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Pt 2 Can I Trust Fr Richard Rohr- Bk Review: Everything Belongs

November 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Can I Trust?, Dan Burke

Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer
By Fr. Richard Rohr

Some time ago I received an email asking if writings and teachings of Fr. Richard Rohr were trustworthy (e.g. faithful to the teachings of the Church). Because I didn’t have the time to respond myself, I posted an article from a trusted writer that RichardRohr00208rreasonably addressed key issues. The article was written in a journalistic style that referenced the insights offered by others and was aimed at those who are already well formed in their faith but unaware whether or not Fr. Rohr was faithful to the teachings of Jesus and the Church.

Of course those who were well formed responded well to the piece. However, those who had less of a foundation and understanding of the Catholic faith and spirituality, and who were positively disposed to Fr. Rohr, found the article to be less helpful. In order to better serve this latter group, we have reviewed a popular book from Fr. Richard Rohr entitled Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer. I am indebted to Tom Nash for his assistance with this analysis.

Central to our review of Everything Belongs is Fr. Rohr’s perspective on the person and work of Christ. There are many aspects that are problematic in this work but as the question of the nature of person and work of Christ is central to the Christian faith, we thought it most helpful to focus on this aspect of Fr. Rohr’s writings.

In summary, Fr. Rohr’s writings reveal that he sees Jesus as an ideal guide of sorts, but he’s not truly Lord, neither for himself, or for those Rohr teaches and counsels through his books, retreats and other spiritual direction.

In stark contrast to Fr. Rohr’s views, Jesus made clear in scripture that he came to save the world (John 3:16), and to this end he founded and commissioned his Church to make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:18-20). Jesus himself asserted that he is uniquely the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6), that his truth would set us free (Jn. 8:31-32), that those who listened to his apostles and their successors listened to him, and that those who reject his apostles, rejected Jesus and his heavenly Father who sent him (Lk. 10:16).

Jesus also wasn’t afraid to be a demanding teacher, and many left him after they couldn’t bear his teaching, e.g., on the Eucharist (Jn. 6:47-71). Jesus also proclaimed that he came to bring a sword and not peace, if peace meant a false irenicism in which merely human family members were chosen at the expense of faithful alliance with him, their Savior (Mt. 10:34-39).

Fr. Rohr’s Jesus is much more benign than Jesus in his self-revelation in scripture. For Rohr, Jesus merely gives “ideal eyes by which to see the real nature of reality” (emphasis added). “Real nature” is important because Rohr does not present Catholicism as it really is. Rather, from Rohr’s perspective, the gospel presented by Jesus is a non-demanding, non-threatening, ultimately optional way of life. On page 95 Fr. Rohr says:

The Gospel is not a competing idea. It’s that by which we see all ideas in proper context. We believe as Christians that Jesus gave us the ideal eyes by which to see the real nature of reality. He does not lead with his judgments (emphasis original).

Some might contend that Fr. Rohr is at least partially right. For example, Jesus did not lead with judgment against the woman at the well (John 4). But after introducing himself as the Messiah and showing the woman her worth, he called her to holiness, noting she had been married five times and was currently living with someone to whom she wasn’t married. Jesus, in that same conversation, also clearly judged and rejected the worship of her people noting that they didn’t know what they were doing and did not rightly recognize that salvation was “from the Jews.” Unfortunately, Fr. Rohr conveniently overlooks the hard words of Jesus here, on the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere. On page 107 Fr. Rohr flatly misrepresents the vast number of challenging statements of Jesus in scripture by stating:

…note that Jesus’ concept of “the Reign of God” is totally positive–not fear-based or against any individual, group, sin or problem (pg. 107; emphasis original).

This statement is not merely inaccurate or sloppy, it is so egregiously and obviously in contrast to the clear and repeated teaching of scripture that it seems to be a blatant attempt to misrepresent scripture for the sake of manufacturing a different Jesus than the one in scripture in order to fit Rohr’s message. Jesus constantly used contrast in pointing out true and false worship.

Even more fundamentally, Rohr falls into religious indifferentism regarding the basic mission of Christ and his Church. On page 93 he says (emphasis added):

I think Christianity has created a great problem in the Western world by repeatedly presenting itself, not as a way of seeing all things, but as one competing ideology among others. . . . Simone Weil, the brilliant French resistor [a woman who sadly declined to be baptized and become Catholic], said that “the tragedy of Christianity is that it came to see itself as replacing other religions instead of adding something to all of them.” I could not agree more.

