The Marian Theology of Von
The receptive prayerful attitude that one perceives in von Balthasar's work can be best understood by means of the Marian fiat indicating that theology begins in the response of the creature to God's self-manifestation. According to von Balthasar, Mary made to God, through the gift of grace, the perfect nuptial response of faith, and thus the Marianfiat has become the archetype, principle and exemplar of the faith response of the entire Church.  This paper, therefore, will attempt to present a limited summary of von Balthasar's Marian theology developed around the leitmotiv of the nuptial fiat, which explicitly or implicitly, penetrates his entire theological corpus.
Since von Balthasar, in the tradition of the early Fathers, sees Mary as the archetypal image of the Church, it follows that his conception of the Church is Marian, feminine, and bridal. He sees the Church as person, as body, as structure, and ultimately, as bride. First and foremost, of course, the Church is Christ; but when considered as Head and body, the Church is also a response to Christ, that is, a bridal self-surrender to Christ in faith. It is by means of the Church's response in faith, her personal fiat to the Divine Word, that the Church bears in her own flesh and spirit the fruit of Christ. Although she is made up of many subjects, the Church is not a mere collectivity of persons: a sociological reality. Her many members participate through infused grace in a single normative subject and its consciousness. Her inchoateness is fulfilled in the mystery of the Holy Spirit within her inmost ground, who alone can constitute her as subject and bride.  By means of her sacramental structure, Christ's most intimate divine life is communicated to the real persons who form the Church in a bond of love like unto marriage. For von Balthasar this reality of Church that revelation calls the bride of Christ is a mystery of faith. 
In the third volume of his Theo-Drama:
Persons in Christ, von Balthasar outlines the archetypal figure of
the Virgin Mary whom he considers "the Realsymbol" of the Church.  Drawing on the Fathers and Tradition, von Balthasar presents the Virgin of Nazareth as the individual
woman who personifies and is the very epitome of the Church in her essential bridal self-surrender to God. The
whole life of Mary is embodied, he says, in her fiat, the perfect consent that "allows
all," and by thus allowing God's Word to take complete possession
of her body and spirit, she "becomes womb and bride and mother of
the incarnating God." 
Her virginal consent becomes a maternal consent as she freely allows the divine initiative to make a new beginning in the Virgin Birth of her Son and she becomes Mother of Christ. Ultimately, the Mother of Christ becomes the Bride of Christ on Calvary wherein her free, faith-filled and now bridal consent to God's salvific will is brought to its highest achievement. Standing beside the Cross of Jesus, Mary receives in perfect faith and love the infinite fruitfulness flowing from the open wound in Christ's Heart. The new Eve receives the outpoured life and overflowing grace of the new Adam, intimately cooperating through her unrestricted fiat in his mission of redemptive love. 
As Virgin, Mother, and Bride of Christ, Mary becomes Mother of the Church from
the seed of spiritual fruitfulness which the immaculate Bride received from her crucified Son: his Body given and
His Blood poured out. As Virgin, Bride, and Mother, she gives birth to the Church again and again throughout the
An integral part of von Balthasar's Marian theology is the apostolic archetypes Peter, John, and Paul, who form in the Church, together with Mary, a necessary and indissoluble group of persons surrounding the human life of Christ.  Von Balthasar considers the Marian fiat as the foundational form, undergirding and sustaining the apostolic archetypes, for Mary's experience came first and thus wholly conditions the apostolic experience. 
The Church, therefore, coming forth from Christ "finds her personal center in Mary as well as the full realization of her idea as Church." Her Marian faith response to the Divine-human Bridegroom, is elevated in the Church to the status of principle and is coextensive with the masculine principle of Office and Sacrament in bearing the fruit of Christ for the world.  Knowing that all people are envisaged in God's plan, the Church can humbly know herself as the chosen representative of mankind before God "in faith, prayer, and sacrifice, in hope for all, and still more in love for all." As bride, in imitation of her Marian archetype, she turns to her Bridegroom so that she may serve as handmaid and give him back new offspring shaped in the form of Christ, as well as receive from her Head, "in the depths of their intimacy," the entire Trinitarian life.  Her whole disposition can only be a feminine dependence on God embodied in Mary's fiat.
