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Fr Aidan Nichols


Say It Is Pentecost

Chapter 27: Epilogue to the Trilogy

Balthasar's '
Epilogue' to the Trilogy is a free-standing if short book in its own right. In it he abjures the 'American' ambition to offer a 'digest' of the whole. (I have to hope that his shade accepts less quizzically the homage offered by my own threefold commentary!) His aim, rather, is to justify the departure from the tradition of theological pedagogy whereby he has laid out what is in effect his 'Church dogmatics' not in the form of a series of tractates on discrete doctrinal areas (the Trinity, Christology, grace and so forth) but from the vantage point of the transcendentals. [1] His initial justification for his approach is thrown off in a few words. It is the easiest way to ensure the transition from a 'true philosophy' to the biblical revelation.

That '
transition' he calls, in the context of his Epilogue, Schwelle, 'threshold', and it provides him with the architectural metaphor underlying the structure of this small study. He will begin in an atrium or entrance hall (Vorhalle) where a variety of voices can be heard discussing the central human questions. From there he will in due course cross the threshold (in the sense of the transition from philosophy to revelation just explained), and finish in - a cathedral (Dom). From Vorhalle, across Schwelle, to Dom - that is the path the book will travel taking over again as it were the mental trajectory Balthasar followed in conceiving and writing the trilogy.


In the atrium where Balhasar would place us, being a Christian is simply one option among the many world-views to which speakers from diverse hustings or market stalls would persuade us. As a self-consciously post-Christendom thinker, Balthasar would have us make the decision for Christianity - if at all - by the weight of
rein geistige Argumente, 'pure spiritual-intellectual arguments', alone.[2] (He recognises, however, that reliance on the force of argument can be counter-productive, since the desire to find apodeictic proof of the truth of the gospel would leave no room for the free act of faith and - he adds, typically, of Hingabe 'surrender'.) But how are we to assess the competing claims that assail our ears in the entrance hall? The approach Balthasar advocates is what he calls the 'method of integration'. If one presentation of truth is able to integrate another within itself, but the reverse is not the case, then go with the more comprehensive view.

The person who can integrate the maximum truth within his view can lay claim to the highest reachable truth.[3]

But can this method prevent Christianity itself from being absorbed, as one component, within some 'higher' synthesis, in the style of Hegel's epistemological ideal of 'absolute knowing'? Hegel's mistake lay not in his commendation of ever-intenser and more comprehensive integration but in his failure to accompany this with the recognition of a comparable freedom for facts to have their say. And where positive facticity is concerned, the revelation found in the moment of creation and its continuation in the uniqueness of the history of Israel - the people who carried the creation-idea - and of Israel's Christ is clearly no bagatelle. By combining the method of integration with suitable attention to facts in their uniqueness we should be able to avoid both irrationality and rationalism - though the task is arduous; and in different ways thinkers so various as Schelling and Barth, Rahner and the contemporary German psychologist of religion Eugen Drewermann, failed to do it justice.

Balthasar considers how things may be better done. And here he draws attention to the tradition of Augustine and Thomas. For them, the original form of created spirit is instinct with a '
dynamism' energetically ordered to the vision of God, such that, supported by grace, man turns in the direction of something that nature can never furnish yet God can put at his disposal - and does so when by the free divine initiative God shows to man a revelation that at once corrects and fulfils the use of human powers, raising these onto a new and hitherto unheard of plane. Managing the relations of the ideas of nature and of grace in that tradition involves a notoriously bumpy ride - as Balthasar's colleagues in the crisis over la nouvelle théologie had found to their cost in the 1940s and 1950s.[4] Balthasar believes the difficulties can be overcome if one bears in mind that already set within purely natural freedom is the grace of that divine self-opening whose radiance permeates all history from its 'Christological centre' - for that concept resolves the antinomy otherwise found in the notion of a God-directed nature whose immanent goal natural powers cannot attain. (It is typical of Balthasar that this attempted mediation between the nouvelle théologie theologie men and the Neo-Scholastics should emphasise the three themes of freedom, history and Christ.)

Theologically, then, we can justify Balthasar's proposed use of our time in the atrium - attending to the ever-wider integration of natural truths, but also to facts in their ('
supernatural'?) uniqueness. Strolling through the atrium in the late-twentieth-century West, what conversations shall we actually overhear?

The one question that it would be spiritual and intellectual death not to hear put is that of the meaning of the human conversation-partner himself. Amazingly - but hardly unaccountably, the fault lies with the sway of Positivism, that is often
die unbesteilte Frage, the question nobody asks. It is typical of Positivism - whether in the natural or the human sciences or in Marxism (for Balthasar regards Marxism as a form of sociological Positivism) - to take the human as a given. The question of what meaning a being can have that of its essence asks after meanings (including scientific meanings) is either unnoticed or disclaimed as scientifically unanswerable (of course!) and put to one side. Not that this is only a modern Western sin: Balthasar thinks that, in the Far East, Confucianism and Shintoism have functioned as a 'psychological-sociological ethic' which tended to suppress - or at any rate not to raise - die Seinsfrage, the question of being. (Hence the survival power of these ethical traditions which could find a host in various religious and areligious systems.) But if philosophy is to be reduced to anthropology, or dissolved by scepticism, is it worth our joining in the polylogue in the atrium at all? The game is only worth the candle if people are willing to raise the question of the meaning of man in such wise that they do not exclude a priori the finding of some single ultimate meaning, one that throws light in the process on the totality of what is.

