A Fairly Bad Introduction (Review: “Catholicism: A Very Short Introduction”)

I initially chose this book as a candidate for my book review column at Austin Catholic New Media. I wound up reviewing Catholicism for Dummies instead and was delighted to find that I’d posted it right in time for the new second edition of that title. Having now finished Catholicism: A Very Short Introduction, I am very glad I decided not to review it for ACNM, because I didn’t like it.

O’Collins self-admittedly writes as “an insider,” but he fails to make Catholicism accessible to most newcomers. His organization of topics begins with two chapters of Church history. If you’re trying to reach people who just want the basic of Catholicism, laying out literally two thousand years of history is a very poor way to start. He continues on through chapters on theology, sacraments, and morality before concluding with predictions about the future of the Church.

In the final chapter, I was downright offended by his use of the term “Eucharistic ministers” (which is always wrong; they are “extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist” or of Holy Communion) and his suggestion that the Church must allow more* married men to be ordained in order to survive. That last suggestion is offered with no theological or Scriptural support. Apparently a little bit of social commentary is enough to justify changing a centuries-old practice.

I wanted this to be a shorter intro book in comparison to Catholicism for Dummies, because not everyone is willing to even flip through 400 pages. I was sorely disappointed.

*This is one of the biggest misconceptions of Catholicism. Priests can be married, but never after they’re ordained. That’s just currently the exception and not the norm.



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