Archive for the ‘Hans Urs Von Balthasar’ Category

h1

The Enduring Negative Proof – Hans Urs von Balthazar

March 25, 2014
Pietro lorenzetti, compianto (dettaglio) basilica inferiore di assisi  (1310-1329)

Pietro lorenzetti, compianto (dettaglio) basilica inferiore di assisi (1310-1329)

In the first section of this book, we took as our starting point the involvement of God. And we saw that in the world of the Bible, God, in moving out to meet us, stimulates in us the urge, deep-rooted in our being, to burst out beyond the bonds of earthly finitude toward him. In pagan religions, such longings after God have always something of a dreamlike quality and the images used to express them are clearly projections of the human imaginations.

But man knows the problems inherent in his use of imagination; and he is therefore in mystical and negative theology fully prepared to see these dream images as having only relative significance, to inquire into what lies beneath them and ultimately to get rid of them altogether. For neither fantasy nor concept can express the true object of man’s real longing. Nor can he know this of himself; for only God can reveal it to him.

In the world of the Bible, this is different. Here God is represented in the act of setting out in front of man on a journey into a future, unknown and yet assured. And man advances toward him, who himself is this unknown future. As God goes before man, as on the journey through the wilderness, he makes man live in a state of perpetual setting out toward that future which alone will bring him fulfillment.

For there is no longer any question of man’s psychosomatic unity being separated out into its constituent elements (as in pagan religions) by his agonizing longing for transcendence (here an immortal soul, there a discarded mortal body, neither of which is any longer “man”). It is a question rather of man being led by the God who goes before toward a genuinely human fulfillment — to a land “flowing with milk and honey”.

The prospect of this land he enters, however, fills him with disappointment. For new pictures of new lands and of this land transformed and altered are projected by the prophets for the future (most strongly by the Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah); and their vision is of an earthly Jerusalem, shining with the power and glory of God for all to see, which is to be the center of the world that will finally come.

Once more the fulfillment of his hopes eludes him, and the images of the promises to come fade away into nothingness; or, to put this better: the eschatological pathos, alive in Israel from the beginning, became more and more accentuated so that the visions of the prophets lapsed into being but symbols of their transcending dynamic for the future, as Israel’s real feeling for the eschatological emerged in late Jewish apocalyptic in its purest form.

Here man’s future, which hitherto had been thought of in terms of the horizontal prolongation of his history, is now seen clearly as breaking in from above into the old world, fallen and beyond redemption, which cannot transform itself from within, but needs recasting in her new and final shape by some power from on high.

In the Old Testament, then, a rift opens up more and more clearly that was at least latently present when God first made the promise, but which had widened to almost intolerable proportions by the time of late Judaism. One can see this in the writings of the Qumran community, which in the plans for the final battle at the end of the age, when the promised Kingdom of God will finally break in, depict a violent scene in which man’s final efforts toward this end (in the carefully drawn-up plan of battle, which in its attention to detail foreshadow the plans that Marxism designs for its campaigns) converge with the mighty acts of God, who intervenes in this very battle with his two Messiahs, and brings about the final victory.

Any idea, however, that the plans of men coincide exactly with the action prepared by God or rather that the divine involvement will draw all human striving into the sphere of its own operation belongs to the sphere of the Utopian and belongs to a dimension outside time (if one looks at this in the perspective of this-worldly history). For neither the place nor the time of God’s inbreaking can be calculated in advance.

The dialectical processes of the Old Covenant go yet further. On the one hand, it becomes continually more clear that the sorrows of our mortal condition are closely associated with a state of subservience to the law (which in this sense means being the servants of an omnipotent God who imposes this law on man). Already in the Book of Job we find that such a situation leads to a fundamental kind of rebellion. Job appeals to a higher court of justice superior to either him or the Lord God, basically for the removal of the heteronomy that expresses itself as much in that kind of suffering that ends in death as in the imposition of the law.

In Judaism, as late as the works of Kafka, this kind of rebellion against a heteronomous guilt pronounced against a man from without and against an incomprehensible Lord who conceals Himself recurs in many different forms. But is not perhaps this heteronomy [vocab: Subordination or subjection to the law of another; political subjection of a community or state; - opposed to autonomy] presented together with the irremovable difference between man who is finite and creaturely and the God who is infinite and the Creator?

The only alternative therefore (if we look at this from the perspectives of the Old Covenant) is to inquire behind the law (which after all, as St. Paul says, only came afterward; see Romans 5:20), and return to Abraham’s Utopian faith in the resurrection of the dead (see Romans 4:17-25), for this first driving force of the Old Covenant was already pregnant with the final result, it is at work in the background of all prophetic activity (see Ezekiel 37; Isaiah 26:19), and at the same time its final aim is the removal of the heteronomy we have been talking about, because God’s law is to be instilled into human hearts so that men may obey it freely (see Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel: 11:19), and man will relate to God, not as a servant to his master but as a friend to his friend or as a child to his parents (see John 15:15; 8:35).

Under the Old Covenant, however, such an outlook is altogether excessive; and when it is combined with those tendencies always latent in man to rebel against the Lord his God, the result in modern Judaism is man being represented as by origin an autonomous being who has given himself a heteronomous law (perhaps he had to do this, as Freud and the later Scheler suggest, in order to reach civilization), who, however, is able to see through the limitations he has imposed upon himself (cf. not only Freud but also Bergson and Simmel) and must loose his inhibitions (Marcuse) in order to reach the source of his inner drives and of his power.

In this kind of Judaism, where the law is criticized out of existence as being something that merely “came afterwards”, and in “negative thinking”, freedom has the last and perhaps most puzzling word (Horkheimer, Adorno) and there the hopes of man and his history thrust them out into the sphere of the merely Utopian (Ernst Bloch), completely overturning all existing situations for the sake of the absolutely new, which exists only then. (Ludwig Rubiner: “Dasein itself does not exist, that which subsists does not exist, we ourselves are the first to make everything” [Der Mensch in der Mitte, 1920, p. 142.1)

Alternatively one can, instead of pointing to the thinking without rules of primitive man (Levy-Bruhl), manipulate the law system from the standpoint of one’s own freedom (Wiener) or even equate law and nature as being primitively a structure without subject (Levi-Strauss).

Such is the dialectic of Judaism (as Hegel saw it), the contradiction in human nature becoming seething and virulent through the coming of God, a nature that has been created for a purpose, and now realizes that it has been set in motion toward that end, which by its own powers it could not attain.

The end toward which the whole world is orientated is that unity of divine and human freedom in Jesus Christ, which God alone can effect, for in Christ man finds his own self and is taken up whole and entire into God, in him the urge of Jewish messianic hopes is set at rest, provided that it is agreed to accept the synthesis as being God’s grace, and not the goal that Israel is able to reach by dint of its own messianic power.

For that driving force innate in the chosen people leads horizontally into the historical future, but it also leads to the transcendence of this horizontal line. Israel, however, cannot herself resolve this difference, for it is the hollow space in which the figure of the God-man is to be inscribed, who has fulfilled the destiny of all men, even to death and the hopelessness of hell, and transcends this destiny by his resurrection from the dead.

For this reason, Jewish ideology in its brisance [vocab: The shattering effect of the sudden release of energy in an explosion.] as in its dialectic remains the enduring negative proof for the necessity of the Christ event. Jewish thought presses for a change in the structure of the world and of society, because their present structures are so closely allied in principle with the laws of aggression and death. It is always, however, only the structures of this world and this society that Judaism feels must be changed, because the messianic promise is directed toward a temporal future. Should Judaism succeed in changing the structures from the roots upward and lifting the law imposed from above from its hinges, then by this it would in fact bring about a change of heart. The heteronomy of servitude would lie behind us; we would have passed into a realm of freedom, a world of the positively human (Marx).

It is impossible, however, to imagine such a step being taken; it belongs to the sphere of the Utopian, because it implies the removal of that which is to be changed. Judaism, above all religions, ought to have known how to wait in expectation for God to act.

But instead of having the faith to wait for God, she took the management of the messianic kingdom into her own hands and either transformed the meaning of the law promulgated by God as the way to freedom, so that it became a “work” involving the taxing and burdensome labors of man’s own resources (whereas, in fact, it is only by love in its fullness, as St. Paul shows, that the law can truly be fulfilled), or else in the light of the prophecies of Utopia, she has totally excluded all God’s part from the law and, taking prophecy into her own hands, has made it into an enormous human achievement.

We can now begin to see the originality of Christianity in what it brings with it, what it demands and in what in itself alone promises.

h1

The Meaning Of The New Covenant 3 – Hans Urs von Balthasar

March 12, 2014
The Jesus of the Johannine writings demands that we love him, since the whole essence of the faith is simply that we should understand that the love that characterizes the life of the Trinity has been manifested in him, and in him has been abundantly proved.

The Jesus of the Johannine writings demands that we love him, since the whole essence of the faith is simply that we should understand that the love that characterizes the life of the Trinity has been manifested in him, and in him has been abundantly proved.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss theologian, is widely considered one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. He wrote over 60 works of theology, spirituality and philosophy, including his great trilogy: the 7 volume work The Glory of the Lord, the five volume work Theo-Drama, and the three volume work Theo-Logic. His most famous individual works include Prayer, Heart of the World, Mysterium Paschale and Cosmic Liturgy. “Just as Love Alone Is Credible captures the essence of the seven-volume The Glory of the Lord, so does Engagement with God explain his five-volume Theo-Drama. But in Engagement with God von Balthasar does more: by setting his account of the drama of Christian discipleship against the anti-Christian ideologies of the 1960s von Balthasar brings his theology to bear on the highest cost of discipleship — martyrdom — by seeing the martyr as the mirror of God’s own involvement in the human race through his own martyred Son. One can hardly read a more sober, and yet exhilarating, account of what it means to live committed to God’s own commitment to the world.

*************************************

The Encounter Between the Chooser and the Chosen
We have perhaps moved too swiftly in our argument and not taken sufficient notice of the yawning chasms that open up all around us and obstruct the easy road to the synthesis into which we have been attempting to resolve the involvement of God and the involvement of Christ. We must retrace our steps a little and ponder the whole difficulty inherent in such a synthesis. Christ is the instrument of God’s saving action on our behalf, how, therefore, is it possible that we too should ourselves be sharers with God in this saving work?

This will be a really difficult question to answer if we consider that God began his decisive work for us in the earthly life of Jesus, which, however, ended in disaster; and that the crucial steps in this work of redemption were taken when Christ underwent his atoning death on the Cross, suffered the agony of God-abandonment, descended into hell, and rose again on the third day. This last and most important sequence of events would seem to be impatient of any copying or imitation by us. For as long as we live, we ourselves can only perform finite acts against which the death and Resurrection of Christ, which clearly are not finite but eternal in character, stand out in sharp contrast.

Let us look first at the pattern of Christ’s saving work. His earthly life runs a horizontal course from his Incarnation and his birth to the moment of his death. Then comes a sharp break, a drop: “He descended into Hell.” He arrives in the realm where time and space are nonexistent, whereas for us (on Holy Saturday), chronological or surface time continues.

Then from the timeless, spaceless darkness of hell, the power and the glory of the Father resurrects him “on the third day” and raises him vertically to the horizontal plane he had left, lifting him whole and entire, body and soul into the eternal life of the Godhead.

Such a pattern of life (if we may call it this) embraces a compass infinitely and incomprehensibly vaster than that normally reckoned to be the scope of an ordinary human existence. It spans the whole of time and extends beyond this into an eternity of two kinds. The first of these is the timelessness of the underworld, where all dimensions of time are lost and where all is reduced to a timeless “point of death”; and the second is what we may call “time which has no end”, where the doors are flung open on to an expanse of eternity that stretches endlessly in every direction (a difficult notion indeed to describe adequately).

Now according to St. Paul, the whole of this extended pattern of life is to be taken as the measure of our life as Christians here on earth. If, according to him, we have already died with the dying Christ — sacramentally in baptism and existentially through our being crucified with Christ (see Galatians 6:14) — but at the same time have been raised with him and given a place in heaven with him, in Christ Jesus (see Ephesians 2:6), we therefore live within a horizon and from sources that lie beyond the limits of our mortality.

How, therefore, is this to be possible? How does God’s involvement in Christ impinge upon our involvement as Christians? Is this divine/human encounter so wholly beyond our scrutiny that we can only argue that somehow, though in our mortal condition sinful and fallen, we are at the same time justified by God through Christ, which we may find difficult to appreciate but which we nonetheless accept in faith? Or is there a point where the divine intersects with the human, perceptible to our conscious minds, that we can realize as Christians?

Under the Old Covenant, we saw that Israel’s response to God when he first called her by his grace was a response of total compliancy to the will of God and a corresponding willingness to be led into freedom by him. At least ideally this ought to have been so, for Israel never really succeeded in living up to her calling. Under the New Covenant, it is in the attitude of the Word-Made-Man, Jesus of Nazareth, that we can perceive the full realization of this total and unconditional willingness to submit to the guidance of the Father’s will. For only when in all seriousness a man declares in advance his willingness to agree to every divine decree, even should the decree be hidden and incalculable, can it be said that, in making this kind of response, his will is in perfect harmony with the will of God.

The gift of God’s grace alone, of course, makes this possible; but no violence is done to human nature in making such an act of submission. When a man says Yes to God, it is possible that God has destined him to suffering, darkness, and dereliction, a prospect sufficient to strike terror into the hearts of finite and mortal beings, and to cause them to draw back in fright because this is far more than the ordinary man can demand of himself, even when stretched to the limit. Hence there arises a conflict (like that on the Mount of Olives) between “my will” and “thy will”; yet it is the pact with God, made at the beginning, that finally triumphs over the promptings of his own will, because in the last resort his deepest inclination is to say Yes to the will of God.

Only thus can a proper balance be achieved between the divine commandment and human consent. For under these circumstances, this allowing God to have his way is by no means the same as resigning oneself to fate or to the dominion of some superior being; it is rather a childlike surrender in trust of all that we have or are to the love of God, which we may indeed no longer feel, but which still, nonetheless, attracts our love in return. This is consent in its purest form as we find it in the New Testament.

It is, after all, the action on which the whole of Jesus’ existence is founded, who as God and man brought this aspect of unceasing self-surrender from the sphere of the divine into the midst of human existence. It is similarly the action fundamental to the life of his Mother, Mary, who signifies by her Ecce ancilla that she too has totally and unconditionally surrendered to the divine will; for she is purely womb, purely Matrix and Materia and Mater from which God may fashion whatever he will.

She is thus a figure of the Church that, unlike the Synagogue of old, does not hang back reluctantly while her leader goes forward obediently, but corresponds in all things to her Head. In Mary heaven and earth finally converge, here the finite encounters the infinite. Heaven, being masculine, takes the initiative and bestows its infinity on the earth; the earth, endowed with the quality of infinity, responds accordingly and brings forth her fruit. In the same spirit Mary (and in her, the holy Church), without knowing what would happen, accompanied her Son through all the foreordained events of his life, through the God-abandonment on the Cross, through the darkness of death to the Resurrection. Thus we can see that the whole of God’s action in Jesus Christ by grace can become the model for our involvement with God: in the work of liberating the world.

