Happy Halloween

October 31, 2008

I want to wish all the neo-Zwinglian party poopers, have a happy eve of All Souls! I’m sure watching Luther movies in your church basement is fun too. But for the rest of us, Halloween is great for at least these three reasons: (1) A time to remember the dead, (2) A time to remember that you yourself are being-toward-death while watching Zombie movies, (3) Alfred Hitchcock movies. In honor of the third reason, here is a great movie poster for Hitchcock’s classic, Psycho (1960), the greatest horror movie of all time.

I’m currently reading von Balthasar’s The Theology of Karl Barth. Highly interesting, to say the least. I’ve read the last part of the book before — his constructive, Catholic response — but not the actual study of Barth. The bulk of the critique so far is similar to that found in Louis Bouyer’s The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism and is bringing to the fore of my mind a lot of what Bouyer was criticizing in Protestant thought but I didn’t quite comprehend the significance of before. Bouyer was using a realist-vs-nominalist critique that was not quite as compelling (to me) as von B’s realist-vs-existentialist (or analogy-vs-dialectic) critique. Barth’s Der Römerbrief, according to von B, starts and ends with an existential negation which serves as the paradigm for critiquing the human (incl. scripture, church, theology, spirituality, philosophy, etc.) instead of beginning with the Incarnation and making Christ the paradigm for critiquing the human (with the possibility of divine affirmation of human projects). Once the latter shift is made in Barth’s thinking, we have room for a minimal but real correspondence between finite and divine categories. Here is the core of von B’s criticism of Barth before his Christological concentration:

The experiment of the second edition of The Epistle to the Romans was to try to push dialectics to absurd limits, until dialectics rendered itself void for dialectical reasons. But this only resulted in the great irony that dialectics — which took itself to be the proven method — was not only not better than dogmatics and criticism but decidedly inferior to them. In its radical infallibility (as radical fallibility!), it actually betrayed its own self-imposed mission: to speak only of God and not to call attention to itself. It’s loud avowal, “I cannot,” is actually disobedience. As if it were making its relativity an absolute, as if it really were not relative!

The Epistle to the Romans is the very thing against which it itself raged and thundered: a pinnacle of human religiosity. Its insistent cry of “Not I! Rather God!” actually directs all eyes on itself instead of on God. Its cry for distance gives no room for distance. Perhaps, shuddering at the dreadful pain of its flagellations, we could admit that it is right — a hundred times right! But the very blow tells us of its guilt. The real scandal is the mystery of God, which cannot be evaluated in language, even indirectly. There is no suitable method for describing the “infinite qualitative difference between God and man,” even if only negatively. Dialectics cannot replace theology. It must be content to serve merely as a corrective. As the moment of indirection, it can itself be only indirect.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth (Ignatius Press 1992), p. 84.

The “disobedience” line is particularly striking. It’s the same attack von B uses against Luther and Kierkegaard in The Christian and Anxiety, and, in a way, is a sum of the Catholic critique of the Protestant use of simul iustus et peccator.

von Balthasar on anxiety

October 27, 2008

Only he who has left the anxiety of sin behind attains the fullness of faith and thus true indifference, and the entry into the realm of complete truth is unconditional joy, consolation, overwhelming light. When God bestows Christian suffering, including Christian anxiety, it is, viewed from his perspective, fundamentally an intensification of light and of joy, a “darkness bright as day,” because it is suffering out of joy, anxiety out of exultation: it is a sign of God’s ever-greater confidence in the one who believes. And what experientially seems constricting and frightening to the believer is in truth enlarging, a fruitful dilatatio of the birth canal, an interior trembling that expands faith, hope, and love. Even if subjectively it were mortal terror, objectively it is greater blessedness, a participation in the everlasting trinitarian ecstasy.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Christian and Anxiety, pp. 147-148.

The WEA is currently having its General Assembly (the first in 7 years) in Thailand. Click here for official coverage and updates. So far, the conferences have focused on poverty (through Micah Challenge relief and development) and HIV outreach. The NAE (the U.S. branch of the WEA) relief division is World Relief.

This is Aaron Shust’s version of Dora Greenwell’s wonderful hymn, “I Am Not Skilled to Understand,” written in 1873. The music and chorus lyrics are by Shust; the verses are Greenwell’s.

