Friday, May 25, 2012

Fr. Robert Barron on Misreading Genesis

This seems like a good video to post today, because I just finished reading the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible edition of the book of Genesis. It had been many years since I last read the book of Genesis. I found the Biblical text along with the excellent study notes to be very enlightening, and I highly recommend the Ignatius study Bible series.


  1. This is not a "good video'. this is liberal claptrap that denies the historiality of Genesis One. Fr.arron is a manifest heretic.

    1. Steve,

      Out of curiosity, are you Catholic? My understanding is that the Catholic Church does not teach that the creation account in Genesis must be understood literally (for example, that the world was created in seven literal days). Catholics *can* understand it that way, but are not required to. The question is what did the original author intend? Did he mean that the earth was created in seven literal days (to use the same example), or was he using symbolic language? There is room within Catholic orthodoxy for different views on this issue.

  2. Paul, the Early Church fathers all taught the historicality of Genesis One. So did the church for the last 1900 years. The church leadership that came on of the 'spirit' of Vatican II rejects the historical doctrine of special creation that the church has always taught. Go to the Kolbe Center website and see the proof of this.

    1. Steve,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Here is an article that quotes several church fathers on the meaning of the days of creation in Genesis:

      Of course, this is only one issue of many which could be discussed. But the point is that the church fathers did not have a unanimous opinion on whether the days of creation should be taken literally.

      Also, the Catholic Church does not condemn your literal reading of Genesis. It does not "reject the historical doctrine of special creation." Catholics have liberty to interpret the Scriptures in a number of ways on these issues.

  3. Catholics are required to believe in Genesis literally unless science can prove that it cannot be, which it hasn't, since science has not proven evolution or the Big Bang. Lateran Council IV, an infallible dogmatic council, required this belief from Catholics: "...who by His omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual and corporal, namely, angelic and mundane, and finally the human..." (Denz 428). Vatican Council 1, another infallible council said the same: "If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing...let him be anathema" (Denz 1805). The Fathers of the Church were in unanimous consensus that the world was created in six days or less, as were the medieval theologians. Doubts creeped in when Darwin introduced his theory of evolution, but it is unproven science. Fr. Barron doesn't know the "genre" of Genesis, so it is wrong for him to assume it is in the same genre as Moby Dick, which is fiction. Fr. Barron also assumes that what Newton and Einstein taught were against the Bible's view of cosmology and cosmogony. They were not. If anything, their theories about matter, space and time showed that the Bible's view is well supported by modern science. The problem is that Fr. Barron, and many other Catholics in his genre, are not educated to the science of either Newton or Einstein. Additionally, Fr. Barron is incorrect in saying the creation is occurring now. It is not. Creation ex nihilo ceased on the six day. Fr. Barron says such things because he has mischaracterized Genesis from the start as an unhistorical account. This then leads him to the heresy that Adam was not a real man but is merely "theological poetry." If this is true, then there is no Original Sin and no reason for Jesus Christ to provide salvation. Unfortunately, these are the devilish things that are created once one empties Genesis of its history, as Fr. Barron does.

    Robert Sungenis, Ph.D.
    Catholic Apologist

    1. Hi Dr. Sungenis,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Regarding the quotes from the Lateran IV and Vatican I, I don't disagree with those quotes at all. And I see no evidence that Fr. Barron disagrees with them either.

      Regarding your claim that "the Fathers of the Church were in unanimous consensus that the world was created in six days or less," I already addressed that in a previous comment. And while I admit that I haven't researched this topic in depth, the quotes from the article I linked seem to indicate that the fathers indeed were not unanimous.

      You also said that "it is wrong for him [Fr. Barron] to assume it [Genesis] is in the same genre as Moby Dick." I watched the video again to confirm, and he does not make that assumption as you claim.

      You also said that "Fr. Barron also assumes that what Newton and Einstein taught were against the Bible's view of cosmology and cosmogony." Actually, the quote about Newton and Einstein came from his summary of a common objection to the book of Genesis. That doesn't necessarily mean that anything in the objection represents Fr. Barron's own view.

    2. Dr. Sungenis,

      I would like to finish replying to your comment:

      I don't agree with Fr. Barron's questioning of Adam as a single person, however I very strongly doubt that Fr. Barron denies original sin.

      I could not find the part where Fr. Barron says "the creation is occurring now." But if he said something like that, and if he meant that God continues to hold all things in existence, I don't see a problem with that.

      I don't necessarily agree with Fr. Barron on everything here, but I don't see anything he said that is outside the realm of Catholic orthodoxy. If you wish to convince me otherwise, then please cite some authoritative church teaching which condemns his claims.

