Category Archives: Hans Urs von Balthasar

A Roman Catholic’s (Hans Urs von Balthasar’s) Doctrine of Scripture: Christ, the Holy Ground that Makes Scripture Holy and Intelligible

As a Reformed Protestant Christian Holy Scripture is very important to me, for obvious reasons. But of course how we understand and develop a doctrine of Scripture, and its ontology relative to God, is diffuse. I am prone, also obviously (at this point) to follow Karl Barth’s theory of revelation, and how that implicates, then, the development of a so called theology of the Word. In light of that, then, the following quote (I’m about to share) from Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar might seem ironic (since he is well, Roman Catholic). But what you’ll see is that what Balthasar offers, as he argues from his ‘aesthetic’ and ‘beauty’ based theological paradigm, is that what he articulates in regard to Scripture’s ontology is quite coordinate with what we might find in Karl Barth’s or even Thomas Torrance’s understanding of Scripture. You will also read something in the quote that I don’t fully agree with, even if I think it can be qualified in such a way that still fits within say something like Barth’s threefold form of the Word, or the classical Reformed’s fourfold form of the Word (well at least in a kind of incidental way). Here is what von Balthasar has to say about the Word:

It was this image, seen with the eyes of faith and of faith’s insight, that the eye-witnesses rendered, first, an oral and then a written testimony. And, just as the Holy Spirit was in their eyes so that the image should spring into view, so, too, was he in their mouth and in their pen so that the likeness (Nachbild)which they drew up of the original image (Ur-Bild) should  correspond to the vision which God’s Holy Spirit himself possesses of God’s self-representation in the flesh. We must, then, repeat that Scripture is not the Word itself, but rather the Spirit’s testimony concerning the Word, which springs from an indissoluble bond and marriage between the Spirit and those eyewitnesses who were originally invited and admitted to the vision. With such an understanding of Scripture, we can say further that its testimony possesses and inner form which is canonical simply by being such a form, and for this reason we can ‘go behind’ this form only at the risk of losing both image and Spirit conjointly. Only the final result of the historical developments which lie behind the text—a history never to be adequately reconstructed—may be said to be inspired, not the bits and scraps which philological analysis thinks it can tear loose from the finished totality in order, as it were, to steal up to the form from behind in the hope of enticing it to betray its mystery by exposing its development. Does it not make one suspicious when Biblical philology’s first move in its search for an ‘understanding’ of its texts is to dissect their form into sources, psychological motivations, and the sociological effects of milieu, even before the form has been really contemplated and read its meaning as form? For we can be sure of one thing: we can never again recapture the living totality of form once it has been dissected and sawed into pieces, no matter how informative the conclusions which this anatomy may bring to light. Anatomy can be practiced only on a dead body, since it is opposed to the movement of life and seeks to pass from the whole to its parts and elements. It is not impossible that certain relations within the canonical form itself may occasionally call for and justify such a procedure. But one should first ask whether such attempts to work back ‘scientifically’ to real or alleged sources are not most useful when they once again demonstrate the indivisibility of the definitively expressed Word. With respect to our scholars, may we not credit the Holy Spirit with a little divine humour, a little divine irony? And would it be wholly erroneous to find some connection between this divine irony and humour and the Gospel’s fourfold form? This would suggest that the unique and divine plasticity of the living, incarnate Word could not be witnessed to other than through this system of perspectives which, although it cannot be further synthesized, compensates for this by offering a stereoscopic vista. And the divine irony would further suggest that the main fruits to be gathered from the very unfruitfulness and failure of the scientific experiment would be the every clearer exigency of returning to the one thing necessary. We must return to the primary contemplation of what is really said, really presented to us, really meant. Regardless of how distasteful this may be to some, we must stress that, in the Christian realm, such contemplation exactly corresponds to the aesthetic contemplation that steadily and patiently beholds those forms which either nature or art offers to its view. Inspiration in its totality is to be grasped only in the form, never in psychology and biography. And, therefore, it any kind of Biblical philology is to be fruitful, it must have its point of departure in form and must lead back to it. Only ‘Scripture’ itself possesses the power and the authority to point authentically to the highest figure that has ever walked upon the earth, a figure in keeping with whose sovereignty it is to create for himself a body by which to express himself. But a body is itself a ‘field’, and it requires another ‘field’ in which to expand, a field part of whose form it must already be if it is to stand in contrast to it. Christ’s existence and his teachings would not be a comprehensible form if it were not for his rootedness in a salvation-history that leads up to him. Both in his union with this history and in his relief from it, Christ becomes for us the image that reveals the invisible God. Even Scripture is not an isolated book, but rather is embedded in the context of everything created, established, and effected by Christ—the total reality constituted by his work and activity in the world. Only in this context is the form of Scripture perceivable.[1]

