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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 time.

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, Theo-Drama, Theo-Logic;

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.


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