Wednesday, 24 May 2006

For the love of God (2): Why I love Hans Urs von Balthasar

A guest-post by Fred from Deep Furrows

Christian tradition is like a French cathedral: one cannot come directly into its breadth, but must enter through a particular portal. When I encountered Hans Urs von Balthasar in his books, I was a college dropout with a love of reading and a faith that had persisted from childhood despite my confusion and lack of focus. In Balthasar, I discovered the heart of Western (literary) tradition in the person of Jesus Christ. And Balthasar also educated me to discover a way of living that tradition in my everyday life.

Balthasar showed me that the beauty of the Western cultural tradition is Christ, a beauty Who is symphonic and thus capable of bringing together a dazzling pluralism of temperaments. In his survey of Theological Aesthetics (Clerical Styles, Lay Styles), Balthasar explores the breadth and depth of this tradition through its most original and lucid representatives: Irenaeus, Augustine, Dionysius, Anselm, Bonaventure, Dante, John of the Cross, Pascal, Hamann, Soloviev, Hopkins, and Peguy. This chorus of voices cannot be systematized, but together they sing the diverse approaches to Christian beauty found in other authors.

Seeing the Form (Volume 1 of the Theological Aesthetics) set before me the ideal of the Christian form of life. For Balthasar, formation is based on the form of Jesus Christ found in the Gospels and encountered decisively in experiences synthesized in the Spiritual Exercises. Together with Adrienne von Speyr, Balthasar developed the theme of the Christian life as transparency to the splendor of Christ. This splendor is rooted in listening to the Word of God through Scripture (see Prayer), lived out by following the path that Jesus walked in coming to us (see The Threefold Garland), and expressed through missionary kenosis (see Mysterium Paschale and The Moment of Christian Witness).

10 Comments:

Randy S Furco said...

Now this is my favorite theologian..lol!

I know..I know....most of you won't see Him as one..but if you study His sermons and writings..and ignore the lies told about him..

He was a timeless treasure for the church.

http://wigglesworth.born-again-christian.info/smith.wigglesworth.sermons.1.htm

Chris Tilling said...

:-)
I loved reading his sermons as a new christian!

Chris Tilling said...

I know this sounds pathetic, but I always have a nice feeling reading Balthasar. Although I find his German in Herrlichkeit to be somewhat taxing. But a confused face, and a well thumbed German-English dictionary later, and I'm a happy man.

Cynthia Nielsen said...

Thanks for this post. I especially liked the following paragraph:

"Balthasar showed me that the beauty of the Western cultural tradition is Christ, a beauty Who is symphonic and thus capable of bringing together a dazzling pluralism of temperaments. In his survey of Theological Aesthetics (Clerical Styles, Lay Styles), Balthasar explores the breadth and depth of this tradition through its most original and lucid representatives: Irenaeus, Augustine, Dionysius, Anselm, Bonaventure, Dante, John of the Cross, Pascal, Hamann, Soloviev, Hopkins, and Peguy. This chorus of voices cannot be systematized, but together they sing the diverse approaches to Christian beauty found in other authors."

A wonderful image of unity-in-diversity picturing the diverse and beautiful ways in which we share in imitating Christ, which of course demands a polyphonic, "thick" symphonic arrangement.

Cheers,
Cynhtia

Ben Myers said...

I know what you mean, Chris, when you say that you "always have a nice feeling reading Balthasar". I still vividly remember the first time I opened one of Balthasar's books -- to use a Protestant expression, "I felt my heart strangely warmed."

joshua said...

your heart can be strangely warmed by von balthasar, but strong polemics (which germans and swiss seem more aware of) can also cut right to the heart. see his book on peter and the church.

Apolonio said...

I get bored with Ratzinger and de Lubac sometimes, but not usually with Balthasar. There are times when he gets a bit dry, but his artistic ability to apply the Scriptures to the Fathers and modern theologians is just...damn he's good!..or God has been good to him! As a young Catholic trying to be "creative" at times, I sometimes read Balthasar and say to myself, "Whoa. Why bother writing anything anymore?" And again, his use of Scripture is just amazing. The reason why I don't find much interest in Rahner sometimes is that he tries to use modern language, or transcendental thomism, whenever he speaks of Christianity. With Balthasar, it's more that he sees the Word of God in everything and there is no fear to use Scripture. He makes me say, "Whoa, I never read that verse like that before!" Take that with his writings on the Fathers like Origen, Maximus, Gregory of Nyssa, Schneider, Bernanos, Barth, and his frequent quoting of other Fathers, artists, writers, Aquinas, even Wittgenstein, John of the Cross, Therese, Elizabeth, Adrienne, Guardini, Pieper, etc., you really have to point to infinity and say, "God, thank you for this man." I remember a friend of mine telling me a story of how his friend was reading a Father of the Church and Balthasar and he talked and asked what he was reading. The guy said he was reading a Church Father and Balthasar took the text and he explained it, pointing to the text saying, "Oh yes, this is when he was speaking about..." It's as if he knew the Fathers by heart. He embraced the Scriptures and Tradition. I personally think that he, along with John Paul the Great (I'm one of those nut who believes his theology is much greater than what some say), is the greatest theologian in the 20th century. And that's because he didn't theologize by his own.

Anonymous said...

Hans Urs von Balthasar is my favourite theologian.

Francesca A. Murphy

ressourcement said...

Francesca A. Murphy is my favourite theologian. ;)

J. Nickelsen

Tony said...

I've been reading him ever since I turned 21 years old. I am now 47 years old, and the enthusiasm for him, though chastened a bit, has remained constant, in the way a volcano like Stromboli in the Aeolian Isles regularly erupts...

Why chastened? Well, at some point the realization came that it is wrong to expect ONE theologian to give all the answers to any one question.

But I believe that Balthasar HAS VERY IMPORTANT THINGS TO SAY TO THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD.

At this point, I have been following the secondary literature.

Francesca A. Murphy is a Balthasarian, yes, but I love her books, particularly on Revelation as comedy...which show a spirit connatural to Balthasar but who extends Balthasar in an original way to areas where perhaps Balthasar limps...

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