If you’re familiar at all with Brevard Child’s canonical critical approach, or Barth’s second naïveté approach, or Thomas Torrance’s mediation of Christ approach, or George Lindbeck’s cultural linguistic approach, or Matthew Levering’s participatory approach; then what Balthasar is communicating might be familiar to you, at some level or resonance anyway.

The only real pushback I’d offer Balthasar is against his claim that Scripture is not properly understood as the Word. Scripture itself, in its own “self-understanding,” canonically read, refers to itself as the Word of God (see Hebrews 4:12 and its surrounding near context). But that said, Balthasar’s basic point is well taken. Scripture itself is part of a web of realities and finds its orientation and “Holiness” (as John Webster so eloquently argues!) only insofar as it is properly situated within the economy of God’s Triune life. Scripture has an ‘ontology’ (or ‘being’) relative to the ‘order’ provided for, again, in the economy of God’s life—which is reference to his penetration into the world, in a God-world relation, wherein he has chosen to accommodate himself to and for us, within the created and contingent realm of things wherein humans have been given space to function in a coherent and intelligible fashion; but only because God by his Word, has graciously and freely chosen for that to be the outcome of things (i.e. creation and now recreation itself). In other words, per Balthasar’s basic premise, Scripture has no context or importance without its primary context provided for by the living reality of God’s Word who is Jesus Christ, the eternal Son (cf. John 1:1). We see how Balthasar thinks this doctrine of Scripture impacts how we interpret it.

Which brings up another important point: I would contend along with Balthasar, that attempting to access Scripture’s meaning apart from Christ as regulative of that, apart from a dialogical context wherein the interpreter is in ongoing contact with Scripture’s reality through prayer (i.e. Christ and the Triune life), that mere text-critical analysis will never be able to get at what Scripture is really all about; i.e. encounter with the living God in Jesus Christ. If Jesus is the context of Holy Scripture, if he is the Holy ground of Scripture, then to not take our sandals off on that ground, and tremble (cf. Is. 66), means we will skip off the real meaning of Scripture every time! Balthasar is onto something.

[1] Hans Urs Von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. I: Seeing the Form (San Francisco: Igantius Press/New York: Crossroad Publication, 1983), 31-2.

Advertisements

Knowing God: Analogy of Being or Faith? Barth, Balthasar, McCormack

I have recently been having a discussion with someone that has revolved somewhat around what has been called the analogia entis or “the analogy of being.” My book chapter for our forthcoming book also orbits around this same place of discussion. The “analogy of being” was first given cogent articulation by medieval theologian par excellence, Thomas Aquinas. Since Thomas there have been other iterations of this same basic approach to knowledge of God. In its most basic form the “analogy of being” can be said to be a way of knowing God that looks to the creation for providing basic building blocks for entering into an understanding of God. In other words, reality is seen in hierarchical terms so that all of reality is interconnected in a way that allows for humanity to reason its way back or up to the “Unmoved Mover,” or God. Another way of explaining the analogy of being would be to note that it is a philosophical system of thought wherein man reasons from the effects of creation to what the cause of said effects must require in order for the cause to be the cause. In other words by a series of negations man looks at creation, reflects upon what kind of power it must have taken to accomplish the feat of creation; looks at man himself, identifies that man does not have this kind of all encompassing, power, knowledge, and foresight thus positing that what they are, the cause of creation must not be. Instead the cause of creation must be much much greater than humanity. This then provides the categories for how we ought to conceive of God (according to the analogy of being).

