The Priority of Christ: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism, by Robert Barron. Brazos Press (Grand Rapids, Mich., 2007). 352 pp., $32.00 hb.
Robert Barron, professor of systematic theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, states that his purpose in writing the book is to develop ''a postmodern or postliberal Catholicism, a view of God and the world that flows from the still surprising event of Jesus Christ and that pushes beyond the convictions of both modernity and conventionally construed Christianity.''
In Part I of the work, Barron presents what he calls an ''iconic'' Christology, one that takes seriously the dense particularity and spiritual complexity of the picture of Jesus as it emerges in the New Testament narratives. In Part II, he explores nine ''icons'' or sacred scenes from the Gospels, organizing them under the headings of Jesus as Gatherer, Warrior and Lord.
In Part III, Barron develops a ''christocentric epistemology,'' arguing ''that Christians know and seek knowledge in a distinctive way, precisely because they take the narratives concerning Jesus Christ as epistemically basic.''
And in the fourth major part of the book, titled ''The Noncompetitively Transcendent and Coinherent God,'' Barron develops the following themes: ''God's trinitarian nature and the unique mode of divine existence vis-a-vis what is other than God.'' He argues ''for the noninterruptive coinherence of God and the world'' and examines ''the metaphysics of the gift as it applies to God's rapport with creation.''
Concerning this last point he writes, ''Precisely because God does not need the world, God is capable of an utterly selfless gift on behalf of the other, breaking the rhythm of economic exchange that effectively undermines ordinary gift-giving.
In the final or fifth part of the work, Barron shows the ethical implications of his christocentric metaphysics, developing ''a densely christological ethic, one that flows from the biblical portrayal of the way of being characteristic of Jesus'' by ''painting icons'' of four saints ''who, in various ways, participated in the new life made available in Christ: Thérèse of Lisieux, Katharine Drexel, Edith Stein and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.''
The book is full of gems worthy of hours of contemplation. Here are few to whet one's mystical appetite: ''Gifts are not heavy, for once they are received, they are given away, only to be received and given again.'' ''Jesus the Lord corresponds to the conviction that our lives are not about us, that we belong to a power beyond ourselves.'' ''Joy is the consequence of having entered into the loop of grace, the gift-giving and gift-receiving characteristic of the divine life.'' And finally, ''True freedom and joy are discovered in the act of surrendering completely to the Grace who cannot, even in principle, undermine the integrity of the one who surrenders.''
For something a lot less heavy, Martin Laird presents Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation (NY: Oxford University Press, 2006). The opening line says it all: ''We are built for contemplation.'' Laird continues, ''This book is about cultivating the skills necessary for this subtlest, simplest and most searching of the spiritual arts.''
Laird, associate professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University, writes, ''We enter the land of silence by the silence of surrender, and there is no map of the silence that is surrender.'' He also makes clear his intentions in writing this work: ''The practice of silence, what I shall call 'contemplative practice' or simple 'practice' cannot be reduced to a spiritual technique.'' He adds, ''A spiritual practice simply disposes us to allow something to take place.''
''God is always Self-giving,'' states Laird; ''it is a question of removing the obstacles that make it difficult to receive this self-gift.'' This book helps remove the obstacles that get in the way of receiving God's self-gift. TP