We now also understand why Jesus promised his disciples that they would “accomplish greater works” than he had done on earth. For the things he accomplished during his earthly ministry were but parables of his coming Passion and Resurrection. For example, he healed the sick, changed few loaves into many, walked on the water; and these are all stages on the way toward a reality that he describes as finishing his course (see Luke 13:32). Christians, however, through participating in his perfection now accomplished, derive from this the power to be effective in the world, aided as they are by the Holy Spirit, who himself proceeds from the perfected work of God.

This affords us another important insight. God acted in Christ, painstakingly and tirelessly for the sake of the poor, the sick, the stranger, the hungry, and the naked, for all those in fact imprisoned in the “Egyptian bondage” of this world of alienation, until eventually he took upon himself all our fallenness in the person of his Son. For Jesus expressly identified himself with all the poor of this world (see Matthew 25:35ff.), in order that the Father might be able to recognize them all in him and therefore see him in all of them. If, however, we are to see the involvement of men as being harnessed at source with the divine involvement, then to be a Christian cannot simply mean to attempt to imitate God’s involvement in our ethical, social, and political involvements by equally declaring our solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the captive, and those who endure torture.

Rather the significant factor in being a Christian is that he does all with reference to and in dependence on the ultimate source of his actions, through loving first and above all things, the God who loves us in Christ in order that he may then, by means of and together with love, turn his attention to the needs of those who are the object of the love of God. Only if we start from this “Alpha” will our involvement lead us to the “Omega” of the man who is loved, only thus will we succeed in caring for him inwardly in order that he may find his true destiny, only thus will we achieve that solidarity with him which is only possible in God.

In the process of all this, however, we encounter the primary object of the love of God, namely, Jesus Christ, the God-man, who is at once the fullest expression of the divine activity as he is its consummation and who, being the focus of divine and human love, can never be disregarded nor bypassed. He is no mere transitory intermediary who will eventually be no longer required; he is in his role as mediator the everlasting midpoint in whom the love of God for us shines brightly and in whom our love for God and for our neighbor is gathered together into a unit.

We can understand therefore why Paul, after the long labor of dictating the first letter to the Corinthians, finally takes the pen in his own hand to sign it and adds a last sentence (which presumably comes from a liturgy with which the Corinthians were familiar). “If anyone has no love for the Lord [Jesus],” he writes, “let him be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22).

Because if he does not love the Lord, he does not belong to the Christian community; he has no part in the table of the Lord, where Christ gives himself in love; he has not even understood the very heart of the Christian faith. Similarly, the Jesus of the Johannine writings demands that we love him, since the whole essence of the faith is simply that we should understand that the love that characterizes the life of the Trinity has been manifested in him, and in him has been abundantly proved (see John 8:42; 14:15, 21, 23-24, 28; 15:21, 23-24; 16:27; 21:15ff; 1 John 2:15; 4:20; 5:iff.).

To say that love is the communion of Christians is not simply to enunciate an abstract principle; rather in the Christian communion of love we share in a personal act of God himself, the tip of which may be seen shining in the person of Christ, but which in its depths contains the interpersonal life of the Blessed Trinity and in its breadth embraces the love of God for the whole world.

h1

The Meaning Of The New Covenant 2 – Hans Urs von Balthasar

March 11, 2014
“But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”  Genesis 33:4 This has long struck me as one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible.  I can’t read it without being moved.  But we all feel the power of it.  When we see ex-friends reconciling, so removing every barrier that they run and embrace and fall on one another’s necks — I love that expression — and weep, the beauty of it gets to us.  Not a negotiated settlement.  No face-saving baloney.  The real thing.  Honest.  Unforced.  Deeply felt.  I think we all perceive true reconciliation with awe.  It is of God.

“But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” Genesis 33:4 This has long struck me as one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. I can’t read it without being moved. But we all feel the power of it. When we see ex-friends reconciling, so removing every barrier that they run and embrace and fall on one another’s necks — I love that expression — and weep, the beauty of it gets to us. Not a negotiated settlement. No face-saving baloney. The real thing. Honest. Unforced. Deeply felt. I think we all perceive true reconciliation with awe. It is of God.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss theologian, is widely considered one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. He wrote over 60 works of theology, spirituality and philosophy, including his great trilogy: the 7 volume work The Glory of the Lord, the five volume work Theo-Drama, and the three volume work Theo-Logic. His most famous individual works include Prayer, Heart of the World, Mysterium Paschale and Cosmic Liturgy. “Just as Love Alone Is Credible captures the essence of the seven-volume The Glory of the Lord, so does Engagement with God explain his five-volume Theo-Drama. But in Engagement with God von Balthasar does more: by setting his account of the drama of Christian discipleship against the anti-Christian ideologies of the 1960s von Balthasar brings his theology to bear on the highest cost of discipleship — martyrdom — by seeing the martyr as the mirror of God’s own involvement in the human race through his own martyred Son. One can hardly read a more sober, and yet exhilarating, account of what it means to live committed to God’s own commitment to the world.

*************************************

Through the Incarnation of the Son, however, a member of this heavenly society becomes a human being. This marks the beginning of human society being fashioned according to the spirit and form of the heavenly society. True, psychological and sociological principles of community living are not thereby excluded, but they are given a final point of reference that lies beyond their somewhat uncertain and precarious doctrines in God himself.

In fact all earthly ordinances concerning personal life and interpersonal relationships have been objectively transcended since God in Christ totally involved himself, for the sake of the whole of humanity, in the sphere of the life of the Trinity. Saying that this in itself is objectively true does not yet mean that men acknowledge the subjective implications of this truth.

For on the one hand, through the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14ff.), men will have to be confronted with this objective truth; yet on the other hand, when thus confronted they will have to ratify it in freedom or remain free to reject it out of hand. It is at this point, when we begin to see something of the dramatic nature of the history of our liberation, that the role of the Church becomes apparent.

Taking all things into consideration we see that the Church’s role in the scheme of our salvation can only be a mediatorial yet dynamic one. She reenacts on a higher and universal level the part played by God’s personal representatives among the people of Israel, that is, that of being the representative of God to the people and of the people to God. Under the New Covenant, this “people” is the whole of humanity.

Hence the role of the Church in the world is not to be a kind of alternative society, shut off and enclosed, a community or society preoccupied with its own internal affairs, a spiritual “society of the perfect” that exists side by side with the secular order. The whole justification for her existence lies in her communicating to the rest of mankind the universally valid truths concerning God’s liberating and redeeming work with fundamental openness, which in itself is but the continuation of God’s involvement in Christ for the sake of the world.

For this purpose, the Church only needs such visible structure as is necessary to permit her message and her genuineness to be proclaimed convincingly in the world. The question is, however, in what does this structure consist? It is built principally of men who have solidly affirmed their faith in God’s total involvement in the work of liberating the world and have given it their full assent; in the act of believing, they lay hold of the reality of their liberation and seek to realize this in their own lives. Their faith leads them to submit to incorporation (by baptism) into that society offered by God to the world.

This done, they take part in the mystery of the Eucharist, which mystery is itself but the total involvement of God himself. Here the Father offers to us his Son under the form of his supreme action on our behalf, giving us his flesh and hisblood outpoured for our sustenance. They share, too, in a forgiveness of sins that is constantly renewed by the sacrament of conversion (or penance); they partake of the Holy Spirit, which fills the divine society. There is a ministry in the Church that exists to exercise a stewardship of these mysteries of God’s gift of himself to the faithful.

It is a service rendered to those who serve, a ministry of reconciliation toward those whose task it is to reconcile. It is in fact no more than this, nor should it be accorded any greater importance. It does, however, serve the function (as the Pauline Epistles show) of training people in that kind of obedience demanded by the Church and without which the Church would not be able to proclaim and witness convincingly to the obedience of Jesus to the Father. This obedience which the Church requires is a necessary factor, too, because the Church of necessity has, for the sake of the world, to reflect something of that absolute unity which characterizes the society of the divine Persons, in which nothing is private, where there are no divisions and no rivalries, but where the principle of unity is a love that encompasses and overrides all individuality.

In the Church, therefore, each member is a person insofar as he assumes the unique role to which God by his grace has called him, in order that he may be truly a person, through serving the interests of the community as a whole. St. Paul’s image of the Body and its many members illustrates this principle and has to stand the test of the most difficult situations (cf. Acts 21:17-30) and to hold good in the face of the almost disastrous tensions that arise from time to time between the “stronger” and the “weaker” brethren (see Romans 14-15; 1 Corinthians 8).

The Church, therefore, is Christ’s fellow servant in his task of liberating the world. She shares with God in his work of sharing himself in Christ with the world. Hence the act of sharing must be at the very center of the Church’s life and being. She can only be truly herself insofar as she accepts the fact that she is the means of God’s sharing and imparting himself, and she can only fulfill her true nature in the process of distributing what she herself has been privileged to share in.

St. Paul describes her as the Body of Christ, that Body which is actualized at the very place where Christ shares himself with those who share with him in the sacrificial meal (see 1 Corinthians 10:16ff.) and charges those who receive him to imitate his own disposition and willingness to share and to give (see 2 Corinthians 8-9). St. John draws the most obvious conclusion when he says that Christ “laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

In the Church, therefore, there exists no other difference between the celebration of the sacraments and our everyday existence, save that between the source and its issue. Here, in the dynamic life of the Church and nowhere else, all the mysteries of our faith — the Trinity, the doctrine of the Person of Christ, the doctrines about the Church, the sacraments, the mystery of Christian living — come to be seen as nothing less than God’s imparting of his life-giving love to us; and this love flows through the Church and out into the world.

Since God was made man there is no shorter way of answering the question as to who it is that under the New Covenant is the object of God’s choosing than by stating the whole sequence — Christ, the Church, mankind; and we include under mankind, of course, the whole cosmos. All interpolations into this sequence must be regarded as purely relative or provisional; they are related to the final goal for which God has risked the whole of his involvement, that is, the world as a whole. “For God so loved the world …” (John 3:16, emphasis added).

Indeed, from the Christian point of view, the world is no longer an anonymous collection of individuals; for in proportion as the light of heaven penetrates through Christ and the Church into the darkness of the world, so it visibly gives personality to the whole human community. Each man encountering this light receives a call and a commission; to him is given the task of living for others, and he becomes one of those who have begun to grasp the meaning of communion and sharing.

We are back once more to the parable of the leaven. The dough that is as yet unleavened is a shapeless mass of private existences that, because they are under the dominion of the powers of this world, are pushed together into a collective lump. The leavening promises two things that cannot be seen in isolation: on the one hand, a release from merely private existence in order that men may become fully individual, and on the other hand, a release from collective existence for the sake of a genuine communion and sharing.

h1

The Meaning Of The New Covenant 1 – Hans Urs von Balthasar

March 10, 2014
The brilliant theologian and philosopher Hans Urs von Balthasar writes about God's involvement with man and man's involvement with God in the Old and the New Testaments. He shows how that interaction of the divine with the human reveals the meaning of true freedom that man is always hungering for but often strives after in wrong and dangerous ways. He shows that God's free revelation of himself in Christ is an invitation to enter into the realm of absolute and divine freedom, in which alone human freedom can be fully realized.  The true Christian manifests the kind of freedom that is constantly being sought after by the non-Christian. In modern times, the freedom of man is a theme that preoccupies everyone. Atheistic philosophies are wholly taken up with this preoccupation. The Enlightenment was concerned with the freeing of reason from the "fetters of faith': Marx wrote about freeing man economically, and Freud wrote of freeing man from the bondage of a past as yet unmastered. As opposed to those whose search for freedom urges them onward into a barren void, the Christian stands as the messenger of freedom accomplished and a freedom attainable by all. A true freedom of the sons and daughters of God, something of the dramatic nature of the history of our liberation, that the role of the Church becomes apparent.

The brilliant theologian and philosopher Hans Urs von Balthasar writes about God’s involvement with man and man’s involvement with God in the Old and the New Testaments. He shows how that interaction of the divine with the human reveals the meaning of true freedom that man is always hungering for but often strives after in wrong and dangerous ways. He shows that God’s free revelation of himself in Christ is an invitation to enter into the realm of absolute and divine freedom, in which alone human freedom can be fully realized. The true Christian manifests the kind of freedom that is constantly being sought after by the non-Christian. In modern times, the freedom of man is a theme that preoccupies everyone. Atheistic philosophies are wholly taken up with this preoccupation. The Enlightenment was concerned with the freeing of reason from the “fetters of faith': Marx wrote about freeing man economically, and Freud wrote of freeing man from the bondage of a past as yet unmastered. As opposed to those whose search for freedom urges them onward into a barren void, the Christian stands as the messenger of freedom accomplished and a freedom attainable by all. A true freedom of the sons and daughters of God, something of the dramatic nature of the history of our liberation, that the role of the Church becomes apparent.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss theologian, is widely considered one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. He wrote over 60 works of theology, spirituality and philosophy, including his great trilogy: the 7 volume work The Glory of the Lord, the five volume work Theo-Drama, and the three volume work Theo-Logic. His most famous individual works include Prayer, Heart of the World, Mysterium Paschale and Cosmic Liturgy. “Just as Love Alone Is Credible captures the essence of the seven-volume The Glory of the Lord, so does Engagement with God explain his five-volume Theo-Drama. But in Engagement with God von Balthasar does more: by setting his account of the drama of Christian discipleship against the anti-Christian ideologies of the 1960s von Balthasar brings his theology to bear on the highest cost of discipleship — martyrdom — by seeing the martyr as the mirror of God’s own involvement in the human race through his own martyred Son. One can hardly read a more sober, and yet exhilarating, account of what it means to live committed to God’s own commitment to the world.

*************************************

Jesus as God’s Involvement
The Old Covenant afforded us a superlatively clear picture of the God who chooses freely and of man, chosen that he might be free. It showed us their meeting and engaging with one another in a relationship of grace and obedience, of love given and love returned; and that this return of love determines the whole man in his religious, ethical, devotional, and secular existence. If we look now at the New Testament and say that the divine involvement reaches its consummation in the man, Jesus of Nazareth, does not then the whole scheme we have just outlined threaten to concertina?

For in Jesus of Nazareth, God’s word to us becomes simultaneously man’s response to him, the God who chooses becomes mingled with man who is the object of this choice, and it is reasonable to fear that the ordered relationship of distance and proximity between God and man might become confused, that God might finally become totally absorbed in manhood and that man might then be able to consider himself endowed with the dignity of Godhood. It is a foolhardy risk that God takes in allowing his Word to “be made man” in Jesus, and it is because God is prepared to risk even the cross and the state of God-abandonment that Paul can speak of “the foolishness of God”.

The fact that Jesus is the ultimate expression of the divine involvement is evident in a doctrine, central to primitive and, indeed, pre-Pauline Christianity and summed up in the phrase pro nobis — “on our behalf”. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” [sharing our lost condition] (Romans 8:32).

And the Son is not content to submit passively or unwillingly, for he takes on the Father’s attitude of self-giving. “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [and] … he was buried” (1Corinthians 15:3-4); “the Son of God … loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The Son’s devotion expressed the Father’s condescension, which proves his overflowing love for the world (see John 3:16). One can next see this gesture simply as a radical expression of God’s action in choosing that we saw in the Old Testament.

Then this choosing was basically the means by which Israel was liberated from the “slavery of Egypt”, and through which she became for the first time a real people. A people, however, possesses at least an element of freedom and autonomy; and by declaring Israel to be his own peculiar possession, God thus in advance liberates her from all other rulers, whether they be the kings of this world or angelic powers (see Deuteronomy 32:8).

