Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Review Part 3)

This will be my third and final post on Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith by Fr. Robert Barron from Image Catholic Books.  For more on the author visit here and for an overview of the contents here.  Thanks again to Image Catholic for sending along a copy.

Let’s start with the good.  First, the book is good, solid Catholic theology.  Some readers of this blog will see that for the better, others for the worse.  Fr. Barron is faithful to the traditions of the Church; however, he is faithful to those traditions in a way that appreciates the concept of the development of Christian doctrine.  Thus, he has a section on the Catholic Church’s teaching on hell, but in this section he references the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar.  This makes for a nuanced presentation that I found appealing.

In addition, Barron does a fantastic job of bringing in insights from the realms of art, architecture and literature.  As I mentioned in the previous post on the contents, he includes a significant number of pictures, many of which are in color.  This makes for a visually stimulating presentation.  The focus on art also brings in the theological perspective of ordinary people.  Text often cannot speak to the faith of ordinary people down through the centuries the same way that a cathedral can.  Further, we live in a time when it can seem difficult to find strong generalists.  Barron’s ability to draw upon all of these fields of study is a monumental accomplishment.

In terms of critique, I would offer one, and I think this could prove problematic for the book enjoying widespread success, though I think the media attention might help temper this.  While Fr. Barron through his focus on the arts brings in the perspective of ordinary people, he sometimes fails to write in the language of ordinary people.  I admit up front that this is the pot calling the kettle black.  Sometimes as I’m teaching in my parish some of the parishioners I love dearly give me a look that says “you’re not teaching your graduate students right now.”  In addition, I’ve been critiqued on this in my own writing, so I offer this critique with all requisite humility.

From chapter one, I’ll cite a couple of sentences that are representative and demonstrate what I’m talking about:

What I propose to do in this book is to take you on a guided exploration of the Catholic world, but not in the manner of a docent, for I am not interested in showing you the artifacts of Catholicism as though they were dusty objets d’art in a museum of culture.  I want to function rather as a mystagogue …

I’m not sure of the intended audience of the book, but I assume from the broad title that Fr. Barron hopes that he will reach a broad audience.  Yet if I were to use the terms “docent,” “objets d’art” and “mystagogue” that closely together in my parish context, I’d likely get mentally shut down.  This is true though I work in a very highly educated Catholic parish about two blocks off of a university campus.

With all of that said, this is a very good book.  It will nourish Catholics looking for good, solid theology and will appeal to the more artistically inclined among us.  Yet I’m not sure if this book will go over terribly well at the popular level.  This is to say nothing of the DVD version.  I have heard very good things about the media production already.  So, the different format may go even further to eliminating the negative that I discussed above.

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8 thoughts on “Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Review Part 3)”

    1. Whoops, I’ve just seen your reply to me in your previous post (for some reason I didn’t get the ‘new post’ email).

      Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity is on my bookshelf and has been since he became Benedict. High time that I read it!

      1. Well, if you liked those sentences, you’d probably really love this book. But read Ratzinger too! My copy is getting pretty worn and I recommend it to just about everyone.

        I know what you mean about the email updates. Sometimes they come instantaneously; sometimes they take hours.

  1. I think its ok for authors and even preachers to use technical terms within a teaching / preaching framework…as long as its not overly done. I think its ok to educate the congregation into having some technical nous …yet at the same time there is a huge tension to do so with understanding for all.

      1. I’m yet to read the book. I’m finding my list is growing longer each day. :) My thoughts were more to encourage you not to worry to much if you stray in technical language… I think college life would be easier if more technical terms were used from the pulpit… explained within a simpler framework through. Sigh….can there be such a tension.

  2. Wouldn’t technical terms be fine as long as preachers explained them in simpler terms? And explained them a good many times so that no one was left behind? Otherwise the notorious chasm between academy and congregation will never be bridged?

  3. If anyone wants to understand the Catholic Church, this is the book to read. Father Barron, explains in beautiful, understandable terms the Church, it’s origin, it’s fundamental truths and why Catholics consider the Church their call from Christ. This is in contrast to the modern western view of the Catholic Church as nothing more than the original man made Christian organization that may or may not be attractive based on one’s own personal preconceptions and ideology.

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