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Today’s offering in our Timeless Essay series affords readers the opportunity to join J. Peter Pham as he describes how Hans Urs von Balthasar spent his life and work uniting faith and culture. —W. Winston Elliott III, Publisher

Hans Urs von Balthasar

There are a number of reasons why it could be said, albeit from different perspectives, that the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–1988) occupies a unique place among the great thinkers of the twentieth century.[1] From the point of view of sheer literary volume, he is almost alone in the sheer monumental proportions of his written corpus. Any one part of his published works could fairly be said to constitute a respectable life’s work for a lesser man. His doctoral studies in German philosophy and letters culminated in the publication of a vast three-volume thesis, The Apocalypse of the German Soul,[2] on the idea of the end of the world in modern German literature from Lessing to Ernst Bloch. His Jesuit scholastic studies at Fourvière-Lyons under the influence of Henri de Lubac led to a lifelong love affair with the Church Fathers and the publication of pioneering studies of Origen, Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus the Confessor, among others. His time in France also opened up for him a new world of literature and he subsequently published a major study of Bernanos as well as translations into German of the writings of Claudel, Péguy, and Calderón. And then there are his theological writings.

As his cousin, the former dean of the Philosophy Faculty of Rome’s Gregorian University, Bishop Peter Henrici, observed after his death, “He wrote more books than an ordinary man succeeds in reading in a lifetime.”[3] And the remark is hardly an exaggeration: The bibliography assembled by Balthasar’s literary executor, Cornelia Capol, catalogues 119 books, 532 articles, 114 contributions to other books, 110 translations (mostly into German) of authors both ancient and modern, 29 contributions to literary anthologies, 103 forewords and afterwords to books by other authors, 93 major book reviews, and 13 critical editions of various writers.[4] In this last category is included his sixty-two-volume collection of the works of Adrienne von Speyr, the physician he converted to Catholicism and whose mysticism would, in turn, influence his theology.[5]

holy-face1bBalthasar is also unique in the annals of thought for his theological approach, developed in the course of his great trilogy: The Glory of the Lord, a six-volume (seven in the English translation) theological aesthetics; Theo-Drama, five volumes on theological dramatics;[6] and Theo-Logic, three volumes on theological logic. Using the classical philosophical tradition’s four attributes of being—unity, goodness, truth, and beauty—Balthasar sketched out a new approach to orthodox Christian theology. The trilogy has been likened to an icon triptych. The first panel explores how divine glory was reflected in the beauty, the pulchrum, of the face of Christ and how Christian tradition has sought to give creative expression to this aesthetic dimension of faith. The second panel accents the good, the bonum, in the encounter in history of divine and human freedom. The third panel focuses on the true, the verum. What is the philosophical nature of truth? How does one move from philosophical truth to Jesus Christ’s claim of being truth personified? How is one led to the truth of Christ?

Finally, it could be said that Balthasar was unique in that his thought possessed, in the words of Henri de Lubac, a “highly synthetic character that tears down barriers to which the standard”[7] thought of modern times is accustomed. Not only did his religious thought effect a unity between mysticism and positive theology, spirituality and dogmatics, but also—as will be argued in this essay—his life was a remarkable witness to the unity of faith and culture in the midst of today’s world. Two avenues of inquiry suggest themselves for this reconsideration: first, a study of Balthasar as an interpreter of Western culture and its present-day crisis; second, an analysis of his theological synthesis as an attempt at a new integration of theology in culture.

