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Richard McBrien's "Catholicism"and Its Heretical Christology

James Likoudis


Our previous articles observed the attacks on the Divinity of Christ by contemporary theologizers who have shamelessly declared that Jesus did not always know that He was the Messiah, or was ignorant of many things, such as the hour and Day of the Last Judgment, or made errors and mistakes regarding moral and religious truth. Even worse, these modern blasphemers of Our Divine Lord who have reduced Christ to the proportions of a mere "human person" (with all the latter's inevitable ignorance and moral imperfections), have charged that Christ did not always know that He was God! Some writers infected with the deadly vice of today's neo-Modernism have even maintained that Christ was ignorant of His identity as God until after the Resurrection!


Attacks on the knowledge of Christ tending to undermine belief in His divinity have appeared in the writings of Rev. Daniel Helminiak, Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, Charles DeCelles, Fr. Bruce Vawter, and Monika Hellwig all clearly taking their cue from the books of Fr. Raymond E. Brown whose abuse of the historical-critical method of Scripture Study has been brilliantly exposed in Msgr. George A. Kelly's indispensable "The New Biblical Theorists: Raymond E. Brown and Beyond" (Servant Books, Ann Arbor, 1983).


As a result of the widespread dissemination of heresies once held by Arians and Nestorians, it has not been uncommon for ordinary Catholics to hear in homilies and CCD classes that Jesus did not always know He was God. In the Diocese of Buffalo, for example, children have been long taught via the Benziger "ln Christ Jesus" series the Nestorian heresy: "God stepped into the beautiful world He had made. He became a human person in Jesus, His son." (10/82 edition, 8th grade text, page 23).


Yet another important theologizer who has spread doubt and denial concerning Christ's infallible knowledge has been the well-known dissenter Richard P. McBrien. The 1994 "revised" edition of his "Catholicism" represents NO change in his heterodox views repudiating the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church concerning Christ's three-fold knowledge: i.e., acquired, infused, and beatific which enabled Our Lord to fulfill His Mission as the Savior of all mankind.
[For a clearer exposition on this subject see my other article:


Like the older Modernists and Liberal Protestants, McBrien distinguishes sharply the "Jesus of History" from the "Christ of Faith" set forth in the doctrinal statements of Popes and Councils. Notwithstanding McBrien's many doctrinal errors as well as notorious public dissent from Magisterial teaching on contraception and homosexual acts, the ultra-liberal Msgr. George E. Higgins gave this rave review of McBrien's 'Catholicism':

"I am even more enthusiastic about the new edition than I was about the original ... "Catholicism" is one of the most important Catholic books published since Vatican II, and I expect it to remain in great demand for years to come. There is simply nothing comparable to it on the market, and it is not likely to be superseded any time soon ... My guess is that it will be the standard text on such courses throughout the English speaking world. "

(Catholic New York 7/14/94)

For his part Jesuit Gerald O'Collins, professor of theology at Rome's Gregorian University, no less, praises McBrien's "Modernist Summa" in glowing words as "the clearest and most competent guide in the English language to the Catholic Church's origins, teachings, traditions and developments."

But what does McBrien teach concerning Christ Our Lord and the Catholic Church He founded? Read for yourself:

"Did Jesus Intend to Found a Church? The answer is No if by found we mean some direct, explicit act by which Jesus established a new religious organization ... One would not be surprised, therefore, to find no evidence of a specific act of founding a Church or of gathering together a community of the elect...'The majority of scholars today support the assumption that Jesus expected the end to come soon' (McBrien quoting approvingly F.J. Cwickowski)."

"The question of Jesus' knowledge of consciousness, is important, first, because unless we can admit to ignorance and even error in Jesus, certain problems of New Testament interpretation cannot be solved. Second, a Jesus who knows all things, and everything about all things, is not apparently the same human Jesus who the Council of Chalcedon confessed is like us in all things except sin ... In the New Testament, texts, reflecting an earlier, lower Christology, reveal both ignorance and error in Jesus." ("Catholicism", 1994 edition, pages 565 and 577).

This review does not have space to detail McBrien's other errors, his distortions of Scripture, or the insults he directs at the Blessed Virgin (McBrien thinks she was among those of His family who regarded Christ as having "gone out of his mind"). Suffice it to state here that McBrien's Christ is not the Christ of the Catholic Church. McBrien's positing ignorance and error in Christ's human intellect blatantly contradicts the import of the doctrine set forth in "The Catechism of the Catholic Church". The Catechism insists that the human nature of Christ, not by itself but by its union with the Word (quoting appropriately St. Maximus the Confessor), "knew everything that pertains to God." (See 473 page 120 of CCC - Eng. ed.)

The Dominican theologian Fr. Pierre Conway has well explained the traditional Catholic doctrine rejected by McBrien:

Because Christ's human nature is integrated into the Divine Person of the Son, his human knowledge, from the moment of His conception, is of the Beatific Vision, i.e., consists in the full consciousness of Himself as God. Christ, as with every human being, is conscious of Himself. This consciousness is, as with us, of being a person,i.e., an individual of rational nature. Since Christ is a divine person, any consciousness of Himself as other than that Person would mean consciousness of His being another person than the Divine Person of the Son. This is not the case.

This union of His human intelligence with the divinity (technically termed the 'grace of union') utterly excludes ignorance and error from His human knowledge. When Christ said He did not know the Day of His Coming, any interpretation of Mark 13:32 must exclude real ignorance on His part. Christ did know the day in His human knowledge, but not by His human knowledge (See his article "Ignorance of Jesus Contrary to Church Teaching", Catholic Standard, 5/9/85). 

It is not surprising, moreover, that McBrien should think that though Christ did not sin, He could have since He was not impeccable (i.e., not capable of sinning).   We give the last word on that subject to St. Cyril of Alexandria (5th c.) who replied trenchantly to the McBriens of his day:


"All those who maintain that Christ was able to commit sin - I know not how - are foolish and destitute of reason."

Reprinted from SERVIAM Newsletter, issue of SEPT./OCT. 1994







Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved