Friday, August 27, 2010

Journal Meditations Inspired by “Intro to the Devout Life”

Do you want to develop intimacy with Jesus Christ more? Following the thoughts and methods of the great work of Saint Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, below you will find some simple guidelines on doing meditative prayer using a journal. Journaling is good because it allows us to see our spiritual growth as our thoughts become incarnate on the piece of paper.

Each stage is important, but the most import in following through with your resolutions. As you will see, one of the greatest dangers to the spiritual life is feeling holy without being holy. Prayer can make you feel holy, but since we are not angels, but human persons, our prayers must be made concrete and particular. Prayer is meant to unite you to God and grow you in holiness. Doing the resolutions carefully and faithfully will bring you to this goal, by the grace of God.


-Silence, Stillness, Solitude
-Call to mind that “God is here” - be aware of His holy presence firmly in your mind and your heart.
-The Presence of God leads to Humility and Boldness in your attitude towards prayer.
-humility, because you don’t deserve to be in God’s presence
-boldness, because He has asked you to be here and to be his child
-Invocation of the Holy Spirit to pray within you, to give you the proper words, to illuminate your mind with true discernment and to increase your intimacy with God. Ask the intercession of your patron saints.

NOTE: This introduction is meant to limit distractions in prayer and focus your attention on God. This preparation should not last more than 5 minutes of your prayer time. Also, trust, trust, trust.

-While in the spirit of prayer, reflect on the questions that are asked or on the Scripture verses that are provided, applying them with sober judgment to your life
-Use all of your faculties to pray: your memory, imagination, your reason, your will and your emotions
-Freely write down what you are thinking about. Many times, this takes the form of a conversation with God in what He may be revealing to you. Just remember that this is prayer through writing.

-Feeling holy is dangerous without actually being holy; therefore, each journal meditation should have some portion devoted to a specific and particular resolution that comes from each meditation.
-Write down one (or two) simple, specific and particular way that you can live out this meditation in your life, taking care that it is not impossibly idealistic, but immediately practicable by you. For example, don’t say, “I’m not going to sin anymore.” That is neither realistic nor specific enough. A better example would be, “Whenever I am around so-and-so, I will not be offended or annoyed by them, but will seek the opposite, to win over such-and-such.”
-Focus on something that is more immediate in application
-Once the resolution(s) is written down, go back to it from time to time, recommitting yourself to Him and His intentions for your holiness.

-Thanksgiving: Thank God of for the prayer time with Him and for what He has revealed to us
-Oblation: Unite our resolutions and considerations together with the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ
-Petition: Beg God for the grace to be faithful to our resolutions throughout the day. Pray for your family and friends, and pray for those in the parish, especially the teens, where you will be a Core member
-End with an Our Father

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ancient Romans more noble than modern Christians

This is the first reading at morning mass today.

It immediately called to mind for me how many Christians imposed the tyrannical policy on Gitmo's "detainees". Comparatively speaking, the ancient Romans were more moral in this regard than modern day Christians like Bush and Chaney and the like.

"When I was at Jerusalem, the leaders of the priests and the elders of the Jews came to me about him, asking for condemnation against him. I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to condemn any man, before he who is being accused has been confronted by his accusers and has received the opportunity to defend himself, so as to clear himself of the charges."

Posted by ShoZu

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

8 Easy Steps to Living the Christian Life!

As I am writing this, I am thinking about how humbling it is to try and put on paper what the Christian life is. Who am I to teach? Who am I, who barely even knows what Christianity is, let alone lives it out daily, to tell others what “living for God” really means?! I hate this part of my job because everything that I write is what I also need to hear myself. I feel constantly like a hypocrite. The Good News is that Jesus came just for people like me: “do you not know that it is the sick who need a physician?”

First, go and read Matthew 5:3-12, which is called the Beatitudes, or “The Blessings”. I know that we have all heard these things before, but be warned that our ‘humble piety’ might stand in the way of letting this smack you in the face with its raw honesty.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. This means that you have to realize that you are not a good person. Yeah, you are made in God’s image but you certainly do not act like Him. “Get behind me, Satan, for you are thinking like Man, not God” says Jesus to Peter right after making him Pope! Being poor in spirit is tied to being poor materially. You realize that you don’t have anything, you are broke spiritually, and your righteousness, if it could actually be called that, is “like filthy rags” compared to God. So, step one: realize that all your sin is your fault and all the goodness in your life is God’s. Once you have this change of heart into humility, you move into the next Beatitude.

Blessed are they who mourn. This one makes me laugh: happy are those who are sad! How paradoxical, yet we gloss over it so easily with a nod of the head and a whisper of “Yup, that’s true” without giving it some critical thinking. We mourn because we are unrighteous. We don’t hate ourselves, become discouraged, or beat ourselves up: we mourn. We mourn like a king who is disposed of his crown, because we dispossessed ourselves of our glorious destiny with every sin we commit! Mourn, repent, turn away from sin, and you will be comforted!

Blessed are the meek. It is not to the wealthy, healthy, successful, or powerful that are called by Jesus “blessed” or “happy”. It is the meek, the humble, those who “regard others as more important than oneself,” which is the same attitude that Jesus had. Meekness is not weakness, but the subjugation of power to love. Jesus had the power to destroy his enemies at the foot of the cross as they mocked him, but he just hung there out of love for them. It is only the meek that will inherit the earth because only they will subjugate power over the earth to the generous reign of charity.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Put down your money, your media, your steady flow of entertainment, your idols in a thousand middle-class American Dreams, and start to hunger and thirst for righteousness. We long for many things, but until we purify our desires, we will never be satisfied. We were made for God and God alone; all substitutions will ultimately leave us frustrated and empty. Only heaven is big enough for our God-needing hearts. It’s time to become DESPERATELY in love with God. Nothing less satisfies our hearts!

Blessed are the merciful. There is no way around this one: if you are not merciful to others, especially to those who attacked you and wronged you, then you will not receive mercy for yourself. Every time you are hurt, you must forgive, even when that past hurt returns in your memories to hurt you even more. You don’t deserve God’s mercy, but he gave it to you anyway because he loves you. So, we follow him and give out our mercy, even if it kills us, to those who have hurt us. Then will we be a merciful people.

Blessed are the Pure of Heart. Purity of heart is not just about having the Christian vision concerning sexuality, but about our fundamental view of the dignity of our neighbor. The heart is the seat of sin and also of God’s throne. Evilness comes from the heart. Goodness must then conquer even the deepest, darkness, most lost parts of our hearts if we are to see the face of God. Being pure of heart means seeing the person as a person, not as a collection of body parts, a project or an instrument.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Peacemakers are rare. Peace-demanders might be plentiful, but those who make peace are few. The reason being is simple: it is easy to make war, whether it is with yourself, your family or your enemies. It is easy to be driven by ego, to demand that your entitled to a little more respect, to assert yourself against others. It is difficult to die to yourself, to let your egotism fall away, to let someone else have their way. In short, to make peace you have to learn to die, not to kill. It would serve us well to reinstitute humility into our relationships.

Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness. Yeah, we start with the cross of Christ, who alone makes us worthy, and end with our own cross! We begin in personal humility and end in social humiliation, like the Son of God hanging naked from a tree. The Beatitudes were never meant to be easy and the eighth beautitude becomes for us now the great sign post of the Christian life: "Easter Sunday, Only Through Good Friday." Would we still be good even if every one around us called us evil? Would we still be Christians when Christianity no longer garnered public support? Would we still call on Jesus when doing so is a crime? I fear my own answers to this question. I fear my own cross. "...and follow after me."

Contemplating Christ: Spiritual Ecumenism in Youth Ministry

Originally Written: January 29, 2009
by Michael Gormley

"This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and can rightly be called 'spiritual ecumenism.' -Ut Unum Sint, 21

This truth about dialogue, so profoundly expressed by Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, was also taken up by the Council in its teaching and ecumenical activity. Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some way it is always an "exchange of gifts". –Ut Unum Sint, 28

There are great strides being taken in the area of Christian youth ministry where many Protestant youth ministers and pastors are taking a second look at the Catholic and Orthodox traditions in spirituality that were previously rejected since the time of the Reformation. The post-modern perspective on what it means to be church in today’s context, referred to as the Emergent Church movement, has begun to implement traditional spiritual practices once considered outside of biblically appropriate spirituality. With this rise of the Emergent Church movement, many evangelical Protestants are adopting these practices with great fervor into their ministries with youth and young adults. This adaptation of Catholic and Orthodox spiritualities into the Protestant contemporary worship service and youth ministry event is one significant way in which there is an “exchange of gifts” that is the fruit of true Christian spiritual ecumenism.

Youth ministry over the past 50 or so years has taken many forms. It began as a church-sponsored safe place for fun and games, after school programs and youth sports. This is the entertainment model, which still dominates many youth groups. As a reaction to this approach is the traditional classroom educational model, which sees youth group as nothing other than a place to learn about the biblical doctrines of one’s denomination. Later approaches to youth ministry tried to incorporate the social component with the educational component, producing what is commonplace in churches today: youth rooms decked out with the latest in gaming consoles and HD TVs, pool tables and table tennis, access to basketball courts and Frisbee fields, while also holding weekly Bible study sessions and other forms of catechesis. In most churches, both Protestant and Catholic, one will find a tension between the entertainment and educational models present in the same program.

Mark Yaconelli, son of the legendary youth minister Mike Yaconelli, has been working on a project that seeks to transform the very nature of youth ministry in America, by offering to teens what only the church can give them: an encounter with God. This final approach is the contemplative approach to youth ministry, actively tending to the spiritual formation of the individual teen, not the mere entertainment or education.

The uniqueness of the project is how ecumenical it is, borrowing not only from Protestant traditions of prayer, but especially from Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox in an effort to shape teens into contemplatives.

It is my belief that this transformation of youth ministry by a contemplative approach has great benefits for spiritual ecumenism. In the past many Protestants rejected contemplation as a false mysticism that is incompatible with the Bible. However, the Emergent Church movement seeks to critically re-evaluate those broad assumptions of past Protestants and find a way to incorporate contemplative spiritualities into their own worship of God. They see in Catholics and the Orthodox ways of prayer that truly focus on Jesus Christ and are an authentic expression of their love. It is through this radical new approach to youth ministry that many Protestant youth workers are first encountering the spiritual exercises and discernment of spirits of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the writings of Saints Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and the Little Flower. They are also seeing from new eyes the monastic life, drawing strength from lectio divina and praying with icons. This spiritual formation is drawing upon the riches of the Christian tradition, seeing for the first time Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants as belonging to the same Christian faith.

Spiritual ecumenism is the heart of the ecumenical movement, which is not satisfied until the words of our Savior are made manifest before the world, “that they may be one as the Father and I are one” in John 17. The contemplative approach to youth ministry ensures a generation of teens in America that are already engaged in the prayer practices that Catholics have enjoyed for two thousand years. The spiritual gifts of the monastic tradition, especially in lectio divina, can build bridges between Bible Christians and Catholics that never would previously have existed. The practice of lectio divina will be a great source of ecumenism among evangelicals who are being taught a very distinctively monastic way to pray the Scriptures, which can overcome a lot of the aversion to the whole monastic tradition. As Protestants learn to pray with icons, other sacred images and statues common in Catholic and Orthodox churches will be viewed with less suspicion and more with an appreciation of sacred art as a real way to understand the sacramental world all Christians share.

In conclusion, the exchange of gifts of spiritual and contemplative practices that the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics have enjoyed for centuries are now benefiting our Protestant brothers and sisters. This renewed appreciation for ancient Christian practices only encourage more shared experiences of our communion with Jesus Christ, rooted in a common Baptism and faith. It is through this contemplative approach to youth ministry that will bring about for future generations more fraternal affection between the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities based on a shared contemplation of the face of Jesus.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Enlightenment and Biblical Criticism

Position Paper
Originally Written: May 26, 2009

Modern historical criticism originated through the inheritors of the Enlightenment project to ground human existence- thought, morality, politics, economic order- upon a secular rationalism that was a paradigmatic shift from the predecessor culture. This created a new worldview from which divine revelation would be interpreted in novel ways. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the epistemology inherited from the Enlightenment and then, through the lens of Gunton, MacIntyre and Ratzinger, understand its impact on modern exegesis and theological reflection. Finally, a remedy is proposed for harmful Enlightenment presuppositions.

Pre-History of the Enlightenment
Europe was experiencing the destruction of an older era and the birth of a new era from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Whatever Luther’s intentions, the doctrine of sola Scriptura birthed the antagonism that would later underpin all Enlightenment projects: the rejection of the authority. The individual was, practically speaking, exalted as the sole interpreter of the Bible, the fullness of God’s revelation. The Galileo scandal wounded severely the Church’s authority in academic matters, which was cemented by the exuberant foundation of Newtonian physics as the basis of a mechanistic natural science. Platonism became the system within which the new sciences would develop and new theologies take form. As MacIntyre states in After Virtue, “in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Aristotelian understanding of nature was repudiated at the same time as Aristotle’s influence had been expelled from both Protestant and Jansenist theology” (MacIntyre, 82).1

Birth of the Enlightenment
Francis Bacon was the herald the new “empire of man over things” in the project to make the universe bend to the will of scientific man. However, it was through the philosopher and mathematician Descartes that framed this pursuit for the Enlightenment. Descartes did not break faith from reason, but rather his problem lied with the world open to sense perception. He found the senses unreliable, open to deception and entirely passive; therefore, certain knowledge could never be attained from the sensible world. Instead he turned to rational ideas, to mathematical certainty, and only from this vantage point does he then turn to the outside world, judging it. He has his sure and certain knowledge to confidently survey the world, but at a cost: there is “the permanent and irredeemable loss of confidence in the senses” (Gunton, 17).

In his Introduction written for Pope John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them, Michael Waldstein reflects on the Cartesian project: “Descartes is very explicit. The speculative philosophy of the Scholastics must be replaced by a practical, that is, technological philosophy. Doing and especially making must determine what is, and what is not, a relevant pursuit of philosophy and its eventual offshoot, natural science” (Waldstein, 40).2 But his rigorous dualism had placed “the mechanical cosmos of extended things, whose only attributes are extension and movement, constituting an objective world of pure externality without any interiority” opposite to “the human soul, the ‘thinking thing’, whose only attribute is rational consciousness, that is, knowledge and free will, a world of pure interiority” (Waldstein, 41). Thus, the person was alienated from the world around him that he perceived through the senses.

Enlightenment: Perceptual Skepticism
John Locke and others would continue Cartesian duality and see the passive senses as outside of the activity of rational man. The senses were passive, objects imposing upon a clean sheet or tossed into an empty cabinet; but “only as rational will does the mind set to work to do anything, collating, relating and abstracting” (Gunton, 18). It is with Locke that the animosity between faith and reason is fully anchored.

Reason is the absolute arbiter in everything for Locke, but divine revelation occurs in history and through objects and people outside in the world. Locke’s perceptual skepticism cannot correspond in a real way to the objective world outside, thus becoming an obstacle to revelation. Thus, belief would be relegated to the world of subjectivity, lacking in universal truth. In a more radical skepticism, David Hume rejects the notion that any empirical knowledge, especially causality, can be had through the senses. The human mind is impotent to understand the world of the senses and also of history. Hume’s radical skepticism put the possibility of the new science in jeopardy, but at the same time it freed a person from the project to describe all of reality through philosophical speculation. It was here that he father of modern methodology, Immanuel Kant, began his work.

