Balthasar's theological aesthetics as a whole reads the history of philosophy and theology ambivalently, emphasizing the `Great Catholic Tradition' as both a work of great human achievement and as the increasing forgetfulness of glory. This oblivion leads to a philosophical aesthetics of worldly beauty and the elimination of aesthetics from theology. In the introduction to his theological aesthetics Balthasar criticizes three movements in the modem history of Christian theology, which he describes as denying a theological aesthetics its rightful place: 1. Modem philosophical aesthetics; 2. The Protestant elimination of aesthetics from theology; 3. Catholic biblical hermeneutics and its historical-critical method.
The seven volumes of The Glory of the Lord, A Theological Aesthetics consists of more than 3500 pages of Balthasar's theological aesthetics in the original German Herrlichkeit are divided into three parts. Although it is impossible to do justice to the richness and abundance of his work, this review will attempt to present an overview of the authors and themes he discusses. The key concepts of his theological aesthetics will only be touched upon. For a better understanding of the overall structure of the project, let's start with summarizing the separate parts:
Originally, Herrlichkeit was published in five volumes. The two volumes of the second part (Fächer der Stile) and the first two volumes of the third part (III,1 Im Raum der Metaphysik, 1. Altertum; 2. Neuzeit) were published as one volume. This is the reason why the page numbering in the new edition of these two volumes continues in the second volume.
The English edition starts volume 5 (The realm of metaphysics in the modern age) with new page numbering.
Part one of Herrlichkeit, `Seeing the Form' (Schau der Gestalt), is an unfolding of the main question of theological aesthetics: How can the revelation of God's free grace be perceived in the world? The aim of Balthasar's investigation into the perception of God's free agency is not a theological version of a philosophical epistemology in which the Absolute is established as the ground of knowledge because of the inadequacy of knowledge towards its object. Neither is it an attempt to establish the foundations for a theological ethics, explaining how human responses like obedience or responsibility are activated. Instead, his theological aesthetics investigates the perception and the rapture of the objective form that bestows everyday life with its richness and vigour (H I 22-24). As such, it is the study of Christian contemplation, its characteristics and its conditions of possibility. Therefore, both content and method of theological aesthetics should show the diversity of the Invisible radiating in the visibility of Being in the world. This aesthetics neither is an aesthetics in the modem sense of the word, nor is it a discipline that investigates the formal qualities of imagination and perception of a work of art divorced from its content. Balthasar's Herrlichkeit develops a theological aesthetics that, although starting at the level of sensory perception, of light and revelation, investigates the meaning and content of the encounter with the form and beauty of divine glory.
Balthasar's theological aesthetics has the form of divine revelation as its object, but it also studies the concept of nature and man's subjective experience of nature in order to find the conditions for perceiving and understanding the form of revelation. That is why the whole of his aesthetics systematically consists of two parts. First, the doctrine of perception: This is a fundamental theology, although Balthasar is of the opinion that fundamental theology and dogmatics can only be distinguished formally, not materially. This part of the aesthetics deals with the perception of the form of revelation of God. Second, the doctrine of rapture: This is a dogmatic theology, which is aesthetics as a doctrine of the incarnation of the glory of God and man's participation in it (H I 118). The doctrine of perception compares the philosophical concept of `beauty' to that of `glory' in parts H I and H III,1. The doctrine of rapture discusses the form of the glory of God in part H III,2. In part H II, on theological styles, both are discussed in their interwovenness.
The title of part one, `Seeing the form', sums up the two divisions of this book: `Seeing' refers to the subjective evidence of aesthetics. In this division, Balthasar starts a first tour of the history of theology, emphasizing the concept of `faith'. `Form' refers to the objective evidence of aesthetics, which in this theological context are the revelation of God in Christ, the mediation and the testimony of this form of revelation in history. His discussion of the subjective and objective evidences of theological aesthetics is preceded by a lengthy introduction, which sets out the status quaestiones based on the observation that Catholic and Protestant theology have eliminated aesthetics with respect to both content and method. The content explored by a theological aesthetics comes with its own specific theological method. According to Balthasar, this could never be a neoscholastic systematics. He especially blames neothomist rationality, in which he was educated, for driving aesthetics and theology apart. Instead, he attempts to find a methodical parallel for the theological harmony that emerges from mysticism and the lives of the saints.
The form of revelation is the main theme of Balthasar's theological aesthetics because it is the glorious evidence of divine agency in the world. The human mind is capable of seeing in the multitude of perceptions of worldly being a unity of meaning which cannot be deduced from the various elements perceived. Balthasar calls this meaningful unity `form' (Gestalt). A form is not a sign or a reference to something else but a manifestation of that which makes it possible and inspires it. A form is a presence rather than a symbol. Jesus Christ is the ultimate, while most concrete form of revelation in Balthasar's theological aesthetics. Jesus after all does not refer to the Father but he presents the Father himself (Jn. 14,9). This means that Jesus should be called a form, not a sign or a symbol. As a form, He is not a reference to God but a theophany in the concrete history of man. Likewise, scripture, tradition and church in their roles as mediations and testimonies of divine revelation are not mere references to the Christ-event either but actual appearances and realisations of the mystery of salvation. This is why Balthasar also calls them `objective evidences'. Thus, `form' is the original conceptual focus of Balthasar's theological aesthetics: "Those words which attempt to convey the beautiful gravitate, first of all, toward the mystery of form (Gestalt) or of figure (Gebilde). Formosus (beautiful) comes from forma (shape) and speciosus (comely) from species (likeness). But this is to raise the question of the "great radiance from within", which transforms species into speciosa: the question of splendor. We are confronted simultaneously with both the figure and that which shines forth from the figure, making it into a worthy, a love-worthy thing" (H I 18).