And in proportion as Israel denied the fact that she was God’s own possession, so she forfeited this at the expense of her unique kind of freedom and became subject to some foreign power, suffering even the exile to Babylon and later in her history, subjection to Hellenistic princes and Roman emperors. God’s final involvement in Jesus, however, results in effecting in man that final freedom which is described by both Paul (see Galatians 5:2) and John (see John 8:32).

This is freedom not only from political oppression, but from every kind of cosmic power: from fate, from the compelling lure of sin, from a state of estrangement from God, from the instinctive urge toward self-defense, aggression, and murder, from dissipation among all that is vain and futile, and finally from death itself. The effective working of all these forces is thereby crippled, rendered impotent, and destroyed (see 1 Corinthians 15:24-26).

This, however, is only possible because these forces are conquered not from outside or from above, but from within by the process of God’s “self-emptying” in the person of his Son, by his becoming obedient “even unto death”, and (as the sign of Jonah prefigures) by his descending into the depths of the abyss, in order that man may not be left with any anti-divine experience that God himself has not undergone, which he might count as peculiarly his own and use as a means of “getting back” at his Maker.

It is necessary that all cosmic forces should be completely disarmed by God himself, in order that he may bring man, now liberated, back home to the open spaces of the divine freedom. Had Jesus in fact been merely a man, he would never have been able to have been himself the very embodiment of God’s mighty act of liberation.

The fact that those freed by the divine action still live in the world does not mean that they belong to the world, as though possessed by the world and incorporated into its structure. They are indeed in themselves finite individuals, but are no longer in slavery for — through the process of dying and rising with Christ — they have broken through into the infinity and freedom of God himself. “

But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10). In these words Paul describes the essential freedom of the Christian, in the middle of his continuing solidarity with humanity that has fallen prey to death. For as Christ of his free love yielded himself willingly to be bound under obedience to fate, death, and dereliction, thereby breaking their compelling hold, so the Christian preserves a deep and inward freedom while continuing to live among these earthly powers and ordinances (see Matthew 1.7:26; Galatians 4:5; 2 Peter 2:16).

This mighty and quite unexpected act of God, who involved himself for the sake of mankind to the extent of his Word being made man and Jesus dying and being raised from the dead, signifies man’s vocation to become what in truth he really is. He is called thereby to realize his own freedom, for man (in the final analysis) is simply what he chooses to be. For as Israel was “no people” before being called and liberated from Egypt (she was “no people” 1 Peter 2:10, and as though she was a thing that did not exist — see Romans 4:17) and only constituted a living entity in the eyes of God after being called by him — so too the Christian, in his personal as in his social life, is not truly himself until he is within God’s involvement in Jesus, by which he is rescued from his state of alienation where his “understanding lay darkened”, and, being delivered from the “power of darkness”, is brought into the clear light of self-knowledge that reveals to him his true identity, shows him his true vocation, and enlightens him as to the real meaning of his existence.

God’s involvement of himself “on our behalf”, therefore, does not consist of his making some external pronouncement of forgiveness (to use a forensic image) of which we are either unaware or only subsequently find applied to us (for so many would understand the process of justification). God’s action impinges on us at a much deeper level, at the very heart of our being. For the grace of God is fundamentally a call; it is being enlisted in God’s service; it is being commissioned with a special task; and through all this there is bestowed upon us a unique personal dignity in the eyes of God. We have yet to explain how this is so.

Suffice to say here that our being chosen by God means (in a negative sense) being rescued from the clutches of the powers of this world and (in a positive sense) being appointed to a service, unique as it is personal, and being endowed with a spark of God’s own uniqueness. Thereby, God enlists us as the agents of his activity in the world, takes us for his own, and gives us “a new name … which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelations 2:17). For in proportion as God makes us free in ourselves, so we are correspondingly free and at his disposal for his activity in the world. St. Paul sees the Christian’s freedom and his service in God’s free work as two sides of the same coin (see Romans 6:15-23). And it is in the living out of this paradox of freedom and service that man comes to be most truly himself.

The Chosen
Under the Old Covenant Israel was the elect of God, chosen, however, not as a mere anonymous collection of people but given personal quality through its great representatives, in whose persons God looked upon the people as a whole, and whose duty it was to represent the people to God. Under the New Covenant, the individual/community tension is alleviated in two ways.

To begin with, the many representatives of the people of old were all forerunners of the one, final, and effective representative of men to God. For Jesus Himself is the elect of God; it is he who was promised, it is he who is Messiah, the anointed One, the Christ. Alone and unique, he is both Son of God and Son of Man; on both counts, his dignity and the task he is commissioned to fulfill are of universal significance, concerned with not just one people, but with all mankind. All men indeed live under the dominion of the powers of this world and are subject to death; but Jesus suffers in his own person our common bondage and fallenness and therefore represents all men to God.

Henceforward each individual is looked upon by his heavenly Father in the light of the redeeming work of the Son. And it is precisely on account of this that the whole of humanity, seen by God in the Son, constitutes a unit. In Christ men find a common destiny; in him they constitute a new and universal Israel whose common bond is the Son’s destiny that is decisive for every man.

We have, however, by no means exhausted this theme. In the Son’s work, we see the Father’s involvement of himself in love (see John 3:16; Romans 8:32) and the Son never ceases to remind us that he and his Father share in a common task, which itself is the revelation par excellence that the Godhead in fact is a community of Persons. It remains a unity no less when the distinction is made between the Father (who sends) and the Son (who is sent), a unity so absolute, however, that this unity in itself constitutes a third focus in the Godhead, namely, the Spirit, who comes at the very moment that the Son departs (see John 16:7), who is the Spirit of the Father (see Romans 8:11) as he is the Spirit of the Son (see Romans 8:9), whom the Father sends in the name of the Son (see John 14:26), and whom the Son sends from the Father (see John 15:26).

It is in this sense that the involvement of this unique, free, and personal God is at the same time the involvement of the community of Persons that constitutes the divine society, and if we look at the structures of their involvement, we shall see that, in the realm of the Absolute, the principles of individuality and community are at work together simultaneously, so that the Person makes demands and imposes conditions on the community, and the community does likewise in respect of the Persons. For only in this sense can God in fact be “Love”, without reference to any object of his love in this world.

In the Godhead, therefore, individuality and community have a common origin, for here there exists so intimate a community that the Persons coinhere perfectly in one another; they constitute in fact a communion of the purest kind and are only distinct in order that the one may live for the sake of the other. Thus here the principle of individuality — the inviolable prerequisite for any full communion — totally excludes any idea of what we in a world of finite beings would call “private”.

h1

Balthasar and the Beautiful 4 –Aidan Nichols, OP

February 6, 2014
The Trinity 1635, Jusepe de Ribera. Beauty…dances as an uncontained splendour around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another. Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness. No longer loved or fostered by religion, beauty is lifted from its face like a mask, and its absence exposes features on that face which threaten to become incomprehensible to man. We no longer dare believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order to more easily dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past – whether he admits it or not – can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.

The Trinity 1635, Jusepe de Ribera. Beauty…dances as an uncontained splendour around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another. Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness. No longer loved or fostered by religion, beauty is lifted from its face like a mask, and its absence exposes features on that face which threaten to become incomprehensible to man. We no longer dare believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order to more easily dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past – whether he admits it or not – can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.

We continue exploring the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar with Fr. Aidan Nichols. See previous post, Balthasar and the Beautiful 1 for full intro.

******************************************************

The Relation Of Apologetics To Dogmatics
One important corollary of Balthasar’s estimate of the respective roles of the subjective and objective evidence for Christian revelation is a shift — for those inclined to accept his approach – in the relation of apologetics to dogmatic theology. These are two of the most important branches of Christian thought, so this is no bagatelle. Through his theological aesthetics, Balthasar seeks to modify the currently understood picture of apologetics by presenting apologetics as incipient dogmatics. For Balthasar, investigating the motives of credibility — the ways in which revelation commends itself to us on the ordinary rational level – is constantly on the point of trembling into loving prostration before the figure of the Word incarnate.

Here a bit of background may be useful. There were Christian apologists from the first generations of the Church after the apostles. But the first Catholic theologian to treat the issue of apologetics in a fully systematic fashion is usually reckoned to be the thirteenth-century German Dominican St Albert the Great. His `antecedents of the act of faith’, antecedentia fidei, include the most important theses of what we now call fundamental theology.

They concern especially the metaphysical presuppositions of divine revelation, the fact of such divine revelation in Christ, and the character of Scripture as the witness to that revelation. One question Albert did not settle clearly was the relation of these `antecedents’ to the certainty aspect of faith. The problem of the kind of certainty produced by apologetic argumentation and its relation to the free and supernatural character of the act of faith was one that long troubled the Schoolmen.

Some masters of the early High Scholastic period — such as William of Auxerre, William of Auvergne, and Philip the Chancellor — admitted two sorts of faith. The motives of credibility were said to produce `intellectual faith’ (other terms were also in use), which, said these thinkers, should be distinguished from faith in the full theological sense of the word.

Merely intellectual faith, precisely because it rested on the rational force of arguments, had neither the religious nor the moral value of the virtue of theological faith — properly Christian faith — in the strict sense. That virtue is virtuous precisely because it has the character of an unconditional response to God as the `First Truth’, Prima Veritas, made possible by sharing in a more than natural light — by sharing a light, in fact, that is the light of supernatural faith proper, called by the Scholastics the lumen fidei.

It is noteworthy that both Albert and Thomas are disinclined to give what the cathedral masters called `intellectual faith’ or some synonym thereof the title of `faith’ at all. The motives of credibility — such considerations as the Savior’s miracles and his fulfillment of prophecy, the sublimity of his teaching and his ethical perfection — may make people certain in some kind of adhering to the bearer of revelation (such adhering was sometimes known as certitude adhaesionis, `certainty of adhesion’). But this is not as yet the recognition of Jesus Christ as the very Word of the Father.

Over against, in particular, early Deist thinkers, Catholic writers from the sixteenth century onwards stressed the importance of the rational motives of credibility. Though in the later part of that century, owing to the challenge of Protestantism, a section `on the Church’, de Ecclesia, was customarily added to Catholic treatises on apologetics, the main content of Catholic apologetics for divine revelation did not differ greatly from that treated by their Protestant counterparts.

The classic Catholic representatives of this stream undertook to prove the principles of both natural and revealed religion, moving through an account of natural theology and natural law to treatment of the possibility, utility and necessity of supernatural revelation, and the features of miracle and fulfilled prophecy which (especially) enable one to recognize a divine mission in act, the whole thing ending up with a discussion of the claims of the Church and the principles of Catholic faith. From the mid-eighteenth century on, this structure remains largely constant up until the manuals in use in the 1920s and beyond.13

This was so even if in another way these treatises were always being modified, pouring into the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century mould discussions with such thinkers as Kant, Hegel, Schelling, Darwin, the history-of-religions school of empirical scholarship, Liberal Protestantism and Modernism. But by the time Balthasar was setting out to begin his lifelong study of Christian thought, in the 1920s and 1930s, some Catholic philosophers and theologians were declaring a degree of dissatisfaction with the entire approach.

Why might that be? The main criticism, and one Balthasar largely shared, was that such treatises claimed to establish the fact of divine revelation without ever envisaging the meaning of its content. Painting with broad brush-strokes: in these works the relation of supernatural truth to human realities was not manifest. And while that relation wholly exceeds what human beings could ever expect, so Balthasar would want to add, the wonderful character of that excess was not brought home.

Presumably the Gospel offers an intelligible message — something we are meant to understand, even if this `something’, by its grandeur, also stretches our powers to a point where only the gracious enhancement of our capacities can serve our turn. (Where the appropriate paradigm of knowledge is love, then understanding and mystery will develop together, in direct proportion to each other.)

But such was the emphasis on the proof of revelation by arguments external to itself that this intelligibility (even if it were an intelligibility with a depth of mystery to it) failed to make a proper appearance in justifying revelation’s claims. Hence the critical epithet ‘extrinsicist’ applied to these schemes: the supernatural order seemed to be externally added on to the natural as an autonomous supplement, rather than fully integrated with the natural and suitably interiorized there.

Where Catholic apologetics was concerned, the single most influential dissentient voice was the French philosopher and lay theologian Maurice Blondel.  Without disputing that some place should be given to the considerations adduced in early modern apologetics, Blondel proposed to give the lion’s share, in any commendation of revealed religion, to an account of how the internal logic of the act of faith corresponds to the `logic’ of the highest kind of human activity we know: namely, when we set out to discern meaning — and (especially) the fullness of meaning — in human life at large.

It is not enough to adduce arguments to show the fact of divine attestation to Jesus. The mystery of Christ must be presented as throwing light on the whole human condition. The question is not so much to prove by miraculous facts the rights of Jesus as divine legate (though this is certainly not illegitimate, and can even be called necessary), but, in Balthasarian terms, to discern in the `figure’ of Jesus, his acts and destiny, a divine-human presence penetrating and transforming our sense of relation with God, with the world, with other persons and indeed with ourselves. In so doing, the Revealer, so we discern, confers on human history the weight of eternity.

Naturally enough, this cannot be done without treating the content of revelation from within, rather than simply the fact of revelation from without. What Balthasar is attempting in the Theological aesthetics coheres with much of this Blondelian programme, though his manner of pursuing its agenda is entirely is own. Certainly, Balthasar had no desire to replace an extrinsicist apologetics with an apologetics of natural immanence. As he wrote:

[T]he tradition never set the criterion for the truth of revelation in the centre of the pious human subject, it never measured the abyss of grace by the abyss of need or sin, it never judged the content of dogma according to its beneficial effects on human beings. The Spirit does not reveal himself,- he reveals the Father in the Son, who has become man. And the Son never allows himself to become re-absorbed in the human spirit

How then does Balthasar proceed? His first step is to show that beauty is a possible vehicle for divine self-manifestation. As we have seen, considered ontologically, beauty is not just a property of all created things qua created. What appears in the beauty of created forms is the radiance of being, der Glanz des Seins. Beauty thus speaks of the meaning of that which transcends and yet inheres in all existents.

Secondly, Balthasar treats beauty as the vehicle of the actual revelation of God in Christ, a revelation made when the eternal manifests itself in a concrete, material form, breaking into this world, as beauty does, numinously (for beauty, in words Balthasar liked to quote from Rilke’s Duino Elegies, is the beginning of the terrible). In the case of revelation, this means the eternal breaking in with the glory that truly inheres in the form of Jesus Christ.

The epiphany of this form is not just sheerly overwhelming, however, for exploration of the career and fate of Jesus shows it is an intelligible history. This form is a narrative form, and the meaning of the story is divine love. Here the content and the form are one since both are wonderful. The content is as marvelously beautiful as is the form, and Balthasar’s explanation for this is that both content and form reflect love. Love shares the structure of beauty. It confronts us with the mystery of the otherness of some other and calls forth a corresponding wonder and admiration.

Thirdly and finally, Balthasar develops his theological aesthetics in two parts that are, however, strongly unified as well as distinct. And this two-in-one exposition spans the separate treatises of (early modern and modern) apologetics and dogmatics. This is so because Balthasar’s aesthetics is not only an epistemological investigation of the kind of `seeing’ involved in faith. It is also a doctrine of what he terms `ecstasy’. There is `ecstasy’, first, in the going out (in Greek, ek-stasis) of the Godhead in weakness into the world as the manifestation of the love that is interior to the divine glory.

