Bishop Barron repeatedly asks catechists and theology teachers not to dumb down the teaching of the faith in the classroom. In such talks, he typically shares an anecdote of when he went to his brother’s house and saw the class textbooks his niece was going to use as a high school senior at one of the best Catholic high schools in Chicago. All but the theology textbooks were at an intellectually high level. At the top of the book stack was Hamlet. Not Hamlet for Dummies, but Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Underneath that was Virgil’s Aeneid—in Latin! And underneath that was a fat physics book full of complex equations and scientific theories. And underneath that was a big paperback book with a bunch of colorful pictures.
That was her religion book.
Rightfully upset, Bishop Barron went out and bought his niece the first volume of Aquinas’ Summa contra Gentiles, Dante’s Divine Comedy, G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, and Bonaventure’s Journey Into the Mind of God. He considered it an injustice that she was being introduced to the intellectual greatness of every tradition but that of the faith. It was a profound clue as to why so many young Catholics find the faith to be a bit intellectually inept. During a lecture given in 2010 at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, Bishop Barron challenged attendees to show the story of salvation as intellectually compelling by refusing to dumb down the faith. I happened to be there, joining in the applause, eager to bring good theology back to the classroom; I embarked on a mission to take up that challenge.