In philosophical aesthetics the concept of form has many different meanings, and Balthasar declares borrowing his definition of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). In an interview with Peter Eicher in Herder Korrespondenz, he describes his choice of form as the basic concept of his theology as a choice contrary to Rahner's choice of Kantian conceptuality.' Now, `form' usually relates to the aesthetical category that means either a `shape' devoid of any meaning or an `appearance' of a meaning or idea. The experience of a pure form is based on the composition or the harmony of an appearance, which is what Balthasar is referring to. Therefore, he does not understand form as a pure sensory experience that is still unordered. On the contrary, the experience of the appearance of meaning in the form is oriented towards the unity of con-tent of that which appears in the form or by means of the form.'
Kant interprets the concept of form as the bridge between the objects of pure and practical reason. The objects of pure reason are the a priori conditions for objective, universally valid empirical judgements. The objects of practical reason are the a priori conditions for making moral judgements. The aesthetic theory that Kant develops in the Critique of judgement has a distinct object too, viz. the disinterested delight in the immediately perceptible properties of an object for their own sake. This disinterested pleasure is related to both moral acts, even though it concerns the beautiful rather than the good, and to theoretical knowledge, even though the object of aesthetics cannot be grasped conceptually. The aesthetic form is demarcated by the unity of reason and imagination, which distinguishes it from the theoretical demarcation of the concept, that instead is based on the distinction of reason and imagination. For Kant, an aesthetic form is not the beautiful object itself, although certain elements of the object can attract us to it. The aesthetic form has no purpose in itself and should therefore be contrasted with sensation or concepts. However, perceiving the form incites knowledge and moral feelings, insofar as it prepares us to know and love something disinterestedly and esteem it far beyond or even in opposition to our own interest.
According to Goethe, a form is experienced when one is enraptured by nature, which is the expression of divine imagination. Here, `form' is no longer a concept that can be further qualified with aesthetical judgments, such as a beautiful form, a perfect form, etc. Instead, `form' has become an aesthetic category in itself, a quality of nature referring to the totality of divine imagination, of which creation is the outcome, right down to its smallest parts. However, Goethe does not understand it as a platonic form that is transcendent to the world but as something that is most immanent to a being in the world. A form pertains to that which lives and as such carries in it the totality of life. In his later work, Goethe amends this concept of form. Form then becomes the expression of the essence of beings. Consequently, `perceiving the form' should be understood as the experience of the essential meaning of beings. Goethe's first conception of `form' emphasizes the appearance of totality in nature. In his later conception the emphasis has shifted to the intellectual contemplation of the essence of things.
Like Goethe, Balthasar's use of the concept of form resists every type of dualism. According to him, no metaphysical truth claim can break away from its original sensory perceptions. The totality of being only appears in separate, fragmented beings. In order to be able to perceive beings as fragments or `contractions' of totality or absoluteness, they should be regarded as forms of being. To him, `form' is the contemplated, independently existing totality of fragments and elements which cannot only be conceived of or understood contextually but also contains the totality of being and as such is a contracted representation or image of the Absolute (H III,1 30)." Given the fact that every individual being can be contemplated as form, so that even the most minimal or most contracted being can be seen as an appearance of the Absolute, it is now apparent that one can never have an exhaustive conception of any form. Balthasar quotes a passage of Goethe that shows how the perception of a form, and therefore of the totality in a fragment—no matter how minute—is an experience of glory: "When the soul becomes aware of a relation in a bud, whose harmony it would not even be able to survey and experience when in full bloom, we say this impression is exalted, and it is the most glorious impression a human soul can partake in" (H III,1 31-32).
Balthasar distinguishes the concept of form from that of image, because of the exalted experience a form can arouse. Rather than image, form is the appropriate focus of a theological aesthetics because of the possibility to apply it to theological ideas, like revelation and incarnation.' An image is merely the appearance of a being, but a form is the appearance of the totality of being in every individual being. Therefore, the concept of form originates in the quality of its content, which contains the totality of being, so out of the Absolute. To be able to perceive the content of the form the observer has to be open to that which appears, toward the Absolute. For example, without the intrinsic quality of the form a symphony would be invisible, and without proper perception the symphony would be inaudible (H I 493). However, human perception of the Absolute can only be described as `reception', according to Balthasar. Contrary to the concept of form in Carl Gustav Jung's (1875-1961) Gestalt psychology, he argues there is no finite form that can reach for the infinite. The human mind is in no way capable of finding the infinite in a finite form.
What are the consequences of the notion of form for fundamental theology? How can revelation be perceived if any attempt to find adequate concepts is incommensurable with regard to revelation? Because, despite this incommensurability, Balthasar still grounds the unity of faith and knowledge on the idea of form. The form is the presence of meaningful coherence perceived by man. Together with the form, one also perceives that this form can never found itself and that therefore, it is created and borne by something else. Balthasar calls this double perception, which does not fully coincide with the form itself, the perception of divine glory. Man can behold the divine glory that is present in the forms in the world through the perception of the forms in the world. This perception is regarded by Balthasar as the basis for the unity of faith and knowledge.