There is `ecstasy’, secondly, in the way the believer is seized by the divine glory in this revelation in Jesus Christ and is taken up thereby into a share in the life of God himself. Ecstasy, so understood, contains in principle all the main themes of dogmatics — the Trinity, Christology, the doctrines of justification and sanctification, as well as of the sacraments, the Church and eschatology, the Last Things. Faith is a response to the radiance of what St Thomas calls the bonum promissum, the beautifully ordered whole of salvation that is offered to us, exceeding any such `whole’ that exists within the world.”

So what we have here is a tendency to elide, without however ever completely denying, the distinction between apologetics and dogmatics just because Balthasar wants to elide, without however ever completely denying, the distinction between what the Schoolmen called `certainty of adhesion’ and the virtue of theological faith properly so called — the faith that, corresponded to in loving conversion, justifies and saves.

Balthasar can proceed in this direction because he doesn’t think that what explains the act of faith is simply rationally available materials plus an elevation of human judgment by supernatural light. In his view, there is not only God’s gracious supplying of more light with which to judge materials accessible to any reasonable person supplied with appropriate historical data about Jesus and arguments to back up those data. There is also, he maintains, a `light’ that shines forth from those materials themselves in their beautiful ordering in Jesus’ person, life and work.

The act of faith needs both kinds of light: light from within where God can affect my powers of knowing and willing internally, since as my Creator he is closer to me than I am to myself, and light from without — light striking one from Jesus Christ himself as a figure in history who is made palpable to me in the preaching and Liturgy of the Church. On the one hand, the glory of the divine self-emptying in Jesus Christ can be seen only by `eyes of faith’ when God has prepared me interiorly to be receptive to Christ. On the other hand, the `eyes of faith’ can only see when the light of faith falls on them from the divine form that Jesus is. What the eyes of faith see when this interplay of light works as it should is the opening of the divine heart in love, the self-disclosure of the Trinity.

Conclusion On Aesthetics
It is in the lives of saints and mystics that the inspired seeing which animates the Christian life in general and theological aesthetics in particular is most fully in act.
Balthasar identifies its key as humility, which is the readiness to accept the gift of the divine love as it is, to appreciate the necessary and rightness of the form of the divine revelation as we are given it.

Much of Balthasar’s celebrated concern with the practice of holiness as precondition of fruitful theologizing belongs here; adoration and obedience follow from humility, and draw good theology in their train. Henri de Lubac once contrasted Balthasar’s theology with Hegel’s. Whereas Hegel called his own thought `speculative Good Friday’, de Lubac calls Balthasar’s a `contemplative Holy Saturday’.

Evidently, I note in passing, de Lubac was not `phased’ by Balthasar’s theology of the Descent into Hell which turns, of course, on the events of the first Holy Saturday: perhaps he realized that for Balthasar while the Descent is, unlike for most of Catholic tradition, the end-point of the mysteries of Christ’s humiliation, it is also, in keeping with Catholic tradition, the starting-point of the mysteries of hi exaltation.

The useful phrase `contemplative Holy Saturday’ in the wider meaning de Lubac intended for it, brings out the degree to which Balthasar’s material dogmatics are informed by his fundamental theological insight into the nature of faith a contemplative seeing, as well as the extent to which his theology  centers on the self-emptying of the Son of God which reached full term in the Descent into Hell.

It also reminds us that the final volumes of the theological aesthetics consist in a reading of the Old and New Testament. Balthasar at the close of this massive work turns again to the Bible in the hope that, now we grasp what is at stake in theological aesthetics, we can read the Scriptures with new eyes. If we do so, we shall see how though the New Testament’s amazing consummation of the Old, the mystery of all creation, man included, received its definitive interpretation as the hidden presence of Absolute Love, to which, in its luminous, bountiful and exuberant character, beauty’s qualities of clarity, integrity and proportion, by analogy, belong.

See too how the recipients of God’s self-revelation — ourselves — receive thereby the call to make the divine visible in charity, the specifically Christian love of God and neighbor, the intended moral outcome of Balthasar’s entire work. These statements are not only conclusions drawn from his theological aesthetics. They are also anticipations of the message of his theological dramatics and theological logic as well.

h1

Balthasar and the Beautiful 3 –Aidan Nichols, OP

February 5, 2014
The life of Christ culminating in the Paschal mystery -- the totality of which constitutes the Christ-form -- has all the intelligible beauty of a drama. The more deeply we penetrate its meaning -- ultimately the task of a theological dramatics -- the more this beauty asserts itself. Theological dramatics, then, requires theological aesthetics. That is why the Church expresses the ugly physical facts of the Crucifixion not simply as an act of barbaric execution: the Church presents them as supremely beautiful.

The life of Christ culminating in the Paschal mystery — the totality of which constitutes the Christ-form — has all the intelligible beauty of a drama. The more deeply we penetrate its meaning — ultimately the task of a theological dramatics — the more this beauty asserts itself. Theological dramatics, then, requires theological aesthetics. That is why the Church expresses the ugly physical facts of the Crucifixion not simply as an act of barbaric execution: the Church presents them as supremely beautiful.

Objective And Subjective In Revelatory `Evidence’
We have said that the aesthetic act always has both an objective and a subjective side to it. It is a subject’s marveling appreciation of an object. The absolutely foundational opening volume of Balthasar’s theological aesthetics is governed by this pair of terms. Divine revelation in Jesus Christ has, in the first place, subjective evidence. What Balthasar means by `subjective evidence’ here is certainly not vague and conjectural evidence.

Rather, it is evidence from the side of the human subject. Divine revelation in Jesus Christ also has objective evidence. What Balthasar means by `objective evidence’ is not the only kind of evidence worth having but, more specifically, evidence from the side of the divine-human object.

Let us take the subjective evidence first. It may seem at first sight disconcerting that Balthasar identifies the subjective evidence for revelation as faith itself. Surely faith is a response to the evidence of revelation: can it be, in that case, itself part of the evidence? Balthasar holds that, in an important sense, God’s self-revelation is, and can only be, self-authenticating. Faith accepts its own object on the authority of that object which in this way becomes `subjective evidence’ for it.

The classical account of faith as an infused theological virtue — the account found in Thomas — already claimed that our recognition of God is God’s own act in us: it is the inchoatio gloriae, the `beginning of glory’. Crucial to the act of faith is a power of apperception experienced as a gift from a source beyond oneself. And yet no such gift — no such grace — is, in Catholic doctrine, irresistible. We have to co-operate. On our part, the grace of faith requires a readiness to receive the light God gives, and a self-surrender to that light.

On God’s part, faith entails the gift to us of fresh insights, motives, impulses, by which we are gradually shaped into the pattern of Christ as well as granted understanding of that pattern. Behind these statements lies Thomas’ account of understanding, and with it ancient Greek philosophy which, thanks chiefly to Aristotle, saw mind as both receptive or `patient’ (passive) and also spontaneous or `agent’ (active). To cite Chesterton’s wonderful little Thomas book one last time:

The mind is not merely receptive, in the sense that it absorbs sensations like so much blotting-paper; on that sort of softness has been based all that cowardly materialism, which conceives man as wholly servile to his environment. On the other hand, the mind is not purely creative, in the sense that it paints pictures on the windows and then mistakes them for a landscape outside. But the mind is active, and its activity consists in following, so far as the will chooses to follow, the light outside that does really shine upon real landscapes.
G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas, p.121

A light shines for the mind as well as for the senses when the intellect as agent judges aright the impressions, mental as well as sensuous, that the intellect as patient receives. In the case of faith, this light is a divinely enabled intensification of the intellectual light in which we make our natural judgments. For Thomas, the light of faith is indeed an anticipation of the light of glory, the beatific Vision.

In all this, Balthasar’s distinctive stress lies on how the light of faith makes possible, on our own more modest level as disciples, a certain alignment with the experience of Christ himself. Balthasar emphasizes how archetypal for us as Christians is the experience which Christ himself had in his human nature of his Father and himself in the Holy Spirit. We come to know of that uniquely formative experience through the apprehension of Christ found in the New Testament writers — who are not just a few more authors from the ancient world but inspired witnesses, or what Greek Christians call `hagiography’, the `sacred writers’. The variety of their witness — which for some scholars undermines the consistency of the figure of Jesus in the New Testament — Balthasar regards as, on the contrary, vital to their function. The varied appearances of an object to observers capable of communicating their experience is the only way something of the object’s fullness (if it has one) can be transmitted by the witnesses.

In our appreciation of those witnesses, when carried out by the light of faith, we are to let our own senses and imagination be disciplined and re-shaped pneumatically — by the action of the Holy Spirit. Some spiritual authors tell us not to stay on the level of images, of the imagination. But for Balthasar when, in personal prayer and devotion, we break through to another level where the sensuous seems to be stripped away, and we go beyond images, we should not understand that as a happy victory of the superbly intellectual side of us over the wretchedly sensuous.

Rather, we should understand it as a participation by precisely that sensuous side of us in the self-emptying of Christ. For Balthasar, the negative incomprehensibility of God to materially embodied creatures like ourselves is less interesting than the positive incomprehensibility that derives from the overwhelming greatness of God’s triune self-giving or self-humbling (‘kenotic’) love which the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery display.

This brings us, then, to revelation’s objective evidence. There must also be objective evidence and not just subjective, or else Catholics would be fideists — people who think belief can and should proceed without any reference to external legitimating grounds. For Balthasar, the chief objective evidence in Christianity is: Christ Jesus as he is in himself, the Trinitarian Son disclosing in his humanity the hidden tri-unity of divine being.

That includes what conventional Catholic apologetics has treated as objective evidence for the truth of Jesus’ claims — such things as Christ’s miracles (above all, his Resurrection), his fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, the sublimity of his teaching, his moral perfection, and so on. But on Balthasar’s understanding of the matter, the Christological objective evidence also goes beyond that set of considerations since, after all, they are only signs of his Trinitarian identity, not that identity in and of itself.

Now to see Christ in this fuller way for who and what he really is, we must have an unlimited willingness to receive the impress of God’s greatness and glory. Here Balthasar’s position can be regarded as the exact antithesis to Bultmann’s. Bultmann’s work belongs to a long line of theological speculation which gradually debilitated the physical and metaphysical texture of its object.

For Bultmann, the visually graspable shapes of nature and salvation history do not mediate our approach to God because created being is not constituted from substantial self-transcending forms. Nature and history are not impressed with illustrative form, so God has to be approached in a way that abstracts from all human perceptibility.”

Balthasar says the contrary. The necessary willingness to receive the impress of God’s greatness and glory is mediated in the Church — not least through the variety of her approved theologies, a number of which Balthasar explores in the second and third volumes of The Glory of the Lord.

As Balthasar presents it in those volumes and in other essays, theology is a rich and complex activity which at one pole contains the careful logical analysis which explains the faith and answers heresy (‘controversial’ theology), and at the other pole – ultimately, the more important one — embraces the adoring contemplation of God. The adoring contemplation aspect of theology may seem something essentially mysteric — typically, apophatic and imageless, but Balthasar notes how in many of the great mystics it has gone hand in hand with a capacity for densely concrete, and in its own way precise, poetic expression.

It is as if the vision of that which is above-and-beyond-form, the vision of `Super-form’, by its very fascination prompts the human form-creating powers to move into action on their own level. The poems of St John of the Cross are a good example, and indeed Sanjuanist (vocab: of St. John of the Cross) thought is included by Balthasar as one of his examples of how all great theologies are `beautiful’ through pointing in some way to the initial vision without which there would be nothing worthwhile for theologians to analyze in the manner of a theological logic.

The two volumes of The Glory of the Lord devoted to such historic examples from the work of clerical or lay `doctors’ (scare-quotes since Balthasar does not confine himself to those canonically and liturgically so recognized) are not merely illustrative of Balthasar’s project or simply preparatory to it. Taken cumulatively, they are meant to suggest how it is that, without a theological aesthetics, no theological logic worth its salt can be written. Unless the content of theology is marvelous, why indeed should we spend so much time explaining its truth? This is one important way in which Balthasar’s trilogy — aesthetics, dramatics, logic — hangs together.

Another such way, which relates the aesthetics not to the logic so much as to the dramatics, is that, for Balthasar, the life of Christ culminating in the Paschal mystery — the totality of which constitutes the Christ-form — has all the intelligible beauty of a drama. The more deeply we penetrate its meaning — ultimately the task of a theological dramatics — the more this beauty asserts itself. Theological dramatics, then, requires theological aesthetics. That is why the Church expresses the ugly physical facts of the Crucifixion not simply as an act of barbaric execution: the Church presents them as supremely beautiful. Compare the witness of iconography and the exalted language of the Liturgies about the Cross.

The Religious `A Priori’ And The Theological `A Priori’
As the discussion earlier in this Chapter of the grace of faith will already (I hope) have suggested, the light in which we appreciate subjectively the objectivity of the divine epiphany in Jesus Christ is not the same as the intellectual light in which the mind makes natural judgments — even though both of these kinds of illumination are given by God. Despite his dislike of the bloodless abstractions of Transcendental Thomism, Balthasar uses a formula of the sort such Thomism borrowed from Kant so that he can underline the difference he sees here.

In his epistemological writings, Kant had used the Latin logical term `a priori’ to refer to the way human understanding is structured in advance as it comes to scan the materials of experience. Using this same terminology, it is of great importance to Balthasar to grasp the distinction between what he terms the `religious a priori’ in our ordinary human experience and the ‘theological a priori’ in our distinctively Christian experience.

Let us take the religious a priori first. The religious a priori is our natural participation in the light of God as Creator. That prior structure of human awareness is `transcendental’ in the sense of the word proper to Kant and the — in Kantian perspective, rightly so named — `Transcendental’ Thomists.

This sense of the word should be carefully distinguished, then, from the meaning given it by the high medievals (see Chapter One of this study, and especially note 2) in whose company Balthasar was more at home.) The religious a priori is the `transcendental’ presupposition of the objective vision we can entertain of the divine reality in, and on the occasion of, the natural forms of creation. It is the source of religious experience in general, and includes an intuition of the absence as well as the presence of God in all contingent being which, of course, as contingent, finite, imperfect feet, can never entirely mediate the God who is absolute, infinite, perfect. This is how human beings produce symbols and construct myths about the `What’ and the `Who’ lying beyond all creation. The religious a priori is the source of mytho-poetic thought in all cultures and periods.

How, then, does the theological a priori come in? By way of contrast, might be Balthasar’s best answer. By contrast with the religious a priori, the theological a priori, while taking the religious a priori for granted, differs from it in being distinctively Christological and Trinitarian in character. It is what enables our response to the new light of Christ granting human beings as this does a participation in the uncreated light of the Holy Trinity. The theological a priori is the `transcendental’ presupposition of our sharing in the inner life of the Trinity through Jesus Christ on the basis of a connaturality with the divine Persons given by the Mediator, the God-man, when he took what was ours (namely, humanity), so as to give us a share in what is his (namely, divinity). Amazingly, it becomes second nature to us (hence, `connaturality’) to be, through Christ, in tune with the triune God.