Karl Barth, of all people, did not agree with this approach; he was a proponent of what he appropriated as the analogia fidei or the analogy of faith. Stated simply, the analogy of faith holds that knowledge of God must proceed from God’s self-revelation; not the creation. The push back to this from those who follow the analogy of being is that creation is all that we have as humans to know God through, and thus to posit any other idea of knowing God apart from this reality is the height of naivete. They would argue that even the self-revelation of God in Christ—the Incarnation—involves creation, given the fact that Jesus assumes a real human body and nature in order to communicate God to humanity. This seems to pose a problem for those who would want to maintain the analogy of faith (like I do). Modern Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar thinks so, and he directs his concern towards Barth. Bruce McCormack doesn’t think so, and he responds, in Barth’s defense, to Balthasar’s problem with Barth by articulating how Barth avoided the analogy of being (even though Balthasar didn’t think so) in a way that elides Balthasar’s belief to the contrary. Here is McCormack and Balthasar:

In his famous 1951 book on Barth’s theology, Hans Urs von Balthasar concluded that Barth had not been able to eliminate the “analogy of being” after all; indeed, the “analogy of faith” as taught by him required an “analogy of being” to complete it.

If revelation is centered in Jesus Christ, there must be by definition a periphery to this center. Thus, as we [Roman Catholics] say, the order of the Incarnation presupposes the order of creation, which is not identical with it. And, because the order of creation is oriented to the order of the Incarnation, it is structured in view of the Incarnation; it contains images, analogies, as it were, dispositions, which in a true sense are the presuppositions for the Incarnation. For example, interhuman relationships—between man and woman or between friends—are a true presupposition for the fact that Jesus can become our brother. It is because man is a social being that he is capable in the first place of entering into a covenant with God, as God intended. And this natural order is for its part only possible on the basis of God’s interpersonal nature, his triune nature, of which the human being is a true image. [Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth, 163]

Von Balthasar is right to find an “analogy of being” in Barth, but he is right for all the wrong reasons. That the order of the incarnation presupposes the order of creation, that Jesus can become our brother because human being is by nature (i.e., as created) interpersonal, and that humans are able to enter into a covenant with God only because  of their (inherent?) sociality—-all of these claims give expression to an “analogy of being’ which remained throughout Barth’s life utterly foreign to his thinking. But there is a true “analogy of being” in Barth’s thought which was first adumbrated as the predicate of the divine act of relating to the human creature and which was then given concreteness in the doctrine of election set forth in CD II/2. “Analogy of being,” understood in Barthian terms, is an analogy between an eternal divine act of Self-determination and a historical human act of self-determination and the “being” (divine and human) which is given in each. Human being in the act of faith and obedience in response to the covenant of grace corresponds to the being of the gracious God; this is the shape of the analogy. Barth’s conflict with the Roman Catholic version was and always remained a conflict between his own covenant ontology and the essentialist ontology presupposed by the Catholic tradition, which von Balthasar’s thought continued to embody. To that extent, it was also a conflict between modern and, in its way, “historicized” mode of reflection on the being-in-act of God, on the one hand, and tradition theism, on the other. . . . [Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox And Modern: Studies In The Theology of Karl Barth, 199-200]

Ultimately the conflict that Barth was seeking to avert was to make God’s being and persons dependent upon creation. The fear, simply stated; was that if the analogy of being was given creedance, then who we know God to be is not Self-determined by Him, but instead, it would be Pre-determined by the categories man had constructed based upon man’s reflection upon creation. Barth’s genius was to conceive of a theological grammar that honors both God’s Self-determinating freedom to be who He is in Himself, and at the same time that honors man’s self-determining freedom to be who He is through Christ’s decision to be human (election). As it can be observed by McCormack’s analysis; Barth operated with an actualistic metaphysic that grounds God’s being in His choice to be man in Christ (Covenant of Grace). And it is the execution of this choice in historic time wherein the corresponding Yes to this choice (of God for man, and not God without man) by the God-Man, that the analogy of faith finds its proper orientation. In this way there is space for God to be God for creation (not because of it), and for man to know this choice through the actualisation of it in Christ. It is in this relationship that God has freely chosen to give Himself being, and in the process of this giving; He has given humanity their being by electing their humanity for Himself. This is the realm wherein creation finds its taxis, and it is within this ‘order’ that knowledge of God comes to fruition; that is, by God acting on us, for us. In so doing the only ‘being’ that provides interpretive friction for knowing God, is His own being given to us in the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

The only reason I wrote this out like this, really, was to engage in an exercise that would make me articulate my own interpretation of what I just read. If this has been  helpful to you; then good! If not, sorry 😦 !