The form of revelation would not be a beautiful form if it were not the appearance of a depth and a fullness, which nevertheless in itself remains intangible and invisible (H I 111). This is why for Balthasar the psycho-logical description of the perception of beauty in theological aesthetics should always be preceded by a comprehensive ontology. In this way, he is able to interpret the concept of beauty within the framework of the transcendentals. `Beauty', according to him, is nothing but the immediate emergence of the groundlessness (Grundlosigkeit) of all being. It is the appearance of the infinite in finite forms, and hence not dependent on the perception by the human subject. However, it does appear to the human subject but only to the receptive openness of graced eyes. It is a gift rather than a way of seeing things. Therefore, by `beauty' Balthasar does not mean the aesthetical observation or appreciation of the similarity of essence and appearance, but rather the main characteristic of the divine essence appearing in a worldly form as something that is always greater and therefore never fully coincides with its appearance. As such, the ground of being appears as a self-grounding immeasurability, which constitutes its disinterestedness. "Whether it appears as the classical or the romantic, as the linear or the painted, as the Apollinian or the Dionysian, it is always the helpless relinquishing of a mystery" (TL I 254-255).
According to Balthasar, the perception of the (naturally) beautiful can in no way be equated to the perception of the glory of God. Yet, a theological aesthetics will have to avail itself of philosophical concepts. How-ever, it may have become clear by now that Balthasar's aesthetics is ultimately theological in its source and content. Still, he closely examines beauty in the world as well, insofar as it is the theophanous realm of divine glory. He sees worldly beauty as being brought forth by the creaturely possibilities to express oneself in meaningful forms. These forms provoke a response of love and gratitude because the dignity of the whole of creation appears in them. Therefore, the light of divine beauty shines forth from the beauty of worldly forms. Obviously the doctrine of analogy applies here, so that no beauty in the world can be identified with divine glory. There is, though, one concrete historical event in which divine glory is fully present: in the beauty of the Christ-form.
Balthasar, although often called `the theologian of beauty', neither clearly defines the concept of beauty nor develops a theory of beauty. Instead of arguing for interpreting beauty as a transcendental, he merely states that the church fathers as well the mediaeval scholastics granted beauty the status of a transcendental. However, in modem theology such a statement becomes problematic because one does not experience reality as a whole as beautiful, or good for that matter. If the beautiful is indeed regarded as a gift and therefore completely independent from human perception, then at least one should acknowledge that human perception often seems to be inadequate to receive this divine gift. Yet, if theology were to abandon beauty as a transcendental, it can no longer regard the world as the realm in which the divine spirit is at work so that it would lose its status as creation. "Nothing expresses more unequivocally the profound failure of these theologies than their deeply anguished, joyless and cheerless tone: tom between knowing and believing, they are no longer able to see anything, nor can they, therefore, be convincing in any visible way" (H I 167-168).
Recapitulating, Balthasar's focus on the concepts of form and glory serve a doctrine of creation and are the starting points of a doctrine of redemption. His theological aesthetics emphasises the visibility of revelation that evokes a human response to the gift of divine beauty in the world. The concept of form guarantees the perception of a meaningful unity in the appearance of being. It also safeguards the acknowledgement of divine presence in the world. The concept of glory guarantees the ever-greater majesty of God, appearing in the beauty of His creation. It also protects theology against approaching its object in an overly rational manner. The question remains whether Balthasar sufficiently recognises human freedom in the act of perceiving the revealed form and whether he leaves room for the creation of beauty by man. In other words, are the 'evidences' of theological aesthetics, as Balthasar calls them, not the all too self-evident facts in a theological paradigm that should be described as a positivism of revelation?"
Balthasar's atypical use of the concepts of form and beauty demonstrates the interwovenness of objectivity and subjectivity. In philosophical epistemology these two realms are usually clearly defined and distinguished. In his theological aesthetics they seem to overlap each other and sometimes even coincide. Form is not a clearly defined object but the condition of a subjective perception of a meaningful unity. Beauty is not a subjective judgment of taste but a transcendental characteristic of all being that raptures the subject away from itself. Balthasar's aesthetics stresses the passive-receptive side of perceiving the form of divine revelation. Yet, since the first part of his aesthetics is a fundamental theology, he should account for the possibilities of the human subject not only to receive divine revelation but also to respond to it and speak about it.
Balthasar distinguishes five realms in the subjective experience of faith: world, church, liturgy, neighbour, and prayer. The logical sequence of these five moments and the way in which they relate to each other should not be regarded as a rigid theological system. This is not because it is impossible to turn faith into an open vision but because the self-revealing God remains sovereign in His appearance and is Lord of his appearance and therefore resists every theological systematisation (H I, 403). Although Balthasar's theological aesthetics itself starts with an analysis of the structure of the perception of faith, it must not be forgotten that this specific perception, which belongs to the experience of faith, is a response to the freedom of the appearing God. "The first thing to do to see objectively, is to let the revealing One be (...), not to process the material of envisagements by categories of the subject, but an attitude of service to the object" (MW 63-64). This is why the objectivity of divine revelation instead of the subjectivity of human perception of revelation is the foundation of theological aesthetics. In fact, if man truly wants to perceive God in His appearance, he will have to eliminate the `temporary'—as Balthasar calls it—subjectivity of his desires and feelings. Only then does human subjectivity respond suitably to the objectivity of divine revelation, which is itself also characterised by meekness and humiliation. Therefore, the condition for the perception of faith is being unconditionally open to the objective evidence of revelation. Within this framework of revelation and faith, the following five moments on the side of the religious perceiving subject now become possible.
