The Word Has Been Abroad: A Guide Through Balthasar's Aesthetics by Aidan Nichols (Introduction to Hans Urs Von Balthasar: T. & T. Clark Publishers) (Hardcover) Hans Urs von Balthasar is arguably the greatest — and certainly one of the 1. most influential — of Catholic theologians of the twentieth century.
Awarded the prestigious Paul VI Prize for theology and designated a Cardinal just before his death in 1988 by Pope John Paul II, Balthasar's writings have clearly helped to shape the 'theological style' of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. His seven-volume series The Glory of the Lord provides a rich and complex theological aesthetics, approaching God (unusually) through the transcendental attribute of Beauty (Glory) rather than directly through Truth or Goodness, and drawing not only upon theology but upon the entire breadth of the European literary and religious tradition — ancient, mediaeval, modern and postmodern.
Understandably, The Clog of the Lord in its very extent and range is difficult to assimilate. In The Word Has Been Abroad, Aidan Nichols, one of Britain's most accomplished and lucid theological writers, succeeds in summarising and illuminating the essential theological content of Balthasar's monumental work, against the background of the living Christian tradition to which it bears such impressive witness. In this way, Father Nichols has provided the much-needed key to an understanding of one of the most difficult but important writers of our time, in a book that is a pleasure to read in its own right.
This is the first volume of Aidan Nichols' Introduction to Hans Urs von Balthasar which will also include guides to von Balthasar's theological drama and logic.
Excerpt: Hans Urs von Balthasar was born on 12 August 1905 at Lucerne, the most Catholic city of a pre-secular Switzerland. His was a long-established patrician family, though on his mother's side, his roots were Hungarian! Indeed, the Austro-Hungarian imperial family, in decorous flight from Vienna, put up at the Pension Felsberg, run by his grandmother, baroness Margit Apor, in the summer of 1918. His immediate family were linked to the Catholic Church in a variety of ways: his father, Oskar, an architect of church buildings among others; his mother, Gabrielle, an office-bearer in the Swiss League of Catholic Women, whose foundations and early history she chronicled; his sister, Renée, for many years superior-general of a Franciscan order of nuns. One of his Hungarian relations was a bishop who would die of injuries inflicted by the invading Red Army in 1944.
Balthasar's childhood and youth were dominated by an obsession with music. His first book, published in Germany in 1925, when he was twenty, would be called - with characteristic ambitiousness - The Development of the Musical Idea. Attempt at a Synthesis of Music.3 The influence of Benedictine monks whose abbey school at Engelberg - in another of the four 'forest-cantons', the Waldstatter of central Switzerland - offered a fine musical education, was paramount here. Before finishing his secondary education, however, Balthasar was moved by his parents -for reasons which have never been made clear - to a Jesuit college in the Austrian Vorarlberg, which adjoins the eastern border of Switzerland. The decision was all the stranger in that the peace negotiations of St. Germain had not yet taken place: the Danubian monarchy, Austria-Hungary, was still in the death throes of its final dissolution. This experience of parental Diktat was evidently unwelcome, because, without his parents' consent and before the equivalent of the British 'sixth form' years were over, he removed himself from school and matriculated in the faculty of Germanistik, German studies, a mixture of literature and philosophy, in the University of Zurich.
From one point of view Balthasar never abandoned that faculty. I do not mean that, of course, in a physical sense: indeed, as was not unusual when pursuing higher studies in the universities of German-speaking Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he was peripatetic already as a student. In the process of acquiring his doctorate he took courses in Berlin (where he studied as a sideline both Indian thought and, through the priest-philosopher Romano Guardini, Kierkegaard) and at Vienna (where he discovered Plotinus). His own mature theology would attempt to identify the elements of truth in both Existentialism, represented here by Kierkegaard, and Neo-Platonism, summed up in Plotinus, while at the same time identifying over against these the specifying features of a distinctively Christian metaphysics. It may also be relevant to mention here, vis-a-vis the topic of Hindu philosophy, that Balthasar's version of Christian apologetics attempts to show how the Christian gospel, and the characteristic thinking it generates, can find space within itself for the authentic spiritual aspiration represented by each of the great world religions while also showing up the errors on which their enterprise founders. This is the idea of Christian revelation (and the thinking that accompanies it) as a 'totality than which no greater can be thought'. Also worth noting, in the context of Balthasar's perambulations as a young man im deutschen Sprachraum is the influence upon him of Rudolf Allers, a fellow-citizen and erstwhile pupil of Freud in the Vienna of the 1920s, a convert to Catholicism whose journey from Freudian reductionism, where the self is not much more than a bundle of instinctual drives, to a Christian psychotherapy where primacy is given to interpersonal love as the proper medium of human existence, was assisted by his studies of mediaeval philosophy and theology.
To return, then, to my statement that in one sense Balthasar never left the German faculty at Zürich. This is in an extended or metaphorical sense true, for he continued to regard the marriage of philosophy and literature as the best possible preparation for theological existence. Or, to put the same point in another way, the offspring of that marriage provides theology with its most serviceable handmaiden. That Balthasar was already, even as a young layman engaged in purely academic work, thinking in religious and theological terms, is clear both from his life-story and from the massive and (it has to be said) not entirely digestible text which his studies produced' In the year when he submitted his thesis, 1929, he entered the Bavarian Province of the Society of Jesus; ironically, his university was situated in the most radical Protestant of all Swiss cities, where opposition to any relaxing of the 'articles of exception', forbidding the activity of the Jesuits, was at its most vociferous. And furthermore, the thesis he handed in was itself a form of tacit or implicit theology. Its subject was modern German literature, examined from the viewpoint of its attitude, explicit or implicit, to the 'Last Things' — the final or eternal destiny of the human soul. Much of the material of this thesis would find its way into the first of his major works, The Apocalypse of the German Soul, a massive tripartite study of the eschatological bearings of the work of numerous major German philosophers, dramatists and poets of the late eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Despite wandering at times from his brief in chapters on the vitalist philosopher Henri Bergson, an important figure, in more-than-Germanic perspective, in the overcoming of the rationalist element in nineteenth-century thought, and on the Russian novelist Dostoevsky, whom he treats as a Christian counterpart to Nietzsche, Balthasar more or less succeeds here in his self-appointed task. Taking German philosophers from Lessing to Heidegger and German poets from Goethe to Rilke to be the most penetrating intelligences at work in the unfolding of European culture in their periods, he tries to show that they divide ultimately into two principal attempted solutions of the riddle that is existence, what he calls the 'Promethean' and the 'Dionysian' solutions, after respectively, the Greek hero, Prometheus, and the Greek god, Dionysus. Prometheus for Balthasar is the symbol of man's attempt to raise himself by his own bootstraps to the level of the gods. The human 'I' exalts itself in self-affirmation, seizing fire from heaven — not only emancipating itself from inherited constraints, whether biological or historical, but aiming at the total mastery of existence. The Promethean outlook is manifested in the writers of the Enlightenment, and in such Idealist philosophers as Hegel with his project of reaching absolute knowledge, where the human mind coincides with the divine mind in realising that everything is, and has happened, just as it ought to have if infinite spirit is to become self-aware in man. Dionysus for Balthasar is a symbol of a more tragic attempt to resolve the puzzle of existence. Dionysian man resembles Promethean man in the unboundedness of his aspirations but his interest lies more in escaping the limitations of existence, rather than in dominating them. Faced with transience and mortality, he leaves reason behind in a flight towards the unnameable heights of whatever lies behind everyday existence. But characteristically this movement of mystical exaltation is followed by a falling back, disenchanted, into a sense of the absurdity of everything. The Dionysian temper is reflected in such artistic and philosophical movements as Expressionism and Existentialism.
The upshot is that only fitfully and in fragments do this vast range of writers and thinkers, spanning two centuries of enormous conceptual creativity, come close to the truth. The truth being that humans find their destiny only in self-transcendence, in transcending themselves towards the reality that is always greater than everything they can be, think or imagine, namely, God. We could in fact describe the Apocalypse of the German Soul as a testing of the dogmatic affirmation of the First Vatican Council that human beings, through the light of human reason, can develop a sense of God as not only the author but the goal of nature and history. It was Balthasar's conviction, evidently, that attaining a just doctrine of transcendence — seeing humans as called to transcend themselves towards an absolutely or unconditionally transcendent reality — is, without Christian revelation, no easy matter. Significantly, Balthasar ends this work with a study of his older Swiss contemporary, the great Protestant Neo-Orthodox dogmatician Karl Barth.
Apocalypse of the German Soul is the expanded, published form of Balthasar's History of the Eschatological Problem in German Literature and as such it gives us an insight into the making of his thought at a crucial and formative, if immature, stage. But by the time Apocalypse was given to the public in the years 1937 to 1939, Balthasar had completed his Jesuit training in the Jesuit studentates of Pullach, near Munich and Fourvières, near Lyons, and on the basis of this combined Franco-German tuition, had received ordination as a priest in November 1936, at the hands of the aristocratic German prelate, already celebrated for his resistance to the ethos of the Third Reich, Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber whose ancient see of Freising had been combined a century previously with the Wittelsbach court-bishopric of Munich to form the primatial church of Bavaria.
Balthasar did not have very much that was favourable to say about the Neo-Scholastic manuals in use in the Jesuit study houses of France and Germany in the 1930s. While of course not dismissing all their themes as misplaced, or treating all of their theological judgments as wrong or shallow, he spoke harshly of the arid, desert-like quality of the theological landscape in which he was made to wander. He wrote later:
My entire period of study in the Society was a grim struggle with the dreariness of theology, with what men had made out of the glory of revelation.
To understand the acerbity of this remark, I must look ahead briefly to Balthasar's mature work, the great trilogy which consists in, first, a theological aesthetics, secondly, a theological dramatics and thirdly, a theological logic. It may not have escaped the reader's notice that Balthasar's strictures on Jesuit theology in the 1930s were fundamentally stylistic in character. The large-scale rejection of a theological culture simply on the ground that its textbooks were poorly written may seem dilettantish or frankly bizarre. But not to one whose theological logic would not be finished until he had completed a theological aesthetics and dramatics. The revelation which Christian theology set itself to study was the disclosure of a beauty beyond all worldly beauty in the supreme artwork of Jesus Christ; in it the transcendent beauty — in biblical language, the glory — of the ever-greater God came to expression. How could a theology genuinely attuned to its own subject-matter be ugly? Similarly, the salvation history which Christian theology set out to represent, and into whose ambit, as players in an ongoing déroulement of the plot, it invited its readers to enter, was a drama in which God set forth his own philanthropy, his own goodness to men, in the midst of a conflictual and agonistic world. How could a theology really faithful to its own subject-matter be lacking in dramatic power and tension? And because the truth which theological logic sets out is the truth of the gloriously beautiful God in his incarnate Word, the truth of the dramatically philanthropic God in that play whose director is the Holy Spirit, could a theology which was unprepossessing and dull be adequately true, even given the qualifications we have to enter when faced with the notion of the adequate conceptualisation of a revelation of the living God who exceeds all our categories? Although my way of expressing here Balthasar's grounds for disliking Jesuit Neo-Scholasticism as he experienced is indebted to his later work, it would not, I think, be difficult to show that these most basic intuitions about divine beauty, divine goodness, divine truth, and the mark these qualities should leave on theology itself, were already in his possession from the earliest years of his priesthood. They show themselves above all in the choice of topic and manner of treatment which typify the series of short books on patristics and Christian literature which he wrote in the wake of Apocalypse of the German Soul, and the manner in which he praised his earliest theological hero, Karl Barth.
Before embarking on a description of those books I must pause, however, to record a qualification that has to be set against any notion that Balthasar could find nothing good to say about his Jesuit mentors. There were in fact two that he lionised, one at Munich whom he came to know at Pullach, the other at Lyons whom he learned from while at Fourvières. The first was the Polono-German fundamental theologian Erich Przywara whose chief influence on Balthasar was to show him the amazing theological possibilities present in that key doctrine of Christian Scholasticism, the analogia entis or 'analogy of being'.8 Przywara and Balthasar share an attitude towards the analogia entis doctrine which makes that teaching not (as is often the case) a commonplace of metaphysics, but a specifically religious doctrine of enormous spiritual power. Essentially they turn the analogy of being idea into a doctrine of participation, of a sharing in the divine life which, intimately present in the constitution of the human creature, presses that creature to go beyond itself in the direction of God. That there is an analogy between our being and God's should not make us seek to domesticate God but, on the contrary, lead us to recognise an invitation — inscribed in the very nature of our being — to enter his mystery. The more man is permitted to live his life from out of this divinely impelled movement, the more he will realise that God is the ever-greater Lord. The more intimately he shares the divine life, the firmer his grasp of the divine transcendence as infinitely above him. Przywara's highly theological commentary on the 'spiritual exercises' of the Jesuit Society made Balthasar appreciate their true depth. Indeed, it might not be too misleading to say that what Przywara, and Balthasar after him, hoped to do was combine the mind of St Thomas with the heart of St Augustine, all in the spirit of St Ignatius Loyola, that burning obedience — at once interior and missionary — to the Word of God.
Balthasar's other hero was Henri de Lubac — later, after various vicissitudes, to be like himself, a cardinal of the Roman church. De Lubac, on whom Balthasar, in the last decade of the latter's life, would write an entire, if concise, book, inspired him not only by his encyclopaedic grasp of the Catholic tradition of commenting on Scripture, his love of the Fathers, and his willingness to grapple with alien metaphysics, from Buddhism to the French socialist Proudhon, in the service of faith but also by the sheer range of his enterprise. Both men, in a sense, were capable of creating, and did create, at least in bookish form, a Christian culture of a comprehensive kind all on their own.
During his student days a number of Balthasar's books on the Fathers and on the literary art of twentieth-century Catholicism were happily gestating. This is true of his substantial essays on the seventh-century Greek Father St Maximus the Confessor, and his fourth-century predecessor St Gregory of Nyssa, both of which appeared during the Second World War, as well as his slighter study of the ante-Nicene writer Origen of Alexandria — which, published in Austria in 1938, only achieved its definitive form in a French version in 1957.10 At the same time, stimulated both by de Lubac and Pryzwara, no mean students of Augustine, he was compiling two anthologies of texts from the North African doctor, for which purpose he read through the entire corpus of Augustine in class, with earplugs in to block out the sound of lectures." Balthasar was lucky enough to be living in France at the time of a major Catholic literary renaissance there, and this bore fruit in his books on the novelist Georges Bernanos, Le chrétien Bernanos, as well as his translations of the poet and dramatist Paul Claudel. I do not list these books merely for the sake of being comprehensive. The decision to write them had a wider significance. What that was is in one sense specific to each study.
The Maximus book presented Christ as the key to the cosmos, tying together in his own person all the pathways of creation and redemption. The Nyssa book set forth for the first time the related themes of desire, ergs, and charity, agape, presenting the stream of ergs, which is never exhausted by any object in this world, as the concrete form of man's openness to transcendence, on which divine grace, then, can set to work, turning desire into self-giving. The Origen book is a modern restatement of the idea of the spiritual sense of Scripture, a sense more important than the literal in being not more foundational — for the literal is always that — but higher, more open to the full dimensions of God's self-revelation. The study of Bernanos presents major themes of sin and forgiveness, confession and judgment. Claudel was sought out for his ideas on the nature of poetic knowledge and the need for sympathy — connaturality — between the knower and the object known. Connaissance, 'knowledge', in its highest reaches, is co-naissance, 'co-birth', familial intimacy. But more widely, these books represent an appeal to broaden, deepen and above all humanise the Scholastic tradition, going back behind it to the Fathers with their mystical warmth and rhetorical power, and going ahead of it (or to the side of it) by appeal to literary artists who could put Christian experience, the wider sense of the faith, into compelling, unforgettable form.
