Balthasar and Protestantism

January 25, 2016

Hans Urs von Balthasar

“One does not pray to the kerygma.”

— Hans Urs von Balthasar

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For quite some time, I have slowly adopted a rather Balthasarian frame of mind. To the extent that I am critical of Barth’s lingering dialectical quirks, the seeds were planted by reading Balthasar. I am fully aware that this puts me well on the margins among the younger generation of students of Barth, who like their Barth to be as dialectical and radical and actualist as possible.

But this post is not about Barth. It’s about Balthasar. From what I have observed over the years, it seems that many people — both Catholic and Protestant — perceive Balthasar to be rather favorable toward Protestantism or, as some Thomists have complained, too influenced by Protestant theology, especially Barth’s. Alongside this perception is the assumption that Balthasar, as a representative figure of la nouvelle théologie, must not be much influenced by medieval scholasticism and Latin theology in general, given the movement’s recovery of the early fathers and especially the Greek fathers.

This is all wrong or, at least, highly misleading with partial truths. In fact, Balthasar was very critical of Protestant theology, and Thomas Aquinas is a frequent guest in his writings. Yes, Balthasar was a student of Barth’s theology, but he was also a profound student of many theologians: Irenaeus, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, Augustine, Anselm, BonaventureDante, John of the Cross, Pascal, Hamann, and more. We cannot say that Balthasar is a “Barthian Catholic.” His mind was too wide and too perspicacious and too universal for such a narrow designation, based upon one (albeit important) influence in his theology. If there was ever a theologian who deserved the title of simply “Catholic” (=universal), it is Balthasar.

Moreover, to say that Balthasar was a Barthian is to forget his criticisms of Barth and Protestant theology as a whole — especially the dialectical movement, which Balthasar sees as embodying and extending, logically and radically, the basic errors of Protestantism. This is, at least, how I interpret him, but it is difficult to get a straightforward account of Protestantism from Balthasar. This is because, not least of all, his criticisms are spread across his many writings and often appear in unexpected places. His prose is, often enough, terribly impenetrable, so that’s another problem.

Let us look at Balthasar’s Explorations in Theology, the third volume in particular. The chapter is called, “Two Modes of Faith.”

“Two Modes of Faith”

If you want an introduction — albeit a very dense and difficult introduction — to Balthasar’s basic criticism of Protestant theology, especially its development into the modern period, then this essay is a good place to start. The “two modes of faith” are those of Martin Luther and Ignatius of Loyola. To briefly summarize, the two modes are similar insofar as both are intensely concerned to ground one’s existence in Christ and the Cross, but they quickly move “in contrary directions,” since for Luther, “everything lies in the Word that promises me salvation and that I allow in faith to be true in me.” Whereas for Ignatius, “everything lies in the call that introduces me into the following of Jesus’ way (of the Cross)” (Explorations in Theology, III, 89).

As a result, the historical person of Christ is central for Ignatius, whereas in Lutheran theology, and beginning in Luther himself, the word and the person start to separate. It is the message, the kerygma received in faith, that is absolute. The pro me of the word is alone decisive. This finally culminates in the dialectical and existential Lutheran theologians of the 20th century (Herrmann, Gogarten, Bultmann, et al.), where the kerygma and faith are alone absolute.

Here is Balthasar’s account, with footnotes in brackets:

In Luther, the pro me (the origin for today) becomes so exclusively important that, in an extreme case, the origin “in itself” could disappear. Kierkegaard’s fine perception has noticed this:

“In one sermon, Luther rages most vehemently against the faith that holds to the person rather than holding to the Word; the true faith holds to the Word, irrespective of who the person is. This is fine in the relationship between man and man. But for the rest, Christianity is abolished by this theory.” [Tagebücher (Haecker), 4th ed. (1953), 436]

With Althaus: “Not even the earthly person of Jesus…[is] the ultimate ground of faith, but (as Luther says), ‘The Word by itself must suffice for the heart.'” [Die Theologie Martin Luthers (1962), 53. Luther, WA 10, I I, 130, 14] In his harsh but indispensable book on Luther (Das Ich im Glauben bei Martin Luther [Styria, 1966]), Paul Hacker has shown the threatening danger of this one-sidedness as it runs through Luther’s chief works. On the one hand, one leaps over the centuries with a single jump in Bultmann: “The Christ kata sarka is of no interest to us; I do not know, nor do I wish to know, how things stood in Jesus’ heart” [Glauben und Verstehen, I (1933), 101]; on the other hand, if the event of Word and faith is the primordial event, then love must take the second place, must indeed take the place of the “works”, and once again Kierkegaard says about this:

“The conclusion of Luther’s sermon on 1 Corinthians 13, where he shows that faith is higher than love, is sophistic. Luther wishes always to explain love in fact only as love of one’s neighbor, as if it were not also a duty to love God. In fact, Luther has set faith in the place of love of God and has then called love the love of neighbor.” [Tagebücher (February 9, 1849), 359]

(Explorations in Theology, III, 89-90)

Balthasar then makes the contrast with Ignatius, for whom love directed toward the person of Christ is decisive and involves such concrete acts of obedience as “leaving all and following” (ibid., 91). Moreover, this mode of faith does greater justice to the whole witness of both testaments than “the sharp dialectic that Luther unfolds from the slender basis of the Letters to the Galatians and to the Romans” (ibid.).

