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Fr Aidan Nichols


The Word Has Been Abroad

By Aidan Nichols OP

The cover shows a pencil and water colour illustration by David Jones, entitled Vexilla Regis, 1948 reproduced by kind permision of Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, England.


Preface                                         vii
An Introduction to Balthasar                      ix

1. The Fate of Beauty                             1
2. The Subjective Evidence                       23
3. The Objective Evidence                        34
4. Constellation of Clerics                      65
5. Landscapes by Laymen                          92
6. The Metaphysics of Antiquity                 128
7. The Metaphysics of Christendom - and Beyond  145
8. The Elder Testament                          187
9. New and Everlasting Covenant                 211

Bibliography                                    254
Index of Subjects                               256
Index of Names                                  265

The Word has been abroad, is back, with a tanned look
From its subsistence in the stiffening-mire

Geoffrey Hill, Annunciations


The light of revelation shines in a clearing in the forest of the world. Faced with the thickets of the seven volumes of Balthasar's
Herrlichkeit, 'The Glory of the Lord', even the reader with the best will in the world can lose his or her way. Balthasar stakes out the position by reference to so many of his sources and predecessors - not only the biblical and patristic authors, and the mediaevals, but ancient philosophers, modern metaphysicians and a whole host of poets, mystics and thinkers in between - that the ground seems impossible to cover.

This analytic exposition of Balthasar's text is intended to allow the reader to find his or her way through. And the goal is to discover the heart of theological aesthetics - the transfigured, blood-stained features of Jesus Christ where the glory of God streams forth as the beauty of the love that will save the world.

But the splendour of the sacrificial divine Goodness is also deed and truth. In two subsequent studies, therefore, I shall consider Balthasar's theological dramatics and his theological logic, as well as the 'epilogue' to the trilogy as a whole, and end with a critical evaluation of this most impressive of all twentieth-century Catholic theologies.

I am most grateful to Professor Geoffrey Hill for graciously permitting phrases from his poetic work to serve as titles for these studies, and to Stratford Caldecott for suggesting as cover image for the present volume David Jones' Vexilla Regis, the original of which is in Kettle's Yard, Cambridge. The Word's foreign travel into the realm of flesh on earth leaves behind the mighty tree of salvation, redemptively overshadowing (to left and right) the tree of fragile natural goodness and the tree of ambivalent power. Only thus can nature and culture, multiply symbolised in Jones' picture, find fulfilment and peace.

Aidan Nichols
Memorial day of St Hugh of Lincoln, 1996

To the Brethren of the
Fraternité S. Vincent Ferrier,
in whose kind company this 'Guide' was written

An Introduction to Balthasar

Hans Urs von Balthasar was born on 12 August 1905 at Lucerne, the most Catholic city of a pre-secular Switzerland. His was a long-established patrician family, though on his mother's side, his roots were Hungarian.
[1] Indeed, the Austro-Hungarian imperial family, in decorous flight from Vienna, put up at the Pension Felsberg, run by his grandmother, baroness Margit Apor, in the summer of 1918. His immediate family were linked to the Catholic Church in a variety of ways: his father, Oskar, an architect of church buildings among others; his mother, Gabrielle, an office-bearer in the Swiss League of Catholic Women, whose foundations and early history she chronicled; his sister, Renée, for many years superior-general of a Franciscan order of nuns. One of his Hungarian relations was a bishop who would die of injuries inflicted by the invading Red Army in 1944.[2]

Balthasar's childhood and youth were dominated by an obsession with music. His first book, published in Germany in 1925, when he was twenty, would be called - with characteristic ambitiousness -
The Development of the Musical idea. Attempt at a Synthesis of Music.[3] The influence of Benedictine monks whose abbey school at Engelberg - in another of the four 'forest-cantons', the Waldstatter of central Switzerland - offered a fine musical education, was paramount here. Before finishing his secondary education, however, Balthasar was moved by his parents -for reasons which have never been made clear - to a Jesuit college in the Austrian Vorarlberg, which adjoins the eastern border of Switzerland. The decision was all the stranger in that the peace negotiations of St Germain had not yet taken place: the Danubian monarchy, Austria-Hungary, was still in the death throes of its final dissolution. This experience of parental Diktat was evidently unwelcome, because, without his parents' consent and before the equivalent of the British 'sixth form' years were over, he removed himself from school and matriculated in the faculty of Germanistik, German studies, a mixture of literature and philosophy, in the University of Zurich.

