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Customer Review

324 of 331 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best single-volume introduction to Catholicism, September 6, 2011
This review is from: Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Hardcover)
When defining Catholicism, many first turn to its unique practices and characters--the Mass, the sacraments, Mary, priests, and the Pope. Others point to its intellectual traits--its distinctive apologetics, theology, and philosophy.

In his new book, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, hardcover, 304 pages), Fr. Robert Barron explores these typical characteristics but doesn't stop there. He looks through many more lenses to reveal the core of Catholicism.

Barron is not just concerned with what's good and true about the Catholic tradition but also what's beautiful. The Catholic faith is not just a matter of the mind and the soul but of the body and the senses. Therefore if we want to fully understand "the Catholic thing", we need to gaze on art, history, culture, music, literature, and architecture:

"In order to grasp (Catholicism) more fully, we have to read the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, the Confessions of St. Augustine, the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, The Divine Comedy of Dante, Saint John of the Cross' Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Story of a Soul of Therese of Lisieux, among many other texts. But we also have to look and listen.

We must consult the Cathedral of Chartres, the Sainte-Chapelle, the Arena Chapel, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Grunewald's Crucifixion in the Isenheim Altarpiece, the soaring melodies of Gregorian chant, the Masses of Mozart, and the motets of Palestrina."

In his Catholicism book, as well as in his epic ten-part film series with the same name, that's exactly what Barron does. Over the last five years he's traveled to more than fifty locations from Rome to Jerusalem to India to Poland to highlight the Catholic tradition in all of its splendor, richness, texture, and genius. The film series will debut in October on PBS stations across the country, but the Catholicism book will be available in September.

To be blunt, this is simply the best book on Catholicism I've ever read. And I've read a lot of them. Without hyperbole, I can say that this will now be the first book I'll recommend to anyone exploring the Catholic faith.

Barron is a systematic theologian at heart, and Catholicism presents a complete tapestry of God and his Church. The book touches upon every facet of Catholicism--Jesus, the apostles, Mary, the Church, the saints, prayer, the sacraments, and more.

The content in the book aligns very closely with the scripts from the film series. In fact the book devotes one chapter to each episode in the series. But since "the medium is the message", the book communicates Barron's content differently than the documentary does.

For instance, one of the most complex chapters concerns the existence and character of God. It's titled "That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought", an allusion to St. Anselm's famous ontological argument. In the film series, Barron's dense philosophical arguments can be tough to track. Moving fast they can fade behind the stunning visuals. But the text in the book makes it easy to read slowly and grasp each concept before moving on (it also lets you flip back if you want a refresher.)

On the other hand, having seen large chunks of the film series, the book can't compete with the film's astonishing images and music. The book does include more than one hundred black-and-white photos along with an eight-page color insert. But in the film, Barron's words are illumined as you see the very places, culture, and artwork he is speaking about.

When he explains the Incarnation, for example, he doesn't just present his image of a strange baby King who thwarts the violent Roman Empire--he stands at the site of the Nativity. He doesn't just describe the vibrant celebration of the Ugandan martyrs--he takes you to Africa so you can see the tribal excitement for yourself. So while the book makes it easier to digest the more complex material, it does lack the visual and audible flair of the film series.

Those familiar with Fr. Barron's other materials will quickly recognize his favorite themes in this book. For instance, the "loop of grace" and the non-violent, non-competitive nature of God are seen throughout. And his chapter on the saints, one of the book's most exhilarating, recalls material from The Priority of Christ.

In this chapter he profiles four holy women--a not so subtle reply to those who accuse the Church of being anti-feminist. Therese of Lisieux, Katherine Drexel, Edith Stein, and Mother Teresa exemplify what Barron calls "elevated virtue" and they let us taste the wildly diverse community of saints.

Barron also applies his characteristic intelligence and artistry to the peculiar teachings of Jesus, the missionary zeal of Peter and Paul, the central importance of Mary, the riches of Catholic spirituality, and even death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

Catholicism closes with a grand crescendo, climbing and trumpeting toward one of the most stirring conclusions I've ever read. The whole book flows similarly to Dante's Divine Comedy. When you finish Catholicism, just like finishing Dante's Paradiso, your soul is left soaring.

Ultimately, Catholicism stands as Barron's magnum opus, the culmination of his life's work so far. Which means it's the best work from one of the world's best theologians, a monumental gift to the Church. RCIA programs across the country should adopt the book as a foundational text, and through Word on Fire's own study program, parishes should use the film series and book to reignite the passion of their flock.