An old post from 2011

Knowing God: Being versus Faith/Von Balthasar versus Barth

I have recently been having a discussion with someone that has revolved somewhat around what has been called the analogia entis or “the analogy of being.” My book chapter for our forthcoming book also orbits around this same place of discussion. The “analogy of being” was first given cogent articulation by medieval theologian par excellence, Thomas Aquinas. Since Thomas there have been other iterations of this same basic approach to knowledge of God. In its most basic form the “analogy of being” can be said to be a way of knowing God that looks to the creation for providing basic building blocks for entering into an understanding of God. In other words, reality is seen in hierarchical terms so that all of reality is interconnected in a way that allows for humanity to reason its way back or up to the “Unmoved Mover,” or God. Another way of explaining the analogy of being would be to note that it is a philosophical system of thought wherein man reasons from the effects of creation to what the cause of said effects must require in order for the cause to be the cause. In other words by a series of negations man looks at creation, reflects upon what kind of power it must have taken to accomplish the feat of creation; looks at man himself, identifies that man does not have this kind of all encompassing, power, knowledge, and foresight thus positing that what they are, the cause of creation must not be. Instead the cause of creation must be much much greater than humanity. This then provides the categories for how we ought to conceive of God (according to the analogy of being).

Karl Barth, of all people, did not agree with this approach; he was a proponent of what he appropriated as the analogia fidei or the analogy of faith. Stated simply, the analogy of faith holds that knowledge of God must proceed from God’s self-revelation; not the creation. The push back to this from those who follow the analogy of being is that creation is all that we have as humans to know God through, and thus to posit any other idea of knowing God apart from this reality is the height of naivete. They would argue that even the self-revelation of God in Christ—the Incarnation—involves creation, given the fact that Jesus assumes a real human body and nature in order to communicate God to humanity. This seems to pose a problem for those who would want to maintain the analogy of faith (like I do). Modern Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar thinks so, and he directs his concern towards Barth. Bruce McCormack doesn’t think so, and he responds, in Barth’s defense, to Balthasar’s problem with Barth by articulating how Barth avoided the analogy of being (even though Balthasar didn’t think so) in a way that elides Balthasar’s belief to the contrary. Here is McCormack and Balthasar:

In his famous 1951 book on Barth’s theology, Hans Urs von Balthasar concluded that Barth had not been able to eliminate the “analogy of being” after all; indeed, the “analogy of faith” as taught by him required an “analogy of being” to complete it.

If revelation is centered in Jesus Christ, there must be by definition a periphery to this center. Thus, as we [Roman Catholics] say, the order of the Incarnation presupposes the order of creation, which is not identical with it. And, because the order of creation is oriented to the order of the Incarnation, it is structured in view of the Incarnation; it contains images, analogies, as it were, dispositions, which in a true sense are the presuppositions for the Incarnation. For example, interhuman relationships—between man and woman or between friends—are a true presupposition for the fact that Jesus can become our brother. It is because man is a social being that he is capable in the first place of entering into a covenant with God, as God intended. And this natural order is for its part only possible on the basis of God’s interpersonal nature, his triune nature, of which the human being is a true image. [Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth, 163]