Balthasar now reviews the principal answers given in human history to this key 'philosophical-religious question'. He aims to convince the reader that the various traditions of human religiosity and speculative thought contain valid elements and yet the schemata in which these elements lie embedded resist integration one with another for the simple reason that their basic postulates rule each other out. For being and meaning cannot simultaneously be construed monistically (as with the Indian philosophies), esoterically (as with Gnosticism and the Sufis) and tragically-pathologically (as with the Greek and Norse mythologies and Mahayana Buddhism). Moreover, features of these overall views are destructive of the humanum, whether by abolishing individuality (the first), waging war on finitude (the second), or generating despair of life (the third). The thought then occurs whether what no human system can integrate might be brought together by a free self-opening of the divine.

For Balthasar, it is no part of the rationale of the Judaeo-Christian revelation to '
stop the holes in reason'.[5]And yet simply through its own character as a disclosure of being and meaning than which no greater can be conceived, the Word of God might be able to provide the integrative framework which neither culture nor natural philosophy can supply. Its tones are those of 'fully living, unconditional, unquestionable authority' [6] it enters history, then, with a call for absolute obedience, and its content is a far distant promise. It specifies a transformation of behaviour even as it binds a people in a relation of reciprocal giving with their covenant Lord. This faith - Abrahamic, Mosaic - resembles nothing in the religions of the nations. At once sustained and further challenged by renewals of the divine utterance, it comes to its unsurpassable climax in the Word's Flesh-taking, unthinkable but supremely fact. From this vantage point is it conceivable that the valid elements in the other religions and their attendant philosophies might at last find the integration previously sought in vain?

Balthasar thinks so. Thus, Christianity affirms with Judaism and Islam the infinite qualitative difference between God and the creature; it accepts with those monotheistic faiths that God has revealed himself over and above his showing of his hand in creation, and done so freely, in loving kindness to man. It rejects - with the orthodox versions of Judaism and Islam - any aspiration to the substantial divinisation of the creature, or that creature's emptying of its creaturehood (
Entwerden). It locates the origin of the Eastern religions' desire for such unmaking in the inconceivability (to them) of any finite being's possessing abiding worth when placed beside the 'all-being' God. And here it can see further than either Judaism or Islam. Thanks to its central confession that God is love ultimately because he is in his own life Hingabe und Fruchtbarkeit, 'surrender and fruitfulness' - the divine Trinity, it knows that God can give the Other room, and so can find for the finite other too a space of freedom even within his own unity. In this way Christianity does not only draw the sting of what is poisonous in the Oriental religions, it also justifies for the first time the Jewish and Islamic conviction about the mercy of God.

Such 'acceptance of the positivity of the other'[7] is crucial to Balthasar's analysis. It enables the Christian faith to fill in the lacunae in the great religions. It can acknowledge the personhood of the created spirit, and not seek the human interlocutor of God simply in collectivities - the people of Israel, the Islamic umma, though certainly the human person in their relation to God is always to be understood in their communal setting. It can find in suffering and death, those foundational aspects of finite existence, not mere negativities but bearers of a positive meaning - since the ultimate revelation of divine love is inseparable from a Cross. To suffer and die - and this is a lesson which the Oriental religions need to learn quite as much as the remaining Abrahamic faiths - can be the 'meaningful, fruitful, deed of love'. The transience of things ceases to be a motive for indifference, carefully cultivated, as in the Taoist, Stoic and Sufi ethics, but a message of readiness to do the sweet will of God in whatever daily circumstance presents. (Balthasar cannot but think here of the Exercises of his master, St Ignatius.) The ethical ways of Shintoism and Confucianism also find their proper place, their imperatives now warmed by the courage to offer in all the situations of social living something beautiful for God, in imitation of Christ.

Implicitly at least, Christology has been crucial to the claims (for Christianity's greater power of integration) Balthasar has here presented. The
homoousion, as understood at Nicaea and Chalcedon, is a necessary condition for grasping the positive charge of creaturely otherness before God, and the turning of suffering and death into atoning (at-one-ing) agencies for a world estranged from him. In the Resurrection is shown what was on the Cross achieved, and man in his body-soul unity invited to share that transfiguration.

Salvation is not from finitude; rather is it the taking up of the finite (and so of the other) into the infinite, which, in order to be a life of love, must have the Other as such (the Word, the Son) in itself, as likewise it must have the union of the Other with the One (which it does in the Spirit).[9]

When we compare such an evocation of the divine Mystery with the earthly forms of love we can see at least that it is not a contradiction in terms. At the same time, however, Balthasar is keen not to make of this unique Singularity something the world could construe from its own side. The process of integrating the meaning-fragments of existence with the gospel's aid can never be made into a stringent proof of the truth of Christian faith - precisely because to perceive the Christian revelation as true can only come about through a free decision borne by grace. That element of trust is nevertheless no last-minute concession to the irrational. All personal communication of truth, on whatever level, requires
some kind of trusting.


