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.