From one point of view Balthasar never abandoned that faculty. I do not mean that, of course, in a physical sense: indeed, as was not unusual when pursuing higher studies in the universities of German-speaking Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he was peripatetic already as a student. In the process of acquiring his doctorate he took courses in Berlin (where he studied as a sideline both Indian thought and, through the priest-philosopher Romano Guardini, Kierkegaard) and at Vienna (where he discovered Plotinus). His own mature theology would attempt to identify the elements of truth in both Existentialism, represented here by Kierkegaard, and Neo-Platonism, summed up in Plotinus, while at the same time identifying over against these the specifying features of a distinctively Christian metaphysics. It may also be relevant to mention here, vis-à-vis the topic of Hindu philosophy, that Balthasar's version of Christian apologetics attempts to show how the Christian gospel, and the characteristic thinking it generates, can find space within itself for the authentic spiritual aspiration represented by each of the great world religions while also showing up the errors on which their enterprise founders. This is the idea of Christian revelation (and the thinking that accompanies it) as a 'totality than which no greater can be thought'. Also worth noting, in the context of Balthasar's perambulations as a young man im deutschen Sprachraum is the influence upon him of Rudolf Allers, a fellow-citizen and erstwhile pupil of Freud in the Vienna of the 1920s, a convert to Catholicism whose journey from Freudian reductionism, where the self is not much more than a bundle of instinctual drives, to a Christian psychotherapy where primacy is given to interpersonal love as the proper medium of human existence, was assisted by his studies of mediaeval philosophy and theology.

To return, then, to my statement that in one sense Balthasar never left the German faculty at Zurich. This is in an extended or metaphorical sense true, for he continued to regard the marriage of philosophy and literature as the best possible preparation for theological existence. Or, to put the same point in another way, the offspring of that marriage provides theology with its most serviceable handmaiden. That Balthasar was already, even as a young layman engaged in purely academic work, thinking in religious and theological terms, is clear both from his life-story and from the massive and (it has to be said) not entirely digestible text which his studies produced.[4] In the year when he submitted his thesis, 1929, he entered the Bavarian Province of the Society of Jesus; ironically, his university was situated in the most radical protestant of all Swiss cities, where opposition to any relaxing of the 'articles of exception', forbidding the activity of the Jesuits, was at its most vociferous.[5] And furthermore, the thesis he handed in was itself a form of tacit or implicit theology. Its subject was modern German literature, examined from the viewpoint of its attitude, explicit or implicit, to the 'Last Things' - the final or eternal destiny of the human soul. Much of the material of this thesis would find its way into the first of his major works, The Apocalypse of the German Soul, a massive tripartite study of the eschatological bearings of the work of numerous major German philosophers, dramatists and poets of the late eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[6] Despite wandering at times from his brief in chapters on the vitalist philosopher Henri Bergson, an important figure, in more-than-Germanic perspective, in the overcoming of the rationalist element in nineteenth-century thought, and on the Russian novelist Dostoevsky, whom he treats as a Christian counterpart to Nietzsche, Balthasar more or less succeeds here in his self-appointed task. Taking German philosophers from Lessing to Heidegger and German poets from Goethe to Rilke to be the most penetrating intelligences at work in the unfolding of European culture in their periods, he tries to show that they divide ultimately into two principal attempted solutions of the riddle that is existence, what he calls the 'Promethean' and the 'Dionysian' solutions, after respectively, the Greek hero, Prometheus, and the Greek god, Dionysus. Prometheus for Balthasar is the symbol of man's attempt to raise himself by his own bootstraps to the level of the gods. The human 'I' exalts itself in self-affirmation, seizing fire from heaven - not only emancipating itself from inherited constraints, whether biological or historical, but aiming at the total mastery of existence. The Promethean outlook is manifested in the writers of the Enlightenment, and in such Idealist philosophers as Hegel with his project of reaching absolute knowledge, where the human mind coincides with the divine mind in realising that everything is, and has happened, just as it ought to have if infinite spirit is to become self-aware in man. Dionysus for Balthasar is a symbol of a more tragic attempt to resolve the puzzle of existence. Dionysian man resembles Promethean man in the unboundedness of his aspirations but his interest lies more in escaping the limitations of existence, rather than in dominating them. Faced with transience and mortality, he leaves reason behind in a flight towards the unnameable heights of whatever lies behind everyday existence. But characteristically this movement of mystical exaltation is followed by a falling back, disenchanted, into a sense of the absurdity of everything. The Dionysian temper is reflected in such artistic and philosophical movements as Expressionism and Existentialism.