In sum: the religious a priori enables us to perceive the objective light of the Creator in the forms of the creation, whereas the theological a priori enables us to perceive the objective light of the Trinity in the historical form of Jesus Christ. This second `transcendental’ structure is not inbuilt at creation, it is a matter, rather, of God’s `second’ gift, in a new order of the divine generosity. Entirely gratuitous, it is a fresh gift of a connaturality with the divine that goes beyond our natural imagehood of God.

It brings about what Balthasar terms a new `proportionality’ between man and the divine Trinity – something that can in no way be inferred from the nature of the human spirit, not even in the dynamic orientation to God creation confers upon us. The theological a priori concerns itself with the distinctively Christian experience as irreducible to any other, no matter how religious.

The manner of expression shaped by the theological a priori may draw on genres known to `religious man’ at large — but what is done with them through the Gospel differs utterly. Myth is now actualized. In the bodily Resurrection of the incarnate humanity of the Word, the literal and particular are carried into the vertical transcendent realm in a final and eternal manner. The symbol takes root in the reality of ever-lasting being.

The images used in biblical revelation may have affinities with those the mythopoeic imagination uses in this or that extra-biblical culture to express its sense of the Eternal. The shapes of human imagining are not, indeed, to be expunged. Rather, the forms of natural, man-generated, aesthetic, if they admit the Christ-form, will be given a transcendent relation to the supernatural. In his study Science, Religion and Christianity, Balthasar praises Baroque literature and art for having so imaginatively played out the realization of the figures of Greek myth — Orpheus, Odysseus, Eros — in the person of the historic Christ.

As C. S. Lewis liked to remark, myth has become fact. Or, as Balthasar puts it, the truth of Jesus Christ is found at the point where what he calls, in the metaphysics volume of his Theo-aesthetics, the `two piers’ of myth and philosophy can finally be made to form an entire bridge. Myth tries to make sense of the world through concrete images. Philosophy tries to make sense of the world through articulating universal truth. They reach out towards each other, but never quite meet.

The ineluctable growth of the philosophic impulse pushed myth toward the periphery of the human imagination. Myth continued to exist but without philosophy it became increasingly enclosed in gnostic fantasy. Philosophy then became cut off from doxology and prayer which had been instinctive for myth, and its concept of human reason narrowed. When the religious a priori gives way to the theological a priori these ills can be healed, this rupture in humanity’s quest for a truth that would also be beauty repaired.

We have here one major source of Balthasar’s disagreement with the approach of his erstwhile fellow Jesuit, Karl Rahner. To Balthasar’s mind, Rahner made a great mistake in blocking together the theological a priori with its merely religious counterpart. Rahner’s vocabulary is partly the same and partly different, which could make comparison confusing. But the upshot is that Rahner tends to treat the Trinitarian and Christological revelation as simply the fullest (in Rahner’s word) ‘thematization’ or conscious, explicit articulation of a piety which is itself not yet `thematic’ — not consciously, explicitly articulated — but, at least in principle, pre-contains the content of the supreme revelation since our intellectual nature is turned towards the human-divine encounter, without our being aware of it, from the very start.

For Balthasar, this renders the given, historic revelation vulnerable to what some would frankly call ‘demythologizing’ and others, more politely, `resolution into its transcendental formality’. It seems to come down to much the same thing. (This is the argument of Balthasar’s little polemical work Cordula, translated into English as The Moment of Christian Witness) What Balthasar objects to in Rahner’s theology of faith is that it fails to derive faith from the form of Christ. Christ’s form does not verify itself (as it should) by virtue of the unique evidence contained in its amazing and unexpected beauty.

Instead, it commends itself by its ability to satisfy, especially on the level of the understanding, a drive towards transcendence already entirely operative in peoples’ lives (so no great surprise is involved). Balthasar sees Rahner as, so to speak, almost half way down the road to Rudolph Bultmann, for whom God cannot be known objectively in the image of Christ but only non-objectively as the condition of possibility for the human self-understanding that occurs on the occasion of hearing the Gospel of Christ.59

Balthasar shows his forthright commitment to the Christian revelation in its irreducibly specific pattern when he insists that, in collaboration with this inner grace, the form of Christ makes for a new revelation with its own evidence which no insight into the dynamism of the human spirit in its tendency towards God can either anticipate in advance or verify in retrospect. There is in fact no need at all in man that can explain or authenticate the words and deeds of Christ. Only Christ’s form makes those words and deeds lucidly plain. The `a posteriori’, historical, evidence of that form is what founds Christian faith, not some `a priori’, ahistorical state of affairs which has come into consciousness for this or that individual through prompting by the general a posteriori experience.

In any case, what human expectation could envisage a triune, totally self-sufficient Creator becoming man in a tiny speck of dust somewhere in the universe .end presenting his own extremity of humiliation, suffering — both physical and spiritual — and substitutionary death as the very form of life for all mankind? This rhetorical question identifies Balthasar’s most basic theological conviction. Nowhere else but in the historical form of Jesus could anyone find the evidence to verify so extravagantly wasteful a love on the side of divinity and so utterly devastating a burden on the side of humanity.

As Balthasar puts it in his theology of the Easter Triduum, no human evolution, hope or desire can unite the Hellish destruction of Good Friday with the splendid affirmation of Easter Sunday.6° Only Jesus’ form can verify a triune God who knows no need to subject himself to such horrors and yet in his total freedom does so. The evidence of the form of Christ is thus akin, Balthasar argues, to that of an artistic masterpiece. This form knows no external necessity in either divine or human reality, yet once we apprehend it we see that it `must’ be as it is.

Balthasar stresses the rupture and transformation that Christian conversion entails. Pace Rahner, it is not simply a matter of one who is already an anonymous Christian becoming so openly by name. For the Old Testament, as the Book of Exodus testifies, human beings were told by God, `Man shall not see me and live’. The New Testament fulfils this. We died to ourselves in God when we were converted to Christ and then we were brought to life again.

In Jesus, the believer has for the first time seen God. It follows that what is incomprehensible in God no longer proceeds from mere ignorance. Rather is it the daunting, stupefying incomprehensibility of the fact that God so loved the world as to give his only Son. The God of all plenitude lowered himself not only by entering his creation as a creature but by entering it in the conditions of an existence determined by sin, destined for death, removed from God. Such was his amazing grace.

h1

Balthasar and the Beautiful 2 –Aidan Nichols, OP

February 4, 2014
Hans Urs von Balthasar’s life was hardly the plain, uneventful life of a scholar. Born in 1905, he lived through the horror and devastation of both World Wars, writing his doctoral thesis, The Apocalypse of the German Soul, during Hitler’s rise to power. He was immersed in literature, music, and philosophy. In 1929, after a retreat where he felt a powerful call to the priesthood, he entered the Society of Jesus and was educated by some of the best of his time including the Polish philosopher, Erich Przywara, and French Jesuit and patristic scholar, Henri de Lubac. Balthasar is becoming recognized as perhaps the greatest theologian of the 20th century–yet he never held an academic position in theology. Far from being an ivory tower academic, he was involved with the pastoral duties as a student chaplain at the University of Basel, Switzerland. It was there that he came to know Adrienne von Spyer, who converted to the Catholic Church and became the recipient of what seems to have been intense mystical graces. Together they discerned a call to found a secular institute (a community whose members take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience but live in the world engaged in secular professions), the Community of St. John. To continue his work as leader of the community, Balthasar eventually had to make one of the most painful decisions of his life: to leave the Jesuit Order and become a diocesan priest.

Hans Urs von Balthasar’s life was hardly the plain, uneventful life of a scholar. Born in 1905, he lived through the horror and devastation of both World Wars, writing his doctoral thesis, The Apocalypse of the German Soul, during Hitler’s rise to power. He was immersed in literature, music, and philosophy. In 1929, after a retreat where he felt a powerful call to the priesthood, he entered the Society of Jesus and was educated by some of the best of his time including the Polish philosopher, Erich Przywara, and French Jesuit and patristic scholar, Henri de Lubac. Balthasar is becoming recognized as perhaps the greatest theologian of the 20th century–yet he never held an academic position in theology. Far from being an ivory tower academic, he was involved with the pastoral duties as a student chaplain at the University of Basel, Switzerland. It was there that he came to know Adrienne von Spyer, who converted to the Catholic Church and became the recipient of what seems to have been intense mystical graces. Together they discerned a call to found a secular institute (a community whose members take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience but live in the world engaged in secular professions), the Community of St. John. To continue his work as leader of the community, Balthasar eventually had to make one of the most painful decisions of his life: to leave the Jesuit Order and become a diocesan priest.

We continue exploring the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar with Fr. Aidan Nichols. See previous post for intro.

************************************

The Centrality Of Christ In Aesthetics
Where the perceptual object in question is Jesus Christ, the real object thus presented to us is not just one of the possibilities of created being. Owing to the Incarnation, the object here presented through beautiful form is not merely human being but in a direct and plenary (vocab: unqualified; absolute) way divine Being itself. In this unique instance, then, the sensuous appearance is loaded with the endless significance and inherent authority of the divine. In this particular case, accordingly, `beauty’ will also be called `glory’ as well, for appearance charged with the inexhaustible significance and inherent authority of the divine is a plausible first stab at defining what the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures mean by `the glory of the Lord’.

Balthasar’s aesthetics begin humbly, at the level of sense perception, but ultimately they investigate the meaning and content of encounter with the glory of God. 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’. God, of course, is not part of the world. He cannot be ranged among the many things that happen to exist (a good Thomistic point: God is not in any genus of being, any type of thing). This does not mean, however, that God fails to attain to form. Surely we should say, rather, that God is that to which all form fails to attain. We can call him, with Balthasar, not ‘non-Form’ but `Super-form’.

In speaking of God as `Super-form’, Balthasar offers his own theologically aesthetic version of the Thomistic claim that the human creature has a natural desire for the vision of God. Translated into theologically aesthetic terms, this reads: we humans desire to find a perceivable form that transcends our powers, and in that way to transcend ourselves by knowing ourselves to be thus transcended. For this reason, the contemplation of God is, as the mystics show, not only dark and baffling but also a cause of joy for us.

To search out the beautiful is to explore, then, not only the formal possibilities of being but also the possibilities of human feeling-response in the face of the forms that being takes. It has, therefore, both an objective and a subjective side to it (we shall look at this more closely in a moment). Notice meanwhile how Balthasar is not saying that perception of anything beautiful should be regarded as equivalent to an act of recognition of God.

What he is saying is twofold. First, for those who have some awareness of God as the Source of all being, beauty acquires ontological depth. Such people can develop a habit of seeing the world as transparent to God. That is highly relevant to belief in creation. Secondly, and even more importantly, the events of salvation history — where God is active, presenting himself for contemplation — show the divine to have its own style of manifestation, and we must learn to register its impress. That is highly relevant to belief in the Incarnation. In the biblical revelation, the self-disclosure of God comes to a climax in Jesus Christ.

As the centre of Scripture, Christ unifies Old Testament and New Testament in a single form. Once seen as such, he can also be recognized as the centre of creation: “the One who brings genesis and apocalypse, the original creation and its eschatological fulfillment, into a single form likewise.” In `Revelation and the Beautiful’, Balthasar draws attention to the need for holism these affirmations entail:

The historical revelation is molded throughout into a single structure, so that the person contemplating it perceives, through the relationships and proportion of its various parts, the divine rightness of the whole. For however clear and convincing these relationships are, they are inexhaustible — not only in the practical sense, because we lack the power to grasp them in their entirety, but also in principle, because what comes to light in the structure is something which opens our minds to the infinite.

Note, however, that Jesus Christ is the centre of this structure, not the exclusive content of it. Though Balthasar’s vision always centers on the figure of Christ, he does not follow the great Protestant Neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth, for example, in making Christ’s form as God made human the sole analogue between God and the world. Balthasar states plainly that it is impossible to understand beauty as supernatural revelation without first experiencing beauty naturally, in creation.

Still, perhaps the best argument for the existence of the transcendentals is their capacity to infuse the human community with shared meanings where goodness, truth and beauty are concerned. And in this regard, Jesus Christ, whose Gospel has enabled millions in many ages and cultures to find such meaning, is as it were an open window on the transcendentals, joining together webs of human sensibility so that people can apprehend the transcendentals in their full reality.

Of course, Christ is a very unexpected climax to the experience of the beautiful. As Balthasar suggests in his meditation on the Easter Triduum, Mysterium Paschale, the Incarnation is ordered to the Passion: from the very word `Go!’ its direction is the Cross.” In Jesus Christ it will, then, be a strange and terrible Beauty that is born. Hence Balthasar’s remark in `Revelation and the Beautiful’:

For this reason, the glory inherent in God’s revelation, its fulfillment beyond measure of all possible aesthetic ideas, must perforce remain hidden from the eyes of all, believers and unbelievers, though in very various degrees.
Hans urs von Balthasar, Revelation and the Beautiful, p.113

Naturally, Balthasar can hardly say that the glory of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is something entirely hidden to everybody: in that case, there would be no point in writing a Christ-centred theological aesthetics at all. But there is a point! The Incarnation is the supreme presentation of aesthetic form despite or rather, when seen more deeply, because of the Cross. As Balthasar explains:

Insofar as the veil over the face of Christ’s mystery is drawn aside, and insofar as the economy of grace allows, Christian contemplation can marvel, in the self-emptying of divine love, at the exceeding wisdom, truth and beauty inherent there. But it is only in this self-emptying that they can be contemplated, for it is the source whence the glory contemplated by the angels and the saints radiated into eternal life … The humiliation of the servant only makes the concealed glory shine more resplendently, and the descent into the ordinary and commonplace brings out the uniqueness of him who so abased himself
Hans urs von Balthasar, Revelation and the Beautiful, pp.113-114

Here is a form than which none more wonderful can be imagined. For the `ground’ that appears in this `gestalt’, above all in the moment of the Cross, is the love that the Trinity is. That statement is the climactic assertion of Balthasarian ‘theo-aesthetics’. In the next Chapter, we shall see how, for Balthasar’s ‘theo-dramatics’, two more words need adding to this formulation: the ground that appears in the Christ-form is the love and freedom of the triune God.

The Unification Of Human Experience By Aesthetic Form
In his theological aesthetics Balthasar expects human experience to be completed and unified when guided by aesthetic form. To cite once again from `Revelation and the Beautiful’:

Everywhere there should be a correspondence between object and subject; the external harmony must correspond to a subjective need and both give rise to a new harmony of a higher order; subjectivity, with its feeling and imagination, must free itself in an objective work, in which it rediscovers itself in the course of which … there may be as much self-discovery as experience of another.
Hans urs von Balthasar, Revelation and the Beautiful, p.105

As that highly original student of Balthasar’s work Francesca Aran Murphy has pointed out, Balthasar presupposes, rightly enough, that human beings need rounded patterns through which to shape their experiences and make of them a coherent unity. Our capacity for awareness of such rounded patterns is called imagination.

Owing to Balthasar’s epistemological optimism and ontological realism, the thrust of the imagination for him is towards the real foundation which upholds all such forms. As we have seen, Balthasar employs a realistic metaphysics for which form is a basic principle. In such a metaphysic, beauty will be treated as an objective reality, present both in natural reality and in artistic works and accessible to us through their mediation.

For Balthasar (as for anyone else, for that matter), the word `imagination’ denotes a human faculty that eschews the quantitative measuring techniques of the empirical sciences. But for Balthasar (unlike for many other writers), the functioning of imagination can and should be grounded in objective reality.