First, the primary moment of the perception of faith is seeing the form of God in the world, i.e. Jesus Christ. Christ is seen by the eyes of faith as the centre of all images in the world. In general, no other image is seen without also seeing its relation to the images that directly surround it or without remembering the images that directly preceded it. However, from Christ the light shines on all images in such a way that the believer can simultaneously see the distance and the nearness of every image to the radiant centre that Christ is. Christ is not the focal point of the perception of faith, but the world and the people living in it are seen entirely in the light of its radiant centre: the appearance of God in Christ.
If Christ is the appearance of God in the world, he is so not just for the individual or the religious elite but, according to Balthasar, for the entire world. If He is the image of all images, all images are determined by and understood through this one image. After all, there are no independent images, i.e. no images that can be understood outside the con-text of their relation to other images. Images are always seen within a certain environment and each of these images is capable of changing the face of this environment. Balthasar uses the example of a novel, and argues that if for example we read Goethe, we also get to know his age and a certain body of thought which has influenced Goethe and which, in turn, was influenced by him. Man always lives among images from his own historical and cultural context and is able to change this context, to form it. Those who believe in Christ do not merely get to know His historical and cultural environment but they get to know the entire creation and the eschatological history. To the believer the entire world he encounters is ordered by the norm of Christ's form, which is the central image of the most determining event of the world: "Beings in the world keep their right distance (from Him [Christ] and from one another) and their right closeness (to Him and to one another) through His form. For the believer, this is not a matter of faith, but a matter of perception" (H I 405). According to Balthasar, it is unimportant whether the believer possesses the sensory simultaneity of an eyewitness: "The reality of creation as a whole became the monstrance of the real presence of God" (H I 405).
Second, the individual cannot perceive the image of Christ as an image among other images. Christ reveals himself in this world in the coherence of images that form the church. For Balthasar, Christ himself has established the church in such a way that his light radiates from the inside to the outside. But how does the church mediate the image of Christ in such a way that the believer can actually perceive it? According to Balthasar, this is possible because of a twofold ecclesiological continuity: empirical and manan. The church's empirical continuity consists of its indissolubility as the religious community of people and its apostolic character, of which the archetypal experiences of the prophets and the apostles and the later experiences of Paul and the ecclesiastical mystics are the foundation (H I 296-309). The manan continuity consists of the motherly task of the church to teach not just the faithful the words of the faith, but also to point to the reality that is expressed in those words. The image of the church as a mother is founded in the spiritual-bodily experience of Mary: The Word springs from the image of reality and returns to it. The church should mediate the incarnate concreteness from its marian foundation. Balthasar does not want to base the mediating function of the church on the instinctive movement of the cult of Mary. Instead, he is interested in preserving the image-character of faith, viz. interpreting the continuity of Mary as Christ's bride and the church as God's People in the world. This is the counterbalance of the historical-critical method in theology which he thinks reduces the world to a composition of meaningless facts (H I 407).
Third, in the space of the church the community perceives the gestures of Christ in the liturgy. These gestures can be perceived through the senses in the spoken word and the sacrament. Balthasar states that the Word appears in the liturgy, for where the Word of God is spoken the Word of the incarnated God is heard, which is represented in the body and blood of Christ. The sacrament also appears in the liturgy not just as a symbol but as a form in revealing concealment. The liturgy is not just a composition of symbolic acts that appeals to faith, but it also realises a historical truth. It is the sensory character of the act, which lets the believer immediately perceive the represented event here and now, according to Balthasar. "The image compels them to enter into the act by revealing to them the act, which both instituted the image and is contained in the image" (H I 408). Therefore, Balthasar declares that the church can change, add to or abolish liturgical practices as it sees fit but it can never do this with the acts that originate in the acts of Christ.
Fourth, there is one image, which according to Balthasar precedes all the other images in the world and which originates in the Son of Man like no other: the image of the neighbour. In his neighbour, man sees his redeemer, He who is the neighbour of all people. Throughout a human life, faith is confirmed sensually by the encounter with the neighbour. This sensual confirmation only takes place if the neighbour is seen in the light of faith, in the light that shines from Christ in the world. It is to Balthasar of lesser importance that Christ is the historical form of love. The love of the neighbour is itself (an appearance of) this form. "In a Christian perspective, love is not an act without an image, but instead, it is what creates image and bestows form absolutely" (H I 409).
Fifth and finally, the form of revelation can be perceived in prayer and contemplation. This realisation of the form of revelation fulfils His presence in faith. However, this sensory presence should not be sought after for its own sake, but should entirely be at the service of the love that is obedient to the reality of the love of the Lord. This obedience takes place in prayer, where God touches human fantasy and imagination. All human experience may have to be erased and all experiences may have to be transcended. Because with Christ, Balthasar says, our sensuality with all its images and thoughts has to descend into the underworld to subsequently ascend to the Father in an indescribable sensory, yet supersensory way.