The upshot is that only fitfully and in fragments do this vast range of writers and thinkers, spanning two centuries of enormous conceptual creativity, come close to the truth. The truth being that humans find their destiny only in self-transcendence, in transcending themselves towards the reality that is always greater than everything they can be, think or imagine, namely, God. We could in fact describe the
Apocalypse of the German Soul as a testing of the dogmatic affirmation of the First Vatican Council that human beings, through the light of human reason, can develop a sense of God as not only the author but the goal of nature and history. It was Balthasar's conviction, evidently, that attaining a just doctrine of transcendence - seeing humans as called to transcend themselves towards an absolutely or unconditionally transcendent reality - is, without Christian revelation, no easy matter. Significantly, Balthasar ends this work with a study of his older Swiss contemporary, the great Protestant Neo-Orthodox dogmatician Karl Barth.

Apocalypse of the German Soul is the expanded, published form of Balthasar's History of the Eschatological Problem in German Literature and as such it gives us an insight into the making of his thought at a crucial and formative, if immature, stage. But by the time Apocalypse was given to the public in the years 1937 to 1939, Balthasar had completed his Jesuit training in the Jesuit studentates of Pullach, near Munich and Fourvières, near Lyons, and on the basis of this combined Franco-German tuition, had received ordination as a priest in November 1936, at the hands of the aristocratic German prelate, already celebrated for his resistance to the ethos of the Third Reich, Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber whose ancient see of Freising had been combined a century previously with the Witteisbach court-bishopric of Munich to form the primatial church of Bavaria.

Balthasar did not have very much that was favourable to say about the Neo-Scholastic manuals in use in the Jesuit study houses of France and Germany in the 1930s. While of course not dismissing all their themes as misplaced, or treating all of their theological judgments as wrong or shallow, he spoke harshly of the arid, desert-like quality of the theological landscape in which he was made to wander. He wrote later:

My entire period of study in the Society was a grim struggle with the dreariness of theology, with what men had made out of the glory of revelation.[7]

To understand the acerbity of this remark, I must look ahead briefly to Balthasar's mature work, the great trilogy which consists in, first, a theological aesthetics, secondly, a theological dramatics and thirdly, a theological logic. It may not have escaped the reader's notice that Balthasar's strictures on Jesuit theology in the 1930s were fundamentally stylistic in character. The large-scale rejection of a theological culture simply on the ground that its textbooks were poorly written may seem dilettantish or frankly bizarre. But not to one whose theological logic would not be finished until he had completed a theological aesthetics and dramatics. The revelation which Christian theology set itself to study was the disclosure of a beauty beyond all worldly beauty in the supreme artwork of Jesus Christ; in it the transcendent beauty - in biblical language, the glory - of the ever-greater God came to expression. How could a theology genuinely attuned to its own subject-matter be ugly? Similarly, the salvation history which Christian theology set out to represent, and into whose ambit, as players in an ongoing déroulement of the plot, it invited its readers to enter, was a drama in which God set forth his own philanthropy, his own goodness to men, in the midst of a conflictual and agonistic world. How could a theology really faithful to its own subject-matter be lacking in dramatic power and tension? And because the truth which theological logic sets out is the truth of the gloriously beautiful God in his incarnate Word, the truth of the dramatically philanthropic God in that play whose director is the Holy Spirit, could a theology which was unprepossessing and dull be adequately true, even given the qualifications we have to enter when faced with the notion of the adequate conceptualisation of a revelation of the living God who exceeds all our categories? Although my way of expressing here Balthasar's grounds for disliking Jesuit Neo-Scholasticism as he experienced is indebted to his later work, it would not, I think, be difficult to show that these most basic intuitions about divine beauty, divine goodness, divine truth, and the mark these qualities should leave on theology itself, were already in his possession from the earliest years of his priesthood. They show themselves above all in the choice of topic and manner of treatment which typify the series of short books on patristics and Christian literature which he wrote in the wake of Apocalypse of the German Soul, and the manner in which he praised his earliest theological hero, Karl Barth.