Von Balthasar is right to find an “analogy of being” in Barth, but he is right for all the wrong reasons. That the order of the incarnation presupposes the order of creation, that Jesus can become our brother because human being is by nature (i.e., as created) interpersonal, and that humans are able to enter into a covenant with God only because  of their (inherent?) sociality—-all of these claims give expression to an “analogy of being’ which remained throughout Barth’s life utterly foreign to his thinking. But there is a true “analogy of being” in Barth’s thought which was first adumbrated as the predicate of the divine act of relating to the human creature and which was then given concreteness in the doctrine of election set forth in CD II/2. “Analogy of being,” understood in Barthian terms, is an analogy between an eternal divine act of Self-determination and a historical human act of self-determination and the “being” (divine and human) which is given in each. Human being in the act of faith and obedience in response to the covenant of grace corresponds to the being of the gracious God; this is the shape of the analogy. Barth’s conflict with the Roman Catholic version was and always remained a conflict between his own covenant ontology and the essentialist ontology presupposed by the Catholic tradition, which von Balthasar’s thought continued to embody. To that extent, it was also a conflict between modern and, in its way, “historicized” mode of reflection on the being-in-act of God, on the one hand, and tradition theism, on the other. . . . [Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox And Modern: Studies In The Theology of Karl Barth, 199-200]

Ultimately the conflict that Barth was seeking to avert was to make God’s being and persons dependent upon creation. The fear, simply stated was that if the analogy of being was given creedance, then who we know God to be is not Self-determined by Him, but instead, it would be Pre-determined by the categories man had constructed based upon man’s reflection upon creation. Barth’s genius was to conceive of a theological grammar that honors both God’s Self-determinating freedom to be who He is in Himself, and at the same time that honors man’s self-determining freedom to be who He is through Christ’s decision to be human (election). As it can be observed by McCormack’s analysis; Barth operated with an actualistic metaphysic that grounds God’s being in His choice to be man in Christ (Covenant of Grace). And it is the execution of this choice in historic time wherein the corresponding Yes to this choice (of God for man, and not God without man) by the God-Man, that the analogy of faith finds its proper orientation. In this way there is space for God to be God for creation (not because of it), and for man to know this choice through the actualisation of it in Christ. It is in this relationship that God has freely chosen to give Himself being, and in the process of this giving He has given humanity their being by electing their humanity for Himself. This is the realm wherein creation finds its taxis, and it is within this ‘order’ that knowledge of God comes to fruition; that is, by God acting on us, for us. In so doing the only ‘being’ that provides interpretive friction for knowing God, is His own being given to us in the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

The only reason I wrote this out like this, really, was to engage in an exercise that would make me articulate my own interpretation of what I just read. If this has been  helpful to you, then good! If not, sorry 😦 !

*repost

Knowing God: Being versus Faith

I have recently been having a discussion with someone that has revolved somewhat around what has been called the analogia entis or “the analogy of being.” My book chapter for our forthcoming book also orbits around this same place of discussion. The “analogy of being” was first given cogent articulation by medieval theologian par excellence, Thomas Aquinas. Since Thomas there have been other iterations of this same basic approach to knowledge of God. In its most basic form the “analogy of being” can be said to be a way of knowing God that looks to the creation for providing basic building blocks for entering into an understanding of God. In other words, reality is seen in hierarchical terms so that all of reality is interconnected in a way that allows for humanity to reason its way back or up to the “Unmoved Mover,” or God. Another way of explaining the analogy of being would be to note that it is a philosophical system of thought wherein man reasons from the effects of creation to what the cause of said effects must require in order for the cause to be the cause. In other words by a series of negations man looks at creation, reflects upon what kind of power it must have taken to accomplish the feat of creation; looks at man himself, identifies that man does not have this kind of all encompassing, power, knowledge, and foresight thus positing that what they are, the cause of creation must not be. Instead the cause of creation must be much much greater than humanity. This then provides the categories for how we ought to conceive of God (according to the analogy of being).