In the atrium of Balthasar's edifice we have developed, through hearing and responding to the representatives of other religions and philosophies, a new style of Catholic apologetic. Its byword, found in two variants, is
Wer mehr (Wahrheit) sieht, hat (tiefer) recht: 'Whoever sees more (truth), is (more deeply) right.'[10] Balthasar is not so blithe as to suppose, however, that Buddhists and Jews, Muslims and Nietzscheans will simply accept that the 'method of integration' leads to recognition of the superior power of the Christian fact to make sense of the rest, and capitulate accordingly. All kinds of objections could be posed at every point - and, if we bear in mind how uncomfortable a thing it is to switch Weltanschauung or change religious ships midstream - quite certainly will be.

For example, one could imagine a Buddhist judging silence to be a better response to a bewildering world than some unverifiable theory about its ultimate ground, or a Muslim deciding that respect for God's transcendence should dissuade us from attempting to bridge the gap between unconditioned and conditioned in a Christology and Triadology, or any thinking person taking the line that the human condition does not permit overall views of Providence, so that Balthasar's spiritual-intellectual maximalism must be deemed to overreach itself. Perhaps after all, despite the 'method of integration', less can actually mean more.

And Balthasar adds for good measure a ragbag of other awkward questions. Is it self-evident that man is the final stage of evolution? Does the '
Western' concern with personality really deserve the weight the Balthasarian apologetic has given it? Does not the factual condition of the world contradict the affirmation (by Bible and Balthasar) that it was made 'very good'? And more besides.

Faced with this host of difficulties, Balthasar changes tack. Instead of getting people to concentrate on the ultimate goal of human existence (with a view to persuading them that the Christian version thereof is the most comprehensively integrated account of the same), he now asks them to think about what is the most primary and seemingly obvious of all topics - the
being which is the first thing mind knows. From this - the most universally common of all starting points - can he manage to take his interlocutors with him across the threshold? Can he bring them from and through philosophy to the revelation of the Holy Trinity in Jesus Christ our Lord?

The attempt to do so will also be a post hoc justification of the trilogy:
aesthetics, dramatics, logic. '
Attempt' because, as readers of the opening section of Say It Is Pentecost (and even more of Theologik I!) will be aware, writing a fundamental ontology is no easy matter. It requires at one and the same time breadth of experience of the real, fertility in concept formation, lucidity in the making of distinctions. Not the categories in which we classify things and their relationships but the being such categorialisation presupposes is the El Dorado of metaphysics. Balthasar links being's elusiveness to its simultaneous wealth and poverty (it is what is most all-embracing and therefore richest, nought save nothing falls outside its fullness; it is also what is poorest, since it seems to lack all further determination). That is why the history of metaphysics can submit so weird and wonderful a series of reports on it, everything from the Absolute to the illusory play of maya. Balthasar's hope is that divine revelation will help him by throwing theological light on being in such a way that philosophical illumination occurs - just as he also hopes that philosophical exploration of being will act as a praeparatio evangelica bringing the unbeliever via meditation on the beautiful, the good, the true across that 'threshold' into faith. And naturally, by this stage in his overall enterprise he has not only the first volume of the theological logic but the entire trilogy to give him confidence that this is indeed a viable endeavour.

What Balthasar does in
Epilog is to press into service three distinctions of which much has been made in Theologik I - that between being and beings, between appearance and hiddenness in being, and between being and its polarities - in order to help us grasp three foundational powers of being, which are, in turn, its capacity for 'self-showing' (Sich-zeigen, compare the 'beautiful'), for 'self-giving' (Sich-geben, compare the 'good') and for 'self-saying' (Sich-sagen, compare the 'true'). If he can show that the transcendental properties of being at large, available in principle to all human beings for their perusal, point graphically to their own supreme fulfilment in the Christian revelation, he will surely have fulfilled his promise to lead the enquirer along a route that passes from the entrance hail of religious-philosophical discussion, across the threshold, to the inner sanctuary of Catholic Christian believing, what he calls, in the structuring metaphor of Epilog, the 'cathedral'.

Despite his evident distaste that Epilog might be treated as a digest of the trilogy at large, Balthasar's pages on the ontological distinctions he favours sum up in short compass materials set out more capaciously elsewhere.
[11]As a good Thomist (in this respect, as others) he emphasises the real (and not merely formal) distinction between 'being as reality' (Sein als Wirklichkeit) and 'individual essences' (die einzelnen Wesen) which may or may not be fully realised by the sustaining gift of being (an aborted baby, for example). The fuller the power given the greater the energy of self-realisation, as is shown by that increasing interiority (plant in its ecosystem, beast in its environment, human being in its life-world) we encounter as we move up the 'scale of being' - until, in man, we find being become self-aware (not only an sich but für sich too). If there is here a partial warrant for acknowledging man as in the divine image and likeness, Balthasar warns against any easy inference that (common) being, conjecturally realised in the subsistent archetype of the human spirit, is God. That way would lie idolatry. We know the two elements of Weltsein, what it is to be the world, only in their distinct deficiencies - that of Sein, what is bestowed, as well as that of Wesen, what receives. Combining the two will not make that ontological deficit disappear! We must not absolutise the finite so as the more readily to 'construct' God.

