe at least the most basic truths of the Christian Gospel, and thus reach eternal life.

A multiplicity of recorded and clinically examined “Near-Death Experiences” over the last half-century have shown indisputably that people can sometimes have life-changing conscious experiences when close to death, even while they appear totally unconscious to bystanders at the hospital bed, and even to instruments recording their brain activity. So the fact that a morally upright Jew or other non-Christian does not show any indication of conversion to Christ on their deathbed is by no means proof that such a conversion has not taken place.

Fr. Brian W. Harrison, MA, STD

Here is the relevant “Vortex”: