Barron’s Catholicism

Barron’s Catholicism September 23, 2011

Father Robert Barron’s book Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith is the single best volume on the subject to date.  Give it to your godchildren, your roommates, your parents, your next door neighbor, and the friendly neighborhood agnostic.

I’ve published a full review here but want to focus on a larger issue for those unfamilar with Fr. Barron or his work.  I’ve read several of his pieces, and wrote a review of his earlier book Bridging the Great Divide: Musings of a Post-Liberal, Post-Conservative Evangelical Catholic in an academic journal.  As these two titles indicate, Barron is interested in getting to the heart of Catholic faith and dwelling within that place of beauty.  He wants the Church to tell its own story, and not have it told by others who misunderstand it or twist it to unholy ends (even if, following Dante, those include some of its leaders).

Thus his method is to ignite the imagination, just as his own imagination was ignited as a doctoral student in Paris gazing at the rose window in the transept of Notre Dame Cathedral.  Catholicism is never about how poorly we sinners are doing at any moment in our history; it is about the great beauty to which we are summoned by the great love of Christ poured out for the world.  If beauty is possible, he seems to suggest, then Christ must be at the heart of it.

I find this a compelling argument, one that reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man.  Lewis’ thesis is that moderns get beauty wrong, suggesting that it’s just something we burp up as a reaction.  Beauty is never in the eye of the beholder; it’s in the nature of things as loved by God.  The world, Lewis suggests (following Dostoevsky?) is saved by beauty.

If Barron’s intuition is right, it would suggest to me that Catholics ought to be putting a lot more energy into cultivating the arts.  Right now we do a lot of thinking and not a lot of painting or screenwriting (h/t Barbara Nicolosi), even though we know from our own history that there is no better catechesis than that of the arts: Cologne Cathedral; Palestrina motets; Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus; the Book of Kells; Michelangelo; Roman catacomb paintings; Byzantine mosaics; and so many others.  At present we pour a lot of energy (especially in the blogosphere!) on words, words, words.  Barron suggests that what we need is more than good ideas: we need imagination.

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