By mentioning five realms of subjective perception of faith: world, church, liturgy, neighbour, and prayer, Balthasar tries to describe the human possibilities to be receptive to revelation. "To be a recipient of revelation means more and more the act of renunciation which gives God the space in which to become incarnate and to offer himself as will (...) and the Holy Spirit is still free enough to create new and unheard-of marvels for each individual believer from the material of such exemplary experiences" (H I 404). Only in this way, he believes, is there continuity, or `integration' as he calls it, between biblical faith and the ordinary experience of faith.
The subjective perception of faith is grounded in an object which can be experienced, and without which every subjective experience would become incomprehensible. If, according to Balthasar, the object of religion would be limited to `God in Himself', the subjective experience could also be considered mere subjectively, without the need to find an objective ground for it. The result of this separation of object and subject would be either that the subjective experience only relates negatively to any objectivity whatsoever, or that subjectivity and objectivity in their independence are somehow identified without referring to any form in the world. At most, the multitude of appearances in the world would then be seen as the different modes of appearance of this one identity (H I 413). How then does Balthasar describe the objective evidences of faith as both non-reducible to the eyes of faith and yet visible in a worldly form that is more than mere matter or the appearance of a being? Balthasar distinguishes two separate, though not contradictory objective evidences: the revelation in creation and the revelation in Christ. These moments are not just the expression but also the essence of revelation. Both are mediated by scripture and the church, which includes theology as well.
In creation, all beings in the world participate in the objective revelation of God. If God has revealed himself as the Creator and if creation is necessarily a manifestation of God, it follows that this manifestation takes its form from the form of the world itself. God however, is not a being among other beings but is the Being of beings. Creation, therefore, is not an allegory or metaphor of God, Whom is perceived beyond the materiality of things. It is the divine Being, which radiates in its integrity through the medium of the Being in the world. According to Balthasar, the creature must know that it is separate in being from God. Only then can it know itself to be the most immediate object of God's love and concern; and it is precisely when its essential finitude shows it to be some-thing quite different from God that it knows that, as a real being, it has received that most extravagant gift, participation in the real being of God (H I 414).
The presence of the divine glory in creation prefigures and anticipates the presence of God in the incarnation. However, as Balthasar frequently makes clear, this pattern must not be drawn in an overly neat fashion. It may be true that Christ is simply the visibility of divine presence which pervades all of creation. However, it would be wrong to see in this fact a license to develop an evolutionary view of the progressive nature of revelation such that the old testament, seen as the paradigmatic intensification of all creaturely longing, easily flows into the new. Much of the prefiguring of Christ in creation has the form of a radical ambiguity, which leads to paradoxical answers to vexing existential questions. One can see the fulfilment, which Christ brings, only to the extent that one antecedentally carries within oneself the felt need to find an answer to all of the aforementioned ambiguities (H I 516-519).
Although God's revelation in Christ flows from the antecedent revelation in creation and the old covenant, it is of a wholly unexpected and unpredictable nature, Balthasar says. Only the revelation of the triune God in the earthly form of Christ could fulfil all our paradoxical expectations by first shattering the illusory quality of our answers and then laying bare the heart of the question. Thus, although the historical form of Christ is the product of its historical antecedents, the true significance of this form can only be seen through the eyes of faith, which see these same historical antecedents taken up into the hypostatical union. The true significance of Christ can only be discerned through an affirmation of the theandric quality of everything that He accomplishes. What you see in Christ is the wholly unique union between the archetype (God) and the image (humanity). However, the image is of no significance to Balthasar, if not seen in its union with the archetype. The form of Christ's humanity becomes the perfect image of the form of the triune God.
Balthasar does not regard the revelation in Christ as an intensification of creation but regards creation as a preparation and a condition of the Christ-event. In Christ, heaven and earth are brought together in such a way that because of the light that radiates from Him into the world, the entire creation is now seen in this light. This is what Balthasar calls 'indirect objectivity'. Remarkably, Balthasar situates the direct foundation for the objectivity of divine revelation in faith, paralleling the inversion whereby subjective experience of faith is based on the experience of objectivity. The objectivity of this revelation immediately comes to light when the historical form of Christ is seen as the appearance of the triune God. That is, if on the one hand one sees the relation between His two natures and on the other—within this first relation—his entry into the Holy Spirit, which makes Him the inner form of the church. The appearance of God as Christ is not the phenomenon of absolute identity, but of an independent Trinity. Therefore, the concrete historical form of revelation that Christ is, is not just any image of a divine nature but is its primal image and therefore not the appearance of an infinite non-form (Un-Gestalt) but of an infinitely determined superform (Über-Gestalt). The man Jesus, who is an image of God, should not be regarded independently from Christ, who is the primal image of God (H I 477-483).
In retrospect, one could ask whether Balthasar's description of the complex reciprocity of objective revelation and subjective experience answers the question how one knows that this form of God's love is not merely a projection of the mythopoetic imagination but is actually a form placed before us by God. Since God is not an infinite formlessness, but rather infinitely determined within the divine self by a triune superform, one can recognize Balthasar's emphasis on the aesthetic objectivity of revelation and its power to enrapture the beholder. The concrete historicity of the divine self-revelation should not be viewed as a concession to the pitiful material beings that God has created. Nor is the material creation as such a place which exists in opposition to God and which must be overcome in order to attain salvation in the realm of the formless Spirit. God is the author of specificity and form. Thus, Balthasar finds here the foundation to assume that there must be something analogous to form in God.