      And thanks for visiting my blog!

  4. Paul, thanks for your blog and airing these issues. Someone pointed me to your blog today and I couldn't resist commenting on Fr. Barron.

    As for your points, I'll address them one-by-one:

    1) Whether Fr. Barron would disagree with Lateran IV and Vatican I is yet to be determined. I don't see how he could agree with them. The councils say that creation was ex nihilo and was "at once," that is, instantaneous (Latin: simul); and they give the sequence of the instantaneous creation, that is, first the spiritual (angels), second the mundane (the physical world) and third the human. They also say that what was created was created in its "whole substance," and this would have to refer to both its ontology and its physicality. So I don't see much here that Fr. Barron could agree with.

    2) Re the Fathers, I challenge you on your assertion that they were not unanimous. Except for Augustine, and possibly Origen, all the Fathers write of a six day creation period. Augustine allowed for the possibility of a one-day creation, but that was merely an alternative he offered if we wanted to include the angels in Genesis 1. What evidence do you have to the contrary that the Fathers were unanimous?

    3)Re Fr. Barron's reference to Moby Dick, he is saying that Genesis, like Moby Dick, has a genre that is not to be taken as literal or historical. This is precisely why he can say Adam did not exist as a real person.

    4) Re Newton and Einstein, Fr. Barron certainly left the impression that both of them would reject the cosmogony and cosmology of the Bible, regardless of where he was getting the quote.

    5) Re Original Sin, you are probably correct that Fr. Barron would not deny it, but the problem for him, then, would be showing how Original Sin enters the human race if no Adam existed to be the vehicle for it.

    6)Re creation now occurring, Fr. Barron must make a distinction between creation ex nihlo and creation being upheld by God. The two cannot be confused or mixed.

    7) re authoritative church teaching, Lateran IV and the First Vatican council do not agree with Fr. Barron's position; the Church Fathers, in consensus, did not believe in evolution or the Big Bang (which are only theories, not facts) but in ex nihilo creation in six days or less, and the Council of Trent said we are held to their consensus, and the Tridentine Catechism reiterated it.

    8) Lastly, the burden is on Fr. Barron to prove that the "genre" of Genesis is not literal and historical, not just assume it to be so. The tradition of the Church is long and uncompromising on this point. The impetus for Fr. Barron's wish to put Genesis in a different genre is because he has accepted evolution as a fact of science. As a result, he beleives that Genesis is nothing more than a redacted Jewish version of the Mesopotamian cosmogony myths. But the fact is that the Genesis account came first and the Mesopotamian myths were redacted versions of Genesis. The point is, Fr. Barron cannot prove his "genre" thesis. He just assumes it to be so because he believes that modern science disagrees with the Bible's science.

    R. Sungenis

    1. Hi Dr. Sungenis,

      You have posted more than I have time to reply to, and I sense that I'm not going to change your mind. But I will reply briefly to some of your points, by number:

      (1) I guess you and I understand those quotes differently. Taking them at what seems to me to be their face value, I don't see the conflict between them and Fr. Barron's apparent view.

      (2) I haven't researched this, but I did provide a link to an article with several quotes from the church fathers, which seems to indicate non-unanimity. Even you seem to make some exception to unanimity, since you say "except for Augustine, and possibly Origen."

      (3) You apparently interpreted his Moby Dick analogy differently than I did. I took it as meaning "don't assume one genre when a book is really another genre." I didn't take it as meaning that since Moby Dick is fiction, Genesis is also fiction. Anyway, the video is there, and people can watch and draw their own conclusions.

      (5) Indeed this is a problem, which is one reason why I tend to believe that Adam and Eve were literally one man and one woman. However, I think that there might be other ways that the problem could be resolved.

      (6) I don't understand why not. Why cannot God create from nothing, and also maintain that creation in existence at every moment?

  5. Fr. Barron has stated multiple times in his videos that Origen is a personal hero of his. Origen, who was condemned by many during his time and afterwards, for harbouring heretical views due to his penchant for allegorising the historicity of events that provide the very foundation of the Faith. He is certainly the 'black sheep' of the Fathers and not to be taken as authoritative on Genesis. Dr. Sungenis is substantially correct. The only Fathers who possibly disagreed with the thesis of six day literal creation are Augustine, who believed in literal creation but simply suggested it could have happened in one day (that's hardly helpful to Barron's thesis!) ; and Origen, who has very little credibility, given his appetite for allegory. Fr. Barron, sadly, is clinging to Origen and giving the false impression that his hero's views speak on behalf of the Fathers.