One reviewer described the book and film series as "the most vivid catechism ever created." And I think he's right. This will go down as the greatest catechetical tool of our generation, the premier, single-volume book on Catholicism.

In a culture hungry for truth, Catholicism offers answers. To people searching for goodness, it provides the path toward sainthood. In a world desperate for beauty, this book ravishes.

If you're a Catholic, get this book and discover the radiance of your faith.

If you're not a Catholic, get this book and glimpse the Church's splendor, maybe for the first time.

If you know a young person, an RCIA candidate, or a fallen away Catholic burned out by religion, let this book spark new wonder.

Whoever you are, and for whoever you know, buy this book. I simply can't give it a higher recommendation.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 30, 2011, 5:26:59 PM PDT
I can't wait to get my Kindle and download this book.

Posted on Oct 13, 2011, 11:37:32 AM PDT
This is an excellent review of this book and series. I have purchased multiple copies of this book so I may gift my parish library, family and friends with this eye opening work. As Our Lord states, to know, love and serve God are most improtant. This book and the series feeds your mind and heart in a new way. Don't miss the opportunity to fall in love with God and fall in love with Him again.

Posted on Oct 14, 2011, 1:09:41 PM PDT
Diane4jesus says:
Stupendous review? Thank you!

Posted on Nov 12, 2011, 7:23:53 AM PST
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 19, 2011, 5:01:33 AM PST
This is a solid review of a great book. I rarely watch TV presentations, but the ones re CATHOLCISM are simply great. Mr. Vogt did a great job reviewing a great book. His review should invite readers to get the book and have a much deeper understanding of Catholcism.

In re lapses of the Catholic Church, that is passe. We know well of lapses in the Catholic Church because other devout Catholics wrote scathing denounciations of these lapses, and some of the critics have been canonized as saints. The Catholic Church has the largest charity organization in the world (hospitals, hospices, orphanges, refuge for the homeless, etc.), the largest education and university system, etc. Lapses pale into insignificance with what the Catholic Church has achieved.

Again, I applaud Mr. Vogt for an excellent review.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 22, 2011, 1:26:37 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 22, 2011, 1:27:09 AM PST
This is for James E. Roberts: I think you must misunderstand what Fr. Barron was trying to accomplish with his Catholicism series. The things you seem to want him to cover are being covered by a multitude of sources every day. What he wanted to do was something different, something that had not been done. Something that would show the beauty and truth of the Church. And in that goal he succeeded. He did not set out to create a series filled with Church criticism so it is absurd to fault him for not producing one.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 23, 2011, 6:54:50 PM PST
Disciple reminds us of the true focus of the book and review. This is what counts. The constant carping of media airheads against the Catholic Church is namby-pamby nonsense especially compared to the great achievements of the History of the Catholic Church.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 23, 2011, 7:27:14 PM PST
Thank you, James E. Yes, this is what counts. We who are Catholic have no reason to hang our heads in shame for being Catholic (though there are Catholics who should be ashamed of what they have done, and we assuredly do pray that those who have wronged others will seek forgiveness and let God heal them, and we pray for those were wronged, that God will heal them too). There is room for criticism of any human, Catholic or otherwise.

But that is not what Fr. Barron set out to do. That would be another project for another time. He set out to do what he, in fact, did. And he did it admirably well. We need more projects like his. May the Lord use Fr. Barron's wonderful efforts to inspire others for many years to come. Amen!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 24, 2011, 5:32:55 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 24, 2011, 5:58:12 AM PST
I asked friends and my college students to read the last paragraph of Father Barron's book. Non Catholics were impressed with this insight. I also appreciate the fact that Disciple alerted readers to focus on the theme of the book and not petty discractions.

My only criticism of Mr. Vogt is that he is so young (teasing). I am impressed that someone so young got so smart so soon. His review and comments are impressive no matter what age he is.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 24, 2011, 8:02:45 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 24, 2011, 8:03:57 AM PST
Well, if he's who I think he is, Mr. Vogt is more than a reviewer (an excellent one!); he's an actual author himself. I saw him on Marcus Grodi's The Journey Home and was impressed by the way he expressed himself and communicated the story of his conversion and also the way he articulated the truths of the faith. If you haven't already done so, please do visit his website wwwDOTthinveilDOTnet and have a look at his book about the Church, the New Evangelization and the new media.
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