However, the concept of form should not be affirmed in an overly positivistic manner when applied to God. How does Balthasar reconcile his emphasis on the objectivity of revelation with the obvious cautions of negative theology against an exaggerated literalism in an objectivist approach to the positive aspects of revelation? According to him, even God's incomprehensibility is somehow seen and made visible in a finite form. One is metaphorically blinded, therefore, not by an absence of light but by the excess of it. The negative philosophical incomprehensibility of God is transformed and raised into the positive theological incomprehensibility of God's triune love revealed in Jesus (H I 496-505). This is the triumph of God's kenotic love over all forms of human knowledge which seek to tame God's love in either sterile rationalisms, trapping God in human concepts and systems, which Balthasar evidently avoided, or in a pious transcendentalism, holding God at a comfortable deistic distance.
After Balthasar has laid the foundations of theological aesthetics in the first volume of Herrlichkeit, he continues with rewriting the history of theology from the aesthetic perspective. It is unfeasible to summarize all the monographs on different authors and periods in the history of myth, religion and philosophy. However, to give a general idea how comprehensive and prolific Balthasar's aesthetic project is, I will mention some of the topics and ideas he deals with in the six volumes that follow the introduction. It will become clear that Balthasar neither develops a systematic aesthetics nor a chronology of the times when the idea of beauty was mentioned in the history of theology. Instead, he circles around the formal object of theological aesthetics, accentuating the core visions of theologians but also of poets, playwrights and painters, to offer a symphonic view of the revelation of divine glory in the world (H II 20-22).
The second part of Balthasar's project is called `Studies in theological styles' (Fächer der Stile), and takes the perception of the form of revelation clarified in part I as a starting point for a description of twelve theological expositions of this perception, like "twelve strong rays of light from a bright source of light" (H II,1 10-11). These are twelve thinkers from the history of Christianity, whom Balthasar classifies as either clerical or lay styles. Together, they do not form a history of theological aesthetics, however. On the contrary, once the differences between the authors discussed have become clear, it can only be concluded, as Balthasar ironically does, that writing a history of theological aesthetics is impossible. The field of theological aesthetics, like that of mysticism, knows no historical development, according to Balthasar (H II,1 18).
Yet, Balthasar's selection of twelve different styles has a chronological, but also a geographical and thematic basis: The first book discusses the history of theology up to about 1300, looking at five `professional' theologians: Irenaeus from Turkey, Augustine from North Africa, Pseudo-Dionysius from Syria, Anselm from Burgundy and Bonaventure from Italy. The second book introduces seven philosophers, mystics and poets from 1300 to the present: Dante Alighieri from Italy, John of the Cross from Spain, Blaise Pascal from France, Johann Georg Hamann from Germany, Vladimir Solowjew from Russia, Gerard Manley Hopkins from England and Charles Péguy, again from France. Balthasar chooses not to discuss these twelve theological styles in the systematic form of a symposium but as twelve separate monographs. The distinction between `clerical' and `lay' seems confusing, since two of the lay authors were priests, and therefore not laymen in the ecclesiological sense. However, Balthasar calls them `lay' because they wrote in their vernaculars and have the concrete personal existence as the centre of their attention.
It may not surprise us that the most prolific theologian and, according to Henri de Lubac, "most cultured man of our time" had some difficulties in selecting these twelve authors from the `Great Catholic Tradition'. Balthasar acknowledges that his choice is hardly the expression of some kind of necessity. For example, instead of Dante he could also have chosen Raymundus Lullus, Nicholas of Cusa, Desiderius Erasmus, Martin Luther or Bartolomé de Las Casas. Beside Pascal he mentions Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, beside Hamann, Jacob Böhme, Francois Fénelon and Sören Kierkegaard, beside Vladimir Solowjew, Franz von Baader and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, and beside Gerard Manley Hopkins John Henry Newman (H II,1 13-14). Although Balthasar was not driven by some kind of necessity, the reader will discover a certain pattern in the originality of the authors he has chosen and the ones he mentions as alternatives. His preference goes clearly against the canon of the history of philosophy, especially in his choice for lay styles.
The historical and systematic connections between the twelve different positions are not discussed until in part three, where they are treated as a part of the history of western metaphysics. In part two, Balthasar follows a diachronic course, crossing horizontal, chronological lines of influence, constantly emphasizing the synchronous vertical relation to God. Although the various theological positions are at times each other's opposites, Balthasar aims to present the history of theology as a harmonious composition. He sets up a dialogue between various different theological systems, without ever identifying with one of them, maintaining that no single style can do justice to the infinity of the mystery of salvation in the being of the world in a systematic way.
The third part of Herrlichkeit is divided into two subdivisions, which together fill four volumes. The first subdivision of this third part of the theological aesthetics is called `The metaphysical realm' (Im Raum der Metaphysik) and discusses twenty-five centuries of metaphysics as a back-drop to the theological styles discussed in part two. Throughout this part of the aesthetics, Balthasar uses the term `metaphysics' in the broadest sense of the word. To him, it encompasses Greek mythology, all of philosophy, and religion, in its diverse and highest mytho-poetical manifestations. He interprets this history of metaphysics, from Homer to Heidegger, in the light of the a priori of theological aesthetics, the revelation of the glory of God in the world.