At the time when this stream of what we could call his ancillary works — for the great trilogy of the aesthetics, dramatics and logic, is surely his master-work — began flowing, Balthasar was living neither in France, however, nor in Bavaria but in his native Switzerland, at Basle. That city on the Rhine, the border between the French- and German-speaking worlds, a Protestant city with a Catholic hinterland, soon gave him what he saw as the finest opportunity and the worst crisis of his life. But first I must explain what he was doing there in the first place. I said that in canton Zürich Jesuits were not allowed at all; but in fact throughout the Swiss Confederation Jesuits were inhibited by the constitution from running schools or parishes. The Swiss Jesuits, who until 1947 had no separate organisation of their own were, if not simple, unlettered men then certainly forced by circumstance to restrict themselves to pastoral work of a low-profile, and even marginal, kind. There was, however, one type of institution which the anti-clerical laws of the 1840s had not envisaged because it did not then exist, and that was the student chaplaincy. Given that Balthasar had already written more books than all the other Swiss Jesuits put together, his superiors decided that — unless he wished to go to Rome, to teach at the Gregorian University — this was the place for him. Balthasar threw himself into the work with his customary energy, founding a system of parallel lectures for Catholic students so comprehensive that it was almost a parallel university, giving Ignatian retreats and editing throughout the War a collection of anthologies, called the 'European Series' intended to help save Europe's cultural heritage in the face of National Socialism and capitalistic philistinism.
I call Basle the city of Balthasar's opportunity and crisis, because it was, on the one hand, the home of the two people — the dogmatician Karl Barth and the mystic Adrienne von Speyr — who more than any others were to determine the direction of his work; and, on the other, the occasion of his traumatic break with the Jesuits. His dispensation from vows and consequent acceptance of the status of a secular priest was, in the climate of the time, a perfectly adequate explanation for his cold-shouldering by Church authority. Even today the Roman Curia looks somewhat askance at exclaustrated Religious, even though they may continue to be worthy priests.
Balthasar's admiration for Barth, which was reciprocated, is expressed in his book The Theology of Karl Barth, which began life as a series of lectures on Barth given in Barth's presence: a daunting undertaking when one considers that Pope Pius XII called Barth the greatest Christian thinker since Aquinas. In the opening section of his study of Barth, Balthasar waxes lyrical in his praise of Barth's manner of practising theology. He calls Barth's work 'beautiful' on the grounds that it combines 'passion' with 'objectivity'. Barth's theology is objective in the sense of being thoroughly immersed in its object, God as revealed to the world in Christ. But the effect of this objectivity is that the theologian himself becomes involved in, and fascinated by, what he studies, and that at the deepest level: hence passion. The combination, Balthasar remarks drily, is not that common in contemporary Catholic theology.
To Balthasar's eyes, Barth shows us a true understanding of what theology should be. The 'principle' of theology is nothing other than the content of revelation itself. But this revealed content cannot be separated from revelation perceived as the action of God. It is not primarily the communication of truths, but God himself, very Truth, revealing himself in all his sovereign freedom. Consequently, theology must be a contemplative exploration of God's self-gift. In theology's case, we cannot dispose of the principles of our discipline, in the way that we can with profane studies. Furthermore, it is not just that, in Barth, revelation's content provides theology with its foundational principles. The style of Barth's theology expresses the immensity of this revealed content, the extraordinary greatness of the dramatic event of revelation.
Balthasar made no secret of the fact that, while he wished Barth's manner of theologising to inspire Catholic theology, he also wanted to convert Barth to Catholicism. Nor was this by any means an unrealistic aspiration though it was of course unrealised. Balthasar, who had a great reputation in Basle as a convert-maker, had more success with Adrienne von Speyr, a medical doctor, though herself a woman in chronically poor health, who through her two marriages was intimately connected to the academic echelons of the upper bourgeoisie of the city: a perfect Jesuit catch. Balthasar himself considered that von Speyr's role in his life had exceeded anyone else's, and in case posterity was in any doubt wrote in later life a study of their common work, Unser Auftrag, 'Our Mission', explicitly intended to prevent any prising apart of his theology from her mystically generated contemplative reading of the Scriptures" Certainly von Speyr provided several of the main themes of Balthasar's theology of the atonement, as well as of his mariology, ecclesiology and eschatology, not to mention his understanding of the specific mission in the Church of such (canonised or uncanonised) women mystics as Thérèse of Lisieux and Elisabeth of Dijon, on whom he wrote substantial studies 15 Though one might suspect a degree of chivalrous overstatement in Balthasar's references to von Speyr (he was deeply angered by what be regarded as the dismissive way her mystical experience was being treated, despite the full satisfaction she had given Jesuit professors, both German and French, deputed to examine her credentials and 'mission'), he described the task of spiritual director to a mystic as essentially an auxiliary one. Speyrian insights received at Balthasar's hands fuller articulation and suitable positioning within the corpus of Christian doctrine, gaining enhanced power to illuminate the biblical revelation in the process. And so, by a seeming paradox, a content drawn in significant part from Adrienne's experience could be placed within a theological structure inspired by that relentless critic of the Christian mystics, Karl Barth. As the doyen of 'post-critical' theology in the United States, the Lutheran George Lindbeck, has written, a discernible 'family resemblance' links the theologies of Balthasar and Barth. Both are wary of transposing biblical revelation into categories alien to itself, seeking rather to describe the world in terms that are scripturally rooted; the appeal of both to the Bible is, nonetheless, not lacking in intellectual power for they find there a sophisticated coherence, treating Scripture as a narrationally (Barth) or dramatically (Balthasar) as well as typologically unified whole.
In 1945 after a retreat in the second-order Dominican monastery of Estavayer, in canton Neuchâtel, Balthasar founded with von Speyr a secular institute or society of consecrated life for lay people living in the world as also for diocesan priests. The Community of St John became more widely known three years later when Balthasar produced a theology for secular institutes, the first book to be published by the Johannes Verlag, a publishing house established with the help of a friend at Einsiedeln, halfway between Lucerne and Zürich, and named after the Gospel writer, St John, who predominates in both von Speyr's work and his own.'' Neither the local bishop nor the Jesuit superiors supported the venture, and the Society made it clear, after an interview with its Belgian Father General J. B. Janssens, that Balthasar must choose between the Jesuits on the one hand and his collaborator and spiritual children on the other. Balthasar made known his decision in a short printed statement sent to friends:
I took this step, for both sides a very grave one, after a long testing of the certainty I had reached through prayer that I was being called by God to certain definite tasks in the Church. The Society felt it could not release me to give these tasks my undivided commitment. . . . So, for me, the step taken means an application of Christian obedience to God, who at any time has the right to call a man not only out of his physical home or his marriage, but also from his chosen spiritual home in a religious order, so that he can use him for his purposes within the Church. Any resulting advantages or disadvantages in the secular sphere were not under discussion and not taken into account.
And for his Jesuit confreres he explained, with references to St Thomas and the seventeenth-century Spanish Jesuit theologian John de Lugo that, in cases where obedience to the Order and a prayerful evaluation of the demands of obedience to God's will conflict, a resolution is not to be found 'absolutely and in every case in obedience to the Order'. Shortly before his death, Balthasar asked the present Jesuit General, Fr Peter Kolvenbach, to receive him back into the Society, but this negotiation foundered over, once more, the question of the Community of St John. Kolvenbach attempted to sweeten the pill by obtaining for Balthasar as cardinal the Roman titular church of Sant' Ignazio, one of the glories of the Jesuit Baroque, but this proposal also met with canonical difficulties. At first Balthasar's secularisation laid a heavy burden on him. Without funding - it was several years before a bishop would incardinate him into a diocese - he had to give lectures here, there and everywhere to earn his keep. The Roman Congregation for Seminaries and Universities (as it then was) inhibited him from accepting at least one offer of a chair from a Catholic theology faculty, that of Tübingen. In any case this was not what he wanted, and the time which might have been given to seminars and academic organisation was bestowed instead on spiritual direction and - above all for our purposes - his remaining books, and notably the trilogy, consisting in fact of fourteen books, six on theological aesthetics, five on theological dramatics and three on theological logic with which his name will henceforth be identified wherever Catholic theology is seriously studied.
The key to the trilogy is found in the Scholastic notion of transcendental determinations of being, qualities so pervasive throughout reality that they crop up in all the categories of particular being, and so may be said to 'transcend' such categorial distinctions as those differentiating substance and accident, quality and mode. It is the existence of these transcendental determinations -- of which the most relevant to Balthasar are verum, the true, pulchrum, the beautiful, and bonum, the good, which allows the analogy of being, the various intensities of reality as manifested in the varying activity of beings at all levels, from amoeba to angel, to be pressed into service by patristic and mediaeval theology for speaking about God. For that which can be ascribed to being itself must surely have some validity in discourse about the ultimate Source of being, God.
There is a correspondence, an analogy, as well as a staggering disproportion - we remember how for Przywara both comparability and incomparability increase as we move closer to God - between worldly beauty and divine glory. There is a correspondence, an analogy, as well as a staggering disproportion between finite freedom and the infinite freedom of God. There is a correspondence, an analogy, as well as a staggering disproportion between the structure of created truth and the structure of divine truth. If the God of glory wished to show his beauty to the world in his incarnate Image he must at once take up forms within the world and shatter them so as to express the Glory beyond beauty. If the philanthropic God wished to show his goodness to the world in the protagonist of the saving drama that is the Lamb slain and victorious he must at once take up the dynamic pattern of human freedom and burst it from within so as to express the sovereign Love beyond all goodness. If the God of truth wished to make known his primordial truth to the world - himself as the prima veritas, the 'First Truth' as St Thomas and St Catherine call him - then he must use, and in using take beyond their limits, laws of human thought and language so as to convey a revelation of truth beyond the heart of man in the incarnation of the Logos and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
I draw this introduction to a close by a brief evocation of Balthasar's last years and end. The ending of the Council, and the ensuing post-conciliar crisis, coincided with the decline and death of Adrienne von Speyr in 1967. It was surely no coincidence that Balthasar's honouring and exploitation by Church authority began almost immediately afterwards. Separated from Adrienne, with whom Catholic officialdom has only in the last few years begun to come to terms, and his intellectual stature increasingly self-evident, he was exactly the kind of anti-liberal but reforming theologian, neo-patristic in his sympathies, with whom the Roman see in the later years of Paul VI's pontificate and that of John Paul II, liked to do business. It did no harm that his book on The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church is theologically the profoundest book on the papacy ever written.19 Not that Balthasar angled for church office or honours. On the contrary he shunned the proferred cardinalate, and only accepted, in view of a later conclave, and at the pope's urgent request, in an Ignatian spirit of obedience to the Roman pontiff, as well as with a subsidiary hope that the honour might vindicate Adrienne. He died at Basle, with the Johannesgemeinschaft, on 26 June 1988, three days before his investiture as cardinal. A fellow German-speaking cardinal, now Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, said in his panegyric:
In a sense, his intuition was confirmed by the call to the next life which reached him on the eve of receiving that honour. He was able to stay entirely himself. But what the pope wanted to express by this gesture of recognition and even of respect remains justified: not in some isolated and private fashion but in virtue of his ministerial responsibility the Church tells us that he is an exact master of the faith, a guide towards the sources of living waters — a witness of the Word from whom we learn Christ, from whom we can learn life. 'For me, to live is Christ': this phrase . . . from the Letter to the Philippians sums up in a final way his whole journey?
No Bloodless Myth: A Guide Through Balthasar's Dramatics by Aidan Nichols (Introduction to Hans Urs Von Balthasar: T. & T. Clark Publishers) (Hardcover)
Following his acclaimed The Word Has Been Abroad: A Guide Through Balthasar's Aesthetics, Aidan Nichols summarizes and illuminates the five volume series Theo-Drama, which develops the heart of Balthasar's theological theory — his exploration of the Good and of the dramatic interplay of finite and infinite freedom.
Theo-Drama builds upon the earlier achievement of The Glory of the Lord and transcends it, opening up new horizons for theological and cultural reflection in the twenty-first century. Aidan Nichols' succinct commentary enables the reader to grasp the main themes of one of the most important theological works in several generations.
Excerpt: When Balthasar's theological aesthetics was published his critics commented that this was a quietist work, which treated the Christian disciple as a passive contemplator of a Christ reduced to an icon. They were quite correct in saying that Balthasar regarded many of his modern co-religionists as insufficiently penetrating in their grasp of what had appeared in Jesus Christ. They were right too in reporting how in Balthasar's judgment the first thing to be said about Christ's appearance is that it is an epiphany of the glory of God, holding spellbound those who glimpse it. But only a very superficial reading of the aesthetics could have led to the criticism that this work has nothing to say about Christian responsiveness in life and action, nor about the narrative content of the Jesus story with its implicit claim to challenge all those other life-stories in which people have expressed their sense of what human living is about.
Meeting the critics
In the first place, Balthasar had made it clear that, in all authentic perception of the divine glory in Jesus Christ, seeing goes hand in hand with transformation. Taking his cue from the Leonine Nativity Preface, he sees that here perceiving is impossible without a being caught up in love. A theory of perception cannot be had in this context without a doctrine of conversion, and so ultimately of sanctification. Not for nothing does Balthasar count the existence of the Christian saints with the evidence for the objective revelatory form. As in traditional apologetics, the lives of the saints are signs of the authenticity of divine revelation in Christ. That hagiology should thus be subsumed under Christology tells us in and of itself that the theological aesthetics are at the antipodes from any consciously anti-activist, merely spectatorial account of Christianity.
And similarly, the second count — the criticism that the Christ of the aesthetics is reduced to an icon, that Balthasar has depotentiated the power of Christ's words and deeds which are meant precisely to challenge human self-understanding and to elicit the self-commitment of human freedom to the cause of the Kingdom in the world — is also off-target. The art of God in Jesus Christ, in Herrlichkeit, is explicitly a narrative art. It is the unfolding form of the Redeemer, relayed in the sequential order of the various crucial scenes of his life, which constitutes the true centre or mid-point of divine revelation. The dialectic of disclosure and concealment in the appearing of the divine Glory was resolved in favour of its positive pole only with the Cross and Descent into Hell, as became clear in the Resurrection. The self-emptying divine Love, which is what the Glory of the Trinity turns out to be, thus manifests itself as judgment on human lovelessness and the re-orientation of human nature, at least in principle, to its true transcendent end. What the icon of Christ contains is, in Balthasar's words, a 'synthesis of saving history'; it shows the Father's saving will as at once justice and mercy, the rejection of mankind and its redemption.'
However, Balthasar would be the first to admit that the aesthetics cannot lay out all the themes of Christian theology, or at any rate not lay them out with equal cogency and liveliness. From the outset he made it plain that, just as among the transcendentals, the beautiful and the good as also the true are co-constituting, for no one of these is a manifestation of being without reference to the others, so also in the ambit of revelation the aesthetics cannot be separated from a dramatics, still to be written, if it is to have its maximum force. Moreover, he shows that a theological aesthetics opens us of its own nature to a theological dramatics. So far from being merely parallel theological raids on the divine treasures of revelation, aesthetics and dramatics are inter-related essentially, not accidentally — not contingently but of their very nature.
Aesthetics needs Dramatics
How does Balthasar justify this assertion? In the opening pages of the second volume of Theo-Drama (the first, as we shall see, is given over to Prolegomena), he will do so in three ways. First, he points out how, even among 'intramundane phenomena' — things which have their being and significance entirely within this world — the graceful quality of being in its self-manifestation calls forth a grateful response from the perceiver. A word of being which is eloquent of being's gloriousness calls for an answering word, a response. Expressive form inaugurates a dialogue. It requires from man an adjudication, which must necessarily take place in language. Such dialogue, or linguistic confrontation, is highly germane to drama.