II

“This man is perhaps the most cultivated man of his time. And if one were to find a Christian culture anywhere, one would find it in him.”[8] So Henri de Lubac, writing in 1967, described Hans Urs von Balthasar. Albert Chapelle called him the “prodigious dramaturge of Western culture.”[9] Prefacing the French translation of Balthasar’s A Theology of History, Albert Béguin noted that:

The work of this man, who has not yet reached the milestone of his fiftieth birthday, has an astonishing breadth. The list of books and articles he has published between 1938 and 1954 would cover page after page. And the sheer variety of subjects that he treats reveals such multi-faceted intellectual endeavor that one can hardly conceive one and the same man as having done it. Theology, patristics, philosophy, aesthetics, literary history, musicology, one finds all these subjects side by side with a whole series of literary translations. One might, at first glance, suppose that this is an alarming dispersion of energy. However, if one examines things more closely, one realizes that the one same design, or rather, the one same thrust, governs the whole body of work and orients it around certain key ideas.[10]

The index to any one of Balthasar’s books gives evidence of his erudition, even in areas which most theologians would consider beyond their purview. He studied the message of the great poets from Homer to Claudel, examining in between the works of Dante, Calderón, Goethe, and Hölderlin, among others. In his search for the tools to express the dramatic character of Christian revelation, Balthasar delved into world theater from Sophocles to Ionesco. He analyzed the works of painters like Dürer and Rouault and commented on the music of Mozart, Mahler, and Schumann.

Truth is symphonicWhat characterized Balthasar’s approach—and it could be said, as well, what characterizes the Western civilization he embodied—was an openness to other voices even as he concentrated on his own mission. Like a great composer, he succeeded in harmonizing different voices and orchestrated his symphonic masterpiece. (Not surprisingly, Balthasar once penned a little volume on Christian pluralism entitled Truth is Symphonic.[11]) However, as Béguin noted, “this dramaturgical talent—which calls, as always, for a setting of the stage on the personal level as well as a setting on the level of the common history of mankind—is unceasingly supernaturalized by the key to his composition, which gives him his Christo-centrism.”[12] In fact, whatever the object of his immediate theological attention, Balthasar always returned to another object, the “Heart of the World,” which is the second Person of the Trinity.[13] Like the great Church Fathers, Balthasar’s openness to the riches of culture was rooted in his openness to the Logos, the eternal Word of God, which is the ordering center of all the wisdom of the world.

Already in The Apocalypse, his earliest work, Balthasar had developed a method of interpretation, inspired by phenomenology, through which he could elucidate how the German idealism of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and others evolved towards an idea of the Absolute that was reduced, little by little, to the measure of man. This phenomenological method was directed toward eliciting the form that constitutes the center of inspiration in a developing idea. In this regard, Balthasar repudiated the various schools of modern thought which sought to separate form and content (the “great divorce” as C.S. Lewis put it), such as the structuralism that arose from the linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure, which explicitly separated word from meaning, a dichotomy that has been the driving force behind much of revisionist history.

At the center of Balthasar’s own mission as interpreter of Western culture is the conviction that:

The Christian [does not] need to leave his center in Christ in order to mediate him to the world, to understand his relation to the world, to build a bridge between revelation and nature, philosophy and theology…. This is what the saints are fully aware of. They never at any moment leave their center in Christ…. When they philosophize, they do so as Christians, which means as believers, as theologians.[14]

Thus, unlike many contemporary theologians, Balthasar was a champion of the saints, expending not inconsiderable energies on analysis of the mysticism of Thérèse of Lisieux, Elizabeth of the Trinity, and, of course, Adrienne von Speyr. According to Balthasar, the tireless advocate of a praying theology (kniende-theologie), the saints alone, being caught up entirely by the divine word, are capable of speaking correctly about God.

metaphysicsBalthasar’s work as an interpreter of Western culture reaches its climax in the third volume of The Glory of the Lord, subtitled The Realm of Metaphysics,[15] which deals with the historical evolution of the theme of the glory of God in metaphysics. This work is particularly significant because of the theological diagnosis which Balthasar elaborates concerning Western culture and the challenges which it faces in the contemporary world from feminism, environmentalism, relativism, and a host of other radical iconoclastic movements.

