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.