Wednesday 25 January 2006

Hans Urs von Balthasar: love alone

Hans Urs von Balthasar is best known for his big books; but I mentioned recently the great value of his little books as well. I want to post on several of these over the next few weeks. Today, let me mention the remarkable little volume Love Alone: The Way of Revelation (London: Sheed & Ward, 1970). At only 124pp., you can read the whole thing on a single bus trip across town (I did this myself just yesterday).

The volume offers a very condensed version of the argument developed in Balthasar’s massive work The Glory of the Lord. It is a work of theological aesthetics; and Balthasar uses the term “aesthetics” in a strictly theological sense: it is our perception of the glory of God’s absolute love expressed in Jesus Christ. The book’s central theme is that God is love, and therefore he is glorious—and we perceive this glory as beauty.

God’s revelation of himself is not only true and good, but also beautiful. The beauty of God’s love is the mystery of reality; it is the true meaning of life, of existence, of being. Just as we are overwhelmed by a beautiful work of art, so God’s love overwhelms us, transforms us, brings us to ourselves, and awakens us to respond to God with love.

Here’s a quote: “The first thing that must strike a non-Christian about a Christian’s faith is that it is all too daring. It is too beautiful to be true: The mystery of being, unveiled as absolute love, coming down to wash the feet and the souls of its creatures; a love that assumes the whole burden of our guilt and hate, that accepts the accusations that shower down, the disbelief that veils God again when he has revealed himself, all the scorn and contempt that nails down his incomprehensible movement of self-abasement—all this, absolute love accepts in order to excuse his creature before himself and before the world.” (pp. 83-84)


Chris Tilling said...


I particulalry liked: "God’s revelation of himself is not only true and good, but also beautiful"

Anonymous said...

I am glad to see that old Hans is a good Barthian on this one - as he was, by the way - on his hope that hell will be empty.

On "the reconciliation of all things" Barth insisted that "If we are forbidden to count on this . . . we are surely commanded to hope and pray for this. Appearances to the conrary, 'His mercies never come to an end'."

And, translating doxa as "beauty", as ealy as CD II/1 Barth wrote that "God is beautiful, divinely beautiful, beautiful in His own way, in a way that is His alone, beautiful as the unattainable primal beauty, yet really beautiful. . . He is the One who is pleasant, desirable, full of enjoyment."
Which is why theology is the most beautiful and enjoyable of all sciences!

Ben Myers said...

You're right, Kim -- Balthasar is definitely a good Barthian here (and perhaps Barth was also a good Balthasarian at times).

Chris: I agree -- it's a lovely formulation. And of course this is the basic structure of Balthasar's great trilogy: God's beauty (Herrlichkeit), his goodness (Theodramatik), and his truth (Theologik).

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