In his theology of the Mystery of Holy Saturday, Balthasar argues that God knows creation in no other way, than from the vantage point of His Son’s own hellish descent. On Holy Saturday, Christ in His obedience agrees to suffer the full extant of malice and power inflicted by sin. He bears it all the way down into the depths of Hell.
Christ’s descent into Hell is the final act of obedience to the Father. This is the center-piece of the obediential stance for Balthasar. Only in the descent itself is the deepest and definitive "No" of the sinner against God made known. In Christ’s descent, He brings the silent compassionate accompaniment of man in the extremity of solitude we call Hell, which is the absence of Faith, Hope, and Love. It is the loss of any human communication, whereby sinners are separated from God in their loneliness.
In Hell Christ must seek the Father, for he cannot find him under any circumstances. There is a seemingly separation of Christ from the Father. Seemingly, not actual. In this darkness the incarnate Son learns experientially what until then was reserved for the Father. The descent represents the final and deepest point reached by Christ in His self emptying. It is the Supreme expression of God’s life and love; the consummate icon of what God is eternally like.
For Balthasar there is immense compassion on the part of Christ. Christ identifies Himself with the sinner so much so that he puts Himself in the place of the sinner. Balthasar tries to capture the sense of solidarity that Christ freely entered into alongside the damned. Christ’s suffering is the result of Love. It is a freely embraced pain due to the suffering of Love. Christ goes to Hell because He loves all of mankind, even the damned. He cannot not love them. He wants to make His presence known among even the most damned of creation. And for the damned who has rejected all forms of love, this is the worst punishment of all. Not even in Hell can the damned escape the loving gaze of Christ. The descent is an act of solidarity between Christ and man. It is the ultimate paradox in that Christ who is sinless, experiences the effects of Hell as the "sin-bearer."
The Pastoral importance of Balthasar’s theology is that it shows the endless love of God. That God loves us so much, He would send His own Son to the depths of Hell for us. And Christ goes out of obedience to the Father and love for man. There is no place we can hide from God’s love. No matter how far away we think we have gone, we could never go outside the reach of the Love of God.
First Things has published an ongoing debate between anti-Balthasarian Alyssa Lyra Pitstick and pro-Balthasarian Edward T. Oakes, S.J. in its previous two issues. The first can be read here and the second here.