Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith by Robert Barron

Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the FaithSummary: A useful introduction to the Catholic expression of Christianity.

As I continue on my project of reading about Catholicism, I stumbled on a book that is a companion to a documentary series.  I did not watch the documentary, but I picked up the book because the point of the documentary and companion book was to explain Catholicism to those that are inside and outside the church.

My first thought is that this is not about Catholicism, it is about Christianity. But the author of the book and documentary is not primarily explaining Catholicism, as opposed to Protestantism or Orthodoxy, but explaining Catholicism as an expression of Christianity.  So parts of this book read more like a basic systematic theology.  Barron is explaining who God is, why we worship him, the basics of the Trinity, the revelation of God, basic teachings of Jesus, end times, heaven, hell, purgatory, etc.

There were three areas that I found particularly helpful. Most helpful is Barron’s discussion of the church. He takes three different looks at it. One is a discussion of St Peter and Paul as exemplary of the tension between the organizational care of the church and the outreaching mission of the church.  Both are essential and a focus on either one to the exclusion of the other weakens the church as a whole.

The second look at the church is about how the church is Christ’s body. This is where Barron focuses both on the mystical unity of the church and on how a human and broken people can make up a blameless body of Christ. This section (chapter 7) is particularly helpful as a Protestant to see how Catholics understand that they as Catholics are the fullest expression of Christianity, while not minimizing the Christianity of those that are not Catholic. The focus is on apostolic succession, unity of the church as a whole and diversity of the part.

The third look at the church is a focus on worship and sacraments as unifying expressions of the church. Barron walks the reader through the whole of the traditional mass and explains each of the parts, why it is important and how it fits into the over all structure.

The final important section of the book that explores saints and gives short biographies of a number of Catholic saints (mostly born in the last 200 years.) This is helpful because it counters a misplaced understanding that many Protestants have about why saints are important (they are not worshiped) and how we should view them as examples of how to live a Christian life.  (Similar to how Paul writes about the reader imitating him as Paul imitates Christ.)

Overall I was encouraged by the clear evangelistic nature of the book.  Overall, the book is clearly trying to explain.  But it is trying to explain to draw people to the church and to God.  This may not be the best introduction to Catholicism is you are already a well read Christian (Protestant).  Because parts of it will be pretty repetitive to what you already know. But the advantage of that is that it will give you a good introduction to why Catholics believe what they do and how much Catholic and Protestant views of most areas of Christian theology are very similar.

Catholicism Purchase Links: Kindle Edition (with audio and video), Hardcover, Audible.com Audiobook

3 Comments

I haven’t seen the book, but I’ve caught bits and pieces of the video series on our PBS (Buffalo) up here. It looks like it’s been really well done. He’s a very engaging speaker and most of the lectures are on site (e.g. Rome, Turkey). It’s an audio-visual feast. I just haven’t wanted to shell out the $100 for it yet.

It is true that Roman Catholics distinguish between the reverence and adoration due saints and that which is due to God alone, but that is not the end of the difficulties Christians find with ‘dulia.’ In the first place, it can be difficult for ordinary people to maintain the distinction. I had a friend whose Eastern European aunt told him that the reason she prays to Mary is because Jesus is to busy to deal with an insignificant woman like herself. But just consider what she is saying. First, she is forgetting the infinite character of the incarnate Son of God. Secondly, she is essentially saying that Mary is infinite since she receives so many prayers and manages them. It might sound humble, but what she had been taught and believed was incredibly dishonoring both to the Lord of Glory and to his mother. In the second place, nowhere in the Bible are we taught or do we see saints, that is believers, praying to the dead. When our Lord taught us to pray, He taught us to pray to the Father. Why is this not enough for Roman Catholics? In the third place, the whole idea of ‘saints’ in Roman Catholicism is that there are believers who have lived so spotlessly that they have more merit than they need for themselves. Therefore, their merits are placed in a ‘treasury of merit’ where less virtuous saints can have access to them to help them out of Purgatory earlier than they would otherwise be released. What saint lives so perfectly that he or she merits? What saint lives so perfectly that he or she has an excess of merit! Where in the Bible do we find Purgatory? (It was a 12th century invention to help fund the Crusades.) The whole idea of Purgatory is that the Church can assign earthly penances that must be fulfilled before one can enter Paradise, along with the idea that the fires thereof will purify the soul and no soul can go to Heaven until it is made perfect in this way. Lastly, is not Jesus all the treasury of merit that exists and all that each and every believer needs? The tendency of all these teachings is to substitute various mediators for the one true Mediator whom God appointed for our salvation, even the Lord Jesus Christ. The root of all such teaching is the mixture of paganism, with its myriad of mediators and Levitical teaching about a priesthood that took place in the centuries after Constantine. I hope that you will not be offended by my writing these things. I am concerned for you brother. Rome is a deadly home because it will not look to Jesus alone. I’ve known people I deeply cared about ensnared by its false promises of catholicity and unity. I hope you will not join their ranks.

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