Engaged fully in the perceptual skepticism of those before him, Kant tried to force a link between speculation and the real world. Kant says that the mind is presented with a pluriformity, and unable to understand it according to its inherent features, the mind imposes a framework of intelligibility in order to come to some understanding. Thus faced with such a pluriformity, Kant’s answer was, “You devise a method.” This is the Kantian split between reality as it is in the world of objects and reality as known through my imposed mental frameworks.

Enlightenment: Alienation
For Gunton, this Enlightenment dualism results in two marks of alienation for human persons. The first is the tearing apart of faith and reason as two legitimate sources of knowledge. Knowledge, to be true knowing, must be rational and certain. Cartesian epistemology is the opposite of the scholastic method, rejecting the senses as the source of knowledge for the outside world. For Aquinas, truth was the correlation of the real object in the world to the mind, but for the Enlightenment it is the mind that measures reality. To Locke belongs the complete severing of faith and its utilization of mythopoeic language from knowledge. Faith in revelation is not a source of certain knowing for Locke and later thinkers.

The second mark of alienation came out of the first, as the bare objectivity of the world is met by the self-assertion of the subject, resulting not in liberation, but alienation, the cutting of the person off from the world surrounding that person. Thus the person is no longer at home in the world and no longer sees the world as capable of communicating divine realities. Rationalism, then, posits an overconfidence in human reason to gain truth, reducing the truths learned through faith as entirely too subjective, superstitious and unscientific.

Enlightenment: Perceptual Skepticism
The impact on the study of Scripture from this ideological framework led to the develop of the historical critical methods, but also to grave abuses and heterodox conclusions that the Catholic Church initially rejected in Providentissimus Deus. This critical approach did originate from Enlightenment rationalism and its concept of the rational self. Speaking from such a rational self, MacIntyre develops his critique of the peculiarly Modern fiction of objectivity as distinct from those erroneous scholastics who interpose
“an Aristotelian interpretation between themselves and experienced reality, we moderns- that is, we seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century moderns- had stripped away interpretation and theory and confronted fact and experience just as they are” (MacIntyre, 81).
The removing of "an Aristotelian interpretation" of reality created a subsequent fiction for the Enlightenment: the collection of facts. “‘Fact’ is in modern culture a folk-concept with an aristocratic ancestry.” This presupposed that “the observer can confront a fact face-to-face without any theoretical interpretation interposing itself” (MacIntyre, 79). Thus, the rational individual was thought as detached from the world, an impartial observer who brought no presuppositions to his data.

Modern Enlightenment thinkers would express this “prejudice against prejudice”, thus blinding themselves when they approached exegesis (Gunton, 4). For Cardinal Ratzinger, nothing could be more ridiculous, for “pure objectivity is an absurd abstraction. It is not the uninvolved who comes to knowledge; rather, interest itself is a requirement for the possibility of coming to know” (Ratzinger, 596).

Historical Criticism: Biblical Methodology
Critical exegesis is linked to “what Kant himself called the critical philosophy- with ‘philosophy as judge’ we might say. Once again we have... an overemphasis on the part played by the subject in contrast to that ascribed to the object of knowledge” (Gunton, 112). It was through the activity of the mind that rationality was imposed upon an otherwise intelligible world. This method of Kant is applied to biblical studies, for “the Scriptures present us with a terminal case of intrinsic meaninglessness, simply because they are so diverse” (Gunton, 113).

In confrontation with the chaos of the Bible, we impose a method by means of which we can extract some intelligibility from the text. Thus, the Bible is treated as a collection of diverse human documents, which has indeed opened up new insights and possibilities of interpretation, but also has led to the development to the hermeneutic of suspicion, that is, criticism, for any thing or person claiming authority over us has to prove itself “why and in what way it is to be heard with respect” (Gunton, 114).

Presuppositions: Evolutionary Model
This rationalism leading to the historical critical methods has also picked up other seemingly scientific presuppositions along the way. First and perhaps chief among these is the evolutionary model of textual development, using the natural science theory of evolution to explain a text’s development from the simple forms in early stages to the more complex forms later on. Ratzinger challenges this presupposition, arguing that “spiritual processes do not follow the rule of zoological genealogies. In fact, it is frequently the opposite” (Ratzinger, 598). After all, he points out later, is Clement of Rome more complex than Paul’s epistle, though it came later, or are Thomists as comprehensive as Thomas himself? This mindset also produces a backwards priority, begun in Bultmann but found throughout biblical scholarship, which is the idea of the priority of the word preached (kerygma) over the event. This means that the kerygmatic presentation is more important than the actual words and deeds of Jesus in history.

Presuppositions: A Closed System
Another model falsely applied to the Bible as a presupposition is the idea of closed system thinking derived from a Deistic vision of the universe. As Newtonian physics discovered laws of nature, the need for the sustaining intervention of the divine hand was no longer required. In fact, to the Deists any divine intervention or miracles (the Incarnation, revelation, etc.) would be self-contradictory for God to deny His own laws. Thus the world is closed off to the divine, and the Bible ceases to be regarded as a divinely revealed document and
“any other view, particularly on deriving from the past suffers the inevitable defects of crudity and lack of philosophical depth” (Gunton, 114).
Faith is divorced from reason and is reduced to some inferior form of knowing, such as religious science or anthropology or history. It is here that the scholars assume their arrogant positions as the elite insiders with access to knowledge too difficult for others to attain. The methodology “became a veritable fence which blocked access to the Bible for all the uninitiated” (Ratzinger, 595).

Faithful Criticism: A New Hermeneutic
The question is now, “Can these methods be used to benefit the Church or must they of necessity be tied to their presuppositions from whence they came?” The Church has answered affirmatively to the task of separating methodology from ideology:
“It is a method which, when used in an objective manner, implies of itself no a priori. If its use is accompanied by a priori principles, that is not something pertaining to the method itself, but to certain hermeneutical choices which govern the interpretation and can be tendentious” (IBC, 40).
To remedy this situation, the Catholic exegete must consciously approach his task within a hermeneutic of faith, meaning that he or she does not deny that God can and does operate in history, that God has revealed Himself through divine revelation and that His Son is the fullness of that revelation.

A hermeneutic of faith has its own principle presupposition: faith is a source of truth.

The human person is arrives at truth through reason and revelation. They are not opposed, as the Enlightenment thinkers would have us accept, but are complimentary and mutually supporting. Catholics are to follow Anselm’s motto of fides quarens intellectum. This faith, furthermore, has been passed down to the present day within a living Tradition in the Church.

To overcome the alienation of the Enlightenment one must not cut oneself off from previous methods and interpretations of the past, especially of the Fathers. Within the living Tradition of the Church comes also the interpretive authority of the Magisterium set as a servant, not master, to the Bible.

In another vein, Ratzinger encourages biblical scholars to be critical of their own methodology “in continuity with an in development of the famous critique of reason by Immanuel Kant” (Ratzinger, 596). The interpreter cannot help but read in his/her own paradigms into the texts, so self-criticism is always helpful.

Finally, exegesis is an historical discipline and so must begin with the diachronic methods, but it also has to be completed by the synchronic, utilizing “balance and moderation” with all approaches of biblical exegesis today (Pope’s Address, paragraph 14).


1 MacIntyre, Alasdair After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, Indiana: 1984)

2 Pope John Paul II Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body; Translation and Introduction by Michael Waldstein; Pauline Books & Media (Boston, MA: 2006)

3. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: On the Question of the Foundations and Approaches of Exegesis Today

4. Gunton, Colin, Enlightenment and Alienation: An Essay Towards a Trinitarian Theology; Eerdmans Publishing Company (May: 1985)

Biblical Fundamentalism and Catholic Interpretation

Position Paper
Originally written: May 18, 2009
Lightly edited to conform it to the style of the blog.
Also, I cannot find, for the life of me, the Bibliography page to go with the parenthetical quotations. I'll update whenever I do find it! - gomer

Biblical Fundamentalism: Introduction
Many Christians view the use of scientific methods in the interpretation of Scripture with hesitation or even hostility because they see such criticism undermining the traditional authority of the Bible. Rejecting the scientific methods altogether, some turn to biblical fundamentalism in order to safeguard their understanding of the Bible as inspired and inerrant. This post addresses the claims of biblical fundamentalism, what it is and why is it inconsistent with the Catholic approach to the Bible itself and to biblical interpretation.