Reviewing the historical evolution of metaphysics, Balthasar traces the cultural crisis of the West back to its spiritual roots in the gradual narrowing of Western thought. According to Balthasar’s panoramic analysis, from the late antiquity of Virgil and Plotinus down to the modern period, the metaphysical attitude of wonder (thaumazein) has, slowly but surely, been replaced by a rational spirit, characterized by scientism and positivism. However, without an objective foundation, rationalism quickly degenerates into anthropocentrism, the commitment to the standpoint that the correct interpretative principle for the whole of reality is the subjectivity of the person. This stand descends easily into pantheism where “man creates the eternal and yet is the most ephemeral,” as Feuerbach and Marx contended. To paraphrase Eric Voegelin, the trans-temporal goal of union through the crucified Christ with the unseen Father is commuted to a temporal goal as the supreme fulfillment of existence. The eschaton has been immanentized completely.[16]

Thus the modern malaise, according to Balthasar, is the result of the darkening of the metaphysical outlook that took shape in the course of the development of Christian theology. To the extent that theology replaced love with gnosis, closing itself to the mystery of being in its totality, it lost contact with the center of the Christian mystery itself. Balthasar observed: “Where love no longer seconds the encompassing metaphysical act, it collapses sceptically and agnostically within itself to what is found within the world: the dimension of glory is lost within that of beauty.”[17]

Balthasar argues that instead of posing the profound question—“Why is there something rather than nothing?”—Western philosophy has strayed from the wonder (Ver-wunderung) to mere admiration (Be-wunderung) before the order of existence as a whole, the cosmos. Like Heidegger, Balthasar sees in the metaphysical attitude of wonder a counter to modern technocracy with its attendant nihilism and materialism. And, as a Christian, Balthasar is convinced that that wonder carries the name of love, which alone respects both the mystery of God and the mystery of man. According to Balthasar, the alternatives are either the love of the God of Jesus Christ in perfect discipleship or his substitution (and elimination) by man-made secondary realities. Thus, he concludes his long analysis of glory in the realm of metaphysics by appealing to Christians to make themselves the guardians of metaphysics as servants of culture:

The Christians of today, living in a night which is deeper than that of the so-called Dark Ages, are given the task of performing the act of affirming Being, unperturbed by the darkness and the distortion, in a way that is vicarious and representative for all humanity: an act which is at first theological, but which contains within itself the whole dimension of the metaphysical act of the affirmation of Being. Those who are directed in this way to pray continually, to find God in all things and to glorify Him are able to do so on particular grounds (that is particular graces) which allow them to perform their “creaturely duty” (as Ruybroeck, Bérulle, and Condren understood it). But in so far as they are to shine “like the stars in the sky,” they are also entrusted with the task of bringing light to those areas of Being which are in darkness so that its primal light may shine anew not only upon them but also upon the whole world; for it is only in this light that man can walk in accordance with what he is truly called to be.[18]

Hans Urs von Balthasar

This mission requires more than speculative argumentation. It requires an investment of the entire force of one’s personal existence in the drama of love. For Balthasar, there is no such creature as neutral or purely speculative metaphysics. The profound experience of being requires a commitment of freedom in love: in fact, the title of the final section of the volume is “Love as Custodian of Glory.” Consequently, the Christian’s duty is “to experience the presence of absolute love, and himself to actualize it, and to make it visible.”[19]

In fact, elsewhere Balthasar argues that the original experience of being and love are coextensive, placing all human existence under the sign of love:

The infant is brought to consciousness of himself only by love, by the smile of his mother. In that encounter, the horizon of unlimited being opens itself to him, revealing four things to him: (1) that he is one in love with the mother, even in being other than his mother, therefore all Being is one; (2) that love is good, therefore all Being is good; (3) that that love is true, therefore all Being is true; and (4) that that love evokes joy, therefore all Being is beautifu1.[20]

This perspective offers a foundation to receive the Christian revelation, that is to say, the revelation of love in the person of Christ. And, for Balthasar, the renewal of Western culture requires a renewed appreciation of this vision.

