Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Priority of Christ: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism

By Robert Barron, 352 pages, Brazos Press.

The Priority of Christ unearths the Bible's rich complexity by employing Christian and Thomistic doctrine in its critique of modern philosophy. This Thomism establishes God as the primary being, and humans as secondary beings. Not only are we therefore dependent on God, but the more we live our lives as how our creator intends us to act, the freer we become.

Contrary to the modern secular attitude that God and religion threaten liberty, Barron argues that human freedom increases rather than decreases with fidelity to God: “Thus, in this context, the human will of Jesus is most itself precisely when it enters into a coinherent harmony with the noncompetitive and noncontrastively transcendent divine will....And it is this move that strengthens him for the fight against those powers which operate out of a metaphysical misalignment.”

Barron's discussion is so powerful because he identifies and discusses the psychological, spiritual, and social meanings of the tense, emotional passages of the mystery of Jesus' betrayal. He concludes: “When a dysfunctional group is bent on scapegoating, it is utterly indifferent to questions of truth or falsity, for all it wants is a victim.”

Barron's following words show how the gospel condemns our modern world, as they bring to mind the rivalry and competitiveness of our society: The “violent pseudocommunity is sustained by negative mimesis, each person looking rivalrously at the desire of the others. The positive, redeemed community, on the other hand, is animated by a positive mimesis, people learning how to desire by imitating the wholesome desire of those around them.”

The Priority of Christ directly challenges modern ways of thinking. Barron claims, for example, that modern philosophy ties its own hands by figuring out ahead of time the limits of possible knowledge. He suggests that a better way is to approach knowledge in a more open-ended, possibly more ambitious way by seeking knowledge through the Bible and in particular the knowledge of the resurrection.

He asks the vital question of whether Christians think differently – do they have a different way of reasoning? Do Christians come to know Christ after a long intellectual journey, or “does that awareness condition all modes of their intellection from the beginning?”

The Priority of Christ adopts the holistic, integrating tendency of Christian tradition, showing the shallowness of modern thought's fragmentation of the world. The modern breakdown has been occasioned by the utilitarian, materialist mindset that the Church so strongly opposes. Barron offers theological, philosophical, and psychological understanding of the current situation.

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