Before embarking on a description of those books I must pause, however, to record a qualification that has to be set against any notion that Balthasar could find nothing good to say about his Jesuit mentors. There were in fact two that he lionised, one at Munich whom he came to know at Pullach, the other at Lyons whom he learned from while at Fourvières. The first was the Polono-German fundamental theologian Erich Przywara whose chief influence on Baithasar was to show him the amazing theological possibilities present in that key doctrine of Christian Scholasticism, the
analogia entis or 'analogy of being'.[8] Przywara and Balthasar share an attitude towards the analogia entis doctrine which makes that teaching not (as is often the case) a commonplace of metaphysics, but a specifically religious doctrine of enormous spiritual power. Essentially they turn the analogy of being idea into a doctrine of participation, of a sharing in the divine life which, intimately present in the constitution of the human creature, presses that creature to go beyond itself in the direction of God. That there is an analogy between our being and God's should not make us seek to domesticate God but, on the contrary, lead us to recognise an invitation - inscribed in the very nature of our being - to enter his mystery. The more man is permitted to live his life from out of this divinely impelled movement, the more he will realise that God is the ever-greater Lord. The more intimately he shares the divine life, the firmer his grasp of the divine transcendence as infinitely above him. Przywara's highly theological commentary on the 'spiritual exercises' of the Jesuit Society made Balthasar appreciate their true depth. Indeed, it might not be too misleading to say that what Przywara, and Balthasar after him, hoped to do was combine the mind of St Thomas with the heart of St Augustine, all in the spirit of St Ignatius Loyola, that burning obedience - at once interior and missionary - to the Word of God.

Balthasar's other hero was Henri de Lubac - later, after various vicissitudes, to be like himself, a cardinal of the Roman church. De Lubac, on whom Balthasar, in the last decade of the latter's life, would write an entire, if concise, book,
[9] inspired him not only by his encyclopaedic grasp of the Catholic tradition of commenting on Scripture, his love of the Fathers, and his willingness to grapple with alien metaphysics, from Buddhism to the French socialist Proudhon, in the service of faith but also by the sheer range of his enterprise. Both men, in a sense, were capable of creating, and did create, at least in bookish form, a Christian culture of a comprehensive kind all on their own.

During his student days a number of Balthasar's books on the Fathers and on the literary art of twentieth-century Catholicism were happily gestating. This is true of his substantial essays on the seventh-century Greek Father St Maximus the Confessor, and his fourth-century predecessor St Gregory of Nyssa, both of which appeared during the Second World War, as well as his slighter study of the ante-Nicene writer Origen of Alexandria - which, published in Austria in 1938, only achieved its definitive form in a French version in 1957.[10] At the same time, stimulated both by de Lubac and Pryzwara, no mean students of Augustine, he was compiling two anthologies of texts from the North African doctor, for which purpose he read through the entire corpus of Augustine in class, with earplugs in to block out the sound of lectures.[11] Balthasar was lucky enough to be living in France at the time of a major Catholic literary renaissance there, and this bore fruit in his books on the novelist Georges Bernanos, Le chrétien Bernanos, as well as his translations
of the poet and dramatist Paul Claude.
[12] I do not list these books merely for the sake of being comprehensive. The decision to write them had a wider significance. What that was is in one sense specific to each study.

The Maximus book presented Christ as the key to the cosmos, tying together in his own person all the pathways of creation and redemption. The Nyssa book set forth for the first time the related themes of desire, eros, and charity, agape, presenting the stream of eros, which is never exhausted by any object in this world, as the concrete form of man's openness to transcendence, on which divine grace, then, can set to work, turning desire into self-giving. The Origen book is a modern restatement of the idea of the spiritual sense of Scripture, a sense more important than the literal in being not more foundational - for the literal is always that - but higher, more open to the full dimensions of God's self-revelation. The study of Bernanos presents major themes of sin and forgiveness, confession and judgment. Claudel was sought out for his ideas on the nature of poetic knowledge and the need for sympathy -connaturality - between the knower and the object known. Connaissance, 'knowledge', in its highest reaches, is co-naissance, 'co-birth', familial intimacy. But more widely, these books represent an appeal to broaden, deepen and above all humanise the Scholastic tradition, going back behind it to the Fathers with their mystical warmth and rhetorical power, and going ahead of it (or to the side of it) by appeal to literary artists who could put Christian experience, the wider sense of the faith, into compelling, unforgettable form.

