Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Monday, April 03, 2006

Apologia pro Balthasar

I have received cautionary correspondence regarding the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, in response to this post. Well... there were also worries about St Thomas Aquinas' work when he expounded his theology! Indeed, there was much controversy and heat in the church when the Order of Preachers were established! What such episodes in Dominican history teach me is that one ought to be cautious about being too swift to judge those whom the Church herself allows to engage freely in the craft and art of theology. With regard to Balthasar's work, Cardinal Ratzinger said:

"In several passages Balthasar expresses the opinion that the tightening vice of the Augustinian doctrine of predestination, which sets a final limit to the Church's ability to aid and bear the sinner, is gradually beginning to open up today. Not that Balthasar, the great scholar and translator of Origen, intends to argue in favour of Origenism in the sense of a doctrine of apocatastasis. He is well aware that such a move jeopardizes every notion of election and he is absolutely resolute in his objection to 'a certain exhilaration at being redeemed' (I, 250).

But he teaches us again more plainly to leave to God what is God's and not to take it upon ourselves to fix the decision ahead of time in one direction or another - in Origenian or extreme Augustinian fashion. And above all he reminds us that when God acts historically to reject or to elect, as Holy Scripture records in relating the stories of Isaac and Ishmael, of Jacob and Esau, of Moses and Pharoah and finally of the whole of Israel, what is at stake is not the eternal salvation and damnation of these figures, but, quite simply, action belonging to salvation history executed in this world...

Balthasar's thought is an open thought which grows in dialogue and risks dialogue in all directions: with the severe Protestantism of a Karl Barth, as well as with the contemporary spirit, and its alienation from Christ, with the major world religions, with Israel, with the witnesses of Christian history. But above all, Balthasar is in dialogue with the 'Word' itself, the Word of God in Scripture, which - the reader notices again and again - the author has penetrated by personal contemplation, read and loved even in its most hidden recesses. Everywhere one is conscious of this firm rootedness in the Word, a rootedness which is unafraid of the hard data of philology and history, which does not seek refuge in a meditative idyll, yet which is not swamped by philology, but is able to hear the in the word of man the God who is speaking. And everywhere one perceives a truly Church-minded attitude, not in the sense of a false servility to traditional opinions which wrongfully label themselves as especially representative of the Church, much rather in the sense of a life truly lived by the spirit and the faith of the Church; out of a true love for the Church, a love, that is, which is honest, and only by its honesty becomes fully love. That Balthasar's theology, for all its breadth and openness, is a truly devout theology gives it its special dignity and claim on our attention. Of course, much of what is said in this theology remains a provisional first sketch which requires further debate and inquiry. But can man's mind live at all except by questioning, through which alone he lays hold of new truth, and, even having done so, remains unfinished with his quest and is thus summoned to new questioning? Balthasar's work is a true gift to contemporary theology and, thanks to the uncompromising radicalness with which it totally engages both faith and thought, with which it never fails to accept both the world of faith and the world of today with unreserved honesty, an encouraging sign that faith - the whole faith, not merely a watered-down makeshift - can also be thought, lived and loved in the world of today."

(Communio XXII, No.3 - Fall 1995)

Thus, I think we should read and engage with Balthasar's thought and before raising an objection, ask: what does the theologian intend to say and what do we risk losing sight of in Catholic theology if a (disputed/controversial) opinion is allowed to stand? If something is not truly at risk, then perhaps, one has jumped the gun and become simply and - given that the author quoted above is now Benedict XVI - actually more Catholic than the Pope!


Blogger Boeciana said...

I dunno, I've only read extracts of von B and I haven't read Pitstick's book! I presume Benedict knows better than me regarding almost everything, and certainly everything theological. It just seems an interesting thing which has come up in this recent work. In any case, so weit ich weiss Pitstick isn't talking mostly about the universalism; it's the stuff about the descent into Hell which sounds really weird. I don't know, wie ich gesagt habe; and of course someone can write loads of good stuff which is quite unaffected by some dodgy stuff. I just thought it was worth saying, since the author is a friend of friends so I know she's not a loon! It's precisely for theological students like you to evaluate... (Ask Aelianus on Laodicea, who has theology degrees and knows wot he's talking about.)

Pax et bonum vobis!

10:15 pm  
Blogger Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Thank you for your clarification. I think "Mysterium Paschale" is challenging and at first sight can come across as somewhat 'wierd' but it repays further reading and contemplation. Let's face it: most works of mysticism are challenging in this way and so much of Balthasar has the quality of the mystic - not surprising given Von Speyr's influence.

My feeling on this is that there is a profound beauty in his reading of the utter depths of Christ's love and obedience and he brings out the full implications of Christ's kenosis.

I have yet to be convinced about what is just so wrong or worrisome about Balthasar's ideas but am open to input on this.

I also want to make clear that I don't think he is 100% right nor the only theology worth reading. As this blog should make clear: I read and extrapolate quite broadly, across a reasonable spectrum of thinkers but Balthasar's contemplative and mystical vision of theology appeals to me in many ways.

11:32 pm  

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