This post deals first with a brief treatment of the fundamentalist ideology, followed by their conception of inspiration and inerrancy. The reader will understand how the fundamentalist, operating within their ideological world view, must reject diachronic methods of interpretation. Finally, the paper will treat the Catholic vision of the Bible and its interpretation in order to show biblical fundamentalism is inconsistent with the Church’s model of exegesis.

Fundamentalist Ideology: Origin and Method
Biblical fundamentalism is not so much a method of interpretation of Scripture as it is an ideology that has specific attitudes towards the Bible. It is rooted in reaction and rejection: in reaction to the heterodox conclusions of the liberal Protestant exegetes utilizing the historical critical methods and, therefore, a rejection of those very methods. As an ideology, biblical fundamentalism originated as a specifically Protestant phenomena. Their understanding of the Bible and its interpretation follows the sixteenth century Reformation concept of sola Scriptura as the doctrinal foundation of divine revelation and authority. This meant that all authority, whether tradition, hierarchy, philosophy or theology, was submissive to the one, true authority, which is Scripture.

As Scripture is the sole authority in life, the Church as the official interpreter was rejected for the individual believer guided by the Holy Spirit as the true interpreter. “The principle of sola Scriptura meant that all the eggs were in one basket, and Protestantism had to be very careful about what happened to that basket” (Leinhard: 77). As the next few centuries unfolded into the Enlightenment, the forces of rationalism and historicism attacked that one basket in the forming of liberal Protestantism. In its wake, human reason (rationalism) became the sole authority, judging even the Scriptures, finding defects, contradictions, faults and errors throughout and radically questioning its validity as authoritative and inerrant.

A conservative reaction to this perceived corrupting of the sacred texts eventually would manifest in the form of biblical fundamentalism in the beginning of the twentieth century. Their desire to return to the “obvious meaning” of the literal words of Scripture, together with their understanding of the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy, form the framework of what we can call “biblical fundamentalism.” They take the Bible seriously in their affirmation of its inspiration and inerrancy, but such fundamentalism views science, and not just scientific criticism, with hostility, seeing in it the enemy of faith. This is made evident in such controversies as the creationism versus evolution debates, where fundamentalists hold to the literal six, twenty-four hour days of Creation recorded in Genesis 1 as the historical truth about the origins of the universe, rejecting evolution as an enemy to the revealed word of God.

It is from this brief introductory understanding of fundamentalism that we must now turn to three main issues in order to better grasp biblical fundamentalism- inspiration, inerrancy, and the literalistic meaning of the text.

Fundamentalism: Divine Inspiration
The essential characteristic of biblical fundamentalism lies in the ahistorical character of their understanding of the origin and use of Sacred Scripture. The fundamentalist must reject historical criticism because of their conception of divine inspiration. Inspiration is defined as “verbal inspiration,” regarded as the direct dictation of each word to the human author (Leinhard: 79). They believe that the sacred human author of each book of the Bible was the copyist of divine dictation, holding that God guarantees each word’s truth, for if “God is truthful, and Scripture is God’s revelation, then Scripture must be true in all of its parts” (Leinhard: 80).

Thus, according to this understanding of revelation, they do not view the human authors as true authors, as one who engages divine revelation in their freedom, with their own style and limitations, and as true theologians who write from their own contemplation on the life and words of Jesus Christ. For the fundamentalist the words of the Bible are identified wholly as the Word of God directly and without error; that is to say, all of the words of Scripture correspond to the literal, historical fact “including incidental points of history and science” (Leinhard: 80). Thus, through this inspiration the Bible takes on an ahistorical essence as the direct Word of God, “timeless, out of time and valid for all time” (Frein: 13).

Fundamentalism: Total Inerrancy
Flowing out of this understanding of inspiration as direct verbal dictation is the central fundamentalist claim of “total inerrancy” (Leinhard: 79). Their understanding of the inerrancy of the Bible is their most central doctrine upon which the exegete builds his work. Each word being directly inspired, it is the task of the exegete to analyze the passage or book to discover the original meaning of the author, which is the only valid meaning (Frein: 13). Each statement of Scripture is, then, a statement of factual and historical accuracy, for it is not just an author’s limited understanding, but God’s truth.

Herein lies one of their most devastating errors, especially when interpreting the gospels. The fundamentalist necessarily confuses the final written form of a gospel with the actual words and deeds of Jesus, thinking them to be one and the same (IBC: 74). When confronted with specific examples of inconsistencies between two texts that seemingly record the same event in conflicting ways, the fundamentalist, who cannot allow for development of tradition by the author or the author’s Christian community, will posit multiple events. This approach allows such an exegete to harmonize inconsistencies by seeing different events described, not the same event described intentionally in different ways. For the fundamentalist, then, “the interpretation of individual passages and books proceeds synthetically from whole to part” (Frein: 14).

The four gospels record events, words, and deeds exactly as they happened and any discrepancy is due to the reader’s misunderstanding of the text, not the human author’s intentional reshaping of their presentation of the events, words, and/or deeds of Jesus. The exegete interprets every detail of the Bible as factually true and so a major preoccupation, then, with fundamentalist thinkers is the task of apologetics dealing with inerrancy. All statements pointing out inconsistencies, errors or contradictions within the Bible are deemed as attacks against its inerrancy and its divinely revealed character.
“For many proponents of strict verbal inspiration, the defense of Scripture can become more important than Scripture itself. The theology that they insist is the clear and obvious teaching of the Bible is often nineteenth-century conservative Protestant doctrine” (Leinhard: 80-81).

Fundamentalism: Biblical Interpretation
From the above understanding of the ahistorical character of revelation, the methods that the fundamentalist takes with Scripture is based largely on genre criticism, structure of the text, its themes and plot development. They take the Sacred Page as it is in its original autograph, believing each word to be directly dictated by God, and interpret it according to a very strict literalism. The intended meaning of each text is “single, definite and fixed” by the Holy Spirit and this literal meaning must be discovered by the reader (Frein: 13).

If the human authors recorded word-for-word what God wanted through strict verbal inspiration, then the notion of a historic process or development of any text- whole or part- has to be rejected outright, as does any diachronic methods of criticism. For the Holy Spirit does not need redaction and any criticism that posits multiple redactors, and thus progressing versions of those texts, would be operating on wholly unjustified grounds, corrupting the literal meaning of its author.

A Catholic Response to Biblical Fundamentalism
According to the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s document, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, this is:
“a naively literalist interpretation, one, that is to say, which excludes every effort at understanding the Bible that takes account of its historical origins and development” (IBC: 72).
Biblical fundamentalism fails the Catholic Church’s vision of Scripture and exegesis because it is anti-science, anti-authorship and ahistorical. As an ideology, fundamentalism rejects any science as a force undermining the Christian faith. The natural sciences refute the ancient cosmology and Creation stories, while historical criticism demonstrates the development of the inspired text, denying their strict verbal inspiration, and consequently, total inerrancy. And so, despite its ability to bear good exegetical fruit, it is rejected from root to tip from the available tools for the biblical fundamentalist.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has never rejected the ability of human reason to know truth, affirming reason and faith, being neither rationalist nor fideist. Within this appreciation of human reason, comes the legitimization of the sciences: natural, social, and literary. Historical criticism was rejected initially by the Church in Pope Leo’s encyclical Providentissimus Deus, because it was attached to a “much too intrusively dogmatic liberalism” that was buttressed by rationalism and modernism (IBC: 28). Through Catholic exegetes making careful use of these critical methods, the Church, in freeing the methods from unacceptable presuppositions, fifty years later allowed her exegetes to make use of this criticism wisely in the papal encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu. In her cautious approach to ‘higher criticism’, she was able to avoid many of the abuses of liberal Protestant exegetes that the fundamentalists reacted against so strongly.