Fr. Rohr provides very important insight into his spiritual outlook when he reveals that he believes in apokatastasis (also spelled apocatastasis), is a heresy known more in modern times as “universalism.” This heresy teaches that all the damned, whether men or women or fallen angels, will ultimately be restored and join God in heavenly glory for all eternity. This belief was made somewhat popular by the early Church Father Origen, who was misguided on a number of doctrinal matters.

Citing unnamed early Church Fathers (a common tactic in his writings that allows him to avoid scrutiny), Rohr describes this “universal restoration” as “the real meaning” of Christ’s Resurrection, which means that God’s love is “so perfect and so victorious that in fact it would finally win out in every single person’s life” (pg. 131). He erroneously claims that this view “gave rise to the mythology of purgatory” (pg. 131). Father adds incorrectly that apocatastasis is not a heresy:

When I read the history of the church and its dogma, I see apokatastasis was never condemned as heretical. We may believe it if we want to. We were never told we had to believe it, but neither was it condemned” (pg. 132, emphasis original).

It is true that some, like St. Gregory of Nyssa, espoused apocatastasis in the early Church when the Church had not formally pronounced definitively on the matter. But as the belief spread it was indeed condemned by the regional Council of Constantinople in 543, and its pronouncements were confirmed by Pope Vigilius. In addition, 10 years later in 553, the Second Council of Constantinople, an ecumenical or universal council, reaffirmed the condemnation of various heretics and “their sinful works,” including Origen, with no correction on the recent condemnation of apocatastasis (canon 11).

If apocatastasis were indeed true, the Church’s infallible teachings on mortal sin and the eternal punishment of hell, for example, would be rendered meaningless. In fact, after the condemnation of the regional council of Constantinople in 543, “The doctrine was thenceforth looked on as heterodox by the Church,” as The Catholic Encyclopedia, published in the early 1900s, affirmed.

CCC -- Catechism of the Catholic ChurchIt is true, as Rohr says, that the Church has never pronounced that any particular person is in hell (pg. 132). But the Church has reaffirmed the existence of hell and its eternal punishments, most recently in Pope Paul VI’s Credo of the People of God (no. 12) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 1033-37). Lest there be any doubt, the Catechism affirms, citing St. John Damascene, who lived from 676 to 749, “There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death” (no. 393). More importantly, Jesus himself affirmed in the Gospel of Matthew chapter seven that “many” choose the path to hell.

In light of his embrace of the heresy of apocatastasis, Fr. Rohr’s book title–Everything Belongs–makes more sense. In the end, there is no condemnation, only reconciliation and eternal communion with God: “For me, the utter powerlessness of God is that God forgives. . . . God seems to be so ready to surrender divine power” (pg. 153). Fr. Rohr’s God exhibits a distorted view of mercy and the absence of any real justice. Beyond the heretical nature of these assertions, mercy without justice is a meaningless idea.

Consequently, for Fr. Rohr there is a tension between truth and love. Jesus says that his truth will set us free (Jn. 8:32), but Fr. Rohr says “the law does not give life; only the Spirit gives life, as Paul teaches in Romans and Galatians” (pg. 40). But Paul is speaking of the Old Covenant law, not the liberating New Covenant law of Jesus, and Fr. Rohr seems to ignore St. Paul’s hard pronouncements on mortal sin and damnation. “True religion is always about love. Love is the ultimate reality” (pg. 103), Rohr adds, whereas “a lot that’s called orthodoxy, loyalty and obedience is grounded in fear” (pg. 102). “The great commandment is not ‘thou shalt be right.’” He says. “The great commandment is to ‘be in love’” (pg. 88).

He is, of course, right that many who are orthodox don’t really understand the love and mercy of God and are motivated primarily out of fear and duty. However, heresy is not the answer to this problem, the authentic Gospel is.

For Rohr, a false notion of love trumps truth because God will win out in every person’s life, “God will turn all our human crucifixions into resurrection” (pg. 132). Here Rohr fails to see that hell is man’s “definitive self-exclusion from communion with God” (Catechism, no. 1033, emphasis added), and that true love entails not compelling one to have communion. God will not force us to accept heaven.