Secondly, to appreciate a form aright, to receive aright its message, depends in some way or other on our having appropriate dispositions. Without a basic readiness to receive what the form has to offer, a willingness to entertain its message, the dialogue between the eloquent appearing of being and human language is more than likely to be at cross- purposes. And for such willingness or readiness to be in place, some engagement on the part of human freedom is required. But what else is this beauty-inspired confrontation in language where human freedom is set in motion, for good or evil, than the dramatic itself — that quality of existence which the theatre brings out, with its many voices, its plots and dénouements, its dramatisation of choice and freedom, whether against the grain of reality or in harmony with it, all for the sake of enabling us the better to understand our lives and the world in which those lives are set? The beauty of visual art opens up, in this sense, a dramatic dimension. As Balthasar writes:
We need to make it clear that 'I'art pour l'art' is a totally derivative and depraved form of the encounter with beauty: the blissful, gratis, shining-in-itself of the thing of beauty is not meant for individualistic enjoyment in the experimental retorts of aesthetic seclusion: on the contrary, it is meant to be the communication of a meaning with a view to meaning's totality; it is an invitation to universal communication and also, preeminently, to a shared humanity!'
Applying this analogically to Jesus Christ who as the mid-point of revelation's objective form is the chief locus of Christian theology, Balthasar affirms that when the divine Word becomes flesh and steps forth among the multitude of figures that surround us — the forms, both cosmic and human, of the world, there comes inevitably a decision which, because it embraces all other decisions that human beings could ever make, is the theme par excellence of theological dramatics. And this is the question as to whether, in the vocabulary of the Johannine Prologue, the Word's 'own' will 'receive' him or not. This can also be put in more Balthasarian language, which the man himself now proceeds to do, when he asks, Will the 'code-words' of a cosmos and a human history whose own sense and bearings are unclear 'resolve into the Word, the Logos, ultimate meaning' or, by contrast, will they 'shut tight, undecipherable, once and for all'. The divine Theophany, the appearing of the triune Glory in Jesus Christ, is the way into what is truly central for dogmatics, the inter-action, within both creation and history, of man's finite and God's infinite freedom.
And so finally we come to a third sense in which aesthetics not only prompts but even requires a 'transition to dramatics': the one who has been encountered by beauty is not only challenged in his freedom, he is also branded for life, and thus becomes conscious of election. The elect, person feels obliged to proclaim the Logos. Having a glimpse of the divinely beautiful sends the one thus privileged not only in the idiomatic sense of rendering him ecstatic (a coining for which we are indebted to the culture of Pop) but also in the theological sense of mandating him to go forth on a mission. The wonder of Being, communicating itself in the beautiful, tends of its nature to produce dramatic heroes — however ordinary (or extraordinary) their missions may be. Each is at once unique and universal. Indeed the more unique, the more universal — for the stronger the lens, the greater its capacity to focus the light universal. And this is what Jesus Christ is, as Light from Light in human flesh:
The Beautiful, graciously manifesting itself, becomes the incarnated Word, electing those to whom it can communicate itself.
Mysteriously, while pouring itself forth in the raging waters of dramatic missions co-defined by the hard rocks of a fallen world, this river remains, at its Source, what it ever serenely was. That is, for Balthasar, the message of St John's Apocalypse: existence is at once a Liturgy and (to change the metaphor from geological to military) a battlefield.
Aesthetics must, then, as Balthasar remarks at the outset of the first volume of Theo-Drama, the Prolegomena, 'surrender itself and go in search of new categories'.' Thus, although the theological aesthetics was, from one point of view, written with an eye to the theological logic, since it aimed to show that the logic of a theology whose departure point is glory can hardly be rationalist, it would be premature of such an aesthetics to attempt the rewriting of theological logic by its own light alone. A missing stage must be filled in first. Within the revelatory form we must identify the saving event which is that form's active content, and show how the power of the divine action in the Word made flesh encompasses all existence and brings its tensions and conflicts to triumphant resolution. Only so can we assert in theological logic the universal validity of the Christian gospel.
That is clearly vital if, in the words of First Peter, we are to 'give a reason for the hope that is in us' (3.15). Yet a logic crucially dependent on dramatics will not obscure the fact (this at any rate is Balthasar's hope) that total reality — the full range of that to which the concepts of a theological logic apply — includes, and so cannot prescind from, the existential character of life. Contrary to what superficial estimates of Balthasar's theology pretend, his writing is filled with positively eschatological urgency where the need for action is concerned. Should contemplation fail to come to grips with the secular 'now' within the horizon of what has been achieved definitively, it will slip into unreality. We can say, 'Lord, Lord!' in the depths of spirituality and mysticism, we can 'eat and drink with him' sacramentally, but it is all in vain if we do not carry out the will of our heavenly Father. Furthermore, the mere proclamation of the word of salvation — which is incumbent upon us — will not elicit faith if the herald himself does not fashion his life into a dramatic word of testimony. Neither faith, contemplation nor kerygma can dispense us from action. And the libretto of God's saving drama which we call Holy Scripture is worthless in itself unless, in the Holy Spirit, it is constantly mediating between the drama beyond and the drama here. It is not a self-sufficient armchair drama; its very form shows it to be a multifarious testimony pointing to an action at its core that goes beyond all words.
Say It Is Pentecost: A Guide Through Balthasar's Logic (Introduction to Hans Urs Von Balthasar) by Aidan Nichols (Introduction to Hans Urs Von Balthasar: T. & T. Clark Publishers) (Hardcover)
This study completes Aidan Nichols' presentation of the great theological trilogy of Hans Urs von Balthasar.
Here is a comprehensive summary and interpretation of Balthasar's logic. Aidan Nichols also considers the way in which the early volume The Truth of the World points forward to the theological aesthetics and dramatics and also how Theo-Logic's concluding volumes pick up the themes of The Glory of the Lord and Theo-Drama. He looks particularly at how Balthasar relates revelation of divine beauty and divine goodness to the unfolding of divine truth.
The work concludes with a retrospective review of the trilogy as a whole.
Excerpt: With the present work, I come to the end of my task of providing Balthasar's prolix trilogy - Herrlichkeit, Theodramatik, Theologik - with an interpretative summary. The last member of the trio, the theological logic, is also the shortest. But since it contains, in its opening volume, Balthasar's metaphysics and epistemology - a synthesis of Christian Scholasticism and the classical German philosophical tradition, theologically re-worked - it is hardly the least demanding. The effort of understanding is rewarded, however, with a fuller grasp of Balthasar's contentions in the aesthetics and dramatics, as well as in the remaining volumes of Theologik itself.
Readers of my two earlier commentaries, The Word Has Been Abroad and No Bloodless Myth, will have found some material on aisthësis and the drama, respectively: enough to explain the terms 'aesthetics' and 'dramatics' which control the sub-titles of these 'Guides'. But of logic as ordinarily understood - whether the traditional syllogistic variety, or the modal logic favoured in the later Middle Ages as again today, or the symbolic logic of the mathematically inclined, they will find little if any trace in Say It Is Pentecost. As with Hegel, Balthasar's logic is his ontology, his study of being - though to be sure there are discussions here of language, in which being comes to expression. Not that the second and third volumes of Theologik - on the difference made to ontology by Christology and Pneumatology - are an afterthought in this respect. For Balthasar, as his (separate) Epilog to the trilogy, also discussed here, points out, understanding of the missions of Son and Spirit not only confirms the judgments about the world's being as divine epiphany made in the opening ontology but also shows the being of the world flowering under the sun of transfiguring grace.
Balthasar did not his complete his theological logic until he had written his theological aesthetics and dramatics. But before he started on his aesthetics and dramatics he had already written the first volume of that logic. Containing as it does his general ontology, it is important for its expression of certain general principles of Christian thought later presupposed by the theological aesthetics and dramatics, and for introducing us for the first time to some of the root philosophical concepts set to theological use in those works!
In the foreword to the original, 1947, edition, Balthasar insists that he does not want to be so original as in any way to displace those fundamental principles relevant to the theme of truth which the masters of the Western tradition, from Aristotle to Aquinas, have put forward, and which subsequent Christian philosophy from the high mediaeval period to the time of writing has the more solidly established. And yet, alternatively, human thought will surely never exhaust the truth which is its own proper object. So Balthasar's aim will be to introduce into the traditional theses some 'new developments', developments which cohere with what he calls the 'ever renewed perspective' that the passage of time brings in its train. The ethos of his study will be faithfulness to the spirit rather than the letter of the philosophia perennis. When re-published in 1985 as the opening volume of a trilogy under the overall title of Theologik, the foreword to Wahrheit der Welt, 'The Truth of the World', turned out to have expanded so as to take in Balthasar's now widened conception, the second and third instalments of which would be called respectively 'The Truth of God' and 'The Spirit of Truth'. The overall aim of Balthasar's theological logic — in effect his ontology, for, like Hegel, he can think of no logic which is not 'onto-logic', the truth of being — is now re-defined in Trinitarian terms. A 'theo-logic' addresses the question of what is meant by 'truth' in the context
of the 'event' of God's revelation through the Incarnation of the Logos and the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This Christological, Pnéumatological and therefore ultimately Trinitarian setting for theological logic requires us to investigate what 'laws' of thought and language can be said to underlie the expression of the content perceived and experienced in theological aesthetics which, in another perspective, is also the 'confrontation' between divine and human freedom set forth in the theological dramatics. But Balthasar regards this as a question which can hardly be raised until we have clarified what we mean by the 'truth of being' in the first place, for this is the most fundamental question of all, unavoidable if we are to grasp something of the Logos, the foundation of 'logic'.
So despite the concern of volumes II and III of the Theologik with Father, Son and Spirit, and the re-definition of theological truth which their self-manifestation brings in its train, Balthasar remained convinced of the appositeness of Volume I, which links his work to Scholastic metaphysics, and indeed to the entire tradition of ontological thinking, both pagan and Christian, in the Western world. As he writes, situating the task of Volume I in the context of the three great serial trilogies as a whole:
From the outset, the whole trilogy has been articulated in terms of the transcendental determinations of being, and indeed with reference to the analogical relationship which they bear, by their validity and their form, in the being of the world, and in divine Being: there is a correspondence in the 'aesthetics' between worldly 'beauty' and divine 'glory', and in the 'dramatics' between a worldly-finite and a divinely-infinite freedom. Here, accordingly, in the theological logic we shall be pondering the relation between the structure of created truth and that of divine truth. Following this, we must look into the question as to whether divine truth can represent itself within the structures of created truth and (in diverse forms) come to expression there. Theological findings about God's glory, goodness and truth naturally presuppose not only a formalistic or gnoseological but also an ontological structure in the being of the world. Without philosophy, no theology.
The settled conviction of Catholic divinity that it cannot do without a philosophical mediation if it is both to grasp as fully as it can the content of its own divine resources and 'give a reason for the hope that is in' believers faced with a sceptical world (cf. 1 Peter 3.15) is Balthasar's wholly adequate justification in writing Wahrheit der Welt.
Incarnation and ontology
In the 1985 Foreword to the ontological trilogy Balthasar makes it clear that the question of the analogy of being, so far from constituting a separated natural theology, paralleling, in uneasy independence, the deliverances of revealed doctrine, is intimately connected with the latter. For ontological thinking is crucially relevant to the Incarnation. The Incarnation is literally unthinkable unless a positive answer can be indicated to the question, Is 'worldly logos' — the intelligibility implicit in the world's being — capable of bearing the weight of the divine Logos were he to make himself known in his own world? And anticipating somewhat his own response, Balthasar speaks of the way in which being has a 'polarity structure' — a term he drew from his one-time mentor, the Polono-German Jesuit Erich Przywara to whose contrasting poles of essence and existence, general and individual, he adds others which come to light both in aesthetics (such as form and radiance) and ethics (like obedience and freedom). This polarity structure of all existence, while manifesting the ontological difference between the being of the creature and that of the Creator (because, owing to the divine simplicity, the latter 'is' all that he 'has'), also suggests a 'positive moment' where the creature displays a certain likeness and so comparability with its God. For between these poles there plays a fullness of inner life — a continuous epiphany of the divine liveliness. Still, for Balthasar, to show how finite being might be considered the image and likeness of absolute being is only possible once we have begun to think in a thoroughgoing Trinitarian fashion.
The first volume, Wahrheit der Welt, will therefore play a role at once modest yet crucial. Exploration of the inner-worldly structure of truth —that is, of the ever-deeper strata of being as no less ever-deepening ways in which truth explicates itself to the knower: this is Balthasar's subject. He will remind readers of many points familiar to the ancients and the Fathers yet subsequently lost to view — without, however, departing from the main lines of the Thomist tradition, the 'great' tradition, as he terms it.6 The book's closing chapter will show how these inner-worldly structures of finite being point on towards a transcendent divine Logos —even though for philosophical thinking God and his truth come into view simply as the world's beginning and end, as the First Vatican Council's Constitution on faith and reason, Dei Filius, makes clear. Balthasar realises that, to the reader unforewarned, it may seem strange that he can pass, in the second volume of Theologik, to an unashamedly theological account of the same topic: treating the truth God has made known through his free revelation as the final norm of worldly truth. The first volume simply presumes that divine revelation does not cancel out worldly truth but rather fulfils it in raising it up.
Revelation and philosophy
He uses the expanded preface of the ontological trilogy to justify this démarche. First, and taking up a major emphasis of his principal Francophone teacher, Henri de Lubac:7 in its concrete existence the world is already placed in a supernatural dimension by the grace of God. There is no such thing as a theologically neutral world for philosophy to investigate. It follows that, while philosophy may certainly abstract from the supernatural in order to lay out some basic structures of the world and our knowledge thereof, the closer it comes in this task to its object in the latter's concrete character, and the deeper it penetrates our equally concrete modes of knowledge, the more it will have to do with theological data — whether the philosopher concerned is aware of this or not. For the supernatural is at work as a leaven in the natural, or is present (in another metaphor) as its atmosphere. It would be foolish, in Balthasar's opinion, to attempt to banish supernatural truth from the philosophical enterprise. It is one thing for a Plato or an Aristotle to incorporate de iure theological elements within a de facto philosophy without being able to know that is what they were doing. It is quite another for one to undertake, after the Gospel's definitive illumination of rationality, a 'purification' of philosophy in a secularising spirit — though of course such a reductive return to a purely immanentist philosophical truth is the common denominator linking modern rationalisms of various kinds. A Catholic thinker by contrast will, in Balthasar's words:
describe the truth of the world in its prevailing worldly quality [Welthaftigkeit] without thereby excluding the possibility that the world thus described contains elements of directly divine, supernatural provenance.
Moreover, and in particular, there may be truths pertaining to the 'first gift' of created nature which are available now only through the enlightening power of revelation. Balthasar proposes this as a way of understanding the First Vaticanum's claim that the divine existence is accessible to human reason. His hopes, at this juncture, of the possible conversion to Catholicism of the great 'Neo-Orthodox' Protestant dogmatician Karl Barth may have influenced him here, for such an interpretation would have enabled that doughty exponent of revelatione sola, 'by revelation alone', to accept the Council's dogmatic decree on faith and reason. In the world of antiquity, so Balthasar notes, people havered indecisively between a polytheism of personally conceived deities, as with Homer, and an impersonal mysticism of unity, as in Plotinus. The only way to overcome the unsatisfactory finitude of the many gods appeared to be through the positing of a non-personal principle of unity behind the divine world. By contrast, after the coming of Christianity, a thinker like Aquinas is able to speak of a 'natural' desire for the vision of the only and personal God. But did such a desire come to light naturally or supernaturally? Leaving that question open, Balthasar for his part will set out to describe the 'truth of the world' without distinguishing what in his understanding comes from natural, and what from supernatural, sources. In practice, in the construction of a Christian ontology, this demarcation line cannot be precisely drawn.