Catholicism: On Inspiration
In the Catholic understanding of inspiration, the Bible is the Word of God in human language, possessing a two-fold nature: human and divine, analogous to the Incarnation. The fundamentalist does not fully accept human authorship of the Bible and as such “it makes itself incapable of accepting the full truth of the incarnation itself. As regards relationships with God, fundamentalism seeks to escape any closeness of the divine and the human”(IBC: 73). The Bible is revealed through the limitations of human writing and language, just as Jesus took on the limitations of human nature to communicate his divinity (Williamson: 30). Pope John Paul II addressed the Pontifical Biblical Commission, stating fundamentalists
“tend to believe that, since God is the absolute Being, each of his words has an absolute value, independent of all the conditions of human language... [God] does not give each expression a uniform value, but uses its possible nuances with extreme flexibility and likewise its limitations” (IBC: 18).
However, the Biblical Commission has distinguished here at least three characteristics of the human activity in the writing of the Bible:
“(1) the literary role of the authors and editors in the composition of the Scriptural books,
(2) the historical nature of the process, and
(3) the human limitations of the authors and editors” (Williamson: 35).
In affirming both the freedom and the limitations of human authorship, the Church necessarily rejects the fundamentalist claim to strict verbal inspiration and their literalistic interpretation of the Bible in all its details.

Catholicism: On Interpretation
Continuing with the Catholic doctrine of the two-fold nature of the Bible, the Church cannot find biblical fundamentalism acceptable in their refusal to acknowledge the legitimate historical development of the biblical texts. While the Church and fundamentalists agree that the Bible concerns history, they differ in that Catholic interpretation acknowledges different literary forms within a text, “the historical conditioning in the biblical word, and is not preoccupied with the accuracy of the narrative details” (Williamson: 62). The fundamentalist obsession with this narrative accuracy is the attempt to force the text to say something that it was not intended to say, such as make authoritative comments on science or history.

Furthermore, it is through historical development within the local Christian communities and in the universal Church that the final written form of the inspired text came together. This communal development of the sacred texts is rejected by the fundamentalist, who is decidedly anti-ecclesial in his or her theory of strict verbal inspiration. There is simply no need for a Church or historic community of believers in which God reveals Himself. There is only the individual human copyist receiving a direct word-for-word revelation.

This post sought to present an understanding biblical fundamentalism, its ideology, doctrines and methods, as incompatible with Catholic teaching on the inspiration, inerrancy, historical quality of divine revelation. Though it desires to safeguard revelation, fundamentalism ultimately weakens exegesis by its reaction against human reason and the sciences and their contribution to understanding the written Word of God and by their absolutizing of nineteenth century conservative Protestant doctrine.

Through the various Church documents and scholars, my position was that such an approach cannot satisfy what the Church asks of her exegetes, to interpret the Bible as the Word of God in human language. The Bible can be better grasped, though not completely, through the scientific methods of criticism and this is why the Church today not only recommends them, but requires them of her exegetes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Influences on Hans Urs von Balthasar Theology, part 4

And now we reach the fourth and final post, which initially was supposed to be only two posts, but I got a little long winded along the way. We speak about the woman that changed and challenge much of what von Balthasar would write and reflect about the theology of the Cross. Her name is Adrienne von Speyr, she was a mystic and a convert to the Catholic faith, and he was her spiritual director.

Adrienne von Speyr: Doctor, Convert, Mystic, Theologian
No other person was more important to the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar than this remarkable woman, Adrienne von Speyr. He would say in 1965, years after her death, "her work and mine cannot be separated. They cannot be separated psychologically or theologically." His focus on the kenosis of Christ reaches is fullness in the descent into Hell on Holy Saturday, a descent that she experienced repeatedly.

She was born in 1902 in Switzerland from an old family of Basil. She married in '27 to an historian for seven years until his death. This event began a break between her and God as she found herself fallen out of faith and estranged from God for a long time. In fact, it was so difficult for her to believe that she found she could not even say the words of the Our Father, though she wanted to be a Christian.

Shortly after encountering Hans Urs von Balthasar she would convert to Catholicism, of which he remarked,
"While von Speyr had almost no previous experience of the Catholic Church, nevertheless the entire outline of Catholicism seemed to be hollowed out in her like the interior of a mold."
It was as if there was a space ready to be made for Catholicism inside of her. This may be attributable to the fact that she had mystical experiences as a young child and protestant. After her conversion it was these and newer mystical experiences that drove her to seek his direction in sorting it all out. It is it here that the intersection of these two lives bore amazing fruit for the Church.

In one year after her conversion, in the Spring of '41, she had an encounter with an angel who told her, "Now it will soon begin." She was asked for her consent to something that would require absolute trust and complete openness to what God would ask of her. And so began the first of those Passions ending with Holy Saturday's descent into hell, repeated year after year. For her, she did not receive so much instructions or visions, but rather she underwent the interior sufferings of Jesus in all their fullness and diversity. It was the internal pain of Christ on Good Friday and Holy Saturday that she experienced time and again: the isolation, the exile, the infernal separation from God. She would find herself in hell in unimaginable pains, enduring what Christ endured, and then express them to von Balthasar what she saw, heard and felt.

"Now it will soon begin." This was terrifying for her, but she saw this as an invitation to open herself to anything and everything that God might desire to give her so that she might carry out her mission within the Church. These mystical transports into hell become the centerpiece of her mission and the focus of Balthasar's theology. This openness was reconfirmed while at a funeral for a friend's son she felt that if she were to storm heaven with her prayers, she could raise this boy from the dead. In that moment, though, she made a decision to become entirely Marian: choosing for herself a life of renunciation and submitting in silence to whatever God's will for her should be.
"The theory of mysticism," von Balthasar relates, "which she formulated, culminates in this one single statement: Mysticism is a particular mission, service, to the Church, which can only be properly carried out in a continual and complete movement away from oneself in complete movement."
This was her Marian mission, her Marian contemplation of what her role was in the life and work of the Church. She loved to describe this as effacement - to disappear, to lose myself in this Marian contemplation of the Word. "He must increase, I must decrease." These words of John the Baptist form the core of mysticism, the whole mystery of Mary's fiat.

Mary, according to von Balthasar, was the only human being who remained "infinitely at the disposal of the infinite God." This form of disposability is about being ready for everything, even the Incarnation, even the Passion. All of that is caught up in her consent, her absolute 'yes' to the Father. This is unlimited openness.
"Coming from God, this 'Yes' that Mary makes is the highest possible grace. Coming from Mary, it is also the highest possible human achievement made possible by grace."
Mary's 'yes' to God would become expanded, extended, filled with the reality of the Church. Her 'yes' to God becomes the Church's - our - 'yes' to God. Adrienne's mission and her identity are interchangeable, which was already given expression in Mary, which was possible because her Son exemplified it. He is Son and so is Savior; he can only be Savior if he is Son. Her mystical transports become her identity, the purpose of her life and in this she discovers the origin of her being.

Adrienne von Speyr's mystical experiences would become the foreground of the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. His Christology comes from her mission, and in this the centrality not only of the Cross, but of Holy Saturday, draws its form. Holy Saturday, the descent of the God-Man into hell, is the fullness of the self-emptying mission of the Incarnation. As Dr. Regis Martin expounded in a class lecture:
"This is the consuming focus of his theological interest. The Church has placed the descent right in the middle of the Creed, and rightly so, for this is the deepest kenosis (emptying) of Christ. The Christ of Holy Saturday becomes the consummate icon of what it means for God to be loved. This love is fully revealed in the depths of Sheol... through the final alienation of Christ from the Father."