At the time when this stream of what we could call his ancillary works
- for the great trilogy of the aesthetics, dramatics and logic, is surely his master-work - began flowing, Balthasar was living neither in France, however, nor in Bavaria but in his native Switzerland, at Basle. That city on the Rhine, the border between the Frenchb - and German-speaking worlds, a Protestant city with a Catholic hinterland, soon gave him what he saw as the finest opportunity and the worst crisis of his life. But first I must explain what he was doing there in the first place. I said that in canton Zurich Jesuits were not allowed at all; but in fact throughout the Swiss Confederation Jesuits were inhibited by the constitution from running schools or parishes. The Swiss Jesuits, who until 1947 had no separate organisation of their own were, if not simple, unlettered men then certainly forced by circumstance to restrict themselves to pastoral work of a low-profile, and even marginal, kind. There was, however, one type of institution which the anti-clerical laws of the 1840s had not envisaged because it did not then exist, and that was the student chaplaincy. Given that Balthasar had already written more books than all the other Swiss Jesuits put together, his superiors decided that - unless he wished to go to Rome, to teach at the Gregorian University - this was the place for him. Balthasar threw himself into the work with his customary energy, founding a system of parallel lectures for Catholic students so comprehensive that it was almost a parallel university, giving Ignatian retreats and editing throughout the War a collection of anthologies, called the '
European Series' intended to help save Europe's cultural heritage in the face of National Socialism and capitalistic philistinism.

I call Basle the city of Balthasar's opportunity and crisis, because it was, on the one hand, the home of the two people - the dogmatician Karl Barth and the mystic Adrienne von Speyr - who more than any others were to determine the direction of his work; and, on the other, the occasion of his traumatic break with the Jesuits. His dispensation from vows and consequent acceptance of the status of a secular priest was, in the climate of the time, a perfectly adequate explanation for his cold-shouldering by Church authority. Even today the Roman Curia looks somewhat askance at exclaustrated Religious, even though they may continue to be worthy priests.

Balthasar's admiration for Barth, which was reciprocated, is expressed in his book The Theology of Karl Barth,[13] which began life as a series of lectures on Barth given in Barth's presence: a daunting undertaking when one considers that Pope Pius XII called Barth the greatest Christian thinker since Aquinas. In the opening section of his study of Barth, Balthasar waxes lyrical in his praise of Barth's manner of practising theology. He calls Barth's work 'beautiful' on the grounds that it combines 'passion' with 'objectivity'. Barth's theology is objective in the sense of being thoroughly immersed in its object, God as revealed to the world in Christ. But the effect of this objectivity is that the theologian himself becomes involved in, and fascinated by, what he studies, and that at the deepest level: hence passion. The combination, Balthasar remarks drily, is not that common in contemporary Catholic theology.

To Balthasar's eyes, Barth shows us a true understanding of what theology should be. The 'principle' of theology is nothing other than the content of revelation itself. But this revealed content cannot be separated from revelation perceived as the action of God. It is not primarily the communication of truths, but God himself, very Truth, revealing himself in all his sovereign freedom. Consequently, theology must be a contemplative exploration of God's self-gift. In theology's case, we cannot dispose of the principles of our discipline, in the way that we can with profane studies. Furthermore, it is not just that, in Barth, revelation's content provides theology with its foundational principles. The style of Barth's theology expresses the immensity of this revealed content, the extraordinary greatness of the dramatic event of revelation.