VaticanCouncil II procession1In citing Acts 3:21 to defend universal restoration, Rohr fails to see that those who will not listen to the prophet will be destroyed (Acts 3:23). This is not to pronounce eternal judgment on non-Catholics and thus exclude invincible ignorance, but rather to affirm further that hell exists and that human beings can choose it. Choices do have consequences, some of them eternal. In that light, the Second Vatican Council Fathers teach in sober urgency regarding non-Catholics:

But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature,” the Church fosters the missions with care and attention (Lumen Gentium, no. 16, footnotes omitted).

In contrast, even though Jesus founded the Catholic Church (Mt. 16:18-19) and gave her the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:18-20), for Rohr the Church and her mission are not so important or urgent:

Institutional religion is a humanly necessary but also immature manifestation of this “hidden mystery” by which God is saving the world . . . . Institutional religion is never an end in itself, but merely a wondrous and “uncertain trumpet” of the message (pg. 180, emphasis original).

I personally do not believe that Jesus came to found a separate religion as much as he came to present a universal message of vulnerability and foundational unity that is necessary for all religions, the human soul, and history itself to survive. Thus Christians can rightly call him “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42), but no longer in the competitive and imperialistic way that they have usually presented him. By very definition, vulnerability and unity do not compete or dominate. In fact, they make competition and domination impossible. The cosmic Christ is no threat to anything but separateness, illusion, domination, and any imperial ego. In that sense, Jesus, the Christ, is the ultimate threat, but first of all Christians themselves. Only then will they have any universal and salvific message for the rest of the world (pp. 181-82, emphasis added).

Jesus Christ does indeed love all and thus died for all, but the true unity he preaches requires a choice to accept or reject him and his Church, as he first preached 2,000 years ago. If the words of Jesus himself, the words of the Apostles, and the teachings of the Church and the saints mean anything, the Christ that Rohr preaches is not the authentic Jesus. Rohr’s Jesus and his related proclamation of the Gospel is not the one that the Church has proclaimed and safeguarded for 2,000 years with the power of Holy Spirit. As a result, Rohr regrettably remains an unreliable and spiritually dangerous guide for souls, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

If you want to deepen your relationship with the real Jesus, look to the Church and the spiritual doctors of the Church and the Holy Spirit will guide you through the wisdom of the ages to the true fountain of mercy, love and union with Him.

Art: Richard Rohr, Svobodat, around 2004, PD-Worldwide self; A procession of Cardinals enters St. Peter’s in Rome, opening the Second Vatican Council, Franklin McMahon, 11 October 1962, CC-SA, both Wikimedia Commons. Catechism of the Catholic Church, file copy.

Editor’s Note: A listing of all our “Can I Trust” Posts can be found here: “Can I Trust” Series.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio Author Insights Edition, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • R Thompson

    No matter by what manner of conception a human life originates from,
    or however transient that life may be,
    or whatever that life may become –
    the nascent quality of that fragile and vulnerable solitude
    is transparent purity

  • Daniel Kreikneros

    Hello Jim, (please excuse me for repeating myself, but…)

    Truth is not dogma. Anyone who says, writes, and believes “LORD, JESUS CRUCIFIED, YOU ARE MY LIFE!” multiple times is, quite probably, not a Christian heretic. I may be a cafeteria Catholic, but only because I choose the food that truly gives life and reject that which causes conflict and strife. Best regards, Dan

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Daniel – thanks for your note. Your response is a bit ironic in that Jesus himself indicated that there were people who, on the surface appeared to be following him, but who were instead headed to hell. He said they called him “Lord” and pleaded “Lord Lord” at their judgement and his response was, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Regarding “truth is not dogma” – this is difficult to understand. If we use a dictionary to guide our terms, they are synonymous. You might need to clarify.

  • Bigconna

    “… a fine example of what happens when you put a priest on a pedestal.” Most Catholics do this with every priest, bishop and pope. This is all right wing orthodoxy. The same orthodoxy which marginalises the divorced, gays, and tries to criticise those who practice contraception. All dualist thinking, by people who criticise, rather than engage with those who challenge the status quo. The theology of the church is still developing and will continue, we don’t live in a vacuum, where nothing changes; we have to grasp the issues in the world and work through them, Christ is inclusive, he didntcome to exclude people. the current church thinking and its dogmatic members only drive a wedge between people.

    One of the reasons I will probably leave the church is as a divorced man I am excluded. Many of you will probably think good riddance, but I want forgiveness not criticism from the self-righteous, and from the church I grew up in and love.

    Michael

    • LizEst

      You are obviously in a lot of pain, Michael.