III

Balthasar’s theological project can be understood as an attempt to integrate theology and culture. To appreciate the significance of this undertaking, however, the radical character of his vocation and spiritual pilgrimage should be recalled. Scion of a patrician family, the youthful Balthasar had not had the slightest thought of becoming a priest or entering a religious order until a dramatic encounter while on retreat in 1927, when he was finishing his dissertation. Years later, he recalled his vocation came almost as lightning from a cloudless sky:

Even now, thirty years later, I could still go to that remote path in the Black Forest, not far from Basel, and find again the tree beneath which I was struck as by lightning…. And yet it was neither theology nor the priesthood which then came to my mind in a flash. It was simply this: you have nothing to choose, you have been called. You will not serve, you will be taken into service. You have no plans to make, you are just a little stone in a mosaic which has long been ready.[21]

Balthasar’s vocation led him from Idealism and Romanticism in German literature to scholasticism in the formation of the Society of Jesus to the Fathers of the Church (thanks to the influence of Henri de Lubac) and on to the mysticism of the saints. Eventually, the dialogue he pursued with the Protestant theologian Karl Barth and the common mission he undertook with Adrienne von Speyr contributed to his unique theological vision, one which was radically Christo-centric and Trinitarian.

crucifixionThe centerpiece of his life’s work is, of course, the trilogy, a sort of the literary triptych, which, as noted earlier, opens with a theological aesthetics and closes with a Theo-Logic, a divine logic. The central panel of that triptych is the Theo-Drama, where God wrestles with his rebellious creature and exercises his own freedom to the point of dying on the cross and descending into hell.

Most revealingly, Balthasar does not cast the question of eternal damnation in the traditional terms of “What does man lose in losing God?” Rather, he poses it from the divine viewpoint: “What does God lose in losing man?”[22] That he should close the Theo-Drama on such a note is not surprising when one considers the questions with which he opened it, questions long smoldering in the back of the Western mind:

What is the relationship between divine and human freedom? Should we suppose that God accepted some limit on his freedom when he created man, by whom his world could be brought either to perfection or to destruction? Is he powerless in the face of autonomous man’s ‘No’? And how is this divine powerlessness related to the Godforsakenness of his Son on the Cross?[23]

Balthasar responds to these questions in dialogue with some of the most representative minds of modernity. In this way, he achieved a new integration of theology and culture since the aesthetic and dramatic categories of his thought relate to the aspirations and context of modern man. Artistic creativity, environmental concerns, suffering, and daily life—all these challenges are met by his referring of all human situations back to the mystery of Christ.

The importance of his theological dramatics is highlighted in the anthropological implications of his work. The distinctive feature of Balthasar’s depiction of the economy of salvation is the analogy which he draws with the world of theater. He adapts the classical idea of the “world theater” which conceives the history of the world as a “play” in which a transcendent power entrusts human beings with specific roles. The human “actors” assume these roles during their earthly life and are judged by the transcendent spectator according to their performance.[24]

Balthasar transforms this notion of “world theater” so that it might fit the Biblical account of salvation history. In the resulting Theo-drama, God no longer simply performs the role of the transcendent judge of the play, the “Most High Master of the Play,”[25] but rather assumes the three roles of the dramaturgical triad: author, director, and actor. Thus, Balthasar notes:

Theo-drama (as distinct from merely human drama) is only possible where “God” or a “God,” or some accredited representative of God, steps onto the stage of life’s play as “a person” in the action, separate from the other characters.[26]

Interpreting the world as a stage, Balthasar envisions man as well as the incarnate Son as actors who have been given roles by an author, the Father, who himself remains transcendent to the drama. The actor’s task is to assume freely, yet obediently, their individual role which establishes their identity on stage. Although the actors are limited by their pre-assigned role, Balthasar’s theo-drama acknowledges finite human freedom by allowing individuals the possibility of interpreting their own roles.[27]

holy-spirit-best-bestFor Balthasar, the Holy Spirit is the drama’s director, who transposes the author’s text into the actual performance. As director, the Spirit can interpret the play independently of neither the play’s author nor its actors. The Spirit is bound to the author’s text insofar as he mediates the Father’s will to each individual person. Furthermore, he is bound to the actors insofar as he does not appear on stage himself, but draws together the various elements of the play, constantly reminding the cast of its common endeavor.

