Preface to Hans
Urs von Balthasar-Gestalt und Werk
When Hans Urs von Balthasar suddenly left us on June 26,1988
the world lost a man of a stature seldom found today. No less
a person than Henri de Lubac considered him the most cultured
man of our time. He was a man of the Gospel, of intellectual
life, and of culture who uniquely encompassed the great Western
and European heritage. Two days before he was to receive the
insignia of Cardinal by which John Paul II wanted to honor this
teacher of the Church, he took his farewell as if he still wanted
to forego the honor which he had accepted in obedience: he was
too shaped by the poverty and self-expropriation attested in
the Gospel, especially with regard to himself.
This man fits no theological, academic, cultural, or political
pigeonholes. He was at home everywhere, and yet be was on a restless
spiritual journey without ever giving the impression of hectic
haste. The usual classifications and political labels (left-right,
progressive-conservative-reactionary) could never capture him.
His life is a rich testimony of new departures that never brought
him to waver in his faithfulness to what is original and essential.
Here lies the source of the sovereign manner in
which he could judge the spiritual currents and fashions of our
Although his work is inexhaustible in the abundant number of
books he wrote, and although it developed with surprising freshness,
it is always concerned with "the one thing" which he
considered the one thing necessary, as his master did in the
house of Mary and Martha. The deed of God's absolute love enraptured
him unceasingly. Let us allow him to say in his own words where
he saw the greatest gift given to the Church:
"The deepest thing in Christianity is God's love for the
earth. That God is rich in his heaven is something known also
by other religions. That he wanted to be poor together with his
creatures, that in his heaven, he wanted to and did indeed suffer
for his world, and that through his Incarnation he enabled himself
to prove the suffering of his love to his creatures: this is
the hitherto unheard-of thing."
His every concern was to refold this one center in its many dimensions
and to refold the many figures and styles into the one mystery.
In one person, Hans Urs von Balthasar realized a number of callings
each of which could have filled more than a whole life for others--supposing
that they had comparable gifts of the spirit and of grace. These
callings should at least be indicated:
the spiritual master who accompanied many individuals and quite
a number of communities with
his discreet spiritual and pastoral care;
the theologian who created an incomparable synthesis of manifold
experiences of God in his main
work in three parts and fifteen volumes, The Glory of the Lord,
the writer who was given a rare "charism of writing"
(Alois M. Haas) and had all stylistic forms and
keys of human language at his disposal; the translator of many
works from Greek, Latin, Spanish,
and especially French--Paul Claudel and Henri de Lubac, to mention
only two representative
the editor and publisher of
the independent publishing house founded by him, Johannes Veriag,
which published inalienable treasures of a spiritual Europe and
who brought the German public into contact with great works of
theology and spirituality, especially French works:
a great builder of bridges
between German and French culture; together with the Swiss physician
and convert Adrienne von Speyr--whose life work in sixty volumes
he edited--he became the founder and especially the spiritual
director of the Community of St. John, an activity through which,
together with his theological writings, he gave a great impetus
to other secular institutes. What else should one mention?
The scholar of German literature, the highly gifted musician,
the friend of art....
Communio was one of the things he founded. At the beginning of
the '70s when Hans Urs von Balthasar launched this International
Catholic Review together with friends associated with the International
Theological Commission (the first number of the German edition
appeared in 1972), he fulfilled a call that he had long sensed,
often postponed, and almost abandoned. He gave to Communio not
only its spiritual program and inner dimensions, but, from the
beginning up to the last days before his death, he was also its
guiding spirit. He not only convened and led the small annual
editorial gatherings in Basel; even at the great international
conferences he was spiritually the undoubted center in what had
meanwhile grown into twelve editorial teams across the world.
Only a future time will be able to assess how much Hans Urs von
Balthasar contributed to the construction and cohesion of Communio,
especially through his extensive correspondence and through his
friendships throughout the world-for the longest time in close
collaboration, at times filled with tension but always fruitful,
with Franz Greiner, who was executive editor from the beginning
until his death a year before von Balthasar and who was the organizational
column of the whole.
This volume is intended as a sign of memory, of reverence and
of gratitude for everything we owe to Hans Urs von Balthasar.
At the same time it hopes to be a stimulus for the world of thought
and of culture, and especially for Christians and theologians,
to discover anew a figure who is unique in our century, in his
wisdom superior to and independent from all fashions of the day.
We hope for a new future in the figure and work of Hans Urs von
Balthasar. He is a thinker of the Catholic Faith, of a sort that
is urgently needed by the Church and the world.
LEHMANN AND BISHOP WALTER KASPER