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'.
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. 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
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
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
This website offers news, information about von Balthasar's life and theology, an extensive links section and
a discussion forum.
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Version: 6th February 2008