Von Balthasar's Marian theology has a contemplative orientation. This is clear in his insistence that the first duty of the Bride-Church to her Bridegroom is the glorification of divine love. This divine love was poured into Mary's pure womb as the first-fruit of redemptive grace, and she fully responded with her fiat of faith and adoration.  It is this Marian receptivity and response to the Word of God which is the sole purpose of the contemplative life of the Church wherever it is found.
Like her Marian archetype, the contemplative desires to give a similar answer of obedience and adoration, a service of pure glorifying thanksgiving to absolute love. Like Mary, the contemplative identifies herself with the "innermost center of the Church where she is simply the bride in the presence of the Bridegroom." It is the life which Jesus praised in the Gospel, the life of Mary at his feet:
Confirmation by St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas, in discussing the Marian fiat, seems to confirm von Balthasar's basic viewpoint. According to St. Thomas, Mary's fiat was necessary in order to show that a spiritual
marriage was being enacted between the Son of God and human nature. Mary's "yes" stood for the "yes" of all God's people thereby making it possible for every person to pronounce his own personal
fiat and attain intimate
union with the divine nature. 
In commenting on the mystical meaning of the wedding at Cana, the Angelic Doctor teaches that Mary is present in
the mystical marriage of the soul with God and that it is she who arranges the marriage, because through her intercession
the soul is joined to Christ through grace. St. Thomas calls Mary consolatrix and mediatrix.
 In his commentary on the
Incarnation St. Thomas declares that Mary is so full of grace, that it overflows to us, and in this overflowing
plenitude of grace Mary excels all the saints. 
Mary is a dramatic character, according to von Balthasar, because her Immaculate Conception locates her personal existence "between a paradisal (supralapsarian) existence and human life in its fallen state."  This must necessarily be so because the privilege of her Immaculate Conception freed her from any influence of sin yet she lived her human existence in the fallen world of sin. It is so, secondly, because her personal life is situated at the passageway between the Old Covenant of law and sin and the New Covenant of grace and Spirit.
Finally, it is so because her existence lies in the eschatological tension between time and eternity. Although she herself has regained Paradise in her Assumption, as Mother of all the living she "gives birth to the Messiah-scion and his brothers in the birth-pangs of the Cross."  In von Balthasar's view,
Proposal for Future Development
Perhaps von Balthasar's Mariology with its in-depth penetration of the Marian fiat could be given even firmer ground by rooting it metaphysically in the participation metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas especially as it is being developed by contemporary Thomists.
According to St. Thomas's theory of the participation of being, God is ipsum subsistens esse and every finite creature participates in existence, proceeding in an ascending order. Whereas bodies participate only in being, souls participate according to their nature in being and life, and intellect participates in being, life and intelligence. 
Cornelio Fabro, probably the greatest expositor of Thomistic metaphysics, in commentating on the above statement says:
With respect to the person of Mary could not this be restated in the light of the
Immaculate Virgin Mother as the unique, most exalted of human persons in the plan of salvation? Her immaculately
conceived being participated, above all others, in the life and the being of God. Her fiat opened the door for fallen humanity to participate
in her fiat, and to ascend
to God by means of countless graces of imitation and similarity in being. Such a study might well deepen and fructify
the Church's awareness of Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces and make a significant contribution to the discussion
of the proposed dogma. As W. Norris Clarke mentions in the concluding remarks of his lecture on the metaphysical
ascent to God through Thomistic participation, slightly adapted to fit "our
metaphysical wings," it may be that the efficacy of the arguments
is so inextricably involved in a profound existential commitment of the living dynamism of the spirit to a truly
personal quest for the full intelligibility of the [Marian fiat] that it can remain opaque if one stands back in a purely detached, abstract, logical perspective.
It may well be, as in Plotinus himself, that the strands of the metaphysical and the mystical quests are so tightly
interwoven that they are fully separable only by violence. The quest for the hidden Center of the [universal Church]
whose presence - or better, the exigency for whose presence - most of mankind seems to feel obscurely, dimly, and
inarticulately in the ineffable recesses of their minds and hearts, may well have to be a quest of the whole person,
of the whole being of a man or a woman. 
These words inspired the following insight in Ambassador Dee:
The present writer is suggesting that the participation metaphysics of St. Thomas, underpinning von Balthasar's penetrating theological understanding of Mary's limitless fiat flowing from her unique creation as the Immaculate Conception, might provide a fresh foundational resource for the proposed dogma of Our Lady as Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix of all Graces, and Advocate.
