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Balthasar Via Nichols

A Presentation by the distinguished Dominican scholar Fr Aidan Nichols of the great theological trilogy of Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

[The Following "introduction" is Chapter 28: Postword of the third volume of the triology, "Say it is Pentecost" M.A.]

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).

The Word Has Been Abroad

Contents, Preface, and Introduction to Balthasar.

Chapter 1: The Face of Beauty.

No Bloodless Myth

Contents and Preface.

Chapter 1: Transition from Aesthetics.

Chapter 2: Rationale for Dramatics.

Say It Is Pentecost

Contents and Preface.

Chapter 1: Introducting Balthasar's Logic

Chapter 27: Epilogue to the Trilogy, Chapter 28: Postword

The Hans Urs von Balthasar Website
This website offers news, information about von Balthasar's life and theology, an extensive links section and a discussion forum.


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Extracts reproduced with the kind permission of the publisher.

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Version: 6th February 2008

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