In order to bridge the gap between the world of theater and that of salvation history, Balthasar relies on the key biblical concept of mission (Sendung), especially as it appears in the Johannine corpus of the New Testament. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus appears as the divine Son who understands his life and death as a mission to “exegete” the eternal Father through his own person and being.[28] Balthasar claims that Jesus’ mission constitutes his personal identity in the world in much the same way as an actor’s role constitutes his personal identity on stage. Balthasar develops his theological anthropology on the basis of this Sendungchristologie.

Furthermore, according to Balthasar, what is true for Christ in this case also holds true for other beings: God bestows an individual mission upon every human being which constitutes one’s own personality.[29] In this light, the mission of the Christian is understood to be more than a merely human search for happiness, albeit with the help of divine providence, but as a living and suffering, in and with God, for the world. While medieval man saw Christian revelation as the achievement of a cosmological order and moderns, bent on anthropocentrism, try to find in it a response to the needs of man, Balthasar locates the distinctiveness of Christianity in the absolute love of Christ and the saints. For Balthasar, the renewed integration of faith and culture occurs not at all if it does not occur under the sign of absolute love:

The plausibility of this divine love is not illumined by reducing it to and comparing it with what man has always recognized as love. Its plausibility comes only from the form of revelation itself. This form is so majestic that, without expressly demanding it, its perception exacts from the beholder the attitude of adoration.[30]

This approach is founded on two pillars of human experience: the encounter of persons, which facilitates a prior comprehension of the gratuitousness of love, and aesthetics, which offers the experience of beauty as the privileged locus for an objective vision of revelation. According to Balthasar, when “one experiences startling beauty (in nature or in art)…[what] confronts us is overpowering, like a miracle, and only as a miracle can it be understood; it can never be tied down by the person having the experience. The appearance of its inner unfathomable necessity is both binding and freeing, for it is seen clearly to be the appearance of freedom itself.”[31] In the context of Christian revelation, this principle of “love alone is worthy of faith” is personified in Jesus Christ, the objective figure that ravishes the assent of the believer.

Balthasar’s trilogy is devoted to an exposition of this approach in its aesthetic, dramatic, and logical facets which, while taking their inspiration from contemporary culture, are purified by revelation. By appealing to the great theologians and mystics of the past who were caught up by the glory of God, Balthasar calls modern man to turn away from his own petty preoccupations and to turn to the One who alone is able to fulfill him. Thus, Balthasar points a way out of the spiritual crisis of modernity, characterized by a narcissistic subjectivism which closes the individual in on himself, by taking up man’s aspirations to freedom and solidarity and offering a liberating communion with a greater reality, one revealed in the mystery of love.

IV

In an age when many in the West, tired of relativism and yearning for the absolute, turn to the exotic mysticism of the Orient, Balthasar’s theological aesthetics offers to the West the foundations for a new integration of faith and culture. He reminds his readers that, while they can multiply religious “experiences” and social “commitments,” all striving is in vain unless it is rooted in an encounter with the objective face of the Absolute. However, he also hastens to recall that this encounter must necessarily lead to a sense of mission. Thus, theological aesthetics bear fruit in the theological dramatics: If The Glory of the Lord is an attempt to turn modernity away from subjectivism, then the Theo-Drama embraces with enthusiasm the authentic freedom which is so sorely needed in Western culture today.

