Book Review: Catholicism

This partial review is part of a blog tour for the recently released paperback edition of Fr. Barron’s Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith. This blog tour is focused on reviewing one chapter from this book.

So I will be looking at Chapter 10 – World Without End: The Last Things which is quite appropriate for Lent.

This book grew out of Fr. Robert Barron’s major project to produce a media series that explained the faith using the scenery of 50 locations throughout 16 countries. Having seen the Catholicism series I felt it was very successful at what it aimed to do.

The chapter I am exploring on the Last Things is very indicative of Fr. Barron’s teaching method. Using literary examples, places, and events to set a theme that opens you up to the philosophical and theological points he makes. It is no surprise that Dante’s Divine Comedy was used as more than just a backdrop to illustrate an introduction into the topics of hell and purgatory. A discussion of Shakespeare’s Hamlet also is made use of in exploring this topic. Mostly I enjoyed they way he used the literary narrative to help define terms and to help the reader move beyond just a cultural view of hell, purgatory, and Heaven.

This book is not intended to provide an exhaustive apologetics in this area or to fully look at Catholic distinctive such as purgatory. A 291 page book on the topic of Catholicism is not meant to replace the Catechism, but to take the reader on a tour of the faith. Distilling the Catholicism series down to a book is not a simple task. The black-and-white images in the book just don’t have the majesty of the video locations and so I found them to be only vaguely useful in providing an accent to the topic discussed.

I am a big fan of Fr. Barron’s teaching method and have been a long time fan of his Word on Fire site from the beginning. Unfortunately when it comes to the topic of the last things this chapter left me cold. Generally I found most of it worthwhile, but some aspects I found either missing or presenting more of a personal point-of-view over what the Church teaches.

For example when you lead off a topic mentioning Protestant objections to Purgatory and subsequently reference what 2 Maccabees 12 says I found to be a bit odd. I did not expect a thorough scriptural apologetics defense of purgatory, but there is no reason to bring up Protestant objections unless you are going to try to answer them in even a general way.

Mainly what annoyed me on this topic of the last things was the discussion of hell and the idea that there might not be anybody in hell. Hans Urs von Balthasar famously wrote on this topic and Fr. Barron’s seems to take the same view of Balthasar’s book Dare We Hope?. This idea was repeatedly interjected. Mostly what annoyed me is that nowhere was it mentioned that this is a very minority opinion and that it has no backing from the Church’s magisterium. If you have a personal theological opinion than it should be labeled as such, especially in the case of a general book on the faith. Regarding my own personal opinion I think Balthasar’s idea is severely flawed and for an excellent look on what the Church teaches and why Balthasar is mistaken I would highly recommend Ralph Martin’s Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization. Still I am less concerned with the population of hell other than making sure I don’t increase that population by one.

When you have a chapter on the last things I would also have expected some discussion regarding judgment especially as part of the traditional reference to the four last things: Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven. There is certainly some consideration regarding sin in this chapter, but it seemed to me that the non-discussion regarding judgment was connected to his view on the population of hell. I could easily be reading too much into this.

Writing this review rather pains me since if my review had covered pretty much any other chapter in this book it would have been much more positive and without so many caveats. Especially since there was much that I enjoyed in this chapter in particular regarding the angels and the fallen angels. His exploration of a look at the devil via Dante’s Inferno is spot on.

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