It is enough that we know that no finite thing, even when realised, has posited itself [in being]: it has as horizon. . . a Ground to which it is indebted.[12]

The being an essence receives is not only an An-sich (and in the case of spirited creatures like the human being a Für-sich as well). It is also a Mitsein, a being-with others (and in the case of man, a Für-ein-ander(es) Sein, a being for the other, whether personal or impersonal - Englishmen or Birman cats, the poor or antiques). That sets up a contrast of inner and outer which is the semantic presupposition of 'communication'. One can go out of oneself towards another, and in that act 'realise' one's 'within'. From this the distinction between appearance and hiddenness both arises and takes its power. For in order to give oneself, one must also protect the giver - where 'protect' does 'not imply hold something back but make possible the gift'.[13] In communication, the other lies open to me as a 'mystery lying beyond all concepts', its very objectivity a trusting appeal to my 'ontic love', to service it by letting it flower in my space, even as, reciprocally, it does service to me by bringing home to me my difference, in this way giving me to myself, enabling me to see self and others 'in the encompassing light of being, being as the real'.[14]

Thus there returns with force the problem of the unity of being, which the real distinction between being and beings left unresolved. If we introduce into the contrast of common being, on the one hand, and the individually realised, on the other, the concept of
polarity, we see that the two poles define each other's need (being's to be received, the individual's to be realised), and in this fashion point to an ultimate identity which is their ground. That polarity is not, however, the sign of sheer creaturely defect - how problematic it is not to be God! For the radical difference which the real distinction brings about in the world's being is also what allows for the 'solidarity, traffic and exchange of beings amongst themselves, for their mutual inhabitation'.[15] And that in turn is the first step towards what in free beings we know as love.

The question which this particular progression of ideas raises is, What in that case must the Ground of being and beings, the absolute Identity, be like? It would be hubristic of philosophy to claim to answer that query. But this at least can be said: where the polarity of being is taken seriously - where justice would be done both to being and beings - the fruitfulness of love has to be considered a shadowing forth of something, however inexpressible, in the Urbild, the divine Archetype itself.

On these bases - a selective summation of the philosophical doctrine of
Truth of the World - Balthasar moves forward to portray being as transcendentally self-showing, self-giving, self-saying, with all the implications those neologisms carry for his three projects - the theological aesthetics, theological dramatics, theological logic.

First, self-showing. All worldly being is epiphanic (here upholders of the real distinction must concur with the poets: Claudel, Goethe and the anonymous author of Psalm 19 in the Hebrew Bible). Some thing's Erscheinungsgestalt, its 'form of appearing', expresses not only its essence and not only the Gesamtwirkliche, or ecosystem, of the world to which it belongs, but also beyond this that Ground to which Balthasar's phenomenological description and ontological analysis have directed us: the subsistingly real. That is why truly to take in something - from amoeba to astral body, via azalea, anteater, Andrew and Andrea - produces das Staunen, 'amazement'. In a form we call 'beautiful' the 'Unknown-Real' makes itself known, intimates a reference to itself, and does so by that combination of radiance and a pointing beyond itself which splendid form always conveys. There can be superficial beauty - Schein. But in order to be epiphany there must be Erscheinung, which is more, the showing through of depths in being, suggesting the inner linking of the transcendental 'beauty' to its fellow-transcendentals 'goodness' and 'truth'. Balthasar warns that the ability to perceive this demands spiritual culture (Bildung) - sensitivity to the meaning of images (Bilder), the capacity to read forms as wholes. But the prize is great. The 'transcendental epiphany of the world's being' anticipates the 'structure of the revelation of absolute reality, whose midpoint isoccupied by the form of Christ'.[16] Only when through the 'unity of imagination' (the phrase is taken from the classical German philosophers) the many images of the New Testament are allowed to open up the Ding an sich of Jesus Christ in his full reality do we gain access to the manifold dimensions conveyed by his form. In him, as man, the 'worldly structures' of form and light serve the epiphany of the 'structure' of the Absolute itself - for his humanity is the embodiment of his identity as the Trinitarian Son. In his Ascension the 'appearing' (die Erscheinung) disappears, to make us understand that this was the disclosure of the Absolute; and yet the Spirit has to interpret this form and this alone as the definitive epiphany of that same Absolute, Since the Son abides, though bodily invisible, in Church and world. Where the Absolute 'lights up and takes form' in the finite we are dealing With more than beauty.[17]We are dealing (here the title of the theological aesthetics seems unavoidable) with glory, and the response must be no longer 'plain' wonder and rapture, but worship.

self-giving. The connexion between the beautiful and the good is easily traced: what shows itself by that token communicates itself, and in that sense gives itself. And while by no means rejecting the Aristotelean-Thomist definition of the good as that which all things seek, Balthasar holds that it is characteristic of beings endowed with knowledge and freedom to seek the good not only because they need it, or because it will satisfy, but also so to win it as to be its bestowers in self-giving. The good is the transcendental norm of all bestowing and being bestowed.