StPetersRomeIn the end, it is not surprising that the recognition that he was so long denied within his own Roman Catholic Church—for example, he was forced to leave the Jesuit order in 1948; the then-Roman Congregation for Seminaries and Universities inhibited him from accepting the chair of theology at Tübingen; and he was not even invited to the Second Vatican Council—came at long last to Balthasar in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II when, in 1984, he was awarded the Pope Paul VI Prize and four years later, he was raised to the dignity of a cardinal of the Roman Church, although he died three days before his formal investiture. John Paul, after all, is the philosopher par excellence of freedom in relation to truth. Influenced in many respects by the dramatic theology of the Swiss theologian, John Paul made freedom the theme of his entire pontificate; from the religious to the political arena, from sexual to economic concerns, the Pope has repeatedly called for respect for the person of the individual in his self-determination in confrontation with and his mission from the Absolute.[32]

Of course, this message is rejected by a human reason which sees itself as absolute. In fact, Balthasar’s last years were often bitter ones as he ruminated on the darkness which had overshadowed not only Western culture but which had also penetrated the Church. Particularly pointed were his attacks on the “liberal broadening of dogma, of some transformation of its content into a ‘non-objective’ reality”[33] which has resulted in a “whole gamut of possible new Christianities, which threaten to lose every continuity with what until now was understood as Christianity, and which would perhaps do better to change their trademark.”[34] In an address in Madrid only a month before his death, Balthasar went so far as to admit that: “Humanity will prefer to renounce all philosophical questions—in Marxism, or positivism of all stripes, rather than accept a philosophy that finds its response only in the revelation in Christ.”[35] Nonetheless, even as he mourned the loss of the metaphysical vision and the concomitant passing of the cultural and spiritual patrimony of the West, Balthasar looked forward to its renewal, a renewal for which he long labored to lay the foundations:

We are living in a time of collapsing images of gods and idols. The spiritual and cultural traditions of the West have become questionable. Indeed it goes beyond that, for they have been liquidated—quickly and relatively painlessly. Just as a tree in autumn drops its leaves, without pain or regret, in order to gather once more new strength from within, to renew its powers in hibernian peace, so too the tree of culture is being stripped of its leaves. Of course as autumn moves into winter, the leaves lie thickly under our feet—and the great books thickly in the bookstores….. But we are not deceived for a moment about the outcome…. A small regret may be permitted us, just as autumn is the time of elegiac lyric, but who would want to huddle up in eschatological pathos! We trust the powers of nature, her wise economy and the laws of her renewa1.[36]

As one awaits that renewal, the figure of Hans Urs von Balthasar and the integration of faith and culture which he achieved in his life and in his work guide wayfarers in that dark night, a beacon of light pointing the way to spiritual renewal of the culture—a light which Balthasar himself would, no doubt, be quick to emphasize—is but the reflected light of glory.

This essay in our series of “Timeless Essays” was first published here in July 2013. Books by Hans Urs von Balthasar  may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Reprinted with the gracious permission of Modern Age (Spring 2000).

Notes:

[1] For biographical information, cf. Elio Guerriero, Hans Urs von Balthasar (“I teologi del ventesimo secolo” Series 2; Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 1991).

[2] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Apokalypse der deutschen Seele. Studien zu einer Lehre von letzen Haltungen (Salzburg, 1937–1939).

[3] Peter Henrici, “Hans Urs von Balthasar: A Sketch of His Life,” in Hans Urs von Balthasar: His Life and Work, David L. Schindler (San Francisco, 1991), 7.

[4] Cornelia Capol, ed., Hans Urs von Balthasar. Bibliographie 1925–1990 (Einsiedeln, 1990).

[5] For details on Balthasar’s symbiotic intellectual and spiritual relationship with Speyr, cf. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Our Task: A Report and a Plan, John Saward (San Francisco, 1994).