The modern man wants to begin his search for meaning with himself, with self-consciousness. This is altogether the wrong course. The first awareness of the human person, the child only comes to know "I" after encountering the "Thou" in the smile of the mother. It is only in the encounter with the "other" that self-consciousness begins, and thus it begins only as gift, as something bestowed by another. The "initial formative event" in the mother's smile is thus one of love, and Dr. Martin observes that it implants "within the child forever the instinct that perhaps infinite love is possible. This original intuition abides".

What makes the proposition, "God is love" credible? That is, how are we to believe that being itself and love itself are co-extensive, co-terminating? Here we see the theological anthropology of God: what God has made himself to become for man. For von Balthasar, it is precisely the way, the style, the manner in which God reveals himself to man, the form in which God has become Love Incarnate: Jesus Christ. God demonstrates his being love in Jesus Christ. It is the manifestation of a person and not the validation of a principle. He is love because he freely and totally entered into the brokenness of man's condition. Only with the cross, with this descent into the hell of our human wretchedness, can we put our lives on the line for this truth.
"God is always on the side of the suffering. Indeed, his being all-powerful is manifested in the fact that he freely chose to suffer. In fact, it was proposed to him ('Come down from the cross, that we may believe'). But he stayed on the cross. On the cross he could say, as all can who suffer, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.' This has remained in human history the strongest argument. If the agony of the Cross had not happened, the truth that 'God is love' is left unfounded... Christ is the one who loved to the end. 'To the end' means accepting all of the consequences of man's sin, taking it all upon himself. And this happened exactly as the prophet Isaiah said, 'It was our infirmities that he bore'."
The cross and the descent are one single movement of divine love. "Uproot the cross and you cannot prove that He loves to the end" says Dr. Martin, because:
"for Balthasar, God is not God as a result of some triumphant display of power, nor does he prove himself syllogistically, but it is the drama, the story, that God is both being and love that carries conviction. Only carrying the weight of our consequences into the depths of hell does he reveal himself as being love."
Adrienne von Speyr imparted to von Balthasar through an intensely real way, the way of mystical experience, the inner dimensions of the love of God. Jesus, love incarnate, took upon himself, absorbed the whole of human misery with absolute inclusivity in a way that only the God-Man could do, and climbed the Cross as the beginning of his complete self-emptying love. The descent into hell, in the inferno of man's loudest "NO!" to God, in silent solidarity, Jesus expresses God's "Yes" to man. This is for von Balthasar and for von Speyr the heart of Christianity: "the ineffable poverty of the divine, incarnate, crucified love."

Everything in the Godhead is reduced to love, a love that fully discloses itself in the self-emptying movement from the Incarnation to the Cross and finally into the descent of Holy Saturday. This is how we know that "God is love", for now we see what God has made himself to become for man, for me, pro nobis.


"At the most fundamental level the dawn of self-awareness and freedom is not the realization that we are simply 'there,' even 'there with others;' it is rooted in the fact that we are gift and we are gifted, which presupposes that reality is gift." - von Balthasar

Influences on Hans Urs von Balthasar Theology, part 3

So let us recap the posts so far: first, we talked about how growing up in Lucerne, Switzerland with the patrician and cosmopolitan von Balthasar family wedded Catholicism to his very bones. Then we treated the influence in his seminary days of Eric Pryzwara and Henri de Lubac, rescuing him from the extrinsicism of that dreary "sawdust Thomism" of the Suarezian neo-scholasticism of his day. Then in the next post we talked about the French literary tradition within Catholicism and how their passion and lucidity, especially of Paul Claudel, affected his approach to God's self-disclosure. And we spoke of the rejection of the Rahnerian school of Transcendental Thomism because the concept of vorgriff destroyed the need for revelation.

Now we turn to one of the most positive and direct contributors to the life and work of Hans Urs von Balthasar: the great Protestant theologian, Karl Barth (pronounced "Bart") and the analogy of faith. Next post (and last!) will be about Adrienne von Speyr. Karl just took up so much space!

Karl Barth and the Analogy of Faith
Karl Barth is one of the most important theologians in the modern history of Protestantism. His goal was to throw off of Christian faith the dead weight of Liberal Protestantism that reduced Jesus to a moral teacher and wise man, rather than the Savior and Redeemer that we all desperately need. In a sense you could say that he was engaged in his own ressourcement of Martin Luther, understanding anew the judgment of God against the hopeless world made clear in his Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. Though Balthasar was known as a convert maker, Barth would be the one that got away. Here was Protestantism in its most challenging and most critical phase, and the two would become both great friends and fierce adversaries.

First and foremost, Karl Barth rejected wholly the concept of the analogy of being, which was the set of philosophical presuppositions that Balthasar held to from his mentor, Pryzwara. Now, when I say "rejected" I mean this is the strongest possible way. Barth saw the analogy of being as a doctrine of the Anti-Christ, pure and simple, and as long as the Catholic Church upheld this analogy of being, then the Church is in league with the devil. This wholesale rejection would forever keep Barth out of the Catholic Church.

For Balthasar, the analogy of being remains the only answer without which no possibility in Christian thought could even begin. The reason it is possible for us to think and feel as Christians is precisely our recourse to the analogy of being, and this is the greatest difference between Catholic and Protestant theologies. The analogy of being allows one to navigate the tension between the extreme polarities of, on the one hand, complete and total identity of everything and the other extreme of complete contradiction in which nothing is the same. Applied to God, we have the identity of God and the world on one side and on the other is that complete "dialectic of opposition" between God and the world, finding in the world only evil and depravity. One elevates the transcendence of God that it robs the world of any meaning or reality, and the other is so overwhelmed by God's presence that either God absorbs the world (theopanism) or the world absorbs God (pantheism).

Barthian opposition of God to the world is appealing in its simplicity, but Balthasar finds it unsatisfactory, for he said, "That posture is finally impossible to sustain." It is impossible because you are blotting out all hope if God stands in absolute judgment against the world. There must be a common ground between God and man - being - otherwise God could not judge the world, for the world would find the divine judgment unintelligible. "Only the analogy of being" says Hans Urs, "is the contradiction of sin understood. Otherwise creation and sin would collapse together into the same thing." Just by being a living thing, in the Barthian vision, I am a condemned thing. Balthasar continues:
"Every real contra presupposes a constantly to be understood relationship, and thus at least a minimal community in order to be really a contra and not a totally unrelated Other. Only on the basis of an analogy is sin possible."
Dr. Regis Martin, commenting in his lectures about this situation, says that it is "only on the basis of the analogy of being that grace is possible. Covenant completes creation, God completes man in Jesus Christ." He continues that "in the absence of this analogy (of being), sin is not possible because creation becomes that sin. Virtue, grace, these things are only possible in an analogical universe." In other words, there has to be a real relationship between God and man for man to even sin against that relationship. For God to stand in opposition to man, to the world, there has to first be a correspondance between the two that this opposition is rooted in. God created man and all of nature to be completed in Him. God is existence, we share in that existence. Our being is solely participatory in the existence of God. This is the analogy of being that restrains the poles of absolute identification and absolute contradiction.

But all is not lost between the two geniuses! Balthasar seeks out something they can both agree upon, and this agreement becomes the mold of the rest of Hans Urs von Balthasar's theological writings: the analogy of faith centered on the person of Jesus Christ. Through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, God himself creates a community between himself and the world he made. We can speak of this community as a saving space of grace and salvation. To the extent to which we believe this we are able to achieve this relationship with God himself. Both Protestants and Catholics believe that with my identification in Christ, something new enters the world, a distinct and ontological difference occurs in Christ. This is the analogy of faith.

For Balthasar, in the concrete order of salvation the analogy of faith comes to represent the final form of the relationship between God and humanity, and it is this relationship that God has intended from the beginning for humanity. This is due probably to the influence of Henri de Lubac's understanding of the paradox of the spiritual creature who is "ordained beyond itself by the innermost reality of its nature to a goal that is unreachable by that nature, that can only be given by a gift of grace." As Dr. Martin expressed it: "Hence is the paradox: I hunger for a food that I cannot bake. I aspire to the heaven that I cannot attain."

