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Catholic Review of: Catholicism

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Author:  Fr. Robert Barron

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This item received 3 stars overall. (05/16/2014)

Orthodoxy: Completely orthodox.
Reading Level: Intermediate

 Stuart DunnBy Stuart Dunn (AL) - See all my reviews


For Roman Catholics

Evaluator Comments

If you've seen the Catholicism series, then this book will prove to be nothing new under the sun. In fact, this book is almost a transcript of the video series. This is both good and bad. It is bad because the book will never match the visual appeal of the videos. They were breathtaking presentations that brought us to many great landmarks of Roman Catholicism. However, there is a lot of dense material in the videos that is easy to miss, unless you rewind and re-watch several times. Having it presented to you in book format gives you a chance to see the words in front of your face, chew on them a bit, and hopefully understand. There are many great parts in this book, which Roman Catholics (and I stress Roman Catholics) will appreciate, including focus on the Mass, the Sacraments, and great saints. Now don't get me wrong, this book and series has done a great deal of good for a great many people. Instead of telling you about the good parts, which you can read in the hundreds of reviews on Amazon, I will tell you about the parts that bothered me.


For starters, there is also a lot of bias in this book. Fr. Barron states that Protestants and Orthodox don't hold as firm a conviction on the doctrine of the Incarnation as Catholics do. I would agree with him regarding Protestants, but disagree regarding Orthodox. He mentions sacraments, Liturgy, bishops, cathedrals, etc. All of which the Orthodox have. He then uses an image from the Hagia Sophia (a once Orthodox Church) on the opposite page. Sadly, the whole book only shows you the Western view of Catholicism, and completely ignores Eastern Catholics. The Roman Rite is but one of the many rites in the Catholic Church. This book doesn't even mention them and gives the feeling of "If it ain't Roman, it ain't rite."


Also, I don't like how he highlights Thomas Merton so much in Chapter 9 on prayer. I have spoke with people close to Fr. Barron before, and they have told me that he was shaped "by two Thomases" - St. Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Merton. The Summa Theologiae dramatically shaped his early religious life and set him on the path to priesthood. However, it is Thomas Merton that I am wary of. Merton was a Trappist monk who got involved to excess with Eastern religions (primarily Buddhism and Zen) near the end of his life. In fact, Fr. Barron has readily admitted in some of his homilies that Merton went too far to Eastern religions. If he knows that, why bother to include him in the book? He seems like too controversial of a figure to include in a book that is supposed to be a broad strokes view of Catholicism for outsiders, inquirers, new Catholics, and/or uneducated Catholics. If they see Fr. Barron endorsing Thomas Merton and read Merton's later stuff, bad things could happen! I agree with Dan Burke who says the following:


"The Church is in no way lacking in solid and perfectly trustworthy writings on the spiritual life. I personally don’t know why anyone would want to carefully sift through this kind of literature when it is clear that Merton had serious issues even during the his “orthodox” period. It seems a bit like sifting through the refuse at the back of a good restaurant. You will no doubt find much that is of nutritional value, but why not just go take your seat at the table for the best and purest meals available? I would encourage you to stick with the spiritual doctors of the Church. To name a few, the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Francis de Sales will more than meet your needs for spiritual guidance and you need not worry that you might be led down a path that leads away from the Heart of the Church."

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