Reflection on this theme leads Balthasar to the conclusion that love is as much man's due as are water and sunlight to a plant - yet can one have a claim in justice (a 'right') to that which is only present if freely offered? From here arises those conflicting demands and accusations which are the root of drama - whether on a miniature family scale or in the vast panorama of world history. The theatre - as the theological dramatics proposed - is where that range of drama is represented. The good bestows itself - that is its nature - but how does it enter into freedom? One can speak of an example making an impression, but there is something deeper to which such diverse loci as Greek tragedy, the Buddhist notion of the boddhisatva and the Judaeo-Christian practice of an intercessory prayer accompanied by self-offering attest. In all these cases, direct influence is renounced, for recourse is had to a Ground in which everything is founded - even the freedom of another man. This finds its apogee in the vicarious substitutionary action of the Cross of Christ where kenosis, self-emptying, is power, the power of One dying that others may live. St Irenaeus will call its effect suasio, 'suasion', and St Augustine masterfully expounds it in the De Spiritu et littera, explaining it neither as compulsion nor as enticement from without, but as the 'laying open of the innermost freedom of the heart, which consists precisely in the love of God and one's neighbour'[18] Through the Love-Ground of God - the Holy Spirit - the capacity of the human heart for its own most proper (eigenst) freedom finds gracious release. The Sich-zeigen of being is fulfilled in its Sich-geben, just as, in Origen of Alexandria's Commentary on the Gospel of John, it is because the light of Christ is love that it can 'take our darkness into itself, in order to expel it from our souls'.[19]

But for a spiritual being to '
make known its inwardness' language is required, and not simply 'externalising itself in appearing or deed'.[20] And so finally we come to self-saying. If self-showing and self-giving are truly transcendental determinations of being then they will be found across its entire gamut - and like, say, Schelling, Balthasar delights in fact to trace in the plant and animal kingdoms Vorstufen - preliminary steps - of their happening in man (as well of course as their supreme exemplification in the divine). With 'self-saying' that might seem a little tricky. But this is to forget the analogues of speech in the pre-human world - in, for example, mimicry and gesture. Indeed, Balthasar insists that this capacity, essentially linked as it is to transcendental 'truth', is not only the locus of an end, an evolutionary top-notch in the family tree of life. It is also the place of a beginning, since for those aware that all things come to be through the divine knowing (the divine Word), every being is an utterance in the language of God. As to man, the gates of the human senses - eye and ear - stand ever open for a word to address us: to suit us, it must be both sensuous and intelligent, the word of mind or heart. In our response, the medium of our thinking and judging is language on which, remarks Balthasar, citing a hero of Herrlichkeit, J. G. Hamann, 'the entire capacity for thought reposes'.[21] In human dialogue, one can give or communicate in the sense of share (mit-teilen: one of the numerous instances of German punning in this text) even in poor words. 'Through the narrows of image-bound words souls can meet each other and exchange.'[22] Stillness and silence play their part here as well: one can belong to another without hearing oneself talk (another pun: ge-hören, sich hören). For linguistic subjects are free to scatter signs in the field of speech as they will. Such freedom necessarily raises the topic of the truth or falsehood of what is spoken: consonant with the ontologically oriented epistemology he has developed in the opening volume of the logic, Balthasar renews his insistence that it is only as things are measured by absolute Spirit - by God - that they are 'true'. The light in which we weight things in speech must participate in that primordial uncreated Light if we are not to betray their truth.

Looking back from the '
threshold' at his treatment of the transcendentals, Balthasar is inclined to award a certain primacy, within their interdependent unity, to pulchrum, the beautiful, since it best represents the epiphanic character of the world's being (though in another sense the beautiful is, with the good and the true, simply an aspect of this radiant appearing). In shining form something shows itself as meaningful (compare verum, true), and a gift to the world (compare bonum, good). Not fully satisfied with this account, he appeals to another to correct it. Each of the three transcendentals can claim a priority: the beautiful in the work of art; the good in an act of total devotion; the true in authentic speech as it illuminates being. Correspondingly, we must develop three primary attitudes: wonder at the beautiful; thankfulness for the good; faith in the true.

As he looks toward the final section of
Epilog, 'Cathedral', Balthasar does not forget the apologetic, missionary purpose declared at the outset of this work. The polarity of being and beings, never absent from an account of any of these transcendentals, leads us to seek a final unity, grounding both poles. (It has sometimes been asked why Balthasar did not make his trilogy a tetralogy by adding a treatise on divine revelation in the perspective of unum.) Unity is the first of the transcendentals: it undergirds all the rest. In the divine Source to which the dialectic of being and beings directs our gaze, 'God's glory is his self-giving, and this again is his truth'.[23] That identity of the three has for presupposition, however, the divine freedom (God is the archetype of spirit), and this is a freedom to show himself, give himself, speak himself, not ineluctably but as he wills. Here we cross the boundary into the sanctuary, where we shall hear more of the Father's Son who is his Word (his self-utterance), his Expression (his self-manifestation) and his Child (his self-giving), and of the Spirit in whose fruitful love, the difference between the Persons of Father and Son remaining, the unity of God is regained in enhanced guise. Meditating on the processions and missions of Son and Spirit will lead Balthasar to re-think yet again that issue of the relative priority of the transcendentals, and settle finally on the primacy of bonum which in God is the divine love.