This goal that is at the core of my humanity cannot be attained by my humanity alone, but rather it is through grace alone that all can be attained. It is in relationship to Jesus Christ that all things are to be judged. He is the line of horizon between the temporal and the eternal, between nature and grace. Jesus sets the standard, or rather, he is the standard, the benchmark. But for Hans Urs and not for Karl, the presuppositions of the whole natural order remain in tact, and this is where the two part company.

Both grace and nature find their ultimate meaning in Christ while at the same time they remain themselves, they do not collapse into one another. There is a place for natural theology, for philosophy, for nature. Reason can accomplish great things for God and even sin cannot and does not completely displace God in nature and in the human heart. Even as sin contradicts and corrupts the relationship between God and man, it is not wholly thrown away. The doctrine of total depravity is a hopeless starting point. C.S. Lewis rejected total depravity because he thought that if the individual person was completely depraved then no one would ever accept the Good News because they would not think it was good, in any way! Nature is made for grace and when it fell from grace it was not totally obliterated.

There is room in the analogy of faith for Balthasar's analogy of being, but he puts that conversation on hold for the time being in order to honestly engage Barth in his project, which is the Christocentric revolution in theology. What each one sought to do was "to make Christ the center towards which all things tend" (Pascal). Christ himself becomes the object of all analogical predications, the still point of the turning universe. In the analogy of faith Christ still remains utterly different while at the same time we are wholly united to Christ and as such Christ identifies with everything and everyone. In him all things are united, while still allowed to remain itself. What these two men wanted in their respective theologies to do was to make the center of gravity, the most profound point of unity, is Jesus Christ.
"Not for a single moment can theology forget its roots from which all of its nourishments are drawn. Adoration in which we see in faith the heavens opened and obedience in living which frees us in understanding the truth." (Balthasar, Explorations in Theology)

Barth led von Balthasar into this Christocentric revolution in Catholic theology, which can be traced back to Barth's Church Dogmatics. There are three themes in this Christocentric revolution of the analogy of faith. First, all theology must begin with Jesus, the relation between God and man, as "the historical self-emptying of the eternal self-interpretation of the Father in the Son." Jesus is the "form of all forms" Who am I and what I must do is contained in Christ's sacred humanity, for in him the whole meaning of Adam is completed.

Secondly, Christology is at the center of Christianity and the cross is at the center of Christology. The life of the God-Man culminates in the Paschal Mystery of his suffering, death and Resurrection. Jesus always remains in obedience to the Father. The Father always comes first, and so it is Jesus who climbs the cross to overcome all alienation.

Third and finally, the theology of history has Christ as the central protagonist. Christ is the concrete expression of that universality of being and meaning which belongs to God by virtue of his being god. In his humanness, all universality and the particularity are gathered up and given weight - he saves everything in the ambit of his sacred humanity. And as God, he is the fullness of meaning. Here is Dr. Martin made this illuminating contribution to the Christological revolution of Balthasar. He said that
"Jesus is unable to be assumed under a larger rubic. All things are measured in relation to him and paradoxically, in him are absolute exclusivity and absolute inclusivity."

Thus in the work of Karl Barth on the Christocentric revolution of Protestant theology, Balthasar, his friend and adversary, were able to build the analogy of faith, seeing in Jesus the center point of all mediation with God. However, much to Hans Urs von Balthasar's great sadness at the end of his life, this project was not fully undertaken in the Catholic Church. There are several reasons for this that Dr. Regis Martin posits.

First, there were those theologians who found their lives and work adverse to this Christocentrism because they were too enamored with Kantian idealism. For these Transcendental Thomists, it was the turn to subjectivity that was the approach, the point of departure. Balthasar saw this as bad, for the real point should always be Christ at the center.

Second, there is the evolutionary progress in theology of Teilhard de Chardin. He swept up the thought of Catholicism after the Council with this theology, though it was presented not under theological prose, but as poetry. He was a faithful son of the Church and a friend to de Lubac, but this theology actually led people away from the Church, losing their faith, and preventing this revolution from bearing its fruit.

Third, we have Marxism, or rather, we have the imposition of ideological faith. Christ is lost, his image is exchanged for Che or Castro. Theologians became ideologues and co-opted Christ for their ideologies, not allowing Christ to be the center.

Fourth and finally, there was a tremendous loss of energy after the Council. Much of the energy was shifted from renewal to restructuring, that is, according to Martin, there was "administrative reform and not renewing her heart, not focusing on the mysteries of the faith. This drew people away from the Church."

But the analogy of faith represents for von Balthasar the pro nobis character of our Lord at the heart of the Creed.
"It was for us that the Son came down from heaven, for us that he was crucified, died and was buried. And this means not only for our benefit but in our place, taking over what is our due. If this is watered down, then the fundamental tenant of the New Testament disappears, and it looks as if God is always reconciled, as if sin is always forgiving... Then the cross would just be a symbol, effecting nothing. There would no longer be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. ...Without noticing it we have beocme like the men of the Enlightenment, acknowledging his countenance but ignoring his anger towards sin. We run the risk of loosing sight of the integrity of that image [of the severely blood crucifix] and we view it as some Medieval exaggeration, and costly grace becomes a cheap price."

We can say that all of Balthasar's theologizing turns to this event of the Cross, and in response to this we live between the two poles of Adoration and Obedience, of Saint John the Apostle and Saint Ignatius of Loyola, of the contemplative and the active life.

"The life of Jesus was at first a life of teaching. But finally it became a life of suffering unto death. The blazing absolute character of the teaching that shine in everything he said can only be understood if the whole movement of his life is seen as a movement toward the cross; sot that the words and deeds are validated by the passion, which explains everything if one interprets the passion as a subsequent catastrophe then every word, not excluding the Sermon on the Mount, becomes unintelligible. The intelligible content, the Logos of teh teaching and everything he did, can only be read in the light of his Hour, the Hour he waited for, the baptism he longed for, the Hour of the Father, of glory." (Love Alone is Credible)
Christocentrism focuses us on Jesus and his cross. Our response to the moment of Jesus' full self-disclosure that "God is love" in the mysteries of Good Friday and Holy Saturday is adoration and obedience.

Next post we will - finally! - finish with the influences of the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar with the most important one of all, Adrienne von Speyr.


“God is not a sealed fortress to be attacked and seized by our engines of war: ascetic practices, meditative techniques, but rather God is a house of open doors through which one can enter…” - von Balthasar

Influences on Hans Urs von Balthasar Theology, part 2

The brilliant theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar developed his theology through a series of encounters with seminal figures in the 20th Century. This second post looks at two major other people whose intersection with von Balthasar has enriched his theology. I decided to push the last two: Karl Barth and Adrienne von Speyr, into a final entry on Balthasar's influences.

French Writer: Paul Claudel
As Hans Urs was now in Lyon, France in the Jesuit seminary, laboring under the dreariness of neo-scholasticism, he not only had the work of Eric Pryzwara and the mentoring of Henri de Lubac to occupy his thoughts, but also it was here that he discovered great French Catholic poets and writers that would turn his theological insight continuously towards the glory of the Lord. Three French writers in particular stood out to him: Paul Claudel, George Barnanos, and Charles Peguy. Balthasar was immersed in the world of the image, of lively imagination and beauty, which appealed to his heart far more than philosophy and the abstract. Encountering the literary approach to theology became his life, absorbing the great literature of half a dozen countries by this time, such as his mastering of Shakespeare in English.

Paul Claudel was arguably the most important figure, because they actually had a personal encounter, of which von Balthasar saw in him a formidable, immeasurable learning. But then again, so was Hans Urs. Authentically Catholic literature had not lost in the intervening years what neo-scholasticism had lost: the beauty of nature and its intimate relationship with the supernatural. What theology discarded, Balthasar recovered in literature.

