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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Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Review Part 2)

This is the second post in my series on Robert Barron’s new book Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith from Image Catholic Books.  I finished reading it last week, but with the start of the academic year, I’m just getting to write my review. I hope that some of you were able to check out the livestream with Fr. Barron. Here I’ll give a general overview of the contents.

Barron does something fresh in not following the course of the creed as does the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other introductions to Catholicism based on it.  For example, chapter two is about Jesus and chapter three about God.   In introductions that follow the creed, it’s God then Jesus.  There is something to say about getting right to Jesus in the Introductory chapter entitled “The Catholic Thing.”  Barron starts the book as follows:

What is the Catholic thing? What makes Catholicism, among all of the competing philosophies, ideologies, and religions of the world, distinctive? I stand with Blessed John Henry Newman who said that the great principle of Catholicism is the Incarnation, the enfleshment of God …

Following upon this, the chapters are connected, but topical.  He includes chapters on revelation, the teachings of Jesus, the mystery of God, Mary, Peter and Paul, the Church, Eucharist, communion of saints, prayer and last things.  He bookends these chapters with an introduction and a “coda.”

One another unique element of the contents that many people will enjoy is the pictures.  Barron includes black and white images throughout the chapters.  He also includes a beautiful set of color images in the middle of the book.  This is certainly a strong point that I will talk about in my personal reflections on the book.  One of Barron’s main points is that one cannot simply study Catholicism from a book, one must also “read” the art and architecture of the Church down through the centuries.  This is too often lost in many introductions to Catholicism.  I can imagine that the DVD media presentation would be even more stunning.

In my next post, I’ll give my personal reflections on the book.  In the meantime, I would mention that it got a very nice blurb on the back cover from a fellow biblioblogger with whom I teach.

 

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