Consonant with his conviction that fundamental and dogmatic theology should never be sundered, Balthasar has anticipated, on the edge of the '
threshold', some of what he calls, in a deliberate paradox, the 'sacred public arcana of Christian revelation'.[24] These arcana, 'secrets', are as unexpected as any esoteric teachings of some mystery religion. But unlike the latter, they are entirely exposed to public view - and are so in a special manner on the Cross of Christ which Balthasar echoes Paul in calling the folly of God, wiser than the wisdom of men. Despite the preambula fidei of the 'method of integration' and a metaphysics of being as beautiful, good, true, through which Balthasar has taken us, when we cross the threshold into the heart of the Church's sanctuary that divine folly should make us stumble. We should enter in a state of shock.

Proclaimed at the altar of this '
cathedral' are three inter-connected doctrinal themes: 'Christology and Trinity', 'The Word becomes flesh' and 'Fruitfulness'. These pages allow us a last look at those few dogmatic points - from among the vast array presented in the trilogy at large - that were closest to Balthasar's heart, most fed his Christian imagination.[25]

Jesus Christ could not say, I am the Truth (the Johannine '
I Am' central to the theological logic), unless everything in the world bore a necessary reference to him, and this can only be the case if he is the analogia entis -the analogical sharing of finite being in Infinite being - in his own person. As Son of the Father, he is 'the total epiphany, self-giving and self-utterance of God', and so can be, within the world's being, in the midst of the finite, the 'adequate sign, giving, statement, of God'.[26] For the endorsement of his claim he draws attention not only to his miracles but also to his human destiny as a whole - the way he works by mirroring the ever-working Father (cf. John 5.19) and does so up to the climax of his Cross and Resurrection.

So the entirety of Jesus's being human becomes a self-utterance and self-giving of God, so unique - both in speaking.. . and in deliberate silence, in action as in passion - that from his highness (the appearing glory) and perfect servanthood .. . the truth of his whole being can be read off, with a certainty that does not exclude faith but includes it.[27]

Thanks to the interpretative work of the Holy Spirit, we can see through this Icon to the Father, and Balthasar insists on the erscheinende Leiblichkeit, the bodily appearance, of the Logos as the instrument of the revelation of God, not least in the Resurrection where he must show himself Victor over death in his victimhood in dying, and thus disclose the mighty divine power.

The transcendentals irradiate the human Jesus, just as they reign in the self-disclosure of God. That the two poles, finite and Infinite, come together in Christ does not mean, though, that the ontologist from now on has God in his eye. The real '
identity' of God lies in his tripersonality whose vitality, yes, the transcendentals unfold but who remains beyond everything we might infer from Seiendsein, the being of beings - which is how Balthasar understands and accepts the assertion of Gregory of Nyssa and Dionysius the Aeropagite, that God is 'beyond being'. Only so can he in sovereign freedom turn to being, attend to it, serve it (so Balthasar dares to write) in his perfect love - a love constituted by the inner-Trinitarian relations and by nothing less than that (or rather Them). That is why what Jesus reveals is the triune Love, and there especially where un-love withstands it - though he wills to draw its sting and bury it for ever in death and hell. For in the Word incarnate forms of love that the world treats as contrary one to another are reconciled and atoned in a New Testament fulfilment of the many facets of Old Testament man-before-God, a fulfilment that could not have been dreamed of till it happened (a leading preoccupation, this, of the first and last volumes of the aesthetics). It is the poor in spirit alone (certainly not the majority of historical-critical scholars!) who see this complexity with truly divine simplicity.

The circumincession in Christ of all the transcendentals points, since he is the Father's Word, to the riches of the love of God - his nature as triune Communion. Hence the shockingness of the claim that this Word is in the Incarnation
flesh, flesh on which my salvation turns, mortal flesh, flesh laid low in death as mine will be. But the Passion of Christ was only possible in the body: first, because (so Balthasar thinks) the soul's pain is made possible by its embodiment; second, because the world-redeeming rationale of the Passion of Christ could only be realised through a unity, given in matter, between the Logos Incarnate and those human beings he entered solidarity with us in order to save. The Incarnation has, through the body, cosmic corollaries. Christ's Headship, as the New Adam, over his 'body', the Church, on the one hand, and, on the other, his cosmic Lordship, are 'only comprehensible in a reciprocal movement of both magnitudes'.[28]All the blood and tears of sacrifice on a cosmic scale, the witless sacrifices of animals, the conscious if not always willing sacrifices of human beings, are embraced in the absolute Hingabe, the unconditional self-giving, of the Logos on the Cross, ushering the anthropic cosmos into the realm opened by Christ's substitutionary yet all-embracing act.

But then, as if to dissuade us from getting carried away on a wave of
Teilhardisme, Balthasar rubs our noses in the hard particularity of Jesus' body. That is the thing about bodies: they force us to recognise that the other is not myself. It is a new Kierkegaard, rather than a second Teilhard, we listen to when we hear Balthasar on the scandal that 'out of this bodily present man the personal Word of God himself speaks', confounding our assumption that 'God is in heaven and we on earth, since God is spirit and we body, or if he be body then certainly not this individual, mortal body, comparable with all others'. But so it is, all in the cause that a 'definitive self-showing, self-saying, self-bestowing' might occur.[29] And so it continues, in the abiding outpouring of the body and the blood in the Holy Eucharist.

No religion, Balthasar thinks, other than the Christian one, can cope with death, since no other can know death as love.