This does not mean, however, as Balthasar is at pains to point out, that he proposes to sink philosophy and theology as mere ingredients in some vast soup, for in the remaining volumes of the ontological trilogy his task of describing truth as conditioned by the Incarnation and Pentecost will be completely determined by the historic revelation. Indeed, Balthasar uses this opportunity to enter a caveat against any 'Rahnerian' misunderstanding of his project. There will be no question here, as in Karl Rahner's Theological Idealism, of dismembering the divine self-manifestation into on the one hand 'categorial' and on the other 'transcendental' aspects, such that the line of particular historical development which links Christ, the Spirit and the Church is to be distinguished (as merely 'categorial') from some more comprehensive, historically all-embracing, 'transcendental' sphere, with the concomitant danger that Christian truth becomes at best a key to, and at worst simply an illustration of, what is in any case already given in the universal God—world relationship. Here, looking back from the vantage point of 1985, he could appeal to his own Theology of History, published in 1950,11 to suggest an alternative scheme. The mystery of the active influence of Christ's Holy Spirit must itself be understood in so universal a way and Christ, in his historical and resurrectional reality, be grasped as so much the 'concrete universal' that it strikes us as perfectly natural for the radiant light of the Spirit of Pentecost and the Christ of the Paschal Mystery to penetrate to the furthest boundaries of space and time.
But there is a second reason too which legitimates the apparently effortless transition, within the Theologik, from the philosophical programme of Volume I to the Christological and Pneumatological interpretation of the truth of the world within the mystery of God in volumes II and III. The inner fulness of philosophical truth — quite apart from any theological light which may fall upon it — is much richer (so Balthasar claims) than many post-Renaissance philosophical systems will concede. If, following the example given by St Thomas in his integration of the contrasting Platonic and Aristotelian world-views, a variety of philosophies, each with their own favoured insights, are permitted to 'infiltrate' each other, then natural reality has a chance to appear in its own largeness, fullness and manysidedness. And this in turn makes possible a proper evaluation of the work of grace, for grace can only display itself in its true colours where just such a 'fulness' offers itself as its raw material — as the matter' which grace will penetrate, form, raise up and perfect in its activity.
If this preparatory philosophical homework is neglected, then theology will be the sufferer. Balthasar's ideal, then, is that philosophy and theology should 'draw life from each other'.
A philosophy that renounces the transcendent ends up, he believes, of necessity, with what amounts to forms and varieties of Positivism, sterile systems that go by various names: functionalism, logicism, linguistic analysis. Then truth itself as a transcendental determination of being becomes perfectly superfluous. Theology finds itself left hanging in the air, and can take refuge only in the most unsatisfactory of solutions, whether some kind of existentialism, or an exegetical rationalism, or a political theology that turns belief into praxis. Here what are at best partial aspects of theological truth, now left un-integrated, lead into the sand. But, Balthasar thinks, a programme of re-integrating philosophy with theology is only plausible if the analogy between divine prototype and worldly reflection is restored to its former centrality in Western thought. Kant and Nietzsche were not far wrong in centering their attack on traditional metaphysics on the transcendentals — for the latter give us access to the heart of the God—world relation. And in any case clear-eyed modern man, contemplating his world, can only treat the transcendentals as illusory: where is this all-governing truth, goodness and beauty? Alas, the perversions of being and its basic determinations which human freedom has (whether maliciously or negligently) perpetrated in the history of culture have had the effect of suppressing our awareness of the mysterious depth of reality, and so leading us to misdescribe it. 'X is nothing other than' is the typical formula of this betrayal. In reality, in the last analysis, everything knowable must have a 'mysteric' character, on the simple grounds that all objects of knowledge have a creaturely character, which must mean that the final truth of all things is 'hidden in the mind of the Creator who alone may utter [their] eternal names . .
Scattering the Seed: A Guide Through Balthasar's Early Writings on
Philosophy And the Arts by Aidan Nichols (Introduction to Hans Urs Von Balthasar: T. & T. Clark Publishers) (Hardcover)
It investigates Hans Urs von Balthasar's early explorations of music and the other arts, before launching into a ramifying but controlled survey of his often highly original interpretations of major thinkers in the European tradition from the Early Modern period until the 1930s.
Taking in a rich range of figures from classical German philosophers to dramatists, novelists and other major thinkers, Nichols shows how Balthasar seeks not only to discover elements of truth, goodness and beauty in these figures, but also to prove that writers who had lost a living contact with the biblical revelation carried by Christianity were incapable of reconstituting a synthesis of ideas about the goal of man and the universe, which were taken for granted in the High Medieval epoch.
At the same time, Nichols's exploration demonstrates how the modern writers Balthasar investigates add, in his view, crucial enhancements of human understanding which must be factored into any new overall vision of the future of the human soul and indeed the human species in its cosmic environment.
Above all, Apokalypse der deutschen Seele, the vast three-volume work which dominated Balthasar's life and work as a young man, furnishes numerous concepts and images that proved indispensable to the crafting of his trilogy and the rest of his theological work. In its light the scope and implications of his theology look markedly different. It is easier to see how he sifted late modern thought for its possible contributions to orthodox theology as well as its snares and tripwires. It also emerges how presciently he trod. These chapters are investigations of a doctor of the Church for the postmodern age.
For Balthasar, what is attractive about the modern period is that it completes the Scholastic clarification of what the Fathers achieved. It makes it plain that God's sovereignty and indeed totality is not won at the cost of the world. God is so much God that he can be himself in everything that is not he. The patristic sense of the objectivity of divine revelation in its representation of God does not become in Christian modernity subjectivism and anthropocentrism as some would have it. (Balthasar was thinking there of the criticisms made of theological modernity both by exclusively neo-patristic theologians and by Thomists of the strict observance.) On the contrary, this patristic sense of objectivity and representation comes to its climax in the modern Christian sense of subjectivity wherever — and this is a vital qualification — this sense is properly contextualized by a consciousness of Christian mission. It is a mistake to think that the Fathers have a theocentric, ontological, liturgical piety and the moderns an anthropological, subjective, psychological one. (Here Balthasar will most likely have in mind the Benedictine theologians of the school of Maria Laach.) The difference between them lies really only in this: the Fathers, owing to Platonically originated limitations, did not yet understand subjectivity as itself a function of the total Christian representation.
Over against the erroneous naturalism of our times — here now at last Balthasar formulates his programme — we have to make the fundamental law of dying into the new redeemed world of Christ tangible to our contemporaries. For this the Fathers and the patristic ethos will always remain our most lively image. We shall never have a better model to follow — once we have been tutored by Thomas in how to appreciate this best. But we must carry out this same dying specifically as a personal — in the fullest sense —mission into a world affirmed in its humanity and 'worldliness', a world which is the locus of epiphany of the ever-greater and ever more incomprehensible God.
In these phrases, Balthasar foreshadowed, without knowing it, his literary oeuvre and even the Secular Institute he was to found with the woman he met during the following year: Adrienne von Speyr. Here are marching orders for a lifetime of dogmatic work. What remained before Balthasar could dive into the depths was a reckoning with his own cultural tradition, the world of Germanistik.
A few remarks by way of general orientation may be in place before we take a deep breath and launch into the great sea of this massive work. For the Balthasar of Apokalypse, aesthetic experience — the subject of his earliest essays — only leads into religious experience by way of a radical purification. The chief point of such purification is to ensure that aesthetic appreciation does not lead in the contrary direction to religion, by an incongruous exaltation of the 'I'. 'Patristik, Scholastik und wir' certainly rubbed in that point. What one should be seeking is not, with Idealism, the non-finite 'transcendental' ego nor, with Romanticism, the depths of the soul, but rather, with the Gospel, the ever-greater God in his sovereign beauty. As a Flemish interpreter of Balthasar's project puts it: 'Only then can religious experience enjoyed on the basis of aesthetic find its way back to its original source. Otherwise the religiosity of the "presentiment of the infinite" deviates irremediably towards an anthropological aesthetic, where human beauty finally encounters nothing save its own image."
This might seem to imply that Balthasar would be best advised to leave these writers alone. But a number of the German Idealists had already recognized the need for a 'moment' of self-abandonment in the genesis of thought and action. Finite spirit must submit to infinite Spirit so as really to be spirit in the Infinite. It was widely recognized that the Absolute cannot be truly infinite if the Absolute and we are mutually 'heteronomous', each a law unto ourselves. In this fashion, Idealism recovered the religious sense of what was in many ways its parent philosophy, neo-Platonism.
But Balthasar parted company with Idealism whenever it espoused a doctrine of what he termed 'mystical potentiality': treating the human being as a potency that is self-creative in its mystic grandeur. This was the Idealists' version of the drive to pseudo-spiritual self-deification he had already identified as the chief symptom of original sin in 'Patristik, Scholastik und wir'. Here grace was completely misconstrued as self-elevation to the level of the Absolute. For such a misjudged philosophy, man, conquering his own limits, would grant himself the boon of true freedom, his victory placing him in contact with the Absolute itself. Neo-Platonism gets twisted out of true. No longer (as with the genuine article) are we brought to fulfilment by gracious favour of the One, which allows us to participate in its fullness. Rather, by a modern caricature, it is we ourselves in our own becoming who are the source of all that is sublime in the world.
Whatever Balthasar's criticisms of the Platonist tradition in
other contexts, he considered that, once its ties with neo-Platonism
are broken, Idealism slides into anthropocentrism of an
inner-worldly kind. This may be in Promethean fashion, with an
emphasis on self-mastery, self-emancipation. Or it may be in a
Dionysian way, by ecstatic transport to the heights of
consciousness. Thinking of Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Nietzsche,
Balthasar finds their idea of beauty:
too tragic, and also too artificial, to be the revelation of the moving beauty of the God who is Love who, under the deformed traits of his Suffering Servant, comes to share human misery. Neither the high and mighty status of Prometheus the ravisher nor the tragic personality of Dionysus broken by his rapture, bears comparison with the divine-human figure in whom the unnamed God speaks his name, by way of the radiance of his grace and glory of his kenosis.
That splendid formulation by Georges de Schrijver can provide the reader with a helpful orientation in the ramifying enquiry that follows.
How, then, does Balthasar proceed in this work? His introduction goes some way toward explaining his fundamental method. Though the language of eschatology may only be allusive, what it houses is 'the meaning and kernel of the whole'. Its indirectness argues not at all against its objective truth and universal validity. Each sphere of knowledge has its own 'relative eschaton': what is most final and comprehensive in it. A decent methodology is concerned with protecting the jurisdiction of each such 'science' — as is well-known, the German word Wissenschaft extends well beyond the natural sciences — in its own special realm. It is plausible to say, Balthasar suggests, that as understanding is progressively unified we shall find such 'relative eschata' themselves pointing to an ultimate and unconditional eschaton, just as every eschatology — every account of what is ultimately valid — points tb 'a logos [a true thought] about the eternal eschaton'
Is philosophy the appropriate discipline to provide this 'logos' or true thinking about ultimate reality? As the study of 'being qua being' and so an exploration which transcends all 'categorial' — the term is Aristotle's — distinctions between things in the world, metaphysical philosophy, at any rate, might seem an obvious candidate for this task. But philosophy requires detachment, something not necessarily in place here, while the 'apocalypse of the soul' always seeks that reality which is the most concrete of all — a demand that 'being' as (apparently) the lowest common denominator of things would seem ill-prepared to meet. Still, eschatology can certainly use philosophy as a means, ein Mittel.
At the same time, however, eschatology can also invoke both theology — an account of the unique God in his address to a humanity consisting of particular persons, and art — whose theme is 'showing what is most universal in an unrepeatable moment'.' The concrete nature of both revelation and the artwork can make good whatever is defective in conceptual abstraction. Philosophy, theology, art, then: these three witnesses agree. Or at least this is the hope. Balthasar intends to exploit their resources in the service of 'eschatology' in the sense he gives that word. This is, of course, just what we would expect from our scanning of his early essays.
Now the situation eschatology addresses is that of the individual, time-bound human being whose destiny is mysteric in its proportions. Hence the relevance to our topic not only of philosophical and theological enquiry but also of literature — for this drama of existence is the latter's chief stuff. (Here we catch a glimpse of the future author of Theodramatik, Balthasar's 'theological dramatics'.) The soul discovers itself in encounter with other things: the environment, other persons, history, God. These, however, are not means to its own self-realization (shades of St Augustine's distinction between means and ends — realities it is appropriate to use, and realities it is appropriate to enjoy). Nonetheless, they are factors in its destiny. They are realities in whose path it is placed and which in one way or another it has to make its own. And yet the 'horizon' to which particular persons must be pointed is not, in this enquiry, that of individuals as such, but of humanity at large. Hence the need to incorporate in the discussion not only history — including the history of salvation, but also ideas — not least those that find their genesis in revealed truth.
Balthasar could, he says, have dealt with the topic of eschatology in a 'positive' fashion, mapping the sources with which religious studies presents us when we survey beliefs about ultimate destiny in different cultures or philosophical systems. Fascinating though such a 'scientific' study might be, its focus on the 'possible objective conditions of another world' merits Christ's warning to his disciples that it is not for them to know 'times and seasons' in the divine scenario. The advantage of an 'existential' eschatology — counterposed here to its 'positive' rival — is that it seeks to explain only what will clarify the situation in which the soul encounters an ultimate dimension. Such an approach cannot dispense with the mythological language studied by comparative religion, but it differs from comparative religion in treating 'existentiality' as the 'measure of the livingness of eschatological myth'. It accepts myth to the degree that the latter is the necessary expression of lived existence, lebendige Dasein. But the aim throughout is, very simply, to show the soul's relation to its last end.
Obviously, something needs to be said by way of comment here on how Balthasar uses in this work the slippery — and, in theological English, hopelessly compromised — term 'myth'. In a summary of Apokalypse, Balthasar elsewhere offered bemused readers definite help. A 'myth', he wrote, is the form of truth which gives expression to a world-interpreting or religious idea in equal distance from 'pure' concept and 'pure' percept [sensuous image]. The 'Christ-myth' is the eternal Truth become flesh, time, [biological] conception: it is not, therefore, in any sense unhistorical, but as a mythos can nevertheless enter into a conversation with the mystical sense of ultimacy in German Idealism and the 'philosophies of life' (Bergson, Nietzsche, etc.)."
In a simpler formulation by J.R.R. Tolkien which influenced C.S. Lewis: with Christianity, myth — in this case, the myth of a humanized, and dying and rising, God — became fact — in the Incarnation and the Atonement. But it did so without ceasing to be myth: a form of truth expressed as only eternal truth can be, in a way which is neither concept nor image but draws on both.
An 'existential' approach, as Balthasar understands it, does not mean one uninformed by the reflections of past writers. Indeed, as he now explains, he proposes to draw on a range of philosophers and poets, chiefly in the German-speaking realm, from the time of the Enlightenment to his own. Their philosophical and aesthetic understanding of the human condition will suggest ways towards a sense of what is final.
By itself, however, that can hardly be decisive. Without the 'religious pole' — and he adds, in its 'concrete appearance as Christianity' — a simply human eschatology will be incomplete. It calls for some answer coming from without — whether that answer be profound agreement or outright contradiction. Balthasar candidly admits there is an obvious sense that the book will not be 'real theology' — even if towards its conclusion it takes up a more confessionally Christian stance. It will offer no 'theoretical further development of the Word of God in human systematics, but only a bare portrayal of the standing, Stehen, of the soul in this Word'." Literature and philosophy will not be sundered here, for they testify to certain symptoms of the inner soul. If literary images throw light on the Bildung, the formative culture, within which intellectual life is played out, philosophy can be said itself to explore the 'fullness of being' by means of 'essential images', Wesensbilder. Nor does Balthasar rule out a place in his investigation for the natural sciences, from physics to pathology. They too can sometimes cross the limits of empirical observation and light up the wider situation of human life in time.