Whereas historic Romanticism was plagued by Idealism, according to which imagination tells us chiefly about our own minds, the matter looks very different when a realist metaphysic is brought into the picture. Symbolic forms, though of our devising, allow us to gesture toward the inherent reality of things. The imagination expresses meaning in terms which draw the mind into the world.

When a realist metaphysics, recognizing the force of imagination, is combined with an orthodox Christology, the vista opened up is transformed again. Now our imaginative penetration of the world finds its response in a form a supremely rounded pattern — who rises up to meet it from beyond all human powers of exploration, since this form — the form of the Word incarnate — discloses God himself, author and archetype of being as a whole. While revealing itself to us from its source in the Uncreated, from what lies beyond the natural world, this form is also an attracting principle that draws out man’s effort to unite himself imaginatively with the created, with the natural order found in the cosmos and in human existence.

At one and the same time, then, the shape of this unique form, Jesus Christ, is both congruent with the activity of the human imagination at large, for imagination in general works on what is given in creation, and yet extends infinitely beyond all humanly discerned patterns — and, indeed, beyond the range of creation itself. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge divined, and he was, in this regard, an English forerunner of Balthasar, the highest unity the imagination can conceive is that which joins the finite and the infinite.’ But as Balthasar stresses with a vigor absent in Coleridge, this joining is supremely carried out by God himself in assuming human nature into unity with his divine Word.

The Deficiencies Of Modern Theological Culture
As Balthasar was aware, much modern theology does not honor this claim. Modern theological liberalism characteristically takes as its base the organization of human experience rather than the objective givens of divine agency impacting on nature and history. Probably Kant is the single greatest culprit here, because he it was who established the quite misleading presupposition that what critical thought considers is merely why we experience the world in the way we do. The situation deteriorates even further with Neo-Kantianism, influential in the German Universities (and notably Marburg — later to host the philosopher Heidegger and the exegete and quasi-theologian Bultmann) around the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

For Neo-Kantians, the threads binding the Kantian subject to an objective world were attenuated even further. In their view, Kant was hasty in allowing that external sense impressions impinge upon the mind, and misguided in granting the existence of a noumenon behind such perceptual presentation, the elusive `thing in itself’. Such Neo-Kantianiism is, it would seem, the philosophical origin of the ‘demythologising’ movement in Christian theology, and that has been, under whatever name, an enormously influential movement, both academically and in ordinary Church life. It is a movement to which Balthasar was implacably opposed.

Bultmann had regarded all alleged ‘knowledge’ of reality as mere objectification; projecting onto the largely unknowable a screen of our own culturally generated ideas: such false ‘objectivity’ must be stripped from the New Testament record. To his mind, the cosmological canvas on which the New Testament writers painted concealed the true message of the Gospel, which is the `extra-worldly’ dependence of the human person on the divine. For Bultmann, the Gospel has to do with my subjective relation to God within my own existence — my relation to him as myself a subject called to shape the meaning of life as I go along, thanks to my own ‘existential’ decisions, what I choose to regard as ‘authentic’, as valid ‘for me’.

Francesca Murphy draws attention to the usefulness of Balthasar’s corpus for those seeking to repel the Bultmann-style subversion of revelation-guided thought. Balthasar was clearly right to identify the hazards of granting primacy to what the last Chapter of this study called an ‘I ‘ I’ principle in laying intellectual foundations — rather than the ‘I’-world principle where the transcendentals can enter the picture from the very start.

A starting-point in the ‘I’-‘I’ relationship will always prejudice the chances of any presentation of the incarnate Christ as divinity given in and through form. If as philosophers we follow the Kantians (and here is why, unlike most modern thinkers in the German language, Balthasar preferred to Kant the more classically inspired mind-set of Goethe), we abandon the really metaphysical path to God leading as that path does through a substantial, material world — in other words, a world of substances that make themselves known through their forms to human intelligence, mediated by the senses. And when we come to the theology of revelation, where the acting subject is not ourselves but God himself reaching out to us, we shall inevitably, sooner or later, cease to think of God’s movement toward us as really mediated by the forms and images, understood as valid for everyone, in which the Bible deals.

This for Balthasar is where appeal to pulchrum, the transcendental we call ‘the beautiful’ can help restore the integrity of a Christologically-given revelation of the God of all being. The significance of the beautiful is that it indicates how an object might be outside us, facing us, and yet at the same time draw us into itself. Of all the transcendentals, the beautiful is the closest to our senses. It is, therefore, more directly present to us than are hue other transcendental properties of being.

The beautiful is a fully objective property of being, but it is the nature of this property to be communicative, to communicate itself to observers. The beautiful is reality under the aspect of form, known as such by imaginative intuition, just as truth is reality as best known through propositions, by the intelligence, and goodness is reality as best known through values, by the moral sense.

These ways of knowing refer to the same world manifesting itself in distinct but analogously related ways: as beautiful, true and good respectively. Specifically, the antidote Balthasar would prescribe for the sick theological patient is stored at the centre of his aesthetics where he draws on the Augustinian and mediaeval tradition which ascribed transcendental beauty most especially to the divine Son. In, for example, the prima pars of the Summa Theologiae, St Thomas explains that Christ has radiance through being the Art of the Father, where the Word illuminates the mind that contemplates him. He has proportion because he is the fullest likeness of the Father. He has integrity because his form is the Father’s form. [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia q39, a8]

And for Aquinas precisely those three qualities — radiance, proportion, integrity — are the hallmarks of the beautiful. St Thomas was speaking of the pre-existent Son, who is with the Father from all eternity. Balthasar, by contrast, wants to apply pulchrum to the incarnate Son, precisely in his sensuous as well as intelligible form, a form that is well accommodated to our finitude so that we may grasp it.

But how, we may ask, is this particular doctrine the remedy an ailing theological culture needs? The human yearning for structured intelligibility, the single chief impetus to the making of art, suggested to Balthasar an analogy in art — and notably visual art — for the form and splendor attaching to the transcendent beauty of Christ  Considered as symbols, artworks function within the analogical network of being whose indefinitely extended character we charted in Chapter One.

Though they belong to immanent being — the realm of being that is suitably proportioned to the human mind, they also participate in the transcendentals, and thus they have a relation to the transcendent, divine Being that is all creation’s source. Aesthetic beauty, we can say, strives towards transcendental beauty, and this is a token of its spirituality.

Yet aesthetic beauty cannot spiritualize itself. It is ordered to the delight of the embodied human mind of everyman or everywoman — toward the satisfaction of the imagination as earthed in this world. It can, then, only receive a direction toward the transcendent, and do so, accordingly, from beyond itself. The supreme, altogether unified, and yet interior experience the Romantics were looking for is not self-shaped.

Rather, it is shaped by a transcendent and supernatural form. The subject of religious experience, the human self, can be, ought to be, and has been, re-formed by its transcendent object. Human experience enters true synthesis through receiving an objective revealed form that brings it to fulfillment. The self becomes re-formed divinely when it lets Christ’s archetypal experience form its own.

All instances of the real participate in form in analogically ordered degrees, but that means in unequal degrees. Every beautiful form possesses an openness to the infinite, but some beautiful forms possess this more than others. Beautiful form is heterogeneous, differentiated, qualitatively variable, of more or less significance in terms of focusing the totality of being at large. A snow-crystal, a mango-tree, Michelangelo’s statue of King David, the Aurora Borealis, St Francis kissing the leper, do this to varying degrees.

Every form is a contraction of the totality of being, and some are more contracted than others. This should remind us that it is for God to provide the norm by which he will interpret himself (the word-play of `norm’ and `form’ only works in English — and Latin, but Balthasar wants his readers to understand `authoritative principle’ [norm] in aesthetic terms form]). Only God can fashion a form that could be a comprehensive revelation of himself, the world and our relation to both of these.

Balthasar stresses, however, that, though the phenomenon in which God supremely shows himself is indeed overwhelming, it is still a norm that is comprehensible to human modes of perception and knowing, and does not simply override these or lay them to one side. As he puts it in the metaphysics volume of the theological aesthetics:

if a concept that is fundamental to the Bible has no kind of analogy in the general intellectual sphere, and awoke no familiar echo in the heart of man, it would remain absolutely incomprehensible and thereby a matter of indifference. It is only when there is an analogy (be it only distant) between the human sense of the divine and divine revelation that the height, the difference and the distance of that which the revelation discloses may be measured in God’s grace.”
The Glory of the Lord, A Theological Aesthetics
IV The Realism of Metaphysics in Antiquity p. 14

No beauty in the world can be identified with God’s glory – though we might suspect that human personality, where the being of the world comes to its crown and its varied splendors (including their relation to God) can be perceived, might be a special locus for imaging glory (were it not, at any rate, for moral evil — a rather large obstacle in the way). There is, however:

one concrete historical event in which divine glory is fully present: in the beauty of the Christ form.so
S. Van Erp, The Art of Theology, p.138

h1

Balthasar and the Beautiful 1 –Aidan Nichols, OP

February 3, 2014

 

Hans Urs von Balthasar was considered to be one of the most important Catholic writers and theologians of the twentieth century. His works include over one hundred books and articles. He was devoted to addressing spiritual and practical issues of his time and resisted reductionism and the human focus of modernity, wanting Christians to challenge modern and philosophical assumptions. Balthasar is most famously known for his sixteen-volume systematic theology which is divided into three parts: The Glory of the Lord, Theo-Drama, and Theo-Logic. The Glory of the Lord, the seven-volume work on theological aesthetics, introduces theology based on the contemplation of the good, beautiful, and true. The second part of the trilogy, the five-volume Theo-Drama, focuses on theodramatics, the actions of God and our human response. Balthasar particularly focuses on the events of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. His soteriology, Christology, and eschatology are also developed in this series. The trilogy is completed with the three-volume Theo-Logic. Here, Balthasar describes the relation of the nature of Jesus Christ (Christology) to reality itself (ontology). Finally, in Epilogue Balthasar brings together the three parts of his trilogy by providing an overview and analysis of the preceeding 15 volumes. The Hans Urs von Balthasar Collection is sure to bring you insight, whether you’re wanting to discover new theological ideas or are seeking a deeper understanding of Christology, eschatology, Mariology, soteriology, and ontology.

Hans Urs von Balthasar was considered to be one of the most important Catholic writers and theologians of the twentieth century. His works include over one hundred books and articles. He was devoted to addressing spiritual and practical issues of his time and resisted reductionism and the human focus of modernity, wanting Christians to challenge modern and philosophical assumptions. Balthasar is most famously known for his sixteen-volume systematic theology which is divided into three parts: The Glory of the Lord, Theo-Drama, and Theo-Logic. The Glory of the Lord, the seven-volume work on theological aesthetics, introduces theology based on the contemplation of the good, beautiful, and true. The second part of the trilogy, the five-volume Theo-Drama, focuses on theodramatics, the actions of God and our human response. Balthasar particularly focuses on the events of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. His soteriology, Christology, and eschatology are also developed in this series. The trilogy is completed with the three-volume Theo-Logic. Here, Balthasar describes the relation of the nature of Jesus Christ (Christology) to reality itself (ontology). Finally, in Epilogue Balthasar brings together the three parts of his trilogy by providing an overview and analysis of the preceeding 15 volumes. The Hans Urs von Balthasar Collection is sure to bring you insight, whether you’re wanting to discover new theological ideas or are seeking a deeper understanding of Christology, eschatology, Mariology, soteriology, and ontology.

John Christopher “Aidan” Nichols OP (born 17 September 1948) is an academic and Catholic priest. Nichols served as the first John Paul II Memorial Visiting Lecturer at the University of Oxford for 2006 to 2008, the first lectureship of Catholic theology at that university since the Reformation. He is a member of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) and was formerly the Prior of St Michael and All Angels in Cambridge. Nichols began his academic work in the Russian theological tradition and has written on many figures including Sergei Bulgakov. However he is best known for his work on Hans Urs von Balthasar, publishing three analytic volumes on von Balthasar’s famous trilogy: The Word Has Been Abroad: A Guide Through Balthasar’s Aesthetics (1998) , No Bloodless Myth: A Guide Through Balthasar’s Dramatics (2000)   and Say It Is Pentecost: A Guide Through Balthasar’s Logic (2001).  He was also one of the contributors to the Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar (2004) . The following is taken from a chapter on a much shorter work concerning Beauty, Goodness and Truth in Balthazar’s thought.

************************************************

The Place Of Beauty
Balthasar was deeply opposed to the separation of the beautiful from the true and the good. The idea of beauty, he lamented, has been reduced to that of a merely this-worldly aesthetics, with baleful consequences for Christian faith and morals. Beauty’s separation from the other transcendentals, and the consequent rise of what Balthasar terms the ‘aestheticisation’ of the beautiful, is at least partly responsible, he thinks, for the inability of people to pray and contemplate.

The notion of the sheer beauty of the divine Being has disappeared. The severance of beauty from goodness and truth also helps to explain the perceived reduction of the moral order to a self-centered relativism, and the retrenchment of the metaphysical order to a materialism placed at the service of either technology or psychology or both. The final upshot of all this, he predicts, will be incapacity for either faith or love.

Unfashionably, Balthasar holds that, in the modern Western epoch, the Church has become the guardian of metaphysics. We live in a period when `things are deprived of the splendor reflected from eternity’. In our time, only an orthodox Christian mind and heart can bridge the gap between, on the one hand, an acosmic spirituality — a religiosity concerned merely with salvation in some other realm, private, interior, extra-mundane, and, on the other hand, a present world consigned to domination by positivists for whom all that exists is only organized matter.

Revelation can be a therapy for a metaphysical malaise that has, at the moment, no other medicine available. Tutored by revelation, the orthodox believer can show people how once again to experience the cosmos as what Balthasar terms `the revelation of an infinity of grace and love’. In the course of the eighty or one hundred years before Balthasar was writing, imaginative writers like Gerard Manley Hopkins, in England, and, in France, Paul Claudel and Charles Peguy managed precisely this, as had in Austria, qua composer of music, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart a century before them. They showed it was possible.

And so they gave us marching orders for what we in our turn should be doing — `all proportions guarded’, as the French say, not all of us can be great creative artists — as Christians who reflect on the revelation given them and wish to apply its benefits to the surrounding culture.

More widely, in Balthasar’s analysis, there must be a reunion of philosophy and theology, and, within theology, a reunion of spirituality and dogmatic thought, if there is to be for Western man — who is now for many purposes global man — a recovery of the sense of the integrity of being, in its co-constitutive transcendent and immanent dimensions. Thus in the first part of his trilogy, which he called a `theological aesthetics’, Balthasar sets himself the task of trying to perceive the objective form of revelation, in creation and in Jesus Christ, in all its splendid, harmonious and symphonic fullness.

What Are `Theological Aesthetics’?
What, then, does Balthasar mean by `theological aesthetics’? It is important to get clear from the outset that he does not intend to confine himself to a consideration of the beauty of the created world — whether, with antiquity, we have in mind there the harmony of the cosmic order, or whether, in the spirit of European Romanticism, we are more struck by the terrible but wonderful power of nature. Without excluding such considerations, the defining question of theological aesthetics goes beyond them — as it must if it is to include in its purview not only creation but salvation. For Balthasar, that defining question runs: How can the revelation of God’s sovereign grace be perceived in the world?

