Hans Urs von Balthasar’s “ever greater”

Reading von Balthasar one finds many of the same concerns and interests that motivated a number of other mid-twentieth century theologians, Catholic or Protestant. But in von Balthasar one hears such a different theological voice coming through, and this is surely because of von Balthasar’s immersion in patristic writers. As Ben Quash puts it, Balthasar found in the patristic writers “‘mystical warmth’ and ‘rhetorical power,’ and no fear of paradox. He found a genuinely prayerful theology; a reverent relationship to God and a sense of his dynamism and freedom.” In von Balthasar God is free and unconstrained by late modern notions of causation or agency; God’s own self-engagement with humanity can only be characterized—as von Balthasar will emphasize time and again—as “excess”, the “ever-greater”, the “yet more”.

Only God, acting in Christ, takes man’s finitude, guilt, and death seriously into account. He does not stand aloof in contempt for the things of this world and the activities to which it is tragically committed, in order to resettle man in a spiritual world on the other side; he relates the whole fiasco of life in this world to the beyond, so that it makes sense, making all man’s troubles in the world the foundation of his work of resurrection, salvaging the ‘mark of the nails’ (Jn. 20:25) in the glory of eternal life. The sweat and blood of man were not in vain; God acting freely salvages everything when the world is cast in its final and perfect form. Hence in the solution that God offers to this mystery which is man, the tensions still exist, and no aspect of man’s being is merely suppressed. For God is great enough to embrace this eternally open being in the ever greater expanse of his own openness (Engagement with God: The Drama of Christian Discipleship [1971], 84)

Should Theologians Be Spiritual? Part 2

After looking briefly at Hans Urs Von Balthasar, I thought it would be appropriate to look at a Balthasar commentator, Mark McIntosh. mystical-theologyI will mainly be referring to McIntosh’s prolegomna discussion in his book Mystical Theology. He starts by addressing some issues in defining spirituality, landing on an understanding which focuses on a discovery of the true self through an encounter with the divine and human other. This lays a platform for a discussion of spirituality and theology:

Perhaps one might think initially in terms of encounter with God as the common ground of spirituality and theology: spirituality being the impression that this encounter makes in the transforming life of people, and theology being the expression that this encounter calls forth as people attempt to understand and speak of the encounter” (6 – my emphasis).

McIntosh pushes away from seeing “experiential phenomena” as the defining features of the spiritual life, because when they are, “spirituality seems to lose its theological voice” (9). Continue reading

Should Theologians be Spiritual? Part 1

There is a sense where this question is obvious. Of course theologians should be spiritual, shouldn’t everyone? hans_urs_von_balthasarBut the question is a bit deeper than this. In taking upon oneself the task of being a theologian under the Word, for the church, is part of the task holiness? In so doing, we will be asking a further question, namely, does personal holiness in any way affect the quality of theology?

I will do a handful of these posts looking at this question as somewhat of a follow up to my previous post on the seven deadly spiritual sins for theologians. In this post, I will look at Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Word and Redemption to see what insight Balthasar has for this question.

The Great Divide: Theology and Spirituality

Balthasar starts his chapter entitled “Theology and Sanctity” with: Continue reading