He is anxious to distinguish his project from that stigmatized by his mentor Erich Przywara as 'eschatologism': an outlook which is interested in events only as divine judgment bears on them, and so deprives the world, natural and human, of intrinsic value, out of enmity for 'earth and culture'." There is such a thing as false apocalypticism, to be found not just in baseless calculations of the end of time but, more subtly, in a tendency to take catastrophe as the only alternative to salvation. Balthasar intends to avoid that, as well as its contrary — the attempt to eternalize time by finding beatitude in culture. Finding the right balancing point between polarities (the term was Pryzwara's favourite) is crucial to Balthasar's manner in Apokalypse. Three more instances of it merit mention before concluding an introduction to this massive work.
Balthasar has already touched on the polarity of social and individual eschatology. In fact, this division can only be a distinction. Whether social or individual, it is all a matter of the same concrete spirit either in its relative uniqueness or in its relative bondedness in community. Existential apocalyptic must look at both aspects — and this means, then, that it considers neither a mere multiple of individual destinies nor some abstract ideal unity of them. (It is interested in the corporately concrete, as in people, state, culture or church.)
A second possible polarity is that of natural and personal eschatology. Balthasar's account centres on Geist, spirit. But, he insists, concrete spirit is not pure spirit. On the contrary, it has deep roots in nature, even if it must also be counter-distinguished to it. For spirit, nature is at once 'clothing and mirror, concealment and disclosure'." So the natural must share in apocalypse along with the personal.
A third polarity is that between value and final purpose, or to use (as he does) the vocabulary current in the German Evangelical theology of Balthasar's day, 'axiological' and 'teleological' eschatology. Does eternity intersect with time equally at all points, thus grounding values? That was the claim of the eschatological axiologists. Or is it meta-history, a goal for the historical process to be encountered only at the end of human time as presently experienced? This was the conviction of the eschatological teleologists. Balthasar is happy with neither pole taken alone. An eschatology of value soon becomes divorced from the subjects — human persons — who alone can strive for fulfilment in relation to the pertinent eschata. Such axiology sits lightly to history, where existential eschatology takes its stand. On the other hand, to characterize eschatology, with the teleological school, as wherever the historical process takes one — irrespective of the good, of intrinsic value —would hardly suffice. Evidently, then: 'concrete spirit is not ordered to its eschaton purely axiologically or purely teleologically, but by the inseparable dialectic of the two together'."
In the course of this discussion, Balthasar flags up an important point. The demarcation of 'historical' and 'meta-historical' as two separate spheres fails to do justice to humankind's eschatological situation. The contrast between the eternal as now and the eternal as future is entirely secondary and derivative. This is also a reminder that concepts alone cannot do justice to our topic. The human spirit needs the riches of image and myth, as well as the clarity of the concept, if it is to grasp its situation before what is finally final —God. Thus the introduction ends.
What then, in the last analysis, is the importance of Balthasar's early philosophical writings? Taken in their entirety - of which, of course, Apokalypse der deutschen Seele forms the lion's share, they furnish evidence for his conviction that in die Neuzeit, the modern age, the venerable human 'measure', product of the fruitful marriage of ancient civilization with the Gospel, has collapsed. Despite the very real advances of modernity when it comes to evaluating the concrete, the particular, the historical, the measuring rod has snapped and we are left with two monstrosities: either the impossible Ubermensch, the bearer of a 'non-metaphysical transcendence,' or the deplorable Untermenschen, the sub-human, robotic workers and consumers of the mass society. Both of these 'visions' are in fact dystopias, and not, as their champions would have it, Utopias at all. But precisely this development forces the reflective to look elsewhere - to look outward and upward. Sooner or later, they will ask about the 'metahistorical measure of man'.2 That is why Balthasar wanted to be clear about the relation between worldly humanism and supra-worldly humanism - to be clear, that is, about the Christian measure of man. Titanism destroys the human; anarchic freedom condemns us by its hubris to ills unlimited. The best paganism always knew that man was 'girdled by an ultimate measure that gives him his being and his spirit'. I am thought, therefore I am.
That points us to the truth that nature is created for something beyond nature. It is created for grace. The order of nature has no final independence, since, just as it was founded in the total plan of God in Christ for the world, so it will be fulfilled there. And that means, further, that, in the last analysis, nature can only 'disclose its inner lawfulness inasmuch as it is consciously integrated in, and ordered to, the higher law of Christian revelation'. The solution of the human 'problem' lies in the inexhaustible truths of the Trinity and the Incarnation which Balthasar's later theology, in the Trilogy, and beyond it, will lay out. The form of the Trinity, its divine Gestalt, is the fullness of life and love. This is what the Incarnation brings home to us, and bestows on us. And only so can humanity have sufficient reason by which to endure and enjoy.
Divine Fruitfulness: A Guide to Balthasar's Theology beyond the Trilogy by Aidan Nichols (Introduction to Hans Urs Von Balthasar: T. & T. Clark Publishers) (Hardcover) With the present work Nichols concludes the five-volume Introduction to Hans Urs von Balthasar which has offered readers a series of 'guides' to the different parts of his corpus. In calling this fifth and final installment a 'Guide to Balthasar's Theology', Nichols means to institute a contrast with the fourth book in the series, Scattering the Seed, which took as subject his early writings on philosophy and the arts. In Balthasar's mature theology we see the seed there sown springing up, flowering and fruiting in an abundance of theological applications. Hence the title of the book: Divine Fruitfulness. Its subtitle also includes the words, 'Beyond the Trilogy'. To Nichols' three studies dedicated to Balthasar's great Trilogy (The Word has been Abroad on his theological aesthetics, No Bloodless Myth on his theological dramatics, Say it is Pentecost on his theological logic), Divine Fruitfulness goes further in four respects.
First, while at the opening of my three-part commentary on the Trilogy Nichols offered an introduction to Balthasar's life-story as well as to the works of the Trilogy itself, here in the opening chapter, 'Introduction to the Wider Oeuvre', Nichols ventures to consider not only other aspects of his literary production but also the Church-political context of his work. How did he see contemporary Catholicism – and, for that matter, how did it see him? Secondly, whereas my studies of the Trilogy touch wherever appropriate on the literally dozens of writers – both Christian and non-Christians – of whom Balthasar makes occasional use, this book identifies the principal origins of his architectonic approach to the structure, content and ethos of theology as a whole. Thirdly, though the Trilogy contains, no doubt, Balthasar's richest theological fare, to grasp the bread-and-butter of his theological doctrine the remaining writings are frequently more helpful. To alter the metaphor from gastronomy to optics: the aesthetics, dramatics and logic offer three perspectives on revelation, perspectives that correspond to the three 'transcendentals', the beautiful, the good, the true. But that is not to say that the great affirmations of revelation, and the major motifs of the Christian life, are incapable of exhibition by a multi-focal approach which prescinds from these particular 'formalities' – to use the more precise Scholastic expression in place of the somewhat impressionistic contemporary term 'perspective'. (Hence the overall title given to Chapters 6 to 13: 'Themes'.) Fourthly, while Say it is Pentecost included a brief 'Postword', Divine Fruitfulness offers a Conclusion to the whole five-part series, asking at greater length the question, What will the Catholic theology of the twenty-first century (and later) owe to this enormously ambitious oeuvre?
There are several notable introductions to Balthasar's thought by other writers, and these of course necessarily overlap to varying degrees with the matter I present in this book as in the others in the series. However, it is a feature of Divine Fruitfulness that I make use of a good deal of rather inaccessible Balthasar material, published for the most part in Swiss newspapers and magazines, much of which, I think I am right in saying, has not been drawn upon before. My thanks go to Don Willy Volonté, Dean of the Faculty of Theology of Lugano, during my two visits there, for making it possible for me to consult the holdings of the Balthasar study centre housed in that institution, as well as to Frau Cornelia Capol for sending me photocopies of other items in the Archiv Hans Urs von Balthasar in Basle.
He began as a Germanist, a specialist in literature in the German language.' He himself wrote an elaborate and highly polished German, which some critics, though, considered in its elegance more like French and certainly not typical of the Swiss. It was, however, among the Swiss that he was born in Lucerne, on 12 August 1905, into a patrician family whose history went back centuries in this historically most Catholic of the Swiss cities and cantons —though on his mother's side there was also Hungarian blood, from the landowning class in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy still flourishing, or relatively so, at the time of his birth. He went to school with the Benedictines, in the glorious sub-alpine and Baroque setting of their abbey school at Engelberg, and less memorably with the Jesuits at Feldkirch in the Austrian Voralberg, before studying German literature and philosophy in the Universities of Vienna, Berlin and Zurich.
Towards the end of his doctoral studies at the University of Zurich his academic investigations of how the German poets and prosists saw 'eschatology' — the ultimates in human existence — were punctuated by a new development in his personal life. While making the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, he suddenly 'knew' — he describes it almost in revelatory terms — he should be a priest. His subsequent entry into the Society of Jesus in 1929 set him off on his theological — as distinct from literary-philosophical — journey. While he did not enjoy the Neo-Scholastic teaching he received from the Jesuit study-house in Bavaria, he appreciated enormously the years of his formation spent with French members of the Society at Lyons, from 1933 to 1937. This was at a time when Catholic theology in France was undergoing a little renaissance founded on return to the Fathers and a listening to a wider range of the voices of experience, notably from imaginative writers such as those with whom Balthasar was already familiar in the German-speaking context. Unlike some, but by no means all, the French Jesuits, Balthasar never lost confidence, however, in the perennial importance of St Thomas, especially for metaphysics. Part of the reason was the inspiration of one German-speaking Jesuit, the somewhat unplaceably Thomistic Erich Przywara whose interpretation of the analogy of being as, among other things, a thesis about mysticism and spiritual experience — a theological mindset and not just a theorem in metaphysics — influenced Balthasar his whole life long.'
The major encounters
It was Balthasar's posting back to Switzerland in 1940, as University chaplain in Basle, which accidentally — or perhaps we should say providentially —fixed his future path. He discovered his gifts as editor, translator and publishing entrepreneur, thanks to his energetic prosecution of a series of works designed to preserve many good things from the Western Christian and humanist heritage — should the outcome of the Second World War, then raging, be, as he feared, a new barbarism.' More importantly for theology proper, he met two Basle residents who decisively shaped his future doctrinal thought: the great Protestant dogmatician Karl Barth, and the mystic Adrienne von Speyr whom he received into the Catholic Church in 1940. It was as a result of his involvement with von Speyr in an attempt to create a 'Secular Institute', for consecrated celibates of both sexes, attached to the Jesuit Society but living in the world, that in 1950 he decided to seek dispensation from vows in a Religious Congregation not disposed to grant him his request. The rest of his life he spent as what German-speaking Catholics call a Weltpriester, a 'priest in the world', that is, a member of the secular or diocesan clergy.
From this point on, Balthasar's life would be bound up with the fortunes, in every sense, of the publishing house he now founded, the Johannes Verlag. His days were dominated by his work as author, editor and publisher. Though hardly the stuff that Hollywood movies are made of, it was in its own way a colossal feat. As author of some eighty books and five hundred articles, translator of over a hundred works, editor of more than ten essay collections and numerous anthologies, as well as the midwife of the sixty-plus volumes of Adrienne's writing, mostly posthumous, he might be thought to have justified his existence without running a commercial theological publishing house for forty years. And this is without even mentioning his occasional activities as lecturer, preacher and giver of the Ignatian Exercises. Setting out his ideal of a Catholic publishing house, he spoke of its enormous responsibility: it acts 'in the name and representation of the
Church'. He made it plain such a house should 'turn to the world' — not by allowing its own Christian attitudes to become 'unclear or ambiguous' but with a view to 'illuminating, evaluating and opening up the world in the radiance of Christian revelation'.'
It is worth mentioning the subjects of his translations: it gives a good idea of the influences he hoped were going to shape the contemporary Church. So what kind of material was he putting out?8 For patriotic reasons I mention first his English translations: a book on prayer by the Anglican High Churchman Arthur Michael Ramsey, and the Low Church Anglican C. S Lewis's personal choice of passages from his own Scots Presbyterian 'master', the theological fantasist George MacDonald. Much more significant in terms of his overall output and direction were his translations from the French, and first and foremost the huge amount he translated from the main writers of the early twentieth-century French Catholic literary revival: Paul Claudel (all his poetry, for example), Charles Péguy, and the novelise Georges Bernanos to whom he devoted a lengthy monograph giving it, on its second edition, the significant title 'The Church as Lived'. He established an entire series Theologia romanica, dedicated to work produced by the Church in France. There and elsewhere he translated the Pensées of Blaise Pascal, selections from Pascal's near contemporary, the seventeenth-century founder of the French School of spirituality, Pierre de Bérulle, and the journals of the lay philosopher from the Modernist period Maurice Blondel. Latterly he added Jean Corbon's 'Liturgy from the Wellspring': a Dominican of the Mekhite rite, Corbon had authored the final section of the present Catechism of the Catholic Church, its book on prayer. However, the lion's share of Balthasar's translations for the Theologia romanica series and its parallels went tc his fellow Jesuit, known to him from his Lyons period, Henri de Lubac whose copious oeuvre he also summarized in his study of his old mentor, 'Henri de Lubac. His Organic Life's Work'." When in 1975 Balthasar was made an associate of the Institut de France, he told les instituticiens:
Despite the indifference of a public saturated by mediocre religious publications, I would like to continue this slightly madcap enterprise of presenting to your Eastern neighbours [he meant Germany, Austria and Switzerland] what contemporary France produces that is most precious in the realm of spiritual thought, all that merits being appreciated and loved beyond her frontiers."
From the Spanish, he translated 'The Theatre of the World' by the seventeenth-century priest-playwright Pedro Calderon as well as, more predictably, the Ignatian Exercises. His German anthologies from the Fathers include, from the Greek, substantial, well-ordered extracts from the Apostolic Fathers and Irenaeus, as well as from Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor, on all three of whom he produced entire monographs in the years 1936 to 1942. From the Latin he made new translations of a great deal of Augustine, including the Confessions in 1985. This is a representative selection and not an exhaustive account — for which the interested reader must consult Cornelia Capol's invaluable Bibliographie.
The works of Balthasar and von Speyr
Preparing for publication von Speyr's biblical commentaries and other spiritual works occupied a great deal of Balthasar's time. He had not finished publishing her posthumous writings by the time of his death. While we can legitimately say that the combination of the Greek Fathers, Thomas and Barth was what shaped most fundamentally Balthasar's general theological outlook, a great deal in his presentation of particular doctrinal areas would have been significantly different without von Speyr's influence. This is especially true of his theology of the Trinity and the Incarnation, including the Paschal Mystery — and notably the Holy Saturday phase of the latter; his Mariology, and theology of the missions of the saints; his account of the sacrament of Penance (Confession), and his teaching on obedience as readiness (Verfiigbarkeit) and self-surrender (Hingabe), on spiritual childhood and on prayer. The synthesis of the more academically recognizable sources and Adrienne von Speyr's meditations is especially apparent in the set of five volumes which collect together the most important of his theological essays, as also in his single most sustained ecclesiological effort, The Christian State of Lift. Lastly, Adrienne's preoccupations are evident in the final volume of his theological dramatics, mention of which brings me to his best-known works.
For at the heart of his corpus lies his own trilogy: the
theological aesthetics, Herrlichkeit or 'The Glory of the Lord',
the theological dramatics, Theodramatik, and the theological logic,
Theologik, and the separatelypublished 'Epilogue' to that trilogy."