[6] Noteworthy is the recent publication of the first full-length commentaries on the first two parts of the trilogy: Aidan Nichols, The Word Has Been Abroad: A Guide Through Balthasar’s Aesthetics (Washington, D.C., 1998); idem., No Bloodless Myth: A Guide Through Balthasar’s Dramatics (Washington, DC, 1999).

[7] Henri de Lubac, “A Witness to Christ in the Church: Hans Urs von Balthasar,” in The Church: Paradox and Mystery, James R. Dunne (Staten Island, 1969), 108.

[8] Ibid., 105.

[9] Albert Chapelle, “La merveille de l’être,” in Revue catholique internationale Communio (March-April 1989), 45.

[10] Albert Béguin, preface to Théologie de l’histoire, by Hans Urs von Balthasar (Paris, 1955), 1.

[11] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Truth is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism, Graham Harrison (San Francisco, 1987).

[12] Béguin, 13.

[13] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Heart of the World, trans. Erasmo S. Leiva (San Francisco, 1979).

[14] Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Theology and Sanctity,” in Explorations in Theology, Vol. 1, Word Made Flesh, trans A.V. Littledale and Alexandre Dru (San Francisco, 1989), 195.

[15] The English edition of the works of Balthasar separates Volume 3 into two volumes and publishes it, respectively, as Volumes 4 and 5. Cf. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, Vol. 4, The Realm of Metaphysics in Antiquity, trans. Brian McNeil and others, ed. John Riches (San Francisco, 1989); and idem., The Glory of the Lord, Vol. 5, The Realm of Metaphysics in the Modern Age, trans. Oliver Davies and others, ed. Brian McNeil and John Riches (San Francisco, 1991).

[16] Cf. Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics (Chicago, 1952).

[17] Ibid., 642–643.

[18] Ibid., 648–649.

[19] Ibid., 649.

[20] Hans Urs von Balthasar, My Work: In Retrospect, Brian McNeil and others (San Francisco, 1993), 114.

[21] Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Pourquoi je me suis fait prêtre,” in Pourquoi je me suis fait prêtre. Témoignages recueillis, Jorge Sans Vila and Ramón Sans Vila (Tournai, 1961), 21.

[22] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, 5, The Last Act, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco, 1998), 506.

[23] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, Vol. 1, Prolegomena, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco, 1988), 50.

[24] Ibid., 135–258. Decisive for Balthasar’s concept of drama is the poet of the Spanish Baroque period, Calderon de la Barca (1600–1681), in whose works the notion of the “theater of the world” experienced a renaissance. Cf. ibid., 163–177, 361–369.

[25] Ibid., 254.

[26] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, Vol. 2, Dramatis Personae: Man in God, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco, 1990), 189.

[27] Cf. Theo-Drama, Vol. 1, 254–257. Also cf. Theo-Drama, Vol. 2, 62–70.

[28] Cf. ibid., 152–159.

[29] Balthasar’s notion of personhood, as it is developed in dialogue with other philosophical and sociological notions, cf. Theo-Drama, Vol. 1, 481–648.

[30] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone: The Way of Revelation (London, 1968), 47.

[31] Ibid., 44.

[32] Cf. Rocco Buttiglione, Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II, trans. Paolo Guietti and Francesca Murphy (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1997).

[33] Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Moment of Christian Witness, Richard Beckley (San Francisco, 1994), 148.

[34] Ibid., 152–153.

[35] Balthasar, My Work, 118.

[36] Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Patristik, Scholastik, und wir,” in Theologie der Zeit, 3 (1939), 65.

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2 replies to this post
  1. Wonderful essay. Would it be too simple to say that Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote, in his Theo-Drama, Christian Culture’s “Dark Night of the Soul”?

  2. This is excellent. What I’d really like to do is look at some of von Balthasar’s specific thoughts on works of art (poetry, music, prose, etc.) which I am familiar with and have found meaningful. I think seeing him apply his thought would be very worthwhile.

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