A couple pages later, Balthasar continues with his account of Protestant, namely Lutheran, theology. This is a long excerpt. It was impossible for me to break it down and provide snippets without making it incoherent. Here it is:

A short look at the dramatic history of Protestant theology between Luther and Bultmann teaches us much, because it shows how Luther’s option, the outcome of his development away from the Catholic Church, works itself out and comes to dominate through the centuries. At first, the word of Scripture and the person of Christ remain closely bound together, even when Lutheran orthodoxy intensifies the significance of the word with its doctrine of verbal inspiration, while pietism takes a relationship of personal immediacy to the person. But when the Enlightenment refers polemically back to the historical Jesus against the dogmatic word of the Church, Jesus is de-dogmatized and is an inspired religious personality with whom (in the univocal character of the Pneuma) one can stand in a charismatic relationship (Lessing). Schleiermacher can indeed make dogmatics become the expression and function of the “pious consciousness” with the historical Jesus as the Analogatum princeps; but the dogmatic “word” that is arrived at in this way can just as well be dissolved again with Hegel by the historical dubiousness (“unhappy consciousness”) and elevated, as “open religion”, to be the objective expression of the intellect’s self-understanding. But theology reflects again and again on the incomparability of the historical event of Jesus; for Ritschl, it is the original sense of value that grasps the absolute significance, not of the being of Christ, but of his work as “benefit” for us. [Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung 3, 2d ed. (1883), 358ff.] For his pupil W. Hermann (the teacher of Karl Barth and of Bultmann), Jesus is through his mysterious inner life, his obvious unique sinlessness, the incarnate categorical imperative, in whom God comes near in a manner we can never equal, let alone surpass, and everything else in the Bible is at best relative to the event of my being encountered and overwhelmed by the revelatory quality of the person of Jesus. The dissociation adopted from Kant, Lotze and Ritschl between the (philosophical) ontological evaluation and the (existential) experience of value does indeed cast the strongest light in Herrmann on the overwhelming uniqueness of this person, but it does this radically within the horizon of the Lutheran pro me. When Herrmann, who was a vigorous foe of Catholicism, comes close to contact with the genuinely Catholic position, he nevertheless swerves aside (as a Kantian) at the last moment: it is not ultimately what Jesus was, but how he has an effect on me, that remains decisive. All one needs to do now to arrive at the Bultmannian position is to replace speculative agnosticism by historical-critical agnosticism; thus Bultmann’s position is not in the least absolutely dependent on the latter foundation. But Herrmann’s controversy with Martin Kähler is also significant: while Herrmann’s interest was with what was absolutely impressive in Jesus, no matter how the biblical mediation might be constituted, Kähler correctly resists the pseudo-objective project of the liberal history that brackets off faith in order to get back at an historical Jesus-in-himself behind the Scripture’s testimonies of faith; not, like Bultmann, because we can know nothing about him, but because we find what is absolutely impressive in his person precisely in the corpus of the testimonies of faith and nowhere else. It is here that “the personality that has become ripe for history lives”; its effectiveness is also its reality.

…”the reality with which faith deals is never any other than the reality of the word, and in no case whatsoever is it what is called an ‘objective’, ‘factual’ reality” (Gogarten). [Der historische Jesus und der kerygmatishe Christus, ed. H. Ristow and K. Matthiae (1960), 248]

Balthasar then closes this section of the essay with this response:

If Jesus is thus only in the word addressed to me, as the absolutum of the appeal (into which the Cross and the Resurrection have been absorbed), then I, as one encountered and affected by the word, am oriented to the word with the absolutum of my decision of faith. The evangelical event takes place in the convergence of these two absoluta. But since it is not possible for two absoluta to exist, they must ultimately coincide. But this means the abolition of the fundamental act of the biblical person, prayer. One does not pray to the kerygma. At best, one allows its innermost substance to coincide with one’s own innermost substance. And thus “faith” has also gone beyond fiducia and has arrived again in a most remarkable manner at the point from which it had turned away in horror; at “holding” propositions “to be true”, i.e., at an actualized Torah. [Thus also Althaus, criticizing Bultmann, Der historische Jesus und der kerygmatishe Christus, ed. H. Ristow and K. Matthiae (1960), 247]

That is a fascinating criticism. Balthasar is saying that this Protestant word-theology inevitably de-personalizes the faith-response in regard to its object, thereby collapsing into the pathos of the ego. That seems just about right, from my vantage point. I am sure that others, especially from within the dialectical camp, will have vigorous objections to Balthasar on all of this.