It is to these that the earlier volumes in this series: The Word Has
Been Abroad (on the aesthetics), No Bloodless Myth (on the
dramatics) and Say It Is Pentecost (on the logic) have been devoted.
Taken together, the stars of the trilogy and the planets that circle
it in the works 'beyond the trilogy', constitute the most impressive
body of distinctively Catholic dogmatics in the twentieth century.
The writings of the German Jesuit Karl Rahner are, taken globally,
the only possible competitor, but the ethos of Balthasar's oeuvre is
One way to put that difference is to say his work is a self-consciously Catholic dogmatics not only doctrinally but also in its frame of cultural reference. Unlike Rahner in the later part of his career, Balthasar was not especially impressed by official, never mind wild-cat, ecumenism. Balthasar became irritated in the course of the 1970s by 'a certain sort of Catholic ecumenism', which seemed at the ready to downplay or at any rate abstract from specifically Catholic emphases.18 That irritation may explain the abandonment of the volume on ecumenics projected for a fairly prominent place in the trilogy as one of the last volumes of the aesthetics. Earlier, however, Balthasar had written one of the best books ever on the Reformed theologian Karl Barth, largely in praise. He had also opened a dialogue with Martin Buber about Judaism, a subject often linked to (inner-Christian) ecumenism as distinct from inter-religious dialogue 2° The third volume of the aesthetics has lengthy chapters on one Lutheran, Hamann, and one Orthodox, Solovyev. The dramatics contains an exchange with the theology of Luther, and throughout the entire trilogy numerous motifs of Eastern Christian theology are sounded. But it remains the case that this is a very self-consciously Catholic dogmatics. Its composition was motivated in large part by the desire not to lose anything of the historic patrimony of the Church — rather than a conviction that, in the context of contemporary ecumenical endeavour, not to speak of epistemological pluralism, one should simplify down to essentials —the predominant tone of the later Karl Rahner. This is one reason why some people are attracted to Balthasar's writing and others are not.
It may be useful, then, in the rest of this introduction to
attempt to 'position' Balthasar in terms of how he saw the life of
the Church vis-à-vis the contemporary world as well as how the
hierarchical Church, and notably the Papacy, saw him.
In the immediately pre-Conciliar period, Balthasar certainly belongs with those who considered the median state of Church life and thought it too stuffy, and, like Blessed John XXIII, wanted to open windows. In fact, Balthasar's metaphor was a good deal more aggressive. It was 'razing the bastions', bringing down fortress walls. But as one reads his book of this title, Schleifung der Bastionen, one finds that Balthasar is actually arguing that in certain respects this razing has already taken place — by 1952, that is —without the Church really being aware of the fact.' He speaks of a 'new Catholic attitude'. On the one hand, this attitude takes the form of solidarity with the aspirations of global humanity. And yet on the other hand it refuses to heed the wish of the Enlightenment that the Church would jettison her universal mission by, for example, treating all religions as equally justified through being complementary approaches to a total truth beyond any of them. Balthasar points out that, in the struggle over Jansenism, the Church of the early eighteenth century had already judged the proposition 'outside the Church there is no grace' to be false, and if that thesis is false then by the same token it must be true that outside the Church there is the possibility of salvation, based on the baptism of desire. But this does not affect that other truth according to which all salvation is mediated through the Church: both in the sense of coming from God in Christ through the Mother of the Lord as mediatrix of all graces (for Mary is the archetype of the Church) and in the further sense of coming from God in Christ through the 'one, heavenly-invisible and earthly-visible and hierarchical Church'. There is only one Church, which is at the same time in heaven and on earth.
By way of anticipation of major themes of the Second Vatican Council, Balthasar found outside the Church's visible borders not only, in the inner sanctum of human hearts, invisible desires pertinent to salvation but also, on the public square, concrete truths and values belonging by right to the Catholic Church but now spread beyond her borders, perhaps through actions (Balthasar cites the Reformation) that were at one level guilty and yet have been used by the cunning of the Providence of God. One might think that, sundered from her unity, these goods would lose their value. But this is not so. As Balthasar writes, 'What was once Church and supernature cannot return to world and nature'. Catholic Christians, then, can find in the ecclesial communities and world society beyond them what Balthasar terms 'extrapolated awareness', das extrapolierte Bewusstsein, of divine truths. (When discussing truths once possessed only by the Church which have now travelled so far abroad as to go beyond the separated ecclesial communities into the civil order simply as such, he typically gives the — papally approved but in more recent years theologically controverted — example of human rights.) The Church's theologians may not yet recognize this development but, Balthasar comments, the awareness of it is moving like the hastening spring among what he calls the 'responsible laity'. A new form of exchangebetween Church and world is coming to be, not by way of secularizing the Church but through sensitivizing her to, as he puts it, 'all those who are genuinely waiting for grace and for the Word that is to be proclaimed to them'.
On this basis, Balthasar expected to see a massive transformation of Christian consciousness, which he sums up in a short formula. It will be a transition from 'privileged person' to 'responsible person', vom Priviligierten zum Verantwortlichen. Elsewhere he was writing at the same time that never since the first three centuries had the Church's spiritual situation been so open, promising and well adapted to the future." The Church is so living that she can afford to be a little reckless with her past traditions. There is a 'livingness' about her which transcends all particular traditions from the past 'insofar as responsibility and readiness for the future demand it'.
Yet even in his headiest moments of 'Brave New Church' he did not cease to insist that only saints can show the mystery of Christ 'repeating itself' in his Church-body. Divine grace does not consider 'quantity', but only 'the unconditionality of single persons'. Only saints can now 'save Christendom'. Balthasar liked to repeat Péguy's dictum: a couple of saints at the front and a great procession of sinners will follow: 'that is how my Christendom is made'. The way he expressed this position, incidentally, was not so vulnerable to the charge of individualism as might be thought. If for individuals the love command is the highest law, then the equivalent for the social totality can hardly be 'the egoism of reasons of State'. Both individual and society live in the time when Christ is king, his law supreme. 'Reasons of State, die Staatsraison, will not fall short if they acknowledge this law.'
Despite the increasing negativity with which he regarded post-Conciliar developments in Catholicism, Balthasar retained a considerable suspicion of the more embattled varieties of Catholic traditionalism. In 1963, while the Second Vatican Council was sitting, he published in the distinguished Zurich daily paper, Neue Zurcher Nachrichten an analysis of twentieth-century Catholic integralism, German, French and Spanish, which he described as seeking to win the Kingdom of God by the weapons of the world.
The possible combinations between monarchism, juridicism and the military spirit, secret societies, politics and high finance are endless. The problem remains, whether and how these (very diverse) realms of value can be placed at the service of Jesus Christ who bore the sins of the world not as a tiger but as a lamb'.
Integralism is a 'post-Revolutionary way of thinking and action' which seeks to recover for Christendom the spiritual and political power it held for a thousand years but now can only strive to do so in an 'inner-ecclesial form'.35 Rather than seek to experience the 'tangledness' of subsequent historical reality from within, integralists judge it sufficient for appropriate action in the world to 'take a look at correct [doctrinal] concepts'. And of course such a unique system of concepts is not found in the human world at large. Typically, then, integralism insinuates that the realm of supernature is closed to nature, as is the realm of nature to it. We shall not hear much from this source about paths to God outside the Church, by uncovenanted graces accorded in relation to the 'realm of love'.
Balthasar does not say that all concern with doctrinal systematics implies integralism. What marks out integralism is, rather, the prioritizing of the 'political and social taking of power by the Kingdom', then subsequently from these 'citadels' to proclaim the message of Golgotha and the Sermon on the Mount. It is this order of priorities which occludes, in his opinion, the 'humiliated Lamb, the crucified Love'.
This description best fits the movement Action francaise (Balthasar produces a roll-call of distinguished French clerical and lay intellectuals who had belonged to it, but he omits to mention the papal ban on membership which caused such agonies of conscience in the France of the 1920s). Balthasar rebukes integralists for their secretiveness. The disciplina arcani, the 'principle of reserve' as Tractarians called it, makes sense in explaining the faith to those outside, but 'within the Church there should be light'. Balthasar criticizes the procedures of the Holy Office, the Papacy's doctrinal organ in this regard. (The Second Vatican Council was taking steps at this time to reform them.)
When, however, he introduces his remarks on concrete examples by saying 'we are solidary with those we criticise', he makes it clear this is no declaration of spiritual war." At least the integralists had ardour, and clarity about the faith: two qualities he was going to find sorely lacking in Western Catholicism in subsequent years. Many of the saints, he admits, tried to achieve spiritual goals by worldly means. And is there much to choose between this 'emphatically static and formal monarchical Constantinianism' and the equally 'emphatic dynamic-evolutionist democratic Constantinianism' of 'Progressive' Catholicism? Pronouncing 'a plague on both your houses' was, of course, a rather negative thing to do. Balthasar would persist in it, notably in the 1969 essay 'Kirche zwischen links and rechts', though he would conclude there, more positively, that Christ was the 'only true
Integralist', since all 'things in heaven and things on earth' are to be 'united' in him (Ephesians 1.10), just as he is the 'only true Progressive', reaching through to the Eschaton, the 'Pioneer of our faith who brings it to completion' (Hebrews 12.2).
Balthasar criticized post-Conciliar developments precisely for the way their promoters mistook the genuine change of outlook that was required with a parody or caricature of it which, so far from being requisite, was actually disastrous. As an Anglican admirer expressed it:
He was to live to see the way in which the opening up of the Church to the world which he and others had fought for could easily lead to the erosion of that which was distinctively Christian
The mistake was a covert acceptance of Enlightenment humanism and the myth of progress. Thence arises an occlusion of the uniqueness of Christian revelation in the plenary form it attains by way not only of Catholic specificity but also of Catholic wholeness. Emphasis on not just the distinctively Catholic but the holistically Catholic would mark Balthasar's controversial writings in the years following the Second Vatican Council. But even in the early 1950s, being 'responsible' did not mean accepting principles of action commonly recognized in civil society, sharing with others what Hans Kung would term a 'global ethic' for the sake of inter-communitarian good relations. It meant, as Balthasar put it in Razing the Bastions, 'vicarious representation, bearing responsibility, sacrifice'." When he looks for an instance of being a responsible person, it is Anthony of Egypt he comes up with, the Egyptian farmer who withdrew to the desert to do battle with spiritual evil. His heroes were not, therefore, modern seekers of consensus across confessional boundaries such as, say, the founders of Christian Democracy.
By 1968, a year of anarchy in France and Federal Germany and in Universities elsewhere, he was commenting on the 'end of conventional Christianity' that, if people were lambasting that Christianity for mediocrity and embourgeoisement, it was incumbent on them to say how they would present the Church as a 'sign of authenticity' to the world. Only one way is known, which is when: a real saint has broken through into immediacy vis-à-vis the Gospel, has dared to take a headlong leap into the flowing primordial element of revelation."
When a series of recent German television programmes was presented as a 'practical introduction to disobedience' (1968 was also the year of Paul VI's encyclical on sexual ethics, Humanae Vitae, the true beginning of doctrinal dissent on a host of issues in post-Conciliar Catholicism), Balthasar was quick to point out the contrast with the saints. For them, obedience to the Church was part and parcel of 'going to God' — even if they also asked from the Church a kind of obedience to their own missions and God-given charisms.
Balthasar found there was far too much talk of the Church's (deficient) 'credibility'. What, he asked, of the credibility of God? The real plausibility-structure of Christianity is Chalcedonian. It must do justice to the human, yes. But it must also show the human on its way to self-transcendence in the direction of the divine. The dimensions of the Christian mystery were currently being 'abbreviated', sold short.
On one point, however, Balthasar never shifted from adhesion to one theme of Catholic Progressivism, already adopted in the 1950s. And this was his belief, in part sanctioned by sociological data, that the Church would shrink to a numerical shadow of her former self, and must prepare to enter a diaspora situation where she could still be — and perhaps more effectively be — 'yeast' to the world. Karl Rahner, to select a 'left-of-centre' figure from the late twentieth-century Catholic crisis, would take a similar view. If the consequence of this outer weakening should be that the Church is less respected since she appears less needed (in Balthasar's words, 'the inner light seems weak and wavering because of the light that is dawning outside'42), this may conform the Church more fully to Christ by making of her, in Paul's graphic language in First Corinthians (1.18-31), a practitioner of 'folly' for Christ's sake. As Balthasar wrote:
If this were the key to the present situation of the Church then she would stand closer to the Lord in the active event of redemption than ever before. It would also be true then that her apparent organic weakness, her decline, her division, belong in reality to the mystery of a supernatural weakening corresponding, in its own time, to an exalted supernatural fruitfulness."
In his Passion, Christ poured out his blood uncalculatingly, just as during the ministry he had healed many by the power that went forth from him without always knowing who had touched his garments. So it should be with the Church. There is no reason to think Balthasar ever went back on this — as we might call it — high spiritual justification for the abandonment of Christendom. As he summed up in Razing the Bastions:
Weakness means fruitfulness; and the weakness of the Bride Church in the face of the peoples is a mystery of her fruit-bearing among them, a mystery that remains invisible to eyes outside her."
It is, however, counter-intuitive to suppose that acquiescence in the diminishment of the cultural mission of the Church assists the efficacy of her evangelical mission. Hence the appeal to the mysteric.
Despite the prominence he was ever more surely gaining as theologian and spiritual writer, Balthasar had not been called to participate as a peritus or expert adviser at the Second Vatican Council. There is no sure explanation why. If it was more than the luck of the draw, we should probably be correct to link it not so much with any perceived shortcomings in his thought as with the two inter-connected controversial issues of his life, his departure from the Society of Jesus and his sponsorship of the mystic Adrienne von Speyr. Two Conciliar periti, Henri de Lubac and Karl Rahner, discussed the matter in print around the time the Council ended. De Lubac described it as 'disconcerting' that Balthasar had not been called but on the whole thought it just as well." Not only would he have been unsuited to committee work but future generations might have been deprived of the theological works he was producing during the Conciliar period (that refers chiefly to the theological aesthetics, complete except for the two biblical volumes by 1965, the year the Council ended). In any case, the most valuable emphases of the Conciliar texts had already been incorporated in Balthasar's own outlook before the Council opened. De Lubac could say this because he regarded the Dogmatic Constitutions of the Council on Divine Revelation and the Church, Dei Verbum and Lumen gentium, as themselves Christocentric and considers that Balthasar anticipated them. De Lubac identified as the main fruit of Balthasar's work a better grasp of the unique originality of the faith, especially through his Trinitarian presentation of Christ as the opened heart of the Godhead. In fact, Balthasar himself would later complain that the Council had not spent enough time on Trinitarian and Christological doctrine, wrongly supposing that these could largely be taken for granted. 'Nothing could be sillier than to make of the Council documents something like a Catechism for our time.'
Rahner was inclined to ascribe Balthasar's lack of wide recognition to a variety of factors: some definitely to Balthasar's credit but others not. Balthasar's readers or potential readers were too bourgeois and philistine to appreciate him. Like, to a degree, the Council itself, they were caught up with 'secondary issues' — Rahner has in mind no doubt issues of pastoralia and the reform of Church structures which left Balthasar cold. But not all the grounds Balthasar provided for his own comparative marginalization were creditable to him, so Rahner opined. Scholastic theologians could reasonably complain that his work lacked conceptual precision. And more people than they were likely to be offended by the not infrequent harshness of his judgments. On the whole, Rahner was inclined to identify as the single main cause Catholic readers' lack of patience with so prolix and complex an undertaking (once again, it was the theological aesthetics Rahner was thinking of). He himself believed Balthasar's work to be seed sown in a field. People would hear more of it in the future." In this Rahner was prophetic.