Balthasar made no secret of the fact that, while he wished Barth's manner of theologising to inspire Catholic theology, he also wanted to convert Barth to Catholicism. Nor was this by any means an unrealistic aspiration though it was of course unrealised. Balthasar, who had a great reputation in Basle as a convert-maker, had more success with Adrienne vofl Speyr, a medical doctor, though herself a woman in chronically poor health, who through her two marriages was intimately connected to the academic echelons of the upper bourgeoisie of the city: a perfect Jesuit catch. Balthasar himself considered that von Speyr's role in his life had exceeded anyone else's, and in case posterity was in any doubt wrote in later life a study of their common work,
Unser Auftrag, 'Our Mission', explicitly intended to prevent any prising apart of his theology from her mystically generated contemplative reading of the Scriptures.[14]Certainly Von Speyr provided several of the main themes of Balthasar's theology of the atonement, as well as of his mariology, ecciesiology and eschatology, not to mention his understanding of the specific mission in the Church of such (canonised or uncanonised) women mystics as Thérèse of Lisieux and Elisabeth of Dijon, on whom he wrote substantial studies.[15] Though one might suspect a degree of chivalrous overstatement in Balthasar's references to von Speyr (he was deeply angered by what be regarded as the dismissive way her mystical experience was being treated, despite the full satisfaction she had given Jesuit professors, both German and French, deputed to examine her credentials and 'mission'), he described the task of spiritual director to a mystic as essentially an auxiliary one. Speyrian insights received at Balthasar's hands fuller articulation and suitable positioning within the corpus of Christian doctrine, gaining enhanced power to illuminate the biblical revelation in the process. And so, by a seeming paradox, a content drawn in significant part from Adrienne's experience could be placed within a theological structure inspired by that relentless critic of the Christian mystics, Karl Barth. As the doyen of 'post-critical' theology in the United States, the Lutheran George Lindbeck, has written, a discernible 'family resemblance' links the theologies of Balthasar and Barth. Both are wary of transposing biblical revelation into categories alien to itself, seeking rather to describe the world in terms that are scripturally rooted; the appeal of both to the Bible is, nonetheless, not lacking in intellectual power for they find there a sophisticated coherence, treating Scripture as a narrationally (Barth) or dramatically (Balthasar) as well as typologically unified whole.[16]

In 1945 after a retreat in the second-order Dominican monastery of Estavayer, in canton Neuchâtel, Balthasar founded with von Speyr a secular institute or society of consecrated life for lay people living in the world as also for diocesan priests. The Community of St John became more widely known three years later when Balthasar produced a theology for secular institutes, the first book to be published by the Johannes Verlag, a publishing house established with the help of a friend at Einsiedeln, halfway between Lucerne and Zurich, and named after the Gospel writer, St John, who predominates in both von Speyr's work and his own.[17] Neither the local bishop nor the Jesuit superiors supported the venture, and the Society made it clear, after an interview with its Belgian Father General J. B. Janssens, that Balthasar must choose between the Jesuits on the one hand and his collaborator and spiritual children on the other. Balthasar made known his decision in a short printed statement sent to friends:

I took this step, for both sides a very grave one, after a long testing of the certainty I had reached through prayer that I was being called by God to certain definite tasks in the Church. The Society felt it could not release me to give these tasks my undivided commitment.. . . So, for me, the step taken means an application of Christian obedience to God, who at any time has the right to call a man not only out of his physical home or his marriage, but also from his chosen spiritual home in a religious order, so that he can use him for his purposes within the Church. Any resulting advantages or disadvantages in the secular sphere were not under discussion and not taken into account.[18]

And for his Jesuit confreres he explained, with references to St Thomas and the seventeenth-century Spanish Jesuit theologian John de Lugo that, in cases where obedience to the Order and a prayerful evaluation of the demands of obedience to God's will conflict, a resolution is not to be found '
absolutely and in every case in obedience to the Order'. Shortly before his death, Balthasar asked the present Jesuit General, Fr Peter Kolvenbach, to receive him back into the Society, but this negotiation foundered over, once more, the question of the Community of St John. Kolvenbach attempted to sweeten the pill by obtaining for Balthasar as cardinal the Roman titular church of Sant' Ignazio, one of the glories of the Jesuit Baroque, but this proposal also met with canonical difficulties. At first Balthasar's secularisation laid a heavy burden on him. Without funding - it was several years before a bishop would incardinate him into a diocese - he had to give lectures here, there and everywhere to earn his keep. The Roman Congregation for Seminaries and Universities (as it then was) inhibited him from accepting at least one offer of a chair from a Catholic theology faculty, that of Tubingen. In any case this was not what he wanted, and the time which might have been given to seminars and academic organisation was bestowed instead on spiritual direction and - above all for our purposes - his remaining books, and notably the trilogy, consisting in fact of fourteen books, six on theological aesthetics, five on theological dramatics and three on theological logic with which his name will henceforth be identified wherever Catholic theology is seriously studied.