_______________

Image: Hans Urs von Balthasar (source)

33 Responses to “Balthasar and Protestantism”

  1. Cal said

    I’ll have to give this more thought, but my first thought is that it comes off as pitting two particular theological positions against each other and magnifying this as “Catholic vs. Protestant”. But, as you say, fascinating criticism. I’ll probably return to comment again once I’ve considered it more.

    • Kevin Davis said

      Yes, it could definitely be criticized as a magnification of two particulars (Luther / Ignatius) as definitive or normative for their respective churches. And this magnification may be, in part, my own reading and interpretation, but I am fairly confident that it has broad and substantial support in Balthasar’s work as a whole.

  2. This looks like an interesting critique of Bultmann et al., but if it’s also intended to address Luther, it fails. That’s clearly visible starting from Balthasar’s conclusion: “…then I, as one encountered and affected by the word, am oriented to the word with the absolutum of my decision of faith.” That sounds a bit like Bultmann, but radically unlike Luther, for whom the word of Christ is no appeal to an ego capable of decision. Rather, the proclaimed Word makes a new creature by the Holy Spirit, one who lives in Christ by faith. The old ego is dead–no convergence. I don’t “allow” anything.

    Similarly, speaking of the preached Word drifting away from the person of Jesus is exactly the opposite of Luther–the preached Word is the Word in scripture is the man Jesus. The insight is fundamentally Johannine. So Luther can speak (in A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels) of the critical matter that in the gospels we understand Jesus as far more than example, else “his life remains his own” and contributes nothing to us. Rather, we should regard everything he does and has as if it were our own, that is, as if we ourselves had done it–because the Word bestows exactly that. Lutheran sacramentology is largely this point extended to Baptism and the Supper.

    • Kevin Davis said

      Thanks, Adam. This is exactly the sort of substantive Lutheran response that I was hoping to receive. The sacramental point is the point that I want to see most developed and engaged with “radical” (liberal) Lutheran theology, and I assume that y’all have the goods!🙂

      • Mid-century Lutheran responses to Barth and Bultmann are interesting to me. The better ones recognize the importance of Bultmann’s effort to pull eschatology back into proclamation (something Luther already knew), but recognize something is really lacking. On that score, Kaesemann outdoes his old teacher and fills up much of the defect. Contemporary theologians who have swerved too hard the other way and tried to develop Lutheran theology without that eschatological edge, leaning hard on ontology instead, have, in my view, failed to appreciate Luther.

        Of those mid-century guys, Gustaf Wingren is a favorite. His little book Theology in Conflict: Nygren, Barth, Bultmann, long out of print but probably available cheap, takes up the presuppositions of each–it might be worth a look. Very short. Another volume, The Living Word, is a fine development of the sacramentality of the Word in Luther–aimed against Barth, distinctly “kerygmatic” in its interests (ostensibly it’s about ecclesiology), but also clearly at odds with Bultmann’s approach. Neither book takes on the sacraments directly (could be wrong on the 2nd–it seems to have escaped my shelves so I can’t check right now), but you can start to draw the lines from the second one in particular.

        But if you want to see how a contemporary German Lutheran theologian does it, look at Oswald Bayer, particularly his Martin Luther’s Theology. That one certainly takes up the sacraments, and is constantly in dialogue with the previous century. Another book, very different in form (it’s structured sort of as a Romans commentary/ internal overview and critique of the Lutheran tradition) is Steve Paulson’s Lutheran Theology. Under the hood, quite a bit in common with Bayer, and tightly knits together Luther, the sacraments, preaching and eschatology. I know that one addresses Bultmann directly, if briefly (but indirectly at a number of places) as well as a host of other Lutherans over the centuries.

  3. Ian said

    I agree with Adam that Balthasar’s criticism takes a real insight into one camp and broadens it into a caricature. But that insight is a delectable one as I think it summarizes the Bultmann redivivus crowd pretty accurately. For all the talk of demythologizing they engage in, I can’t recognize the God they describe as anything but a pious fiction that assimilates the name of Christ, God the Father and the Spirit. Frequently that kerygma sounds to me more like a game of pretend along the lines of Jungian therapy than the saving and sanctifying action of the Creator God. Maybe that’s not charitable, but Luther taught me that