I am not skilled to understand
What God has willed, what God has planned
I only know at His right hand
Stands one who is my Savior

I take Him at His word and deed
Christ died to save me; this I read
And in my heart I find a need
Of Him to be my savior

That He would leave His place on high
And come for sinful man to die
You count it strange, so once did I
Before I knew my Savior

Yes, living, dying, let me bring
My strength, my solace from this spring
That He who lives to be my King
Once died to be my Savior

That He would leave His place on high
And come for sinful man to die
You count it strange, so once did I
Before I knew my Savior

HermanBavinck.org has posted audio files of a recent conference on Bavinck, including:

“The God of Philosophy and of the Holy Scripture: Herman Bavinck and John Paul II” by Eduardo J. Echeverria of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. A helpful lecture wherein I learned, among other things, how to pronounce “Matthias Scheeban” properly. Regardless of the title, the lecture is not limited to Bavinck and JPII but, instead, covers the convergence in Reformed and Catholic thought on the natural knowledge of God. Echeverria argues that there is a greater convergence among recent Dutch Reformed theology (Kuyper-Bavinck-Berkouwer) and recent Catholic theology (Maritain, Gilson, von B, JPII) than many realize. He also argues that the Vatican Council (1870) did not teach that knowledge of God could be “philosophically demonstrated,” though He can be known apart from special revelation.

[My summary: The infinite contains the finite; the finite does not contain the infinite.]

From all eternity, the Father is together with the Son and with the Holy Spirit. He reveals himself to them in a way that is completely divine and receives from them a divine answer. Nonetheless, when the Father created the world, he opened wide the sphere of the eternal in order to include within existence the sphere of the transient as well. He set forth something from his eternity, though not in order to leave what he had created without a connection to eternity, as a unity left to its own devices. God also received what he had created and, therefore, preserved a permanent relationship with his work. His will as Creator remained unchanged with respect to the world, and, in the act of creation, the Creator’s being was disclosed to the world. He neither withdrew nor became indifferent, but rather he waited for an answer from the created.

His creation’s first answer was to let itself be created, to let itself become a reality, one whose ultimate meaning was meant to rest in God but that also possessed meaning in its creaturely essence. God separated the water from the dry land, and, in this separation, the earth became an important symbol. The earth is the sure ground on which men can stand. For everything was planned for man, whom God created last of all. He handed over everything to him so that it would belong to him. This handing over was meant with the utmost sincerity and was never revoked. It placed man in a permanent relationship with the surrounding world, which was God’s gift to him. In God’s eyes, occupying man in this way was meant already to be like a prayer, for man was meant to see in created things what God had given him. He was to be able to do this by virtue of his senses and reason, in what he saw, heard, felt, and experienced. He was furnished with a sensory nature and with knowledge, and, through these, he can echo and adjust to the things over which he has dominion. However, God stands behind each and every perception and adjustment. This means, not that God allows himself to be restricted or tied down to the measure of things and experiences, but rather that his voice remains always audible. The more simple things are, the more conceivable God appears. It is not that he allows things to contain him; rather, they are signs of his presence, which can be neither diminished by the finitude of the world nor consigned to a particular space; it nonetheless remains true presence. This presence is something neither vague nor questionable: it is the presence of the Creator toward whom points the meaning that resides in created things. It is not that God’s meaning is made finite in elements, in plants, and in animals, like something exhaustible; but things can be either quiet or loud reminders that the invisible Creator lives, has created them, and, far from abandoning them, has them permanently in his care. The human spirit, which experiences and contemplates these things, is reminded by their presence of God’s existence.

Adrienne von Speyr, The Boundless God, Ignatius Press, 2005. (emphasis mine)

Farewell, Summer

October 18, 2008

There has been an interesting phenomenon in country music for pretty much the entire history of country music but especially acute for the last decade or two, namely to be the progenitors of a Southern self-consciousness and romanticism — extolling the virtues of the South or rural, small town life in general. Sometimes it is annoying, in the way romanticism in poetry and music in the 19th century got annoying. But sometimes it is pleasant and harmless, actually serving to recall beauty and blessings in a way Plato would probably appreciate in spite of his suspicions of art. As a case in point (and in honor of summer’s end), I think this song and video exhibits the latter:

“Nothin’ Like the Summer” by Carmen Rasmusen

$189.7 million for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CA (opened in 2002)

$190 million for the Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, CA (opened in 2008)

This a preliminary architectural rendering. Pics from the completed building can be found here.

The Cost of Classical Architecture:

$23 million for Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, CA (under construction)

$25 million for Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in La Crosse, WI (opened in 2008)


People don’t know what they’re talking about when they argue against the viability of classical architecture because “it costs too much.” Even with all of the imported Italian marble and thorough craftsman’s detail, the new shrine in La Crosse costs $25 million, while the concrete monstrosities in LA and Oakland cost $190 million each. Ridiculous.

Wondrous and mysterious vs. slick and sanitized — God help us when we choose the latter. Christianity without the cross, now reflected in our architecture.

Good Art

October 15, 2008

In the great tradition of church-commissioned art, here is a work by David Arms entitled, “God’s Story.” It was commissioned by Christ Community Church, a Presbyterian (PCA) church in Franklin, TN. A description of the piece can be found here.

Click on image for a large, 1224×493, size.