      The divorced are still able to receive the sacraments. I know many divorced people who fully active and faithful members of the Church…and are in full communion with Her. The divorced, who have remarried, need to seek and receive an annulment to receive the sacraments. Of the remainder of those you list, if they persist in, or engage in, mortal sin, and are not fully in communion with the Church, She invites them to repent and receive absolution and come into communion with Her and with Christ. You’re right, Christ did not come to exclude people. He forgave repentant people their sins and added “Go, and sin no more.” He never said, keep doing moral evil. The Gospel is to be taken as a whole. Picking and choosing what one likes makes it one’s own gospel, not the Word of God. Please make an appointment to talk with a priest who will sit down and help you with these things. The Church is made up of both sinners and saints. But, it is not a hotel for saints. It is a hospice for sinners. We are all broken and in need of forgiveness and absolution, myself included. My prayers for you. God bless you, Michael.

  • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

    Daniel – thank you for your tone in our dialogue. It honors the Lord when folks disagree but the tone reflects one of dignity and respect. Regarding Matthew 7:22, Jesus is in fact, not speaking to those who work lawlessness but the exact opposite. These are his followers. As the text says, they call him “Lord”, they prophesy, cast out demons, and do mighty works in the name of Jesus. It is very important to note that Jesus does not refute these claims. He does, however, point out that he doesn’t know them and that there is wickedness within them. So they outwardly claim the name of Christ and do good works in his name but inwardly they do not have an authentic knowledge of him. Their works are thereby in vain and thus wicked even though outwardly, they appear to be oriented to Christ.

    Regarding your definition of dogma, you are, of course, making up your own definition. There is freedom in the use of terms but your use crosses into defined theological territory and demands more precision if you are claiming to speak within the pale of faithful Catholicism. Catholic dogma is always 100% synonymous with truth.

    You reference “attacks” on Richard Rohr. It is not fair to say that I have attacked him. I have carefully examined his words and compared them to Church teaching. If we reject Church teaching, then, of course, our “truth” is not “truth” at all. We can call it what we like but at that point we are again making up our own standard and then comparing our judgement to that standard. That’s a great game to play but it will never bring us to the one who said, “I am The Way, The Truth, and The Life.” Sincerely yours…

  • Claire A

    And now he is going on Oprah. “He is inventing his own religion”. Spot on. Please read http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6819 for more about the Adam Returns book.
    It all makes sense when you understand that he is writing through a “gay theology” lens. Sorry if any are offended by this terminology.

    • Camila

      Thanks for the article Claire.
      I get knots in my stomach reading stuff like this, and I never know what to think of people that follow this stuff. Are they simply naive or just ignorant? You know, the Church Fathers (I think it might have been St. Augustine) said that God allows heretics to preach their mistakes for a reason. You know why? So that we can purify our faith, and by understanding their mistakes and rejecting it, we bring greater clarity to our own understanding of the faith. Heretics, like Rohr, have always been a part of the Church’s history.

  • Claire A

    “And in the Incarnation of the Word human nature was not merely anointed with a superabundant overflowing of Grace, but was assumed into an intimate and hypostatical unity with the Divinity itself.”

    Let me get this straight: What you are saying here is that simply by Jesus becoming man
    1. “human nature” was anointed by grace
    2. not only that but we then formed part of a union with God – a hypostatical one, part man, part deity

    So then no fallen nature exists, no repentance, no redemption, no being born of the spirit? Jesus’ death and resurrection? Also meaningless? Is this a quote from Richard Rohr? I am finding it really difficult to see how this is even Christian doctrine.

  • Maris

    There is a strong faction in my parish who are “followers” of Rohr, and our pastor, unfortunately, is apathetic. There will be a lenten retreat using his latest book on St. Francis.
    When I try and argue that Rohr’s work is leading people astray, all I get in return is that he is a priest in good standing. It’s very frustrating to say the least. Rohr’s stuff is spiritual poison, the man needs our prayer. And just to add something here, he promotes the concept that Jesus did not have to die for our sins, all he had to do was be born into the world, the incarnation was enough.

  • PixilDot

    Michael, I can hear the cry of your heart. But I also understand what the Church teaches regarding this Sacrament, and the beauty of it. It is so different than what the secular world understands – which is probably why so many have a difficult time wrapping their heads around it. I am so very, very sorry. And I am so deeply sorry you are going through all of this pain and heartache. I am so very, very sorry you are hurting. But you are not alone. You are never alone. Please know that I at least will be praying for you.

