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The Priority of Christ

Toward a Postliberal Catholicism

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A Major Statement on Christology from Bishop Robert Barron

For a long time, Christians have tried to bridge the divide between Christianity and secular liberalism with philosophy and theology. Bishop Robert Barron shows that the answer to this debate—and the way to move forward—lies in Jesus. Barron transcends the usual liberal/conservative or Protestant/Catholic divides with a postliberal Catholicism that brings the focus back on Jesus as revealed in the New Testament narratives.

Barron’s classical Catholic postliberalism will be of interest to a broad audience including not only the academic community but also preachers and general readers interested in entering the dialogue between Catholicism and postliberalism. The hardcover edition includes a new preface by the author.

Praise for The Priority of Christ

“Barron’s wonderful book The Priority of Christ brings postliberalism back to its Catholic home. . . . A downright lovely book, written with a kind of winsome literary flair that exhibits the inviting clarity of a master teacher. Highly recommended.” —James K. A. Smith, Religious Studies Review

“The book is full of gems worthy of hours of contemplation.” —Mark G. Boyer, The Priest


Foreword by Francis Cardinal George, OMI Introduction: The Grandmother, the Misfit, and the One Who Throws Everything Off Part I: Iconic Christology 1. Jesus as Symbol 2. The Jesus of History 3. Doctrine and Narrativity Part II: The Narratives 4. The Gatherer 5. The Warrior 6. King Part III: The Epistemic Priority of Jesus Christ 7. The Scriptural Warrant 8. Modern Foundationalism 9. Natural Theology 10. The Nature of the Christ-Mind Part IV: The Noncompetitively Transcendent and Coinherent God 11. Thomas and James 12. The Distinction 13. God as Giver and Lover 14. Augustine, Aquinas, and the Trinity Part V: The Display of the Christian Form: Ethics by Means of the Saints 15. Deontologism and Proportionalism 16. The Breakthrough 17. Edith Stein: Elevated Courage 18. Thérèse of Lisieux: Elevated Prudence 19. Katharine Drexel: Elevated Justice 20. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: Elevated Temperance Conclusion: The Moment That Gives the Meaning Index


"By displaying how an imaginative human spirit can be illuminated by the manifold sense of Scripture, and by activating tradition to dissolve lingering philosophical distractions, this stunning summa for a 'postliberal Catholicism' will at once subvert any tendency among the faithful to demand a facile 'fix,' as well as offer lucid direction for anyone daring to undertake a pilgrimage of understanding--in and with the Christ."

David B. Burrell, CSC, University of Notre Dame (emeritus)

"Drawing deftly on Aquinas, Newman, Lonergan, Balthasar, and many others, Barron convincingly explains what a postliberal Catholic theology might be. But the great merit of this book is that he not only talks about what theology should be, he actually does it--above all in his lucid mystagogy on a series of Gospel stories and in striking meditations on the mind of Christ embodied in four great women saints of our time."

Bruce Marshall, Southern Methodist University

"It is crucial for Christians to apprehend the implications of Robert Barron's trenchant thesis: 'Modernity and decadent Christianity are enemies in one sense, but in another sense, they are deeply connected to one another and mirror one another.' Moving beyond the 'decadent Christianity' that mistakenly sought its very starting points in the epistemological and metaphysical dead ends characteristic of 'modernity,' Barron expertly weaves together Thomistic and Balthasarian motifs into a robust short summa that treats Jesus Christ, God the Trinity, the created order, and Christian ethics. Readers seeking spiritual and intellectual renewal will be revitalized by this much-needed book, which overflows with love of God and his path of salvation."

Matthew Levering, Mundelein Seminary

"Catholic theology stands at a foundational moment, and in this extended meditation on the figure of Christ, Robert Barron boldly argues for a Catholicism that rethinks the controversy between modern and postmodern thought through such classic theological formulations as the controversy between Aquinas and Duns Scotus on the being of God. Broad in reference and informed by the homilist's touch, The Priority of Christ will be an important contribution to a conversation the Church must have."

Richard A. Rosengarten, University of Chicago

The Author

  1. Robert Barron

    Robert Barron

    Robert Barron (STD, Institut Catholique de Paris) is Bishop of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota. He founded Word on Fire, a Catholic ministry of evangelism, and previously served as rector of Mundelein Seminary and president of the University of Saint Mary of the...

    Continue reading about Robert Barron


"A magnum opus. . . . Barron's book usually manages to combine scholarly precision with an inviting and pastoral tone. . . . Barron has made a signal contribution to contemporary Catholic theology. Something like his postliberal Catholicism marks the way ahead. Many will disagree, but anyone whose life and work involve trying to talk seriously to and about God will profit from reading The Priority of Christ."

William L. Portier,


"[Barron's] magnum opus to date. . . . Barron offers a compelling reading of several New Testament portraits of Christ, and brings them into enriching conversation with later doctrinal and theological perspectives. He thus effects a renewed unity of biblical and systematic theology which too often meander their separate ways. . . . In Barron's acute and, to my mind, cogent exegesis, the dominant trajectory of 'liberal theology' fails to do justice to the sheer originality of Jesus. . . . [Barron] provides a careful exposition and respectful critique of figures like Rahner, Küng, and Schillebeeckx, as well as their forerunners Kant and Schleiermacher. . . . He draws a compelling portrait of the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. . . . Barron has gifted us with an important work that opens exciting vistas for exploration and theological renewal."

Robert P. Imbelli,


"Barron's wonderful book The Priority of Christ brings postliberalism back to its Catholic home. . . . His postliberal Catholicism is a narrative Catholicism, teasing out the implications of this for Christology and the doctrine of God, as well as ethics and epistemology--all drawing on a prodigious knowledge of the history of philosophy and theology. On top of all this, it is a downright lovely book, written with a kind of winsome literary flair that exhibits the inviting clarity of a master teacher. Highly recommended for sharp undergraduates; required reading for graduate students and scholars."

James K. A. Smith,

Religious Studies Review

"The book is full of gems worthy of hours of contemplation."

Mark G. Boyer,

The Priest

"This book is an extremely well-written, informative, and insightful text that would be a delight to use in an undergraduate or seminary classroom."

Stephen H. Webb,

Reviews in Religion & Theology

"The Priority of Christ is unusually stimulating for an exercise in 'postliberal' theology. The book is strikingly readable and saturated with what one might call 'first-order' doctrinal claims instead of primarily methodological navel-gazing. . . . Its title, 'The Priority of Christ,' indicates the epistemic primacy of believing, doctrinally traditioned engagement with the Jesus Christ of biblical narrative. This scriptural primacy is a great strength and delight of the book. Its biblical commentary usually avoids mere recital of either the devotional or exegetically critical sort. Examples of compelling biblical readings abound. . . . The book will challenge readers to formulate their own understanding of what constitutes authentically theological interpretation of Scripture."

Daniel J. Treier,

Modern Theology

"Barron's project is impressively traditional and thus postmodern, aggressively independent and thus postliberal, and philosophically undistracted and thus properly theological. This book brings together many of the motifs of a re-emergent, unembarrassed, and confident Catholic theology."

Daniel P. Sheridan,