The key to the trilogy is found in the Scholastic notion of transcendental determinations of being, qualities so pervasive throughout reality that they crop up in all the categories of particular being, and so may be said to 'transcend' such categorial distinctions as those differentiating substance and accident, quality and mode. It is the existence of these transcendental determinations - of which the most relevant to Balthasar are verum, the true, pulchrum, the beautiful, and bonum, the good, which allows the analogy of being, the various intensities of reality as manifested in the varying activity of beings at all levels, from amoeba to angel, to be pressed into service by patristic and mediaeval theology for speaking about God. For that which can be ascribed to being itself must surely have some validity in discourse about the ultimate Source of being, God.

There is a correspondence, an analogy, as well as a staggering disproportion - we remember how for Przywara both comparability and incomparability increase as we move closer to God - between worldly beauty and divine glory. There is a correspondence, an analogy, as well as a staggering disproportion between finite freedom and the infinite freedom of God. There is a correspondence, an analogy, as well as a staggering disproportion between the structure of created truth and the structure of divine truth. If the God of glory wished to show his beauty to the world in his incarnate Image he must at once take up forms within the world and shatter them so as to express the Glory beyond beauty. If the philanthropic God wished to show his goodness to the world in the protagonist of the saving drama that is the Lamb slain and victorious he must at once take up the dynamic pattern of human freedom and burst it from within so as to express the sovereign Love beyond all goodness. If the God of truth wished to make known his primordial truth to the world - himself as the
prima veritas, the 'First Truth' as St Thomas and St Catherine call him - then he must use, and in using take beyond their limits, laws of human thought and language so as to convey a revelation of truth beyond the heart of man in the incarnation of the Logos and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

I draw this introduction to a close by a brief evocation of Balthasar's last years and end. The ending of the Council, and the ensuing postconciliar crisis, coincided with the decline and death of Adrienne von Speyr in 1967. It was surely no coincidence that Balthasar's honouring and exploitation by Church authority began almost immediately afterwards. Separated from Adrienne, with whom Catholic officialdom has only in the last few years begun to come to terms, and his intellectual stature increasingly self-evident, he was exactly the kind of anti-liberal but reforming theologian, neo-patristic in his sympathies, with whom the Roman see in the later years of Paul VI's pontificate and that of John Paul II, liked to do business. It did no harm that his book on
The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church is theologically the profoundest book on the papacy ever written.[19] Not that Balthasar angled for church office or honours. On the contrary he shunned the proferred cardinalate, and only accepted, in view of a later conclave, and at the pope's urgent request, in an Ignatian spirit of obedience to the Roman pontiff, as well as with a subsidiary hope that the honour might vindicate Adrienne. He died at Basle, with the Johannesgemeinschaft, on 26 June 1988, three days before his investiture as cardinal. A fellow German-speaking cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger, said in his panegyric:

In a sense, his intuition was confirmed by the call to the next life which reached him on the eve of receiving that honour. He was able to stay entirely himself. But what the pope wanted to express by this gesture of recognition and even of respect remains justified: not in some isolated and private fashion but in virtue of his ministerial responsibility the Church tells us that he is an exact master of the faith, a guide towards the sources of living waters - a witness of the Word from whom we learn Christ, from whom we can learn life. '
For me, to live is Christ': this phrase ... from the Letter to the Philippians sums up in a final way his whole journey.[20]


I. P. Henrici, S.J., 'Hans Urs von Balthasar: A Sketch of His Life', in D. L. Schindler (ed),
Hans Urs von Baithasar. His Life and Work (San Francisco 1991), pp. 7-44; numerous details of his forebears, including Joseph Anton von Balthasar (1692- 1763), Jesuit missionary among the Indians of California; Josef Anton Felix (1737- 1810) and Joseph Anton (1761-1810), founders of, respectively, the city and cantonal libraries at Lucerne; Ludwig Felix (1825-47) who fell fighting for the liberty of the Catholic cantons in the Sonderbund war, in E. Guerriero, Hans Urs von Balthasar (Cinisello Balsamo, Milan 1991), pp. 11-19.