In his use of the phrase `theological aesthetics’, Balthasar gives the `aesthetics’ component two co-essential meanings. The first of these is indebted to Immanuel Kant, who used the word frequently enough in his Critique of Judgment, which is itself an essay in philosophical aesthetics albeit of the limited sort that Kant, on his own presuppositions in epistemology and ontology, felt able to write. `Aesthetics’ considers the part played at the higher levels of our experience by the human senses, of which sight has often been singled out as the most noble. So `theological aesthetics’ will consider the part played by the senses — with their associated powers of memory and imagination — in the awareness of God.

Balthasar invokes this meaning of the phrase in relation to, above all, the series of revelatory events and processes which culminated in the appearance of Christ. In Christ, his eternal Word or Son now come on earth, God made himself — as the First Letter of St John insists — a sensuous Object, being seen, heard, touched. Indeed, thanks to the assumption of human nature by the Logos at the Incarnation, a woman (we call her, accordingly, the Theotokos, the ‘God-bearer’) felt him growing in her body.

In the opening volume of The Glory of the Lord, Balthasar stresses the way the divine ‘form’ that is made available to human perception in Jesus Christ is mediated by the historical record (the Gospels and other New Testament writings), but also by the Liturgy and Christian experience. In various ways, a number of which he explores, the human imagination has been seized by this central figure of revelation — this (in Latin) figura, this (in German) Gestalt, this (in both English and German) F/form, which is close enough to another Latin word for it: forma.

Still on the first meaning of the phrase ‘theological aesthetics': when Balthasar embarked on this project, many readers seemed to have had difficulty in getting hold of what he was saying. But really, his concept of the aesthetic perception should not perplex a readership in any way familiar with the res Christiana, ‘the Christian thing’. Take, for example, what G. K. Chesterton has to say on the subject in his celebrated came to study St Thomas Aquinas. In the passage I have in mind, he is talking about the difference the Incarnation makes, or should make, to the way we evaluate the importance of the senses. In Christian theology, wrote Chesterton

[It]here really was a new reason for regarding the senses, and the sensations of the body, and the experiences of the common man, with a reverence at which great Aristotle would have stared, and no man in the ancient world could have begun to understand. The Body was no longer what it was when Plato and Porphyry and the old mystics had left it for dead. It had hung upon a gibbet. It had risen from a tomb. It was no longer possible for the soul to despise the senses, which had been the organs of something that was more than man. Plato might despise the flesh but God had not despised it. The senses had truly become sanctified; as they are blessed one by one at a Catholic baptism. ‘Seeing is believing’ was no longer the platitude of a mere idiot, or common individual, as in Plato’s world; it was mixed up with real conditions of real belief.
G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas27

So much, then, for the first meaning of `aesthetics’ in the term ‘theological aesthetics': it signifies, quite simply, having to do with the senses.

The second way in which Balthasar uses the term `theological aesthetics’ is to denote a study of beauty — more especially an account of beauty as a transcendental determination of being, and most especially of all an exploration of the revealed cone-late of beauty which is, so Balthasar held, the glory of God.

Not all the Scholastics had treated pulchrum, `the beautiful’, explicitly as a transcendental, but the conviction gradually settled on the Thomist school that it is –just as much as truth and goodness or the remaining transcendental which Balthasar never used to structure a distinct theological treatise: unity. Thus for a mid-twentieth century Thomist, Jacques Maritain, beauty is the `splendor of being and of all the transcendentals re-united.’

On this presupposition, we might describe beautifully former objects as in-gatherings and out-pouring of that `splendor’. In Balthasar’s case, the most important of the key terms in the first use of `aesthetics’, namely `form’, recurs in the second way Balthasar uses the term. Form is just as important to an understanding of beauty as it is to an account of how reality is presented to us by the senses.

Again, some people confess themselves bemused by what Balthasar means by the word `form’, which owes something to Goethe but rather more to Aquinas. But here, once more, is what Chesterton had to say in his little book on St Thomas:

‘Formal’ in Thomist language means actual or possessing the real decisive quality that makes a thing itself Roughly, when [Thomas] describes a thing as made out of Form and Matter, he very rightly recognizes that Matter is the more mysterious and indefinite and featureless element; and that what stamps anything with its identity is its Form.

And Chesterton goes on to say in this same passage:

Every artist knows that the form is not superficial but fundamental; that the form is the foundation. Every sculptor knows that the form of the statue is not the outside of the statue, but rather the inside of the statue; even in the sense of the inside of the sculptor. Every poet knows that the sonnet form is not only the form of the poem, but the poem.

And Chesterton concludes, rather peremptorily perhaps:

No modern critic who does not understand what the mediaeval Schoolman meant by form can meet the mediaeval Schoolman as an intellectual equal.”

Like Chesterton and indeed Maritain, Balthasar is thinking of natural forms as well as humanly shaped ones. A relatively straightforward summary of what he has in mind might run something like this. The perceptible form of an object is the expression, under particular conditions, of its metaphysical form — its essence or nature. We are glad when a perceptual form is rich, clear, and expressive because we feel that it lays open the object to us, even though we may also feel there is more in the thing’s nature than appears in this or that single expression.

From here we can go one step further. Something’s nature, surely, is itself one expression of the inherent possibilities of being at large. So when, in appreciating the clear, rich, expressive sensuous form, we also look through it to the nature of the thing in question, through that again we look to what one student of Balthasar’s aesthetics has called `the vast ocean of formal fertility which is the mystery of being’. The form of a thing may tell us more than just about itself. It may also tell us something about the world in which it is situated, about the universe.

The clarity of form in Balthasar’s aesthetics can usefully be contrasted with Descartes’ equally strong emphasis on `clarity’ in his philosophy of mind. Descartes was in love with what he called `clear and distinct ideas’. Balthasar’s concept of clarity, however, is taken from Thomas, for whom clarity — radiance — is one of the essential traits of the beautiful, along with proportion and integrity.

This is a very different sort of `brightness’. The brightness of the beautiful is something that overwhelms us, impelling us and enabling us to enter further into the depths of being than the unaided intelligence can venture. And whereas the Cartesian `idea’ is, in Scholastic terms, an intuited potential essence — something that may or may not be the case about the world, the Thomistic `radiance’ is expressed by a form actually enacting its own existence, its being-in-act.

We could explain the meaning of the second component in ‘theological aesthetics’ as an intersection of two axes: `vertical’ and `horizontal’ (not exactly exhilarating language, but it is handy). For Balthasar, the dimensions of the beautiful are ‘vertically’, an infinite depth of splendor, which, `horizontally’, is expressed in a materially graspable extension of form. The beautiful unifies — on the one hand — the definitely shaped form of something present, something on which the mind can come to rest, with — on the other hand — an endless sea of radiant intelligibility in which the mind can move without limitation. The beautiful is, as he would put it, the meeting-place of finite form with infinite light.

Balthasar seems to expand the Scholastic teaching on pulchrum by marrying it with the notion of the `sublime’, an idea the late-eighteenth-century Romantic authors found, or thought they found, in the ancients. The sublime reminds people that ontological beauty is a mystery whose inner momentum can never fully be grasped.” Unlike the Romantics, however, Balthasar is always careful not to allow `sublimity’ to dissolve forms into a general sea of being, where objects lose their outlines and coalesce.

h1

Hans Ur von Balthazar’s Objective Evidence 3 – Fr. Aidan Nichols O.P.

December 11, 2013
In 1600, soon after he had completed the first two canvases for the Contarelli Chapel, Caravaggio signed a contract to paint two pictures for the Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo. Caravaggio depicted key events in the lives of Sts Peter and Paul, the founders of the Roman See: The Crucifixion of St Peter and The Conversion on the Way to Damascus. The church has a special interest because of the works it contains by four of the finest artists ever to work in Rome: Raphael, Carracci, Caravaggio and Bernini.

In 1600, soon after he had completed the first two canvases for the Contarelli Chapel, Caravaggio signed a contract to paint two pictures for the Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo. Caravaggio depicted key events in the lives of Sts Peter and Paul, the founders of the Roman See: The Crucifixion of St Peter and The Conversion on the Way to Damascus. The church has a special interest because of the works it contains by four of the finest artists ever to work in Rome: Raphael, Carracci, Caravaggio and Bernini.

The third in a series from a chapter in Fr. Nichol’s introduction to the Hans Ur von Balthazar’s Aesthetics, The Word Has Been Abroad.

****************************************

Despite all that has been said so far about the hiddenness which hangs about the revelatory form, the dialectic of revelation and concealment is basically resolved in favor of revelation, for the hiddenness is now not the non-appearing depth of the being revealed, but the overwhelmingness of its totally open disclosure.

God’s incomprehensibility is now no longer a mere deficiency in knowledge but the positive manner in which God determines the knowledge of faith: this is the overpowering and overwhelming inconceivability of the fact that God has loved us so much that he surrendered his only Son for us, the fact that the God of plenitude has poured himself out, not only into creation, but emptied himself into the modalities of an existence determined by sin, corrupted by death and alienated from God. This [alone] is the concealment that appears in his self-revelation.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 461]

Jesus Christ Himself As Centre Of The Form
Which seems a good point at which to move onto Christ as the centre or mid-point of the revelatory form. Here Balthasar discusses such themes as the plausibility of the Christ-form, its measure and quality, power and uniqueness, and how its rejection or misapprehension can be explained theologically. Essentially, this section of the theological aesthetics is Balthasar’s engagement with other, conflicting Christologies; it contains some of his sharpest writing in this otherwise serene if passionate work, and notably his most acerbic remarks about the contemporary critical study of the Gospels.

For Balthasar Christ is the centre of the form of revelation: that is, he alone makes the total form of supernatural revelation coherent and comprehensible. The plausibility of Christianity stands or falls with Jesus Christ. To support such an edifice the foundation must be indestructibly solid: it cannot deal in mere probabilities, or in subjective evidence alone.

Despite the richness of his doctrine of the subjective evidence for revelation, here Balthazar is firm. The subjective conditions for the possibility of seeing an object for what it is must not be allowed to intrude on the description of that object’s intrinsic authority — in Balthazar’s terms the constitution of its ‘objective evidence’.

Even the scholastic axiom that ‘whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver’ is to be brushed aside in this context along with those of its modern variants which would have it that the object in question requires a categorical or existential prior understanding, some idea or some felt human need to which it can correspond. For, in a most important programmatic statement:

if Christ is what he claims to be, then he cannot be so dependent on subjective conditions as to be hindered by them from making himself wholly understandable to man nor, contrariwise, can man, without his grace, supply the sufficient conditions of receiving him with full understanding.”
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 465]

Here hermeneutics, whether cultural or philosophical, are sent packing, on the grounds that One who is both God and man cannot but draw what is universally valid in human life and thought to himself. Balthazar’s aesthetic Christology will consist in bringing out the form and content of Christ’s revelation as the New Testament presents it.

In the last analysis, Christ is the all-important form because he is the all-sufficient content, the only Son of the Father. The aim will be, first, to show the interior rightness and intrinsic power of this form — as we might ascribe that to a sovereign work of art or a mathematical formula of extraordinary precision as well is beauty, and secondly, to point up its power to transform all existence by its light.

Balthazar’s essential objection to much modern Gospel study is that by, for instance, bracketing the Trinitarian dimension of the unfolding form of the Redeemer, or its issue in the bodily resurrection, or by decomposing that form into, on the one hand, a Jesus of history and, on the other, a Christ of faith, it renders the rest of the New Testament – beyond the Gospels — unintelligible. As he remarks, each element is ‘plausible only within the wholeness of the image’. [Glory of the Lord I, p. 467]

And here, so as not to anticipate excessively the fuller Christological exposition of the final volume of Herrlichkeit, I shall simply sketch some of the aspects of the Christ-form which Balthasar regards as foundational. Under ‘measure and form’, for instance, he deals with the perfect concordance between Christ’s mission and his existence, something which is, he shows, not merely a Johannine theologoumenon but a given of the Synoptic tradition for which Jesus identified his existence with his divine mandate — which explains why without hesitation he could throw that existence onto the weighing-scales of history.

Moreover, as the identity between the divine demand and the human fulfillment he is the measure, the norm of right relations, first with God and then, since God wills it so, with neighbor: thus the Pauline identification of Jesus as the ‘righteousness of God’ is but the re-expression of the Synoptic testimony of how he claimed for himself an authoritative power, manifest according to his hearers in his words, and sovereignly communicated to his followers.

Punning on the German words for ‘to tune’ and ‘to be in tune’ as well as for a ‘pitch’ of music or of mood, and hence in the latter case, for ‘disposition’, as well as ‘harmony’ and ‘concordance’ — here Balthasar’s study of the Swiss Romantic theologian Gugler has stood him in good stead, he draws the theologically aesthetic conclusion that, by transference into the kingdom of the Word’s marvelous light ‘we already participate in the sphere where things are fundamentally right and attuned and where, therefore, if we so will it, things can be similarly right for us as well’. And, reverting to the language of measure, while addressing the issue of Jesus and his community, he writes:

With the appearance of Christ, the Church is already posited: that is to say, his appearance is the measure which God applies to the world, the measure God has already communicated to the world, bestowed on the world, as a measure of grace and not of judgment, as a freely conferred measure which no one can arrogate to himself but which is given in such a way that anyone so desiring can take it to himself.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 478]

According to Balthasar anyone with an ‘eye for quality’ can see the difference in this phenomenon as it unfolds. He notes, with Pascal, how the evidential power of this form does no violence to personal freedom and decision: since love is its content, it cannot impose but only testify to its own authenticity – this is where Balthasar locates the Marcan messianic secret and the Johannine hidden glory. He records the inner harmony of the form: no mistake in its construction or proportions is discernible.

The interrelatedness of the different aspects is such that, while each aspect, taken in isolation, could be considered questionable, nonetheless the balance that dominates the whole does not allow the definitive elimination of any one aspect
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 486]

This interdependence of aspects of the Four Gospels as, in their convergent totality, they left the hands of their final redactors, though frequently denied by historical-critical exegesis, accounts for the fascination of the Christ-form not only to ecclesial contemplation but also to academic exegesis itself which — Balthasar cunningly remarks — cannot turn away from its object even as it fiercely disputes it.

The complexity of this form does not, however, overthrow its unity, though Christ’s particular kind of unity requires a glance that traces a course back into the very mystery of God’, since he is both himself and another — the divine being. In the mystery of divine freedom, as in that of art, a supreme freedom can coincide with a perfect obedience or necessity. An aria by Mozart could hardly be other than it is, yet it has all of Schiller’s definition of beauty as erscheinende Freiheit, ‘freedom appearing’.

Balthasar links such ‘necessary freedom’ to what he terms the effortlessness of Jesus’ self-representation, his simplicity. It is a simplicity sought for by all the religions of Asia but never found by them since — disastrously — they seek it in technique as well as — fatally — aiming at God through bypassing man. In contrast, Christ’s simplicity is a lived sharing in the divine simplicity, from a centre (Balthasar is referring to the hypostatic union) where the duality of God and man is bridged and God’s Word has become indistinguishable from its human expression.

All of this makes the form of Christ both inherently powerful and unique. We sometimes note of a great work of art its power to touch and even alter the lives of those who come into contact with it. Such power, duanamis, Paul ascribes to Christ not only in his resurrection but also — already — in his cross. Taken by itself, the image of Christ would remain merely two-dimensional.

