The following story appeared in the December 3 Idaho Catholic Register.
By Emily Woodham
We live in the most secular time in history. In his new book, Light from Light: A Theological Reflection on the Nicene Creed (Word on Fire Academic, 2021), Bishop Robert Barron writes that Western Civilization stands out in history with its blatant denial of the existence of God. Until the Enlightenment, it was assumed in every culture that man was accountable to some sort of deity or spiritual law other than himself.
There are numerous reasons for this disbelief, but Bishop Barron said that the legacy of the Enlightenment has presented three problems with evangelization in recent years: the culture of self-invention, the continuing influence of the New Atheism, and the “dumbing down” over the last 50 years of catechesis in the Catholic Church. How can Catholics evangelize a culture that has abandoned objective truth?
In his book, Bishop Barron equips Catholics to evangelize by explaining the key beliefs of the faith stated in the Nicene Creed. The more we understand why we believe the Gospel as handed down through the holy and apostolic Catholic Church, the better we are able to share our Good News with others.
His book only touches on the history of the Creed in order to give context to some of its language and form. The Council of Nicaea was called in 325 A.D., mainly to debate the heresy of Arianism, which denied the full divinity of Christ. The followers of Arius lost the debate, and the truth that Jesus Christ is fully God was upheld. Along with the Incarnation, the Creed declares the tenets of the Christian faith, as defined and clarified from the Scriptures and the Church Fathers. “Catholicism is a smart religion, and I make no apologies for it,” Bishop Barron said in his preface, and his book supports this
Light from Light is 224 pages and is divided into six chapters: “I Believe,” “The Father,” “The Son,” “The Holy Spirit,” The Church,” and “The World to Come.”
Bishop Barron helps the reader examine the statements of the Creed in detail. He is focused on the theological aspects, which involve philosophical and metaphysical explanations. However, he refrains from being laborious. There is continuity and movement in his writing that keeps the reader from getting stuck.
The longest chapter is “The Son,” and it is divided into several subheadings. This is also the most thought-provoking chapters of the book, which is not to say that the other chapters are light reading. I appreciated his explanation of the Incarnation in this chapter, and all the different facets of Christian belief tied to it. I did not expect him to expound on the role of Satan and demonic activity in this chapter, but it was a surprisingly fitting and enlightening look at the war that rages against being in right relationship with God and one another.
In his chapters on the Holy Spirit and the Church, I appreciated his applications of the faith being lived out through social justice and different personalities and charisms. Our faith is not merely belief or an intellectual exercise, there is a practical component that must not be ignored. He also brings out that our faith is not meant to be rigid, but it is dynamic.
I decided to review this book in time for Advent, hoping the book would provide encouragement to a weary Church that has been assailed from within and without. I was not disappointed. Bishop Barron is an honest man, who does not shy away from difficulty, and he presents clear theological arguments for the existence of
God, the Trinity, humanity’s need for Jesus and salvation, and our need for unity and one another in the Church. He also addresses the inconsistency that occurs between the holy mission of the Church and the reality of the fallibility of Christians, including their leaders.
If a reader does not have a lot of background in theology or philosophy, I recommend trying to find a group or a mentor with whom to read the book. Word on Fire Catholic Ministries has released a video series on the Nicene Creed, called “Creed,” which can be used along with the book to provide further insight.
A study of this book would be especially beneficial for Catholic college students. Bishop Barron understands the conundrums Catholics face in academic settings. He cuts through the arguments against faith and provides an undergirding to Catholic belief, without being rigid. One of my favorite points made was on the value of true ecumenism – acknowledging the truth in other beliefs without negating orthodoxy.
Light from Light, to borrow from St. Paul’s language, is not milk for infants. It is a hearty, juicy steak presented at the Great Intellectual Table, where ideas have been presented through the ages, across cultures. Many Catholics think they don’t belong at that table, but Bishop Barron’s book makes it accessible. Although the content requires intellectual work, it is not so lofty or full of technical language that it is un-approachable. If Catholics don’t show up and partake, then who will be the Church’s voice in the Great Discussion?
Referring to theologian Karl Barth, Barron said, “Every generation has to tell the story again, as though for the first time.” The only way we can tell the story to our generation is if we know the story well and by heart.
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