Blasphemy, Too, Has Its Theologians

In a recent syndicated column featured in many Catholic diocesan papers, dissenter Fr. Richard P. McBrien registered his decided agreement with dissenter Andrew Greeley's "substantive review" of the film "The Last Temptation of Christ." Like Greeley, McBrien ridicules those who believe that "Jesus did not have normal sexual drives, emotions, interests, fantasies and desires." The Chairman of Notre Dame's Theology (?) Department proceeded to denounce those critics of the film who believe that Jesus must have known everything about Himself and His mission, right from the moment of His conception:

"That assumption springs from the same theological and doctrinal errors that gave rise to the misunderstandings about Jesus' sexuality. To grow in knowledge, to struggle with doubt, to experience confusion and to make mistakes are all part of human nature. And Jesus had an integral human nature. He was like us in all things except sin. There is nothing sinful about doubt, intellectual struggle and even error. Whether the film goes too far in portraying Jesus as tormented, worried and indecisive is irrelevant. Jesus did know what it was to face the unknown and to experience doubt."
(Rochester Courier-Journal 9/22/88)

To portray Our Divine Lord as ignorant, confused, indecisive, subject to error and doubt, and lacking self-mastery in the sexual sphere is to blaspheme Our Lord and to undermine belief in His Divinity (as the Church has explained it across the centuries against the various heresies). Such portrayals whether on film or in scholarly theological tomes are hardly "irrelevant". Blasphemy is never irrelevant to believing Catholics.

It is ironic that Fr. McBrien should express concern regarding "theological and doctrinal errors". Abstracting from the fact that his own books have been replete with them, it may be recalled here that when Pope John Paul II declared unequivocally on September 16, 1987 (to the assembled body of U.S. Bishops) that "dissent from the authentic teaching of the Magisterium is not compatible with being a good Catholic", it was Fr. McBrien who commented to the press:

"if the Pope is saying in his talk that dissent from any kind of official Church teaching is unacceptable, then the Pope himself is wrong."
(Rochester Courier- Journal 9/24/87)

For many years, to the scandal of faithful Catholics, Fr. McBrien has made no bones about his belief that Catholics can dissent from 'Humanae Vitae' prohibition of contraception, and that he prefers his own brand of "selective Catholicism" to that taught by the Magisterium of Holy Church.

McBrien's 'apologia' for "The Last Temptation of Christ" is in essence a rehash of the theological rubbish he has written concerning "The Sexuality of Jesus" in his major work "Catholicism" (which was revised in 1986). Interestingly, on page 536 of the "Study Edition", McBrien makes clear he was aware of Nikos Kazantzakis' book "The Last Temptation of Christ", noting that "Kazantzakis had projected upon his Jesus a mixture of late Western asceticism and Buddhism". However, McBrien's basic sympathy for Kazantzakis' perverse depiction of a sexually sinning Christ is revealed in repeated affirmations that "Jesus was fully a human being, with sexual desires and with an understanding of sexual struggle." For McBrien, Our Divine Lord was subject to disorderly passions, and though He did not sin, He could have (since He was not impeccable). To McBrien's mind, to deny that Christ could have sinned is to deny the full reality of Christ's humanity.

Clearly, McBrien is at odds with Catholic doctrine stressing the impeccability of the God-Man - a doctrine which he admits was implied in the teaching of the 5th Ecumenical Council (See page 521). He repeats the falsehood found in his original 1981 edition: "Both Views - the one favoring impeccability and the one that does not - are within the range of Catholic orthodoxy." The truth is, as orthodox theologians have explained with regard to the awesome Mystery of Christ's Divine Person, the fullness of grace possessed by the sacred humanity of Christ gave Him all the perfections of human nature. It is true that Christ never sinned, but it is also true that possessing the fullness of the divine nature, it was impossible for Him to sin. He was not only sinless; He was impeccable.

As a sound theologian noted long before Fr. McBrien began his assault on orthodox Christological doctrine:

"The most obvious aspect of Christ's holiness is His sinlessness, which includes the incapability of sin. Christ did not contract original sin nor was His life marred by any personal fault. It is unthinkable that the Son of God should be stained by sin".
(Fr. William F. Hogan, Christ's Redemptive Sacrifice, 1963, page 29)

In his remarkable comments on the "divinization of sexuality" in the "God-Man Jesus Christ", the distinguished French theologian Fr. Bertrand de Margerie S.J., has observed:

"In His sacred humanity, Jesus could not experience any interior temptation to any sin of the flesh, or to any other type of sin".
(Christ for the World, 1973, page 320)

The original 1981 "Study Edition" of McBrien's "Catholicism" not only sanctioned dissent from the Magisterium in the matter of contraception, but gave credence to an essentially heterodox "Low Christology" which attributes ignorance, error, and doubt to the human consciousness of Christ. Such serious errors (which logically subvert belief in Christ's true Divinity) remain in McBrien's "revised" version, despite the call in 1985 by the U.S. Bishop's Committee on Doctrine for "clarifications necessary to remove any remaining ambiguities in the expression of Catholic teaching." In his 1986 Preface, McBrien has explained the cosmetic nature of his "revisions":

"There were ... some clarifications in the original treatment of theological dissent, the virginal conception of Jesus, the sacrament of baptism, ordination, the papacy, and some moral issues. In no instance, was there any substantive change."
(page xxvii, Study Edition)

In summary, the shocking blasphemies against Christ found in the film "The Last Temptation of Christ" find ample support in the heretical Christology which persists in the "revised" edition of McBrien's 'magnum opus' "Catholicism". With over 100,000 copies in print and large sales among priests, religious, directors of religious education and lay catechists, McBrien's "Catholicism" continues to bear the nihil obstat of the Church.

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage

Dissent from the Magisterium.... is not compatible with being a "good Catholic".
- Pope John Paul II -