Recently, a good friend of mine lent me a copy of the new documentary series by Fr. Robert Barron which is entitled ‘Catholicism’. Despite being a fan of much of what Fr. Robert Barron is doing and saying in our modern world, I offer this critique with regard to a key aspect of this epic series.
At the outset, I must also say that while these episodes are wonderful, with nearly ten hours of gripping narratives, beautiful visuals, and a broad story about the truth of the Catholic Church, there is a gaping hole in the whole narrative that could leave a bad taste in the mouths of those of us who are Catholic but not Roman Catholic.
For in constructing a documentary series called ‘Catholicism’, what the viewer is confronted with is the fact that this whole series is centered on Roman Catholicism. And when I say that it is centered on Roman Catholicism, let me be clear:
Other than capturing beeswax candles and icons onto film, the narrative, hagiography, and theological perspectives in the ‘Catholicism’ series is written from a Roman Catholic perspective. One could watch all ten hours and never know that over 10 million Catholics aren’t Roman Catholic-we pray differently, think differently, and yet love our Western Brethren and our Catholic faith, all coming from a unique lens and way of life.
As an Eastern Catholic, none of this is to say that the Roman Catholic perspective is wrong or bad. We are, in fact, in full communion with Roman Catholics, and we see much that is complimentary to our own perspective and patrimony in the West. But it is certainly not catholic to be only Roman Catholic, in the sense that catholic means “kata holos”; i.e., according to the whole. The Church is a communion of Churches, with their own culture, patrimony, liturgy, style, art, theology, and perspectives. To make a video on Catholicism and not reflect this even by way of saying, “The Church is even bigger than being Roman Catholic, as there are other Catholics out there who aren’t even Western Christians”, is to sell short the breadth, depth and catholicity of what it means to be Catholic.
The whole of Catholicism is not found in a full orbed understanding of the West, just as much as it is not a matter of only understanding the East. Instead, Catholicism should be a grasping of the whole Christian community. Unfortunately, the 10 episodes in the ‘Catholicism’ series do not mention how Eastern Christians pray, or that we even exist. Again, there is the intro scene that shows beeswax candles, but our way of prayer, our saints, and our very existence are sadly not mentioned.
For these reasons, I would have much preferred that this beautiful series be renamed ‘Roman Catholicism’, as the viewer will spend ten hours and not learn about any Catholicism other than that of the Latin Rite. This may be a beautiful rite, and it may be the Ritual Church of the Pope of Rome himself, but it is not Catholic to solely focus on the Latin Rite. After all, 22 other particular Churches in the one Catholic Church are simply not Latin. We have a Light of the East (cf. Orientale Lumen), and it would have been wonderful to see it portrayed in a DVD series on Catholicism. Because it was not portrayed or even mentioned in the ‘Catholicism’ DVD series, I would much rather have preferred to watch this series under the qualified title of ‘Roman Catholicism’.
With all of this being said, I would still recommend the series to people, especially if one understands where it is coming from in its depiction of the Catholic faith. But if Fr. Robert Barron were to ask me for a word of advice for a bonus episode, I would unhesitatingly offer the criticisms above, not in a spirit of bitterness but in a spirit of admiration for his ability to tell a wonderful story, which currently stands somewhat incomplete.
May God help us all to grow in a mutual understanding and appreciation of each other, and may He unite those of us who are not in full communion with each other.
Well, in truth even “Roman Catholicism” would be incorrect as the capitol was moved to Byzantium, and renamed Constantinople, (as Im sure you know) which would make those in that empire true Romans and thats how they historically referred to themselves. Perhaps Frankish, feudalist, Charlemagneian, Christianity would be more accurate… Papal supremacy is a myth, and infallibility is just a damn joke. Christianity was never a legalistic, scholastic (philosophic) way as it morphed into in the west. So tragic. Horribly tragic. They brought the ECs in through cohersion and deceit. You should return to your mother Church. The True Church. The one that hasnt changed throughout the centuries. The one with its spirituality intact and truth intact.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
I’m sorry to say this, but I do not see things in such a binary fashion, as to relegate Catholicism to falsity and Orthodoxy to the True Church. There is much beauty in the West, just as there is much corruption (tragically) in the East. Nevertheless, the purpose of this blog post and my general sense of things is that there is a great amount of coercion and disrespect on both sides that has led the schism to continue to be perpetuated in our hearts, and as a communal reality. The capitol of the Roman Empire may be moved from Rome to Byzantium, to Moscow, to Washington DC, and into eternity, but the See of Peter and Paul remains where it is, and this See’s primacy has been respected by the Ecumenical Councils.
For myself, I cannot do otherwise, but I do sympathize with those souls who are overwhelmed by pomposity and extravagance, clinging to other constructs and Sees as of first importance, even though I disagree with those conclusions. May God open our hearts to see Christ in all things, and to be more like Him in all things.
Lord have mercy on our divisions,
Latin Catholic reader here…
I read the companion book to the series last year. As I can best remember, I don’t think he wrote on Eastern rite Catholicism in the book either. I agree, he could have included that!
I know the series has been on EWTN at one time or another but haven’t seen it.
Thanks for your comments. There is a lot of work to be done to increase mutual understanding of the particular Churches in the Catholic Church.
It’s time for Eastern Catholics to also ask ourselves how we can better share who we are with Latin Rite Catholics and the whole world. May God give us the strength to do so with love and truth!
Great critique. I actually found his series to be overly flashy and superficial. I was disappointed.
I think some of the “superficial” aspects of the series just have to do with the fact that it is a 30,000 foot view. But that such zoomed out perspective does not mention that not all Catholics are Roman Catholics, that’s where I would take issue.
This is disappointing- I should have known that the videos were like this because I read the book. perhaps Fr barron can continue the series with more of the entire Church?