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).

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