Karl Barth, of all people, did not agree with this approach; he was a proponent of what he appropriated as the analogia fidei or the analogy of faith. Stated simply, the analogy of faith holds that knowledge of God must proceed from God’s self-revelation; not the creation. The push back to this from those who follow the analogy of being is that creation is all that we have as humans to know God through, and thus to posit any other idea of knowing God apart from this reality is the height of naivete. They would argue that even the self-revelation of God in Christ—the Incarnation—involves creation, given the fact that Jesus assumes a real human body and nature in order to communicate God to humanity. This seems to pose a problem for those who would want to maintain the analogy of faith (like I do). Modern Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar thinks so, and he directs his concern towards Barth. Bruce McCormack doesn’t think so, and he responds, in Barth’s defense, to Balthasar’s problem with Barth by articulating how Barth avoided the analogy of being (even though Balthasar didn’t think so) in a way that elides Balthasar’s belief to the contrary. Here is McCormack and Balthasar:

In his famous 1951 book on Barth’s theology, Hans Urs von Balthasar concluded that Barth had not been able to eliminate the “analogy of being” after all; indeed, the “analogy of faith” as taught by him required an “analogy of being” to complete it.

If revelation is centered in Jesus Christ, there must be by definition a periphery to this center. Thus, as we [Roman Catholics] say, the order of the Incarnation presupposes the order of creation, which is not identical with it. And, because the order of creation is oriented to the order of the Incarnation, it is structured in view of the Incarnation; it contains images, analogies, as it were, dispositions, which in a true sense are the presuppositions for the Incarnation. For example, interhuman relationships—between man and woman or between friends—are a true presupposition for the fact that Jesus can become our brother. It is because man is a social being that he is capable in the first place of entering into a covenant with God, as God intended. And this natural order is for its part only possible on the basis of God’s interpersonal nature, his triune nature, of which the human being is a true image. [Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth, 163]

Von Balthasar is right to find an “analogy of being” in Barth, but he is right for all the wrong reasons. That the order of the incarnation presupposes the order of creation, that Jesus can become our brother because human being is by nature (i.e., as created) interpersonal, and that humans are able to enter into a covenant with God only because  of their (inherent?) sociality—-all of these claims give expression to an “analogy of being’ which remained throughout Barth’s life utterly foreign to his thinking. But there is a true “analogy of being” in Barth’s thought which was first adumbrated as the predicate of the divine act of relating to the human creature and which was then given concreteness in the doctrine of election set forth in CD II/2. “Analogy of being,” understood in Barthian terms, is an analogy between an eternal divine act of Self-determination and a historical human act of self-determination and the “being” (divine and human) which is given in each. Human being in the act of faith and obedience in response to the covenant of grace corresponds to the being of the gracious God; this is the shape of the analogy. Barth’s conflict with the Roman Catholic version was and always remained a conflict between his own covenant ontology and the essentialist ontology presupposed by the Catholic tradition, which von Balthasar’s thought continued to embody. To that extent, it was also a conflict between modern and, in its way, “historicized” mode of reflection on the being-in-act of God, on the one hand, and tradition theism, on the other. . . . [Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox And Modern: Studies In The Theology of Karl Barth, 199-200]

Ultimately the conflict that Barth was seeking to avert was to make God’s being and persons dependent upon creation. The fear, simply stated; was that if the analogy of being was given creedance, then who we know God to be is not Self-determined by Him, but instead, it would be Pre-determined by the categories man had constructed based upon man’s reflection upon creation. Barth’s genius was to conceive of a theological grammar that honors both God’s Self-determinating freedom to be who He is in Himself, and at the same time that honors man’s self-determining freedom to be who He is through Christ’s decision to be human (election). As it can be observed by McCormack’s analysis; Barth operated with an actualistic metaphysic that grounds God’s being in His choice to be man in Christ (Covenant of Grace). And it is the execution of this choice in historic time wherein the corresponding Yes to this choice (of God for man, and not God without man) by the God-Man, that the analogy of faith finds its proper orientation. In this way there is space for God to be God for creation (not because of it), and for man to know this choice through the actualisation of it in Christ. It is in this relationship that God has freely chosen to give Himself being, and in the process of this giving; He has given humanity their being by electing their humanity for Himself. This is the realm wherein creation finds its taxis, and it is within this ‘order’ that knowledge of God comes to fruition; that is, by God acting on us, for us. In so doing the only ‘being’ that provides interpretive friction for knowing God, is His own being given to us in the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

The only reason I wrote this out like this, really, was to engage in an exercise that would make me articulate my own interpretation of what I just read. If this has been  helpful to you; then good! If not, sorry 😦 !