  • mickey mouse

    I have a question. Can I trust Dan Burke? By the way, in the UK, a Burke means a bit of an idiot. For someone who only became a Catholic less than ten years ago, he seems very assured about himself. I think the reason he despises and yes he does, Fr Richard, is because Fr hits a raw nerve in Dan. The type of self righteous, superior and saved people Fr tells us to be wary of, fits Dan perfectly…and he knows it!! Dan seeks assurance In the hierarchy of the church because he didn’t get those boundaries set for him when he was a boy, which he freely admits.Fr Richard was probably a priest before Dan was born so show some decency towards him.If you get this message Dan and you probably will, being a controlling person you need to censor all that displeases you, under the guise of following church teaching, then realise that you can fool your sycophants and yourself but you can’t fool any person with an ounce of intelligence, and you certainly can’t fool God

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      For those who know that this kind of comment doesn’t usually get through I thought it would be a good example of the kind of criticism I get from the folks that follow Fr. Rohr. I am grateful for the perfect example.

    • LizEst

      Matthew 5:22.

    • Marc

      Is there a set time to become a knowledgable Catholic? Does Father Rohr’s time as a priest dispute what has been laid out? I don’t see Dan or anyone slandering Father Rohr, only pointing out what seems to be the truth of the matter. We either follow and believe in the church and what it teaches fully, or we don’t. If we don’t, what are we? I have been on this site for years and observed Dan to be a very careful and intelligent person in his writings and responses. It’s okay to disagree – but I doubt you would see Dan or anyone who posts regularly of this site say such things. May God give you His peace.

  • Marc

    As a professed secular franciscan, I have heard much of Father Rohr from some fraternity members over the past 4+ years, while in the various stages leading to profession. I personally did not agree with almost all of his teachings and put him aside. I believe he has a point in how men have lost their ” rights of passage” that have traditionally helped men form into men. Beyond that, nothing I could find true in his teachings. Others, who had for years followed him and questioned me and others on what he was saying, I watched turn away over the past 2 years, deciding on their own, he was nowhere near orthodox and obviously not within the teachings of the church. There are a few third order professed who follow him and his teachings to this day. Fewer each month show up to watch his teachings! Most seculars ( OFS) no longer attend. So even within the Franciscan family, he is disputed, and in what I see, being found to be unorthodox and outside the magisterium by many. This is my personal view and observation as a Secular Franciscan.

    • LizEst

      Thank you for your testimony Marc. God bless you.

    • Steve

      Marc, as an aspiring SFO, I’d like to know what contemporary authors you would recommend? Fathers Rohr, Groeschel, Bodo, as well as John Michael Talbot have inspired me down this journey so far.

      • Marc

        Steve,

        After my initial exposure to Father Rohr and his seminars/teachings, I no longer had any interest in his teachings as I described in my post. I believe he is likely a good man and doing what he believes is right, but he is outside the scope of orthodoxy. I think Friar Roderick covered that much better than I could. We should pray for Father Rohr.

        Books: don’t think you can go wrong with anything written by Father Groeschel. I enjoyed John Michael Talbot’s book on the Lessons of St. Francis. There is Saint Francis of Assisi, the Saint, Vol 1 – a long slow read. Joan Mueller write a fictional account of the life of saint Francis, but it is quite historically accurate and gave me a real sense of who Saint Francis was and how his conversion occurred and took him to sainthood. When I was new, besides the formation book, I also read To Live as Francis Lived by Leonard Foley O.F.M.

        Hope this helps. Peace on your journey

        • Steve

          Thank you, and peace to you as well.

  • Playing the Ponzi

    Why do you see it as “banal and sad”?

    • Dan Burke

      I guess my previous comments weren’t clear. Decades ago a friend who was working with a leader from a post-communist/socialist country relayed a story to me. He took one of the top officials of the military into a chain grocery store in the United States to pick something up. Having just arrived in the US and having never visited a developed country before, my friend was walking while his guest stopped frozen an an isle. The man began to weep as a strong man does with tears and silence. My friend asked him what was the matter. The man said, “They lied to us. “Everything was a lie. They told us we had the best in the world.” It is sad when those who are authentically seeking to eat at the great banquet feast of God, are instead offered scraps from a garbage heap and told, “this is the best food available.” This my friend, is what Richard Rohr and many others do every day to the faithful. I pray for Richard’s soul as he is leading God’s children astray. In the words of Jesus, “whoso shall cause one of these little ones who believe in Me to fall, it were better for him that a millstone were hung about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

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