Part III,1 is subdivided into three sections, spread over two volumes: The first section is called `Foundations', on the relation between myth, philosophy and religion in the period from Homer to Plotinus. The second section is called `Consequences', and deals with classical Christian thought from the church fathers to Thomas, followed by the transcendental aesthetics from the fourteenth century to German Idealism and Heidegger. The third section presents the conclusions, called `Our inheritance and the Christian task' in possibly one of the most exalted theological essays of the twentieth century.
Looking at the number of pages awarded to individual authors or schools in the `Foundations', Balthasar's most important influences can be traced. Here are some examples: The extensive treatment of Greek mythology (98 p.) shows that Balthasar's broad conception of the history of metaphysics starts with the mythical thought of antiquity. After all, mythology also realises the necessary relation between thought and representation, and, as such, the ultimate boundaries of philosophy are already set in Antiquity. Plato (43 p.) and Plotinus (32 p.) are the philosophers that receive most attention, as do the Greek tragedians (48 p.). The poet Virgil is also a strong presence (25 p.). However, the number of pages dedicated to one author is not always a flawless indicator. Thomas, for example, only gets 17 pages. He may not be of great importance to Balthasar's aesthetics but his ontology, which forms the framework for the entire theological aesthetics, is.
Like Heidegger and Nietzsche, Balthasar has a keen interest in presocratic philosophy and mythology. He believes Greek mythology is a pre-figuration of the Christ-event, because nowhere in world literature can the real presence of the gods be felt as strongly as in the works of Homer. Moreover, aesthetics and ethics are truly one in the ancient world because all of life is seen in the light of the divine Thewpia. Aeschylus presents divine glory as penance and justice. The absent god of the tragedies of Sophocles reminds us of later negative theology. Euripides, however, eliminates the tragic vision from Greek thought, according to Balthasar. He believes that Euripides's plays have sadly become the model for European theatre, in which divine beauty only appears as a symbol in an inner-worldly plot (H III,1 122-123).
In Greek philosophy too, from Plato to Plotinus, the focus shifted from attention to the divine presence to the inner-worldly beauty. In Plato's philosophy the sense of measure, harmony and order conquers the sense of divine Eros. Plato himself describes the development of his philosophy as a development from epiphany to order and harmony. According to Balthasar, beauty then is only associated with the Good in order to pre-sent virtue as something that is forever controlled and in equilibrium with its surroundings. This equilibrium is associated with the symmetry of the cosmos, which leads to the notion of the sublime in philosophical aesthetics. Because of this, Balthasar argues, later western European philosophy has shifted its attention to the good and the perfect instead of to being itself. Human imagination and human agency slowly became alternatives for appearance and revelation.
The church fathers, but also Plato and Plotinus themselves, interpreted epiphany and revelation as part of a cosmological framework. Because of this, the unicity and historicity of Christ have been pushed to the back-ground in Christian thought as well, which after all has been influenced by platonic philosophy. The platonic opposition of idea and appearance transforms into a relation of the soul to itself in Plotinus. To Plotinus, `Beauty' is the name of the mystical unification of the soul. Unlike Plato, he no longer holds that the forms in the world are illuminated by absolute Beauty. The human soul itself becomes Light and absolute Beauty. This concept of Beauty in Plotinus's work is the common root of myth, religion and philosophy. That is why both cosmic beauty and the theological dimension of glory are subjects in Plotinus's philosophy, a dimension that was lost in the aesthetics of German Idealism (H III,1 270).
Balthasar shows his appreciation of Neoplatonism in his comment of Dionysius. The transcendental notion of beauty in the work of Dionysius combines the platonic theme of the light that illuminates all reality with the aristotelian inner-worldly properties of beauty. Balthasar also derives his own doctrine of the transcendentals from Pseudo-Dionysius. In the fourth book of the divine names Pseudo-Dionysius explicitly speaks of beauty as a transcendental property. According to Pseudo-Dionysius, beauty is a property of all things, because every substance is made of light and so participates in the original light, God. Moreover, the beauty of things coincides with their goodness. Just as all things are good because they flow from the Good, they are also beautiful because God is the cause of the harmony and clarity the things possess. `Being' here means possessing a certain order that is beautiful. Thomas adopts this analogy of the good and the beautiful yet also distinguishes between them because, contrary to the good, beauty to him implies the notion of a relation with cognitive power.
This critical line Balthasar draws in western philosophy from Plato onward does not mean he does not appreciate (neo-)platonic philosophy. His interest in Greek philosophy stems from his attempts to constantly think of theology as a union of Christianity and philosophy. In the Renaissance philosophy of Cusanus, classical aesthetics reaches its apex, in his view. It combines cosmological elements from Plotinus's aesthetics with the properties of being from Pseudo-Dionysius's negative theology and the epistemological connotations of the concept of beauty in aristotelian-thomist philosophy. This unity is lost after Cusanus, and philosophy and theology stray into what Balthasar calls an anthropological reduction. However, he believes it should be possible, even today, to see Christianity "in the old almighty form of a theology which organically envelops philosophy". Cusanus was the last to fully exploit this form, but the autonomy of the sciences and philosophy has shattered the unity of theology and philosophy. This does not mean, according to Balthasar, that philosophy and theology should be equated. For him, philosophy must necessarily precede theology, because man will try to understand the form of revelation by means of reason. This is why theology will have to treat philosophy as an analogous way of speaking, indispensable for theology itself.