2. For Vilmos Apor of Gyor, see J. Kozi Horvath, Leben und Sterben von Bischof Apor (Munich 19852).

3. Die Entwicklung der musikalischen Idee. Versuch einer Syn these der Musik (Braunschweig 1925).

4. Geschichte des eschatologischen Problems in der modernen deutschen Literatur (Zurich 1930)

5. Such laws, in the context of a less dispersed system of authority in the post-
Revolutionary Swiss Confederation, had been framed in the aftermath of the
mid-nineteenth century religious war, lost by the principal Catholic cantons
(which included Lucerne). Thus C. Gilliard,
Histoire de la Suisse (Paris 19879), pp.

6. Apokalypse der deutschen Seele. Studien zu einer Lehre von letzten Haltungen I. Der deutsche Idealismus (Salzburg 1937); II Im Zeichen Nietzsches (Salzburg 1939); III Die Vergottlichung des Todes (Salzburg 1939).

7. H. U. von Balthasar, 'Einleitung', in A. von Speyr, Erde und Himmel, Em Tagebuch. Zweiter Tell, II: Die Zeit der grossen Diktate (Einsiedeln 1975), p. 195.

8. 'Einleiturtg', in L. Zimmy (ed.), Erich Przywara. Sein Schrifttum (Einsiedeln 1963), pp. 5-18.

9. H. U. von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac. Sein organisches Lebenswerk (Einsiedeln

10 Kosmische Liturgie. Hohe und Krise des griechischen Weitbilds bei Maximus Confessor (Freiburg 1941); to this should be added: Die Gnostische Cent urien des Maxirnus Confessor (Freiburg 1941); his Nyssa essay is: Presence et pensee. Essai sur la philosophic religieuse de Gregoire de Nysse (Paris 1942); note also in this connexion Gregor von Nyssa, der versiegelte Quell. Auslegung des Hohen Liedes (Salzburg 1939); on Origen, there is: Origenes, Geist und Feuer. Em Aufbau aus semen Werken (Salzburg 1938), an anthology produced in the course of writing 'Le Mystere d'Origène', Recherches de Science Religieuse 26 (1936), pp. 513-552,27(1937), pp. 38- 64, which itself was later reconstructed as: Parole et mystère chez Origène (Paris 1957).

11. Aurelius Augustinus, Ueber die Psalmen (Leipzig 1936); Aurelius Augustinus. Das Antlitz der Kirche (Einsiedeln-Cologne 1942).

Bernanos (Cologne-Olten 1954). I cite the title of the French version, Le chrétien Bernanos (Paris 1956). The Claudel translations are: Paul Claudel. Funf grosse Oden (Freiburg 1939); Paul Claudel. Der seidene Schuh (Salzburg 1939); Paul Claudel. Maria Verkundigung (Lucerne 1946); and others taken up into: Paul Claudel. Gesammelte Werke, I. Gedichte (Einsiedeln 1963), and Paul Claudel Corona Benignitatis Anni Dei (Einsiedeln 1964).

13. Karl Barth. Darstellung mid Deutung seiner Theologie (Olten-Cologne 1951); E.t. The Theology of Karl Barth (New York 1971; San Francisco 19922). For the consonances between the two theologies, see J. Thomson, 'Barth and Baithasar. An Ecumenical Dialogue', in B. McGregor, OP., and T. Norris (eds), The Beauty of Christ. An Introduction to the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (Edinburgh 1994), pp. 171 -192.

14. Unser Auftrag. Bericht und Entwurf (Einsiedeln 1984).

15. Schwestern irn Geist. Thérèse von Lisieux und Elisaheth von Dijon (Einsiedeln 1970).

16. Lindbeck, 'Scripture, Consensus and Community', in R. J. Neuhaus (ed), Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on Bible and Church (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1989), pp. 74-101.

17. Der Laie und der Ordenstand (Einsiedeln 1948; Freiburg 19492).

18. Cited in, Henrici, 'Hans Urs von Balthasar', in Schindler (ed), Hans Urs von Balthasar, p. 21.

Der anti-romische Affekt. Wie lasst sich das Papsttum in der Gesamtkirche integrieren? (Freiburg 1974); E.t. The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church (San Francisco 1989).

20. J. Ratzinger, 'Ein Mann der Kirche für die Welt', in K. Lehmann and W. Kasper
Hans Urs von Balthasar. Gestalt und Werk (Cologne 1989), pp. 353-354.

Extracts from "The Word Has Been Abroad" reproduced with the kind permission of the publisher.

Copyright ©; T&T Clark Ltd, 1998

First published 1998

ISBN 0 567 08594 5


Version: 6th February 2008


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