What most impressed Balthasar with Claudel was the "Celebration of the Finite." This finite world is the immediate backdrop and horizon for the whole drama between God and man. This is the setting, the theater, the "rhapsodic context" as Dr. Regis Martin- a professor of mine at Franciscan University who taught our Texts of von Balthasar class- put it, of the faith. Claudel had an immensely Catholic heart and an astounding ability to take everything in and see it all in the mantel of eternity, which illumines every line of his works.

Regarding Claudel, von Balthasar wrote:
"The question of the horizon can only be solved in God and Claudel understood this more than anyone else. Furthermore, Claudel knows that into this solution through all death, all mortality, all disaster, the unlimited fullness of the earth must enter. This double knowledge is decisive for his Catholicism. No worldly value may be despised out of pride or resentment. Every good is necessar for the Catholic person. He cannot all himself the smallest 'no' when he stands before the worldly good."
This vision of the world is sacramental, incarnational. Every good comes from God, He alone is its author, and it is through the finite that we encounter the Infinite God who freely chose to enter into this finite horizon of human existence, of nature. That is why Cardinal Newman could say, "Nature is a parable". Claudel would say that "we know that the world is, in effect, a text and that it speaks to us humbly and joyously; of its own emptiness and also of the presence of Someone else." The world is not meaningless, for even in its own emptiness it speaks of joy and wonder, "but ultimately" says Dr. Martin, "Nature speaks God's name."

This is an explicitly French literary contribution. These seminal writers poured out an incarnational, sacramental worldview combined with their own personal passion and lucidity, a rare but fertile combination. Soon after Hans Urs von Balthasar was ordained a priest and sent to Basil, Switzerland, a place where immensely important pastoral work was needed and where Catholicism was still illegal to practice in public and the Jesuits were barely tolerable. This was also during the rise of that dark barbarism, the Nazi movement, throughout central Europe. Amazingly, during this time there is a cultural rebirth of Catholicism within Switzerland as they themselves engage is a ressourcement of their own culture and values, surrounded as they were by Nazi barbarism.

Claudel's influence can be seen even in these times. Since public displays of Catholicism were illegal, von Balthasar would hold lectures and conferences under a secular pretext. While in seminary and after, he would spend years perfecting his translations into German of these great French Catholic writers, one of particular importance was "The Satin Slipper" by Claudel. In 1943, in the Zurich Playhouse, Balthasar stage the premiere of "The Satin Slipper", working to evangelize through culture because the front door to faith was closed. More plays would follow, such as Bernanos' play, "The Carmelites", which was about the Carmelite nuns that were murdered in the French Revolution in 1789.

It was through these cultural exchanges in a time of cultural upheaval that Hans Urs von Balthasar became known as a convert maker. He was most successful with the people who occupied the Humanities departments and gained renown as a spiritual director.

Karl Rahner: Rejection of Transcendental Thomism by Balthasar
With the figure of Maurice Blondel and his theology of immanence at the end of the 19 century, we find that there are two distinct lines of development of this theological impulse. The first follows Eric Pryzwara and is completed by Hans Urs von Balthasar. The second goes to a Belgian theologian, Joseph Marechal, and his great pupil who will rise to make this movment more explicit, Karl Rahner.

Transcendental Thomism, to be brief, is a halfway house between the purity of the thought and strict realism of Saint Thomas Aquinas and the idealism of Immanuel Kant's subjectivity. The Transcendental Thomists are less interested in the real, in being, but rather in the processes of consciousness itself, the mind, the thinking subject in its inner movement. This theology rooted God's immanence in the operations of the spirit - intellection and will- and thus they focused on consciousness. A key Rahnerian concept is the Vorgriff, the pre-apprehension of God, of Being, before He reveals Himself, through acts of understanding and willing.

Balthasar rejects this subjective turn, especially the vorgriff of Rahner. From Blondel, they both share an understanding that there is in the human person and in Nature itself the desire for God, for the supernatural, for grace, which will bring completeness. Nature cannot complete itself. But for Rahner, what and how God completes us is pre-apprehended before we even encounter Him, saying basically that I know my lack and that is what God will come and fulfill. For Balthasar, this vorgriff rejects divine freedom and especially the shock of Christ's coming into the world. God does not "fill in the gaps", as Dr. Martin put it, for we cannot deduce Christ from human need. Grace, God, Jesus, the supernatural, is entirely gift. Balthasar sees Rahner's theology missing this essential point.

That is why it is the moment of Christology that separates von Balthasar from Rahner. Rahner is accused of trying to escape the scandalous reality of the Cross. Faith in Jesus is never straight forward, as if He "is the guy who answers my questions and fulfills my needs", but rather the form of Jesus Christ is always "a revelation of my untruth, my sin" according to Dr. Matin. In fact, Jesus reveals a shameful capacity of the human person to chose self-deceit and self-enslavement, so not every act of the spirit is a transcendental encounter with God.
"The framework of God's message to man in Christ cannot be tied to the world in general nor to man in particular. God's message is theological, or better, theo-pragmatic. It is the act of God upon man, for and on behalf of man, and only then to man and in man. Only then can we say it is credible in love." (Love Alone is Credible)
Thus the remedy for Transcendental Thomism is the way of divine love, of revelation. What Balthasar is proposing is that God's divine drama can only finally be understood by God himself and so he wants to reject any understanding of that plan that would reduce it to the proportions of created reality (cosmos, the world, or created). As Dr. Martin so elegantly put it in class, "When man merges with God, it cannot be that God has been swindled!"

Jesus does not just come to us like the much anticipated missing piece to the puzzle that is my life, but in the shock of his coming, he reveals far more about myself than I was hoping to know. If Rahner's Christ is the answer to all human questions, than Hans Urs von Balthasar's Christ remains a question mark in the face of all human answers and all attempts to achieve some sort of metaphysical closure. Transcendental Thomism appreciates the immanence of God, but makes this Presence too automatic, too predictable. God provides exactly what the human question demanded, already inscribed upon my consciousness.

Balthasar continually points to revelation as the "self-authenticating glory of God's gift of love" to the world, and Rahner and the rest would have seen the Word in advance, which would destroy revelation itself. Any understanding of revelation whose point of departure is other than God Himself is flat out wrong, bringing down the whole order of the supernatural. Only God can validate God, and the scriptures are filled with precisely this self-ratifying, "self-authenticating" affirmation. This is way "the Incarnation is the historical manifestation of the self-emptying of the eternal self-interpretation of the Father in the Son."

Thus the 20th century was divided up between these two giants of von Balthasar and Karl Rahner. In his book, The Moment of Christian Witness, Balthasar makes it clear for the first time that he and Rahner have parted ways. In the words of Dr. Regis Martin in our class, this book "is the most sharply polemical of all his works. He names names and take Rahner by the throat; and not only Rahner but the whole school of Rahner." In that book his points of objection are threefold: Rahner reduces the love of God to mere philanthropy, he seems to reject the notion of the hiddenness of grace, and holds to the idea that man is somehow endowed with, possessed of, a natural aptitude for a transcendental revelation that comes to man through the structures of his own dynamism, somehow knowing the story that God has yet to tell about salvation.

To finish here with the critique of Rahner and his school, the overarching criticism against Rahner is that when you confront the majesty of Christ's power and love, you cannot appeal to some theological a priori and say, "Yes, this is how it will happen." Rather, it must happen as an event whose logic is entirely internal to itself and is a manifestation of freedom. "No outer or external condition" according to Dr. Martin's summation, "can dictate in advance the structure and movement of this grace. It determines its own unfolding because it carries its own justification on every line, every page."

From the celebration of all things finite of Paul Claudel to the rejection of the Rahnerian school of Transcendental Thomism, Hans Urs von Balthasar's life and work remains shaped by these key figures. The third and final post will be on the famous Protestant theologian and personal friend to Balthasar, Karl Barth, and the mystic convert to Catholicism and single most influential person in his life and work, Adrienne von Speyr.


"It is the perception of faith of the self-authenticating glory of God's utterly free gift of love." - Love Alone is Credible, von Balthasar