Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


The Foundation of the Christian Life

September 25th, 2011, Promulgated by Bernie

Father Robert Barron, who created the Catholicism DVD series that was recently released and is now running on some PBS stations, published a very nice little book in 2000 entitled Heaven in Stone and Glass. It consists of a series of meditations on various aspects of a Gothic cathedral, reading them symbolically thereby showing the spiritual world to which they are transparent.

One of the aspects he calls cruciformity. This aspect of a Gothic cathedral is not immediately noticeable at ground level but is quite obvious from an aerial photograph; the building itself is a cross. The nave, choir and altar form the upright of the cross, and the transepts form the horizontal cross-beam.

When pilgrims visit these great churches they usually make their way around the cathedral visiting tombs and venerating relics on display at side and apsidal altars, probably not noticing that as they move through the aisles they are actually making a way of the cross.

Father Barron reflects on the centrality of the cross to Christianity recalling Paul’s statement I preach one thing: Christ and him crucified.   Barron mentions the uniqueness of the Savior’s death compared to the peaceful and natural deaths of founders of the other great religions.  The Gospels, he mentions, are often referred to not as biographies but as passion narratives with long introductions.

The symbol of Christianity is, after all, the cross. Barron attacks the terrible interpretation of the cross that would make of the crucifixion something satisfying to the Father, an appeasement of a God infinitely angry at sinful humanity. In contrast to this, Father Barron points to John’s Gospel (which)states that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that all who believe in him might have life in his name.

Barron repeats the analogy of the dirty diamond told by St. Anselm, the great medieval theologian, who is often unfairly blamed for the terrible interpretation.

We sinners are like diamonds that have fallen into the muck; made in the image of God, we have soiled ourselves…

God could have simply forgiven humanity without actually doing anything –an edict from afar, so to speak.

…but… it would not have restored the diamonds to their original brilliance.


God came down into the muck of sin and death and brought the diamonds up and polished them off. In doing so, of course, God had to get dirty.

It was that getting dirty –to the point of death, death on a cross- that comprised the ‘sacrifice’ and established the solidarity of Jesus with mankind. God so loved that he became incarnate.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C. This style is actually Byzantine and not Gothic but it, too, has a cruciform ground plan. Many churches that are not Gothic make use the cross ground plan.


The cross is the foundation of, and heart of, the great Gothic cathedrals. Like the cathedrals, the cross should be the foundation of the life of every Christian who does not forget what God has done for him.

We must never fail to make that same love that Jesus modeled for us the structure and foundation of our own lives.



Picture Sources


Top aerial photograph of a Gothic cathedral: Google Earth.


The National Shrine:





5 Responses to “The Foundation of the Christian Life”

  1. avatar Raymond F. Rice says:

    Every one of your postings seem to raise me up from the mundane to the divine and sublime!!!!! LOL

  2. avatar Bernie says:

    Raymond F. Rice
    Thank you very much. Your comment makes me feel VERY good.

  3. avatar brother of penance says:

    Brother Bernie,
    I have not read Father Barron’s HEAVEN IN STONE AND GLASS. Can you possibly quote for me the context and the exact statement he made regarding Barron attacking “the terrible interpretation of the cross that would make of the crucifixion something satisfying to the Father, an appeasement of a God infinitely angry at sinful humanity”.

    There are those theories of atonement acceptable to official Catholic belief in the atonement of Christ Crucified and there are other theories of atonement at odds with Catholicism. Perhaps Father Barron is addressing false theories of atonement.

    However, I am wary about statements which question “satisfaction” or “propitiation”. (see Romans 3:24, 25 in the Douay Bible ….redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood….”

    It would be interesting to know exactly what Father Barron wrote.

    There is an argument worth waging (rooted in lex orandi lex credendi…the law of prayer is the law of belief). The redemptive work of Christ on the Cross, made present in the Sacrifice of the Mass, is propitious. When we examine the Canon in the liturgy what do we discover?

    praeclarae majestati tuae de

    tuis donis ac datis, hostiam

    (+) puram, hostiam (+)

    sanctam, hostiam (+)

    immaculatam, Panem (+)

    sanctum vitae aeternae, et

    Calicem (+) salutis perpetuae. P: Supra quae propitio ac

    sereno vultu respicere


    At the conclusion of the Liturgy we hear: tibi sit acceptabile

    mihique et omnibus, pro

    quibus illud obtuli, sit, te

    miserante, propitiabile. Per

    Christum Dominum nostrum.


    Do we believe the offering is propitious? Yes, the Church prays using “propitio” and “propitiabile”.

    So, Brother Bernie, to help me further understand what Father Barron attacks, please quote just a bit more from his work. Personally, I am confident that Father Barron does not call into question the propitiation effected by Christ Crucified and the offering at Holy Mass which the priest prays is propitious.

  4. avatar Bernie says:

    Brother of Penance:

    The word Father Barron uses is “satisfying” not “satisfaction.” You are right. He does not call into question the propitiation effected by Christ. I apologize if I garbled Father’s meaning.

    from Page 43 of Father Barron’s book: “There is a terrible interpretation of the cross that has, unfortunately, infected the minds of many Christians. This is the view that the bloddy sacrifice of the Son on the cross was ‘satisfying’ to the Father, an appeasement of a God infinitely angry at sinful humanity. In this reading, the crucified Jesus is like a child hurled into the fiery mouth of a pagan divinity in order to assuage its wrath. It is no wonder that many, formed by this cruel theology, find the Christian doctrine of the cross hard to accept…”

  5. avatar brother of penance says:

    Thank you, Bernie. That quote helps me see that Father Barron is depicting an erroneous understanding of the atonement.

    Father Barron is a brilliant and orthodox priest/theologian. After seeing him and hearing him for the first time the summer of 2008 at Franciscan University, I now listen to his sermons on line at

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