Only the power which the New Testament goes on to identify as ‘Holy Spirit’ gives that image plasticity and vitality so that it can form, transform, the lives of believers. Even if it is only in the Spirit of the resurrection and Pentecost that Jesus becomes Lord, as the Spirit bestows on form and on the gospel an interior vitality — the intrinsic power these need if they are to impress themselves (whether on the individual disciple in justification or on the apostolic preaching itself), nonetheless this same Spirit proceeds from Christ.

He is the dynamism which Christ radiates. Included in the objective evidence for revelatory form is, therefore, the existence of the Christian saints, for their enthusiasm — and here Balthasar distances himself from Ronald Knox’s pejorative use of that term in the history of spirituality — constitutes a precise response to the precision of the image of Jesus drawn by the Spirit.

But this form is not only powerful. It is also unique. Jesus escapes classification by any typology known to comparative religion, religious phenomenology or cultural anthropology. He differs from other religious founders who proposed to reveal a way by declaring himself to be the way, identifying himself with the ‘myth’ of the sacrificed but fructifying grain which he preaches. Whereas they underwent experiences of conversion, enlightenment, rapture, his teaching is identified with his entire existence. He achieves no divine apotheosis through the successful crowning of a human drama, but the drama of his human dissolution becomes the revelation of divine love.

In contrast to the other schemes of salvation on offer, he neither negates the being of the world for the sake of divine being nor restores some divine primordial principle of worldly being now obscured; instead he negates the decadent mode of the world’s existence in its alienation from God, lifting it up through the exercise of his sacrificial charity — thus simultaneously recognizing both the foundational goodness of created being and its radical need of redemption.

In disclosing the mystery of the Trinity, and its indissoluble yet unconfused union with humanity in his own person, he also solves the central problem of religious metaphysics, that problem of the One and the Many which has defeated all other religions, constrained as they are to remain midway between the One and the Many, as with Islam, or to abolish the Many for the sake of One, as in Asiatic mysticism, or to incorporate the One into the Many as in polytheism and pantheism.

At the same time, the Christ-form is not unique in such a fashion that it appears as a bolt from the blue, unrelated to all about it. On the contrary, it is related, through the Old Testament, to the treasury of natural religious forms found it human experience, related, then, to an overall order of which, however, it does not itself form part. Its uniqueness is all the more striking for being set within a general historical determinateness, and as Balthasar points out:

By fulfilling in himself Israel’s message of promise, Christ at the same time makes historical contact, through Israel, with mankind’s religious forms, and in this way, too, he fulfills not only Israel’s expectation but the longing of all peoples.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 498]

His form relates to itself ‘as the ultimate centre the comparative unique­ness of all other forms and images of the world’, whatever their source.

By now enough has been said to indicate how the misapprehension – the mistaking — of this form is feasible. As Balthasar puts it; ‘A whole symphony cannot be recorded on a tape that is too short.’ The ‘shortness’ may lie in our not making sufficient space for God’s almightiness, the range of his possibilities. It may lie in a premature decision not to attend to certain of the Christ-form’s interdependent parts (for Balthasar, heresy is the ‘selective disjoining of parts’). Or it may lie in erecting a screen which foreshortens the image cast by the divine Glory, owing to some prior methodological, conceptual or historic-religious commitment, or any combination thereof.

And behind all of these things there lies the mystery of iniquity, the ‘darkness which does not see, recognize or receive the Light’. The tone of the preacher, never wholly silent in Balthasar’s theology, returns with peculiar vigour at the close of his account of the objective revelatory form when he delineates, in conclusion, the figure of the apostate.

Through and through he remains branded by the image he rejects: with terrible power this image leaves its imprint on his whole existence, which blazes brilliantly in the fire of denial. Wherever the fugitive may turn his glance he is met by the ‘eyes like flames of fire’, he hears the ‘voice like the roar of mighty waters’, he feels the ‘sharp two-edged sword from his mouth’, and he hides in vain from the ‘face like the sun blazing with full strength’. (Apocalypse. I:14ff.)
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 4524-525]

h1

Hans Ur von Balthazar’s Objective Evidence 2 – Fr. Aidan Nichols O.P.

December 10, 2013
The Triumph of Galatea is a fresco masterpiece completed about 1514 by the Italian painter Raphael for the Villa Farnesina in Rome. Raphael did not paint any of the main events of the story. He chose the scene of the nymph's apotheosis (Stanze, I, 118-119). Galatea appears surrounded by other sea creatures whose forms are somewhat inspired by Michelangelo, whereas the bright colors and decoration are supposed to be inspired by ancient Roman painting. At the left, a Triton (partly man, partly fish) abducts a sea nymph; behind them, another Triton uses a shell as a trumpet. Galatea rides a shell-chariot drawn by two dolphins. While some have seen in the model for Galatea the image of the courtesan, Imperia, Agostino Chigi's lover and Raphael's near-contemporary; Giorgio Vasari, wrote that Raphael did not mean for Galatea to resemble any one human person, but to represent ideal beauty. When asked where he had found a model of such beauty, Raphael reportedly said that he had used "a certain idea" he had formed in his mind.

The Triumph of Galatea is a fresco masterpiece completed about 1514 by the Italian painter Raphael for the Villa Farnesina in Rome. Raphael did not paint any of the main events of the story. He chose the scene of the nymph’s apotheosis (Stanze, I, 118-119). Galatea appears surrounded by other sea creatures whose forms are somewhat inspired by Michelangelo, whereas the bright colors and decoration are supposed to be inspired by ancient Roman painting. At the left, a Triton (partly man, partly fish) abducts a sea nymph; behind them, another Triton uses a shell as a trumpet. Galatea rides a shell-chariot drawn by two dolphins. While some have seen in the model for Galatea the image of the courtesan, Imperia, Agostino Chigi’s lover and Raphael’s near-contemporary; Giorgio Vasari, wrote that Raphael did not mean for Galatea to resemble any one human person, but to represent ideal beauty. When asked where he had found a model of such beauty, Raphael reportedly said that he had used “a certain idea” he had formed in his mind.

The second in a series from a chapter in Fr. Nichol’s introduction to the Hans Ur von Balthazar’s Aesthetics, The Word Has Been Abroad.

****************************************

Yesterday’s post left off with the important corollary to Balthazar’s claim that revelation is necessarily revelation in hiddenness for the simple reason that it is a revelation in being. All knowledge, and not just the knowledge of salvation, begins with a kind of ‘natural faith’.

For the early apologist, Theophilus of Antioch, all human conduct depends on a certain trusting faith both in nature and in Providence. Similarly, against Eunomius, the Cappadocian Fathers argued that even the tiniest creature can be grasped only through its utterances, so hidden is even creaturely ousia. The conclusion is, in Balthasar’s words, that ‘a “supernatural” piety, ordered to God’s historical revelation, cannot be such unless it is mediated by a “natural” piety, which at this level presupposes and includes a “piety of nature” and a “piety of Being,” [Glory of the Lord I, p. 447] The critical history of metaphysics in volumes 4 and 5 of the theological aesthetics will bring this out.

But we still have to consider the second and third reasons why revelation is necessarily as much concealment as it is disclosure. The second is that revelation takes place in the Word, the free divine Word, which as such cannot be captured within the net of the created order. As Balthasar puts it: ‘Creaturely beings, thrown into existence, reveal themselves in obedience to a natural necessity; but God creates freely.’ [Glory of the Lord I, p 448] From which he draws the conclusion that while the contingency, the non-necessity, of the world has the positive effect of revealing God as the world’s free Creator, for nothing comes from nothing, by that self-same fact the world’s contingency conceals God more dramatically than it reveals him, since at no point can we make any firm deduction about the final meaning of his unique Essence.

What, then, one might object, becomes of the claim with which Balthasar opened the entire second part of Herrlichkeit I, with the help of Hebrews, that the form of creation is at all times radiant with God’s glory? His reply, along the lines of his earlier attempt to render the teaching of the First Vatican Council on the divine knowability more palatable to Karl Barth, is that

We will never be able to determine exactly the extent to which this splendor, given with creation itself, coincides objectively with what Christian theology calls ‘supernatural revelation’, which, at least for Adam, was not yet a specifically distinct revelation given in the form of words. A distinction is possible only from the standpoint of intention and in this sense the first word was directed to man as a creature that had come forth from God, and the second word addresses him personally as a child of God’s grace and calls him home to the heart of God.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 449]

Because, then, no creaturely form as such transcribes in straightforward fashion the meaning of God’s sovereignly free Word, a revelation which takes place in that Word must always be to some degree riddling. The revelatory Form will not so much leap to the eye as require strenuous discernment. And because the Word in which it comes to be as form is sovereignly free, the human percipient will not be able to follow the archetype in the image without the willingness to practice obedience. The concept of obedience, drawn from Paul and Ignatius Loyola, [See 'Introduction to Balthasar', above, for the Ignatian dimension.] is crucial to Balthazar’s theology in various of its sectors – not least here where, as he writes:

before [infinite Freedom] created reason must persevere in an attitude of primary obedience that is beyond all demands, longings, enterprises. This is the manner in which God’s Word really touches the creature at the most intimate point of its self-transcending being.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 456]

- what Paul calls the ‘obedience of faith’ (Romans 1:5).

The third and last reason why the revelatory form will necessarily be a form that hides as well as discloses is that it is a revelation in the human. If man is to become the language of God then the unique will have to appear in the ordinary, the super-significant in the insignificant. By and large, supernatural revelation, the revelation of grace in Old and New Testaments, is not so much the establishment of a new form in the world as it is a new manner of God’s presence in the form of the world.

In the Adamic state, Balthasar speculates, God’s speaking of this message – that man is now called to be the child of the Father – would have come purely through a locutio interna: God’s presence through grace would have resounded unmistakably in the voices of nature and of the heart. It is owing to the deafness of fallen humanity that the locutio Dei becomes a locutio externa, a word spoken from outside, for the Old Covenant in law and prophecy, for the New in the incarnate Word and its prolongation as the Word found in the Church.

There is then a penitential aspect to a revelation made through audible and visible human signs. That is so even though those signs are the outward expression of the interior inspiration of prophets and apostles and notwithstanding too the fact that by means of them God can lead human history, despite its self-inflicted chaos, to an even more wonderful fulfillment than that offered to Adam – by way of the glory that emanates from the sign of the cross.

God’s revelation takes place in man by in the first instance judging man. But that for Balthasar has not only a negative charge; it has a positive one as well. In judgment, God both manifests his sublime transcendence over against all that is worldly and at the same time makes known his immanence within the human which he sets out to fulfill by redirecting humanity to himself.

In conformity with the usual Balthasarian principle that, in divine matters, comparability and incomparability with the world develop in direct proportion to each other: the more God makes known his justice in the saints of Israel (the more, that is, he reveals himself), the more colossally unlike them he shows himself to be (and so the more he hides his face). As Balthasar puts it:

The whole ascending period of God’s revelation in Israel is also the time of an ever greater concealment of God, in spite of the ever greater evidence pointing to a revelation which is truly unique and different from all other religions.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 452]

And, illustrating this claim from the post-exilic period:

The return which appears to fulfill the promises is everything but fulfillment, and, while interiorly the Holy Spirit is bringing the canon of the Scriptures to maturity, externally the kingdom is disintegrating even before Christ’s coming, so that Yahweh’s faithful ones can understand themselves only as the ‘remnant’ which survives what spiritually has already fallen into decay.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 455]

The conclusion is that

while he is quite comprehensible in his revelation and even demands the understanding of faith, the God of Israel proves himself in history to be ever more incomprehensible and, as such, he exhibits himself ever more truly as who he is. And only the most living kind of faith, sustained by revelation, is capable of knowing him in precisely this form of revelation as the true and living God
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 456]

This is the pattern which is brought to perfection by the simultaneously consummate revelation-and-concealment of God in the man Jesus. Even without referring as yet to the passion of Christ, the incarnation of the Word – his embodiment as flesh – means the most extreme manifestness of God, for now God is explained to man not chiefly through words or instruction, but through his own being and life. In other words, he interprets himself to man by no other medium than himself.

And yet at the same time, the entry of the Godhead into its human creation is the most complete concealing imaginable. In language drawn, surely, from Kierkegaard’s treatise on The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle, Balthasar speaks of the Flesh-taking as the ‘translation of God’s absolutely unique, absolute and infinite Being into the ever more dissimilar, almost arbitrary and hopelessly relativized reality of one individual man in the crowd’. [Glory of the Lord I, p. 457]  The hiddenness of this individual lost in history would not be so scandalous as an expression of the Word if it were meant to represent the silence of the Word, God’s sheer concealment from all that is not God. But no, this hiddenness is to be the speech in which God eloquently makes known in a definitive manner what he himself is really like.

For Balthasar none of this is intelligible unless we approach the figure of Christ in a way determined by one ecclesial doctrine – that of the Trinity – and one philosophical doctrine – that of God as, in the fifteenth-century cardinal theologian Nicholas of Cusa’s phrase, the Non-Aliud, the ‘Not Other’, which is the positive aspect of his Being as the ‘wholly Other’, the non-competitiveness implied in his unconditional transcendence.

Readers of the Gospels will soon discover that Jesus was in simultaneous fashion extraordinarily humble and amazingly self-certain, that he was incredibly unassuming yet overwhelmingly exigent in his demands, lamblike in meekness yet leonine in angry zeal. For Balthasar these tensions may reveal polar aspects of Christ’s humanity, but they can be understood, and above all, resolved, only when considered as functions of the Trinitarian dimensions of his being. ‘Although only the Son of God is man, his humanity necessarily becomes the expression of the total triune essence of God; only thus can he be the manifestness of absolute Being.” [Glory of the Lord I, p. 458]

But because the Holy Trinity, as the concrete form of absolute Being, is not in competition with any of the forms internal to its own creation, God in Christ can reveal himself as both God and man — not alternatingly but simultaneously.

These complications of the dialectic of revelation and concealment in the sensory form of the incarnation are intensified, yet also cut through and simplified, by the passion and death of the incarnate one. For now we have to discover in the deformity of Christ, his Ungestalt — the ‘he had no comeliness that we might desire him’ of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:2) — a mystery of Uebergestalt, of transcendental form. His being made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) is, in a key statement of Baltharian theology, ‘understandable only as a function of the glory of love’. Thus precisely in the cross and the descent into darkness we have before us pure glory; the concealment now becomes a function of its opposite, the revelation.

Just as an art redolent of the precarious and fragmentary character of earthly beauty can move us to tears because it awakens in us a kind of eschatological hope, a hope aroused by the promise of splendor it seems to contain, so the form of the Redeemer takes the ways of being of a fallen world onto itself so as by redemptive suffering to give them new and unheard of value. Here, despite all that has been said so far about the hiddenness which hangs about the revelatory form, the dialectic of revelation and concealment is basically resolved in favor of revelation, for the hiddenness is now not the non-appearing depth of the being revealed, but the overwhelmingness of its totally open disclosure.

God’s incomprehensibility is now no longer a mere deficiency in knowledge but the positive manner in which God determines the knowledge of faith: this is the overpowering and overwhelming inconceivability of the fact that God has loved us so much that he surrendered his only Son for us, the fact that the God of plenitude has poured himself out, not only into creation, but emptied himself into the modalities of an existence determined by sin, corrupted by death and alienated from God. This [alone] is the concealment that appears in his self-revelation.
[Glory of the Lord I, p. 461]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 273 other followers