That forms, in the case of the Atonement, no bad transition to the last motif in Baithasar's '
Cathedral' and thus the closing theme of Epilog: 'fruitfulness'. A favoured image of the German Romantic poets, Balthasar has found it indispensable for expounding the good that comes from the Christian mysteries - and indeed the absolute Good that is the most Ancient of them all, the Holy Trinity.

The transcendentals can be understood as ways in which being lies open, and the sign par excellence of this Sich-eröffnen of being is fruitfulness. The cosmic fruitfulness of nature is linked with dying (literally, for some species for which death occurs in the intercourse that brings life). Now the ontology presented in the theological logic has not hesitated to see in such cosmic fruitfulness an echo of the primordial mystery of being, its Trinitarian composition. But when Jesus Christ comes to express the triune God and pour forth this primal mystery in finite acts, he breaks that natural circle of bearing and dying, dying and bearing, by an action that is no less bodily yet has another meaning. On the Cross, dying was fruitful, bringing forth not more life that will die again but a new life belonging to the 'everlasting, triunely fruitful life of God'.[30] The divine Fruitfulness which at sundry times in the past - culminating in the motherhood of the Virgin - rendered humanly fruitful in a supernatural mode those who were barren, now begins to shower forth its blessings in new and unheard of ways, in Mary's spiritual motherhood of the Church and John the Beloved Disciple's contemplativity, in the sacramental Church, which continues Christ's bodily presence in the world and for the world, and in the seven sacraments, none of which makes sense save as a mediation of the work of the salvation-bringer in his Paschal Mystery.

Yet we cannot end in a Samuel Palmer landscape, all nature bathed in the translucence of grace, as a people, solemn but happy, files from church into a countryside paradisially bejewelled. The theological dramatics have shown how, where divine love is most manifest, human hatred is worst released, and that message of the Johannine corpus (and notably the Apocalypse), backed up as it is, alas, by observation, gives Balthasar pause. Divine fruitfulness, it seems, has not carried away in its beneficient stream the daily abuses of human freedom - not even (or especially?) in Christendom. Must we assume, then, that the world will continue tragic to the end and be, in the meta-historical End, frozen, like figures in Dante's
Inferno, in that state? Congruent with Catholic teaching and the sources of revelation which control and limit what that teaching may say, Balthasar can only suggest grounds for hope (not pillars of certainty). If St Cyril and the Council of Chalcedon are right, then the Incarnation has altered all humanity's position (though with this nothing is as yet said about the individual's freedom). Again, in the Atonement the Son has shown love to be stronger than Hell, enduring for the salvation of all deeper alienation from the Father than any mortal could. But third, the Pentecostal Spirit, the Spirit of the atoning Christ, can enter human freedom from within since he is not only its norm but its source. And fourth, we do not know the power of finite freedom to resist the soliciting love of God to the bitter end. Among the witnesses Balthasar summons to his side on a point much contested by faithful Catholics who would rather be his friends,[31] none is briefer or more affecting than the French playwright Gabriel Marcel's: 'J'espère en Toi pour nous': 'I hope in Thee, for us.'[32]


1. H. U. von Balthasar, Epilog (Einsiedeln-Trier, 1987) p. 7.

2. Epilog, p. 11.

3. Ibid.

4. See A. Nichols, 'Thomism and the Nouvelle Théologie', The Thomist 64 (2000), pp. 1-19.

5. Epilog, p. 22.

6. Epilog, p. 23.

7. Epilog, p. 29.


9. Epilog, p. 31.

10. For the two versions of Balthasar's maximum, see Epilog, pp. 11, 35

11. Epilog, pp. 38-45.

12. Epilog, p. 41.

13. Epilog, p. 42.

14. Epilog, pp. 42-3.

15. Epilog, p. 45.

16. Epilog, p. 49.

17. Epilog, pp. 51-2.

Epilog, p. 56.

19. Origen,
Commentary on the Gospel of St John, at 1, 5.

Epilog, p. 59.

21. Epilog, p. 61. For a more contemporary mentor, Balthasar turns to T. Kobusch, Sein und Sprache: Grundlegung einer Ontologie der Sprache (Leiden 1986).

Epilog, p. 62.

Epilog, p. 66.

Epilog, p. 69.

25. In this way,
Epilog, pp. 69-98, resembles his short commentary on the Apostles' Creed, Credo: Meditationen zum Apostolischen Glaubensbekenntnis (Freiburg-Basel-Vienna 19892).


27. Epilog, p. 70.

28. Epilog, p. 80.

Epilog, p. 82.

Epilog, p. 87.

31. Among the literature, see J. Ambaum, 'An Empty Hell: The Restoration of All
Things. Balthasar's Concept of Hope for Salvation',
Communio 18 (1991), pp. 35-52; J. R. Sachs, 'Current Eschatology: Universal Salvation and the Problem of Hell', Theological Studies 52(1991), pp. 227-54; G. Fessard, 'Eternal Damnation or Universal Salvation', Communio 23 (1996), pp. 579-603; as well as Balthasar's own Was dürfen wir hoffen (Einsiedeln 19892), and Kleine Diskurs über die Hölle (Ostfildern 1987).