3. Angelo Scola, Hans Urs von Balthasar: a Theological Style (Grand Rapids: Eerdsman, 1995), 9: "Even today, thirty years later, I could retrace my steps back to that remote path in the Black Forest, not too far from Basle, and rediscover the tree under which I was struck, as if by lightning. . . and what suddenly entered my mind then was neither theology, nor the priesthood. It was simply this: you do not have to choose anything, you have been called! You will not serve, you will be taken into service. You do not have to make plans of any sort, you are only a pebble in a mosaic prepared long before. All that I had to do was simply to leave everything behind and follow, without making any plans, without desires or particular intuitions. I had only to remain there to see how I could be useful."
4. Von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology II Spouse of the Word, essay: "Who is the Church?", trans. A.V. Littledale (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 161.
5. lbid., 191.
6. lbid., 186.
7. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo Drama, vol. 3: Dramatis Personae: Persons in Christ, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 333.
8. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Das Katholische an der Kirche (= Kolner Beitrage 10; Cologne: Wienand, 1972), 10-11 quoted in The von Balthasar Reader, trans. Robert J. Daly and Fred Lawrence, ed. Medard KehI and Werner Loser with an Introduction by Medard Kehl (Edinburgh T. &T Clark, 1985), 214.
9. For von Balthasar's discussion of the development of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception see Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, vol. 3: Dramatis Personae: Persons in Christ, 296-297; 3 19-323.
10. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Threefold
Garland, trans Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press,
12. Balthasar, Explorations in Theology II Spouse of the Word: "Mary, in giving birth spiritually and physically to the Son, becomes the universal Mother of all believers, for the Church as body is born of Christ and is herself Christ," 165. See also Hans Urs von Balthasar, Commentary on Mary: God's Yes to Man: Encyclical letter, Mother of the Redeemer, John Paul II, trans. Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press 1987): "Mary's abundantly effective faith, especially under the Cross. is. by her dying Son, made part of his actions in bringing forth the Church. This justifies the title 'Mother of the Church', bestowed on Mary by Pope Paul VI," 172.
14. Urs von Balthasar, The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church, trans. Andree Emery (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 206-207.
15. Balthasar, Das Katholische an der Kirche quoted in The Von Balthasar Reader "In this fundamental act in the room at Nazareth, in this alone the Church of Christ is founded as
Catholic. Its catholicity is the unconditional character of the Ecce Ancilla ('behold the handmaid') whose offer of infinite accommodation is the creaturely counterpart
to the infinitely self-bestowing love of God," 214.
17. lbid., 362.
18. Von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology IL Spouse of the Word, 161. For a discussion of the "Marian Principle" see Hans Urs von Balthasar, Elucidations, trans. the Publishers (London: S.PC.K., 1975), 64-72.
19.Von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology II: Spouse of the Word, 183.
20. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone, trans. and ed. Alexander Dru (New York:
21. Ibid 88.
22. Von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology
II: Spouse of the Word, 36.
24. St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, ed. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. (Albany, N.Y.: Magi Books, Inc., 1980), n. 343, n. 344.
25. Ibid, n. 201; see also St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, (Blackfriars Summa) vol. 51, Our Lady trans. and ed. Thomas R. Heath, O.P. (N.Y.: McGraw Hill, 1969), appendix 1, 93-95.
26. Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, vol.
3: Dramatis Personae: Persons in Christ, 295-3 18.
28. Ibid 318-339.
29. Ibid 319.
30. Ibid., 328.
31. Ibid., 334.
32. Ibid., 338.
33. Thomas Aquinas, In l. De Causis, 1,19; ed. Saffrey 106, 11-13, quoted in Cornelio Fabro, "The Intensive Hermeneutics of Thomistic Philosophy: The Notion of Participation," trans. by B.M. Bonansea, Review of Metaphysics 27 (1974), 479.
35. W. Norris Clarke, The Philosophical
Approach to God (Winston-Salem, No. Carolina: Wake Forest University,
1979), 38. In the adapted quotation the brackets replace "universe" in both instances.
© Copyright 2002 Mark I Miravalle, S.T.D