In point of fact Rahner was also correct in his assertion that the Council Fathers' choice of themes did not leave Balthasar especially enthused. In an interview in Theologie and Kirchen for 1969 he regretted that the Council had spent so long on the value of the person, on psychology, sociology and the mass media, that it had failed to say very much about the 'primordial powers on whose basis everything Christian in its own way is at work in the world'. He included there: the Cross of Christ, the obedience to death which was the ground of his exaltation, and his abiding contemplation of the Father; likewise, the fruitfulness of contemplation and the loving surrender of one's existence to the work and mind of Christ; or again, the place of unceasing prayer, and spiritual poverty: in a word, 'all those things that Christians who know about their Christianity place first; and which alone can lead to a genuine dialogue with other religions'.
In an essay from the year following the Council's closure,
'Reform or aggiornamento?', he expressed perplexity at the
prominence given the latter theme. Purification, repentance,
renovation, these were all fine motifs, typical of the reforming
Church councils of the Middle Ages. The only sense he could give to
'aggiornamento' was that it might be tacitly implied in the great
Missionary Command at the end of St Matthew's Gospel (28.18-20). To
'teach all nations' would be capriciously impeded if the Church
herself created human obstacles to get in the way of evangelization.
But the Missionary Command underlines that what is to be taught is
'everything' Christ commanded the apostles — so distinctly not 'a
selection of propositions which can be accepted by modern people
without any essential constraints or challenges'." True reform is
always back to the origins, and entails the intensified conversion
of the Church as Bride of Christ with all her members.
Balthasar considered the expectations placed on the Second Vatican Council exaggerated. In a 1977 lecture in Sankt Gallen, offering a 'realistic look at our Swiss situation, he remarked that no Council can renew the spirit of believers." At the most it can indicate some 'correct lines' on which renovation may proceed. He also drew an unfavourable contrast with the Council of Trent, which had been 'accompanied by a cloud of saints' in many walks of Church life. There was little apparent evidence the same was true of Vatican II. Balthasar deplored the 'naïve optimism' which had placed such faith in 'structures': committees, councils and synods at all levels of ecclesial organization. Balthasar could see in the upshot only Gleichschaltung (a pejorative term since the Third Reich for 'bringing into line') and Leerlauf, waste of energy. Renewal will not come from here but from individuals sensitivized to the divine words. Perusal of this essay exposes us to Balthasar's post-Conciliar hard-hittingness: part of the background to his reclamation by John Paul II and the future Benedict XVI for the work of Catholic 'restoration — though neither of them were ever as negative about the Council events (and texts) as Balthasar could be.
Balthasar's portrayal of the neighbouring French Church in this period makes painful reading even after thirty years. The only hope he saw for the French Jesuits and Dominicans was that those who currently set the intellectual tone — Marxistic with the Jesuits and 'tending to atheism' with the Dominicans — would leave their respective Orders. 'Over the heads of the hierarchy and then — volens, nolens — together with them', 'a systematic destruction of the faith is at work' (Balthasar produced official catechetical materials as examples). The real villain of the piece in the rise of Lefevbrism is 'the French clergy or the French bishops', who, when an opportunity arose to crush a bishop they had shunned for at least fifteen years, suddenly discovered they were, after all, faithful to Rome. Fortunately, in this battle for the faith in minds and hearts there were groups of laypeople, or individual laity, who were keeping the flame alive. (Balthasar had in mind especially some of the young French academics who collaborated with the journal Communio.)
As for Switzerland, he compared the Church's situation to the becalmed vessel in Joseph Conrad's short story The Shadow Line. Dead calm, with stress on both syllables. As a good Swiss, Balthasar thought the introduction of a more democratic way of doing things could help the 'circulation of blood' in the Church — but only if there is a spiritual re-awakening and the Church does not drown first in a sea of paper. He lamented the lack of awareness of the existence of the 'great tradition of Christian meditation'. Swiss Retreat houses had become centres of dilettantish aping of yoga and Zen, aiming to give in five hours a wisdom it took Asiatic masters a lifetime to achieve. How could such places, then, be 'centres of radiation' for Christian holiness? And the sort of religious education currently offered in schools — occupied at best with 'friendly ethical and where possible ecumenical things which, so to say, make possible a respectable Christian or at least bourgeois life', how can this elicit such holiness, or indeed vocations to the priesthood come to that?' A rather specific account of liturgical abuses follows, and a more allusive mention of the deficiencies of the seminaries. Balthasar found in Switzerland ein wildgewordener Klerus, 'a clergy run wild'. What is to be done? He 'well understands' people who no longer go to the churches. But that is not the answer. The answer is to 'go to the centre' where alone there is 'light'. He encourages the faithful laity to use what Newman had called their 'prophetical office' to make the bishops listen. For their part, the clergy must learn or re-learn Christian contemplation to be able to pass it on to their parishes. In such contemplation each discovers personally how they are 'sinners before the merciful grace of God in Christ', and so can rediscover the sacrament of repentance, Confession."
Fortunately, the Lord is still dispensing charisms: Balthasar mentions with great warmth the founder of Communione e Liberazione, the Milanese priest Luigi Giussani, and that movement's houses in the Ticino where the theologian of canon law, Eugenio Correcco, soon to be bishop of Lugano, was their great supporter. (By the time of Balthasar's death, the Italian-speaking canton provided his main following in the Swiss church.) In such, the Church lives and is young again. Balthasar's call to action was 'Not traditionalistic, not progressive, but simply Catholic! He had hope, then, in 'our Christian and Catholic people who ... in the confusion of clerics and theologians ... have the absolute duty to care for the condition of Catholicity, by protest if need be'. (He explained how in Salzburg he had helped the philosopher Professor Robert Spaemann to initiate a petition to do just that.) Of course this presupposes that a significant number of the faithful, whether highly educated or less so, do have a right feeling for the 'proportions' of the faith.
For individuals to find personal solutions does not suffice. Christianity is irreducibly communitarian with claims to make on society at large. The theologians of Latin America have this much at least correct: it is mystical and political at once. Unsurprisingly, this address, and its various published forms, did not make Balthasar popular in all Catholic quarters in Switzerland. Through such media as a conversation with Michael Albus in HerderKorrespondenz his disillusion with Catholic liberalism was also becoming known abroad.
The Church seems to me to be a little like a watering-can with a hole in it. When the gardener comes to the flower-bed which he wishes to water there is nothing left within. The Church reflects too little on the [parable of the] treasure in the field. She has sold much. But has she really got the treasure in return? She has descended into the valley of democracy. But can she still be the city on the hilltop?
In other ecclesial milieux, such telling the emperor he had no clothes was, by contrast, a message people delighted to hear.
John Paul II on Balthasar
We 'fast forward' now to a very different moment in modern Church history at which indeed Rahner's judgment that Balthasarian thought would have a great future was vindicated. And this is 23 June 1984 when Pope John Paul II made Balthasar the first recipient of the International Paul VI Prize for contributions to Catholic thought. At the risk of attenuating the dramatic contrast this reversal of fortune involved, in all fairness I must mention some inbetween-times straws blowing in the wind. In 1965, the year when Rahner put into print his thoughts on Balthasar's neglect, the theology faculties of the Universities of Münster and Fribourg (both Catholic) and Edinburgh (Barthian Protestant) gave Balthasar honorary doctorates to mark his sixtieth birthday, while the patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople awarded him the 'Golden Cross' of Mount Athos for his services to Greek patristics. In 1969 Paul VI had ended what many would consider Balthasar's ecclesial isolation by making him a member of the International Pontifical Theological Commission founded in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. And in 1972, he became the prime mover in the setting up of a prestigious journal the International Catholic Review: Communio. (It appears in a number of European languages; its English language version is edited in Washington.) But, in terms of Balthasar's ecclesial standing, none of these events compares with his singling out by John Paul II for this unique award.
It is of interest, I think, to know what the pope said on that occasion and how Balthasar responded to it. Granted that Balthasar might have been called to the Council but was passed over, choosing him as the first recipient of a theological prize in honour of the principal pope of the Council, Paul VI, could be said to involve a little papal explaining.
In his speech, John Paul II expressed the hope that the expression of esteem involved would 'comfort' Balthasar for 'the toil [he had] carried out'. In these words there is surely at least the ghost of a suggestion of making amends' Balthasar's reflection on the work of 'Fathers, theologians, mystics' had entailed, said the pope, placing his vast knowledge at the service of an intellectus fidei which would be able to show modern man the splendour of the truth which flows from Jesus Christ.
Like all the sciences, John Paul II went on, theology is a service to truth, that truth which is ultimately a reflection of or even a sharing in God himself, citing St Thomas's commentary on John: there is 'one absolute Wisdom which by its essence is truth, namely that divine being by whose truth all true things are true'." That citation certainly sums up Balthasar's principal foray into philosophy, the 1947 study Wahrheit, 'Truth', which later became the opening volume of his theological logic. But, John Paul continued, theology is more specifically a service to revealed truth. 'This does not', he said: impede nor even compromise the scientific nature of research, but directs it in an original way and gives it a value which the other sciences do not possess.
And John Paul II proceeded to express that additional value in a way that is definitely congruent with Balthasar's writing if not necessarily shaped by it.
The truth studied by the theologian is not the fruit of a conquest of his, but the gift which God, in his inscrutable and wonderful plan of love, has made to men by manifesting himself principally through the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ, who is the Mediator and the fulness of all revelation.
What is surely distinctively Balthasarian is when Pope John Paul proceeded to remark that theology's exploration of revealed truth serves it by uncovering, and to the degree possible expressing, that revealed truth's 'harmony', 'unity' and 'beauty'. The choice of those three qualities — harmony, unity, beauty — thus strung together, can hardly be an accident.
In keeping with not only Balthasar's attitude but also the response of his Protestant mentor Karl Barth to the situation of modern-day theology, were John Paul H's succeeding comments which highlight the centrality of respect for and fidelity to the revealed divine Word in the theological enterprise. As he declared:
No means to which the theologian turns for research, and no revision of the epistemological structure of theology are acceptable if they do not fully respect divine truth. No interpretation must ever forget the supernatural character and the transcendent origin of revealed truth."
For the first time since his opening remarks John Paul mentioned Balthasar by name when he ascribed to him a special role in reminding theologians that theology must proceed not only from wonder at the marvellous deeds of God but also from contemplative praying through the intensification of faith. Underwriting Balthasar's concept of betende Theologie, 'praying theology', or théologie a genoux, 'theology on one's knees', the pontiff quoted, perhaps significantly, not the essays in Balthasar's essay collection Verbum caro, on fundamental theology, which deal with this, nor his book on contemplative prayer, Das betrachtende Gebet, another obvious source, but Balthasar's brief critique of Rahner's notion of anonymous Christianity, Cordula oder der Ernstfall, 'Cordula, or the Crucial Test'." Furthermore, John Paul made his own Balthasar's maxim that theology and spirituality, when these two are rightly seen, are indivisible.
In his conclusion, Pope John Paul II emphasized the ecclesial mission of theologians. Theology is not the 'free practice of just any profession'." Its ecclesial mission entails that the theologian attend to three dimensions. The first such dimension is the past. That means: Sacred Tradition, the understanding of revealed truth that has been growing, under the Spirit's guidance, in the Church's history. The second dimension is the present: the theologian must seek to support the Church in the faith she professes today. That might lead one to suppose that the third dimension would be the future, some version of which some Catholic theologians seem to prefer to inhabit. But actually the pope named as the third dimension requiring the theologian's attention what he termed human experience in the concrete, which means, he explained, a constructive, but critical, dialogue with modern culture. Of all of these, by implication, he found Balthasar a model to be followed.
Lastly, as one would expect in a speech devised by a pope and curia, this ecclesial vocation of theology is said to constitute a service also to the magisterium of the Church. Citing Lumen Gentium 25, bishops too are doctors, if not in the same sense as theologians. The relation of bishops and theologians should be complementary not antagonistic. Theology helps the magisterium when it follows it; when it accompanies it; and also when it precedes it, looking for new paths. It is above all in this last case — when theology is seeking out new modes of thought — that the theologian should (in John Paul's words): take care to unite closely in his heart both the filial devotion of the disciple and the desire to know ever better and to penetrate more deeply into the intelligence of the revealed mystery transmitted in the living Tradition of the Church.
Balthasar on Balthasar
How, then, did Balthasar respond? We cannot assume that he had seen this text beforehand, so perhaps 'response' is not the best word. How at any rate did he choose to present himself and his thought at an occasion which clearly represented a turning-point in his fortunes in the Church?
Balthasar began by saying that he conceived his work as simply initiated, not completed. It fell, he explained, into three stages of which the first was for him personally the most important. At his priesting, his Ordination card showed the beloved disciple, St John, embraced by Jesus. The motto beneath was benedixit, fregit, deditque: 'he blessed, broke and gave'. The 'breaking', of which, he said, he had had a premonition, came when he was obliged by what he called a 'formal order from St Ignatius' (who had of course died in 1556), to leave his spiritual home, the Society, 'in order [as he put it] to realize a kind of extension of his ideal in the world'. Then it was that St John — he means the beloved disciple — was shown to 'us' — the plural form there certainly indicates Adrienne von Speyr and himself — as the ideal disciple of Jesus. 'Ideal' disciple in what sense? In as many as five senses, judging by the way Balthasar speaks.
First, it was John who grasped that in the community of disciples obedience is based on the Son who by his own obedience revealed the Blessed Trinity. Secondly, John was the disciple who realized that light has to penetrate darkness to its very depths — almost certainly a reference to the Balthasarian—von Speyrian theme of the Descent into Hell and the spirituality they based upon it. Thirdly, it was to this disciple, John, that the Crucified entrusted the spotless Church in Mary. In other words, this disciple alone was given to understand the nature of the bond that makes Mary what Balthasar elsewhere, writing jointly with Joseph Ratzinger, called the 'primal Church'. John stands at the fountainhead of the profoundly Marian inspiration of Balthasar's own thinking about the Church. Fourthly, the 'Gospel of love' which John was inspired to write culminates in an 'apotheosis of Peter': that is, in a high doctrine of the primacy of the apostle Peter as chief shepherd of the Church, archetype of the Roman pontiffs: 'Feed my lambs, feed my sheep' (John 21.15, 17). Finally, from the third and fourth of these considerations Balthasar drew the conclusion that John, while deliberately keeping himself out of the limelight, unites Mary and Peter, and it is by this title that Balthasar and von Speyr made him the patron of the Johannesgemeinschaft or Institute of St John that they founded. So what Balthasar is saying is that, from the word 'go', his vocation had been to found with Adrienne that common work. Towards the end of his life Balthasar became anxious that people were increasingly writing about his theology —but without sufficient reference to her.
The second phase of his life — perhaps 'theme' would be a better word because the 'stages' concerned are hardly arranged in strict chronological order — involves his translating activity. We have already seen the range of this so there is no need to follow Balthasar in his summary of it. Let us note, however, that he gives two rationales for it, one general and the other more specific. The general purpose of this plethora of translations, whether anthologies of texts or entire books, was what he called to make as concrete as possible the meaning of catholicity by the translation of what, in the great theological tradition, seemed to me should be known and assimilated by the Christian of today.
Balthasar had sought, then, to extend the initiative of Henri de Lubac, whose great work 'Catholicism. On the Social Aspects of Dogma', had not only included all aspects of dogma worth mentioning, far beyond the issue of solidarity in creation and redemption (the 'social aspects' the subtitle had in view), but devoted over half its space to a choice of texts from various epochs and languages illustrative of its range. Balthasar's second reason for his translating activity was more specific if also more obscure. He considered the task of making known the 'most spiritual among our brothers and sisters' —he means his fellow Christians of past and present — to be very much in the spirit of St John, who is called, above all in the Greek Christian tradition, ho theologos, 'the theologian'. What does this mean? It is a somewhat vatic pronouncement, but we can certainly say that both brotherhood (and so by extension sisterhood) and knowing God in Jesus Christ are high on the list of priorities of the Gospel and Epistles of St John. Possibly that is all Balthasar wanted to say.