In the second part of `In the metaphysical realm' Balthasar pays most attention to Goethe (65 p.), from whom, as shown in the previous section, he derives the concept of `form'. Cusanus (40 p.), as a turning point in philosophy, Hölderlin (37 p.) and Schiller (28 p.) also seem important to him, looking at the number of pages. Heidegger merits only 17 pages, but this is still more than the modern rationalism of Descartes and Leibniz, and German Idealism get. Like Thomas, Heidegger plays an important part in the works of Balthasar. To him, both thinkers have formed the fundamental ontological perspectives on the intellectual and cultural history of the west.
The German idealists close this section. The beauty of a work of art is regarded as the highest form of spiritual freedom in German Idealism. Beauty becomes a human act, a mental production, and an act of free fantasy, freer than nature itself. The aesthetics of Hegel (art as the appearance of the Absolute Spirit) and Kant (aesthetics of taste) are still philosophies of the work of art, but Schelling is the last philosopher who sees the work of art as an expression of the Absolute itself. Heidegger then, concludes the tradition that started with Plotinus and ran via Thomas and Eckhart. His philosophy is still rooted in German mysticism and in what Balthasar terms the metaphysics of the saints, which presents free will as abandonment (Gelassenheit). According to Balthasar, this abandonment is man's aesthetical attitude to life because he experiences his freedom in harmony with the totality of being.
Balthasar concludes `In the metaphysical realm' with an analysis of the Christian as the `custodian of glory' (Hüter der Herrlichkeit), in which he argues that the history of metaphysics should have been a history of love. Metaphysics should start with the wonder of being, described by Balthasar by four ontological differences. A proper understanding of beauty is not possible without `metaphysical love' : "Love loves being in an a priori way, for it knows that no science will ever track down the ground of why something exists rather than nothing at all. It receives it as a free gift and replies with free gratitude" (H III,1 975).
The second and last division of the third part of Balthasar's ambitious project is called `Theology', and would itself have consisted of three volumes:
`Old covenant', `New covenant' and `Ecumenism'. However the last volume has never been published, although Balthasar claimed to have completed it in the form of an extensive dialogue with Luther (MW 67-68). In the last two volumes, after having clarified the concept of glory and its perception by man in part one and working through twelve styles of the aesthetic viewpoint in the history of theology in part two, he wants to approach the centre and richness of the historical diversification biblically, but not until he has also given an overview of the mythical, philosophical and poetical experience of glory in the history of mankind (H III,2,1 22). Thus, part three as a whole is an attempt to discuss the specifically Christian, first in solidarity with the history of thought and its embeddedness in a general religious metaphysics, then in isolation from all other human designs (H III,1 15).
In his treatment of the old covenant, Balthasar chooses three central concepts: glory, image and grace. `Glory' stands at the centre of theological aesthetics because it is the essence of God's revelation. The biblical equivalence of glory is kabod, which means the appearance of `weight', both in its physical and sensual meaning. Is it possible, Balthasar asks, to speak analogically from God's kabod? If so, then His absoluteness must at the same time mean the majesty of His power (H III,2,1 34). The concept of `image' describes the fact that the glory of God shows itself before the Word of God is spoken at the most decisive moments in scripture. Balthasar refers to examples such as Moses at Mount Sinai, the burning bush, Isaiah's and Ezekiel's visions of their vocations, and the vision of the Son of Man at the beginning of the Book of revelations. However, it is also written that one cannot live after one has seen God. That is the reason why Moses sinks to his knees and Paul is thrown to the ground. All these biblical stories are examples of what will happen to every `hearer of the Word of God' : "he receives God in a rapture from himself, he hears and understands God in God and through God" (H III,2,1 14-15). In His appearing, God shows his holiness and with it the unholiness of the perceiver. This is why, according to Balthasar, a theological aesthetics could never be a peaceful contemplation of the divine. He asserts, by means of an untranslatable word play, that God's glory (Herrlichkeit as Hehrlichkeit) is at the same time His Lordship (Herrlichkeit as Herrschaftlichkeit) (H III,2,1 16). The third concept Balthasar explores in the section called `Old covenant', is the concept of `grace', the work of God between Himself and his image. The last and decisive question of a theological aesthetics then must be: "how it is possible that the finite and continually failing disposition of mortal being persists in the
sight of the absolute and irrefutable order and how it happens that the seemly necessary, ultimate indulgence and condescension of God, to allow the human crookedness to be weighed as right, to imputate the unjust as a justness to God, coincides with real and true justice?" (H III,2,1 17).
This last question is elevated in the section called `New covenant', in which the image of God becomes one with the Word of God. In a matter-of-course continuity between old and new covenant, Balthasar finally reaches the apotheosis of a biblically founded theological aesthetics. The idea of beauty is derived from the revelation in Christ that surpasses, criticizes and fulfils every general or systematic conceptualization of beauty (H III,2,2 20). In the new testament, the old-testament kabod becomes doxa: The unity of power and glory finds its ultimate form in the incarnation of the trinitarian love in Christ, as it is mirrored in the church, in its doxologies and its truth.