32. Cited at Epilog, p. 98.

Chapter 28: Postword

Balthasar's trilogy is a great forest where I have attempted - for my own edification, and education, as well as for that of others - to make the contours of the wood visible despite the profusion of the trees. It is impossible not to be impressed by the architectonic way in which the materials of Scripture and Tradition are pressed into service with a view to seeing the total content of divine revelation in the perspective suggested by the three transcendentals: the beautiful, the good, the true. Not that the full range of the monuments of Tradition is exploited: Balthasar privileges his first love, the Fathers of the Church, and after them the mediaeval doctors, and the approved mystics of the Church of all ages. The Liturgy, Eastern and Western, and the iconography of the Church are, despite their evident congeniality to him, less invoked than one might like. The philosophical underpinnings of the aesthetics and dramatics, already laid in
Wahrheit der Welt and - so it transpired when the latter work re-appeared as the first volume of the theological logic - never repudiated, may be compared with those found in Balthasar's younger contemporary, Pope John Paul II. Both men aimed so to use phenomenology as to ground phenomena in real ontology, but while Pope Wojtyla's philosophy is Thomas catalysed by Scheler and thus strongest in the ethical domain, Balthasar's is Thomas fructified by Goethe and Schelling, and therefore especially concerned with cosmology in its relation to subjecthood and interiority. The whole of Theologik I could be described as a meditation on a somewhat throw-away remark of Thomas' in the Commentary on the Sentences: res corporales sunt in anima nobiliori modo quam in seipsis, 'bodily things are in the soul in a more noble fashion than they are in themselves'.[1]

What the reader who comes to the trilogy from a background in humane letters will marvel at is the range of reference which can integrate into the dramatics a myriad dramatic constructions suggested by actual plays, and into the aesthetics rich raids on the mythopoetic, the common fund of images understood (or at any rate understandable) by members of the race. But Balthasar is no Chateaubriand, seeking to impress the secular critic with the genius of Christianity via his own. The entire trilogy is controlled by a deep feeling of docility towards divine revelation where all issues from the love of God that posits form - and thus founds all analogical discourse in dogmatics - from its own side.
[2] It is consciousness of that practised betende Theologie, 'theology on one's knees', as well as confidence in the mystical insights suggested by Adrienne von Speyr, which excuses, if it does not wholly justify, the innovatory passages on the interrelation of Trinitarian theology and eschatology that make the final volume of the theological dramatics both compelling and disturbing to read.

It falls to the theological community of the Catholica, under the guardianship of the magisterium, to evaluate those particular novelties in Balthasar's work. His conviction that theology should not cry off the effort of cataphatic exploration of the ultimate divine mystery by a premature appeal to the apophatic need for restraint before its greatness was always matched by a willingness to sentire cum Ecclesia, 'think feelingly with the Church'.

Meanwhile, as we enter a new millennium, there is much here - incredibly much - to inspire a Catholic Christianity that seems often lacking in the power to move its adherents or attract what should be its converts - move and attract imaginatively, dramatically, intellectually. I hope that, through the effort of haute-vulgarisation my three commentaries have involved, many clergy and laity will find resources in Balthasar to do just that.


I. Thomas Aquinas,
In libros Sen tentiarum, I, dist. 3, q. 4, art 4, corpus. I am indebted for this reference to my Cambridge Dominican confrère, Fr Edward Booth.

2. The theme of this is Manfred Lochbrunner's marvellous study,
Analogia caritatis: Darstellung und Deutung der Theologie Hans Urs von Balthasars (Freiburg-Basel-Vienna 1981).

Select Bibliography

General studies of Balthasar

Word and Silence: Hans Urs von Baithasar and the Spiritual Encounter between East and West (Edinburgh 1995).

J. GODENIR, Jesus, l'Unique: Introduction a la theologie de Hans Urs von Balthasar (Paris-Namur 1984).

E. GUERRIERO, Hans Urs von Baithasar (Milan 19922).
M. KEHL and W. LOSER (eds), The von Balthasar Reader (Et New York 1982).

B. MCGREGOR and T. NORRIS (eds), The Beauty of Christ: An Introduction to the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (Edinburgh 1994).
A. MODA, Hans Urs von Balthasar: Un' espozione critica del suo pensiero (Ban 1976).
E. T. OAKES, The Pattern of Redemption: The Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (New York 1994).
J. O'DONNELL, Hans Urs von Baithasar (London 1992).

J. SAWARD, The Mysteries of March: Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Incarnation and Easter (London 1990).
D. L. SCHINDLER (ed.), Hans Urs von Baithasar: His Life and Work (San Francisco 1991).
A. SCOLA, Hans Urs von Balthasar: Uno stile teologico (Milan 1991); Et Hans Urs von Balthasar: A Theological Style (Edinburgh 1995).

Studies of Baithasar's logic and related themes

E. F. BAUER, 'Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988): Sein philosophisches
Werk', in E. Coreth, W. M. Neidl, G. Pfligersdorffer (eds), Christliche
Philosophie im katholischen Denken des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, III Moderne
Stromungen im 20. Jahrhundert (Graz 1990), pp. 285-304.

L. S. CHAPP, The God who Speaks: Hans Urs von Balthasar's Theology of Revelation (San Francisco, 1

Extracts from "Say it is Pentecost" reproduced with the kind permission of the publisher.

Copyright ©; T & T Clark Ltd 2001

Version: 6th February 2008

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