And so on to the third stage or rather theme, which is what he terms, 'my own poor books'. Here, unlike in those books, he was brief. They exemplify, he told the pope, three aims. First, he wanted to demonstrate the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, and to show in the way that he did so how all philosophical anthropology — all reflective, natural study of man — culminates in him, and culminates more especially in the way Jesus Christ enables us to transcend our mortal birth by a new birth to 'immortal Trinitarian life'. Showing that would necessarily have the effect of fusing together again theology and spirituality whose disassociation he called in strong language 'the worst disaster that ever occurred in the history of the Church'. Secondly, and more simply, he wanted to overcome theological fragmentation by showing the unity of all the theological treatises — he means by that the compartmental tractates into which Scholastic theology, even restricting oneself to its dogmatics, had come to be divided. Thus, no Christology without Trinitarian theology and vice versa; no Incarnation without the Paschal Mystery and vice versa; none of these without the history of salvation from Abraham to the Church and vice versa. Thirdly and finally, he aimed to show by his writings that the evangelical Counsels — what later became the vows of the Religious life — contain no flight from the world. On the contrary, they involve dedication to the world's salvation by following Christ and imitating his Eucharistic self-giving. This seems a relatively restricted theme to be allotted a third of his rationale for so extensive a theological corpus. But the reason is of course that he wanted once again to justify the establishment with Adrienne of the Johannesgemeinschaft and to end with a reminder of that topic.
We do not know what John Paul II made of the address, except insofar as it can be inferred from his naming Balthasar a cardinal four years later, in June 1988. But on 26 June, three days before he was to be instituted cardinal, this massive figure, giant in the Catholic landscape, died at Basle. Fittingly. After all, it was the city not only of Barth but of Adrienne von Speyr.
How then are we to conclude? Perhaps by suggesting the character of the impulse Balthasar has given to Catholic theology for its use - if it be wise! -in the future. Balthasar considered his own theology as an attempt to place his finger, 'a kind of finger like St John had' he hoped it might be, on the fullness of divine revelation. Congruently with Dei Verbum, the Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council, he took that to mean the fullness of revelation in Jesus Christ. That cannot be identified without entry in depth into the biblical witness, wherever possible understood, as that Conciliar text puts it, in the same Holy Spirit who inspired it. That implies then, reading Scripture in Tradition, from the standpoint of the wondrous amplitude of the Bible's reception in the Church. In Balthasar's eyes, that in turns means seeing divine revelation with the eyes of the saints. As he himself remarked, when interviewed: 'I have to say that only the saints among the theologians truly interest me'.' And he went on to explain that by that he meant not only the canonized doctors, from Irenaeus, through Augustine to Anselm and Bonaventure (his own examples). He was also referring to what he called 'forms which make holiness stream out'. Naming not only Dante and Newman, both Catholics obviously, but also Kierkegaard and Solovyev, a Lutheran and an Orthodox respectively, he suggested there an ecumenism of the thinking spirit which may be more valuable, actually, than the official ecumenism of bilateral dialogues. His remarks indicate that there can be holy form in a literary oeuvre that comes directly out of Christian life, even when the individual is not - for whatever reason - a candidate for canonization. (Of course Newman might pass from the second category to the first, but hardly the others.)
One thing Balthasar commonly looks for in the work of holy men, or at least holy forms, is integrity in the sense not only of the integration of life and thought but in its root meaning of wholeness. (An 'integer' is a whole number.) As Medard Kehl has put it:
Balthasar is always concerned, before and in all particular theological questions, to get a view of the whole of Christian faith as such. That 'whole' is more than the (subsequent) sum of its parts because it represents primordial unity which precedes every 'critically' dissecting analysis and every simple listing of elements one after the other. The one fundamental Christian mystery — God's love for the world in the gift of his Son and the sacrament of his Church — should be recognized in its original 'infold' (Einfalt), so that it can then also be continually recognized again in its detailed 'un-foldings' ...
We can see how that operates in the main adverbial 'takes' he performed on the same divine subject-matter: theo-aesthetically, theo-dramatically, theologically, and lastly what I would call theo-mystically.
Thus theo-aesthetically, Balthasar would re-concentrate our loving gaze on the primordial beauty of Christ. His sharpest criticism is directed to a practical (whether pastoral or political) theology that has mislaid the primal Icon. As he put it:
No beta can be explained other than in terms of its alpha. The alpha always presupposes everything else, yet we can never take it for granted as a premiss just to be left behind, like that.
But as Balthasar makes plain, the 'alpha' he is speaking about is not, after the manner of rationalism, a conceptual initial axiom. The governing premise of a theological aesthetic is the understanding that the radiant beauty of the Incarnate Word, the 'form' on whom the Father confers the glory of the Godhead, is, precisely as the majesty of crucified and hell-harried love, evidence enough to elicit the adoring witness of the heart. As he put it very simply in Love Alone, the summary of Herrlichkeit:
'Aesthetics' has for us a purely theological sense: the perception in faith of the self-authenticating glory of God's utterly free gift of love.'
So is this 'eliciting' our witness in some delicate, refined, sense? Or, more roughly, is it compelling it? Despite contemporary Western humanity's withdrawal from Christian believing, Balthasarian theo-aesthetics uses the strong language of the overwhelming grandeur of divine love. We needed and still need to be shaken from complacency in our little world. Balthasar's theology seeks to mirror for us the way divine revelation intends to do so. Citing Love Alone again:
The totally-other, the ever-greater, appears and seizes hold of us in the very act of overwhelming us through the ultimately incomprehensible character of that love. Precisely when the creature sees and feels himself clearly drawn towards the heart of God, he sees clearly the irrevocable and inescapable nature of that primary, universally valid relationship between the relative and 'absolute, worldly and divine being?' And he can only endure this frightening shaking of the foundations of his finite being when he has learnt to decipher the figure of revelation — not formally as 'word', but really, as absolute love.'
Then theo-dramatically, we are to let the divine drama have its full scope in all its dimensions, positioned as we are between earth and heaven, with the powers of Hell at our gates, and positioned too between time and eternity, our time and the Age to Come, the absolute future of the world. Innumerable divine missions are given to enable people to play their parts in this drama. The overall dramatis personae is the great thing, but it cannot work aright unless we ourselves know what is our role.
Again, theo-logically, Balthasar knows that, though revelation is not doctrine, it has an essential doctrinal aspect. As Christ put his experience of the Logos into language, so the apostles did to their experience under the clarifying action of the Holy Spirit. This goes on in the Church, notably in doctrinal definition. Balthasar wants to situate theology firmly within that ecclesial process. As he has shown, it is not simply a matter of honing doctrinal statements, which become more and more narrowed in their focus if also more and more precise. It is also a question of letting them find their place time and again in the Christian intellectual totality, with at its centre, the descending Word of God.
Lastly, theo-mystically, if we may coin a word, the situation is much the same.
Today we must investigate in what way the Christian wealth ... relates to its origin: to the ineffable poverty of the divine incarnate, crucified love. We draw close together, near to the source and beginnings, in order to hear the 'Word that was in the beginning'. We unite ourselves outwardly; the question is whether the grace will be given us to collect ourselves inwardly as well.
Balthasar never ceased to call for a renewal of contemplativity in the face of the divine form, the self-disclosure of the triune God.
Some people, doubtless, will not appreciate the tone of much in Balthasar's writing. Even when most consciously at the service of the contemplative, it never excludes an element of the polemical. This is a theological oeuvre written against as well as for: its author was too conscious of the conjuncture of his lifetime to do anything else.
Today the Christian people (or what is left of it) is searching with a lamp for persons who radiate something of the light, something of nearness to the source. It has long since had enough of the modernities, lacking all religious instinct, which trumpet at it from the press, the radio, and often enough from the pulpit. It is sad because it is untended, and an all too justified fear torments it that the 'one thing necessary' could be totally blocked off and made inaccessible by the 'experts', or the many dilettantes and apostates who pose as such. Often these are poor wretches, who must shout so loud in order to justify to themselves their inner predicament of no longer being able to pray.'
Hard words for hard times. But possibly, therefore, pastorally well-conceived hard love.
The future of Balthasar's influence on Catholic theology turns principally of course on the reception accorded his own work. But it turns secondarily on the destinies of the corporate project represented by the review Communio of which he was the principal co-founder and whose authors constitute a significant network in modem Catholicism worldwide. In launching the International Catholic Review, soon to be known as Communio, Balthasar had asked what standpoint the new review was to adopt so as to scan aright the clash of ideologies and philosophies of the day. The crucial section of his answer is found in the words:
In order to be of universal importance, [Christianity] has to be something special, definite, unique, as opposed to what falls within everyone's range of vision. And not only 'something' special among other special things, but the special thing, so much so that it can claim universal importance precisely on the ground of its uniqueness.
By invoking the word communio as his — by no means obvious — marker for what is at once unique and universal, Balthasar could lay out not only a Trinitarian and Christological ecclesiology of a kind that would soon be adopted by the highest levels of Church authority but also a whole programme for Church life through authentic reform and spiritual, social, cultural renaissance.
This is no mere ecclesiology in a technical sense; in fact, the essay that sets out the Balthasarian sense of 'communio' is virtually unplaceable. The primary meaning of the term for him is that people do not enter community by their own initiative. They are in it from the start, they are a priori mutually dependent. The challenge is not to get into this kind of situation but so to act as to perfect its pattern. The chances of that happening are obviously affected by how solid the primary foundations turn out to be. What are the plausible candidates for a well-grounded communication in reason, freedom and human nature at large? Balthasar's discussion thereof is rendered somewhat dated by his assumption that the principal contenders must be Christianity and what he terms 'evolutionary communism'.
That does not greatly affect his apologia for the Christian version. The latter has two strengths in its community project. One is in God himself, who could not bestow personal communion with himself and among men if he were not already in a profound sense a community in himself: loving mutual inherence, loving exchange, which presupposes loving consent to another's freedom. Wherever the divinatory vista opening out on the divine Trinity, which alone discloses God concretely as absolute love, is blocked, the idea of perfect community can never develop.'
The other plus comes from humanity itself, as the Gospel sees us.
If man were not created in the image of God, and for him, he would not experience in himself the urge to look for a more perfect communion among human beings than he is capable of picturing within the setting of more earthly conditions. For contact, dialogue, community of goods are only means, not the reality itself, which remains unimaginable, transcendent.
The strength of Christianity lies in the fact that its 'communional' foundations stand on a priori real principles, rather than being received (as it is the case with evolutionary communism) from a relation to prospective, ideal states of affairs.
If communion is made a mere object of eschatological hope for mankind and not a real antecedent gift ... then all generations which were only on the way to it are left behind, they are only material and have no access to the great communal festival.''
The Christian communio is realized in the communion of Eucharistic gifts in the Holy Spirit — which means its community is established antecedently by God on the grace of the abasement, humility, acceptance of poverty by Jesus Christ in loving dedication, and so lives by an ethos of 'spontaneous, pre-psychological, pre-methodical, helpful brotherly love', which Balthasar contrasts favourably with the 'evolutionary communist' alternative It is no recipe for self-satisfaction:
The fact that even though we have received the gift of communion with God we remain at God's disposal, is a continually renewed experience of the divine judgment: which of us opens himself to the love of God and thereby to true fraternal love? We recognize it to a certain degree, then the criteria escape us; judgment belongs to God alone."
For Balthasar, this is the reason why we should never anticipate the Last Judgment by consigning others to certain perdition. We can, then, hope — but not know — that all may ultimately be brought within the divine—human communion.
Meanwhile, great tensions sear the world and the Church. For Balthasar the greatest of these is that between Jews and 'Gentiles' — placed in inverted commas because, presumably, the category as used here includes (not very happily) Christian Jews. Peter's speech in Acts (3.20-26) opens the prospect of eventually Jewish—Christian communion in the common hope for the returning Messiah. Then there is the rift in communion with separated Eastern Christians, for whose prospective (again) healing Balthasar proposes a reversal of the trend of Western Catholic theology in the 1970s to become more and more rapidly alien, in its understanding of tradition, liturgy and ministry, to the venerable Church of the origins, as though the latter no longer seriously counted ...
That did not prevent him being exercised by the tendency of Catholic ecumenists to ignore the Oriental Catholic churches in favour of the Orthodox. 'There is such a thing as genocide among Christians.'
So far as relations with Evangelical Protestants and Anglicans were concerned (the placing of Anglicans last in this list may or may not be significant), he affirmed that these dialogues also are 'within our communion in Christ'. But he warned against 'tinkering away to unions in calculating and politic fashion' rather than 'recognizing the demands made by the communion which has already been bestowed on us by God's communication of himself'.
In his programme Balthasar sought to recognize some kind of communion too with non-Christians and even with opponents of Christianity. He pointed out that the atmosphere of world society retains certain effects of the global penetration of Christianity. The enemies of the faith may sometimes be opposing its caricature, not the real thing. Be that as it may, the Christian for whom communion is the watchword does not abandon anyone, not even outright apostates.
Throughout, Balthasar's stress lies on the way communion is divine gift not human origination. It is not at the disposal of the Christian, or even of the Church. That said, Balthasar enters a caveat against the contemporary tendency to reduce the Church to a framework of institutions and make small groups the criterion of Christian vitality. Whatever the hopes of regeneration from below such groups offers, they cannot be made into the Church without disintegrating her into an array of charismatic sects. The roof is not to be detached from the house, the Catholica from cells of enthusiasts or 'base communities'.
Communion so understood will be demanding for the one who understands it.
Buddhists and Stoics train themselves to enter a sphere without suffering and hate; the impact of contradictions does not affect them, for they communicate with the enemy in a supra-personal absolute. The Christian, however, must open his heart and allow himself to be most intimately affected, challenged, hurt."
Only completely humble faith in what God's love has already done will work, 'without any kind of triumphalism', says Balthasar, 'even of love'. People today, he had written, 'would like a Church of love'. But, he warned:
It will become a Church of mere human love — and thereby be indistinguishable from the world — unless it is seriously a Church of faith: faith in the love of the triune God who in the Cross of Jesus Christ 'loved me' [and all of us] and gave himself for me' (Galatians 2: 20). For simple co-humanity no one will enter a seminary or novitiate and all the Bishops' Conferences and Synods in the world will not alter that fact. And very soon all the churches will stand empty, if only co-humanity is preached and Jesus Christ no longer proclaimed.
Of course Balthasar knew perfectly well, and stated often enough, that faith entails love. But for the New Testament, love of one's brother is the criterion for the authenticity of one's love of God, 'not a substitute for [that] love, or indeed simply identical with it'. Here Balthasar pinpoints one kind of demand and, clearly, it is a call to let the theological virtues flower. The other challenge Balthasar highlights is more intellectual. It involves bringing into play the 'gift of critical discernment and all dialectical arts of thought and eloquence'. There is a contest going on, a contest of philosophies of life, and we are not to be afraid of taking part. For Gospel reasons, obviously.
Despite his great intellect, at once capacious and analytic, and his equally formidable learning, Balthasar did not suffer from bigheadedness. The story is told of Hilaire Belloc that, making his confession, he asked the priest's counsel for his intellectual pride. 'Mingle with your intellectual superiors', was the confessor's advice. 'But Father', replied a bewildered Belloc, 'where are they?'" The five books of this Introduction to Hans Urs von Balthasar suggest an answer for any of us afflicted with a like ill.