Saturday, July 12, 2008

Balthasar And Barth

While Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Barth were diametrically opposed on the doctrine of the Analogy of Being, they did agree on the necessity of the Analogy of Faith.

Both men insist that there has got to be a Christo-centric revolution and the aim of theology must be making Christ the center towards which all things tend!

This Christo-centric revolution consisted of three parts:

1) Centrality of the person of Christ in the life of faith.
-Christ is the figure of figures. The one in whom the entire plentitude of the God-head is made bodily present. Christ is the historical self emptying of the eternal self interpretation of the Father in the Son.

2) The whole movement of this divine person is towards Calvary.
-This is the place where God most profoundly reveals Himself. This is the place of the majesty, glory, and power of the Triune God. Here the Father hands over to sinful men, His purely innocent Son. It is important that we insist that the Son even in the teeth of this treachery, agrees to this willingly and lovingly. The Son is moved by an incomprehensible death of Love both for the Father who hands him over and for the world, on whose behalf He dies. The whole event of Christ turns on the radical obedience of the Son to the Father.

3) Theology of History (rooted in the personhood of Christ).
-For Barth, there was a false dualism that had to be overcome. This was the doctrine of Calvinist Pre-destination, which said that by God’s own eternal decree, some men have been destined to salvation and most others are damned to Hell. God Himself is the scale between these two demands of justice and mercy. Mercy however cannot be demanded, only asked for.
----For Barth, this is divinely insupportable. This is because Christ, Who is the saving Word of God, speaks this Word to every human being. Nobody is predestined for damnation. Everyone has been thought of by God from all eternity for Beatitude. Christ is the Saving Word!
For Barth, the purity of salvation that is Christ is already active in His Father’s eternal plan of salvation. He is the agent of creation and source of light and this creation fashioned by this word from its very beginning is orchestrated to return back to the Father. This is the finality that the entire human race is to move. The whole of created reality has already been effectively determined by God for salvation. The grace of Christ has already disarmed the world. He has already disseminated every encounter of sin.

Balthasar comes very close to this idea, but without leaving the grounds of orthodox Catholic theology. Barth, however, crosses the line.

The Church teaches that in and only in Christ, the Father has mercy on all the others. He has called all of us in and thru Christ into communion with Him.

Balthasar takes up this universalistic starting point and joins it in a very original way with the Logos Christology of the ancient Church, particularly with that of Origen, but stops short of the heresy of Apokatastisis, which was condemned by the Church in the middle of the 6th century. This heretical notion was taken up by Origen and pushed as far as can possibly go by his disciples. They took the view that the ‘punishment of devils and wicked men was only temporary” and those punishments will cease because the devils and wicked men coming to their senses will finally repent of their sins and be restored to their original state of blessedness. Origen ventured this idea as a hypothesis, always subject to the correction of Holy Mother Church. The Church condemned it, after Origen had died, in the form it took by his disciples. They advanced it not as a hypothesis, but as something that enjoyed mathematical precision.

Balthasar was falsely accused of this heresy. Yet he never proposed apokatastisis as something we can affirm or propose. He stated that Christ is viewed as THE concrete Incarnate expression of that universality of meaning and being which belongs to God Himself by virtue of His divine absolute nature. What this means is that in His concrete person, in this historical self emptying, the whole meaning of universal history and the meaning of the nature of the Logos that underlies this history, all finds its fulfillment in Christ. They have no meaning apart from the Logos. This applied not only to people and created beings, but also to anything else in the world that evinces some intelligibility. All of that, says Balthasar, is to be integrated and brought into completion in the one perfect Word, the Logos.

In Christ, there takes place a synthesis of the universal with the particular; universal significance and every concrete expression. The two are somehow wedded together in Christ. In the person of Christ, every conceivable concrete historical existence is brought together and unified. Thus, Christ becomes absolutely significant to all being and all reality; all creation, from angels to amoebas, and all things in between.

A two-fold claim emerges on the basis of this analysis:

a) Christ is the absolutely unique one. He is irreducible. He cannot suffer any reduction to something other and lesser than Himself. This is why we speak of Christ as the mystery of God. Mystery has entered history and become a material thing. Christ is this ground, the bedrock upon which everything else is to be predicated. In no way can Christ be subsumed and swallowed up by some other category of idea. What Balthasar and the Church insist on is that everything else has to measure up to Christ. He is the standard against Whom everything else is judged!

b) On the other hand, nothing is to be divided from or separated out from Christ. His way is not an exclusionary way. He does not occupy center stage in a way that every other thing is swept off the stage. He makes room for everything else in Himself except, of course, sin. But everything else, Christ is infinitely eager to integrate and include, not just people, but insights, longings, etc. They all find their comprehensive life in Christ.

These two concepts put together reveal that perfect exclusivity and perfect inclusivity together find their respective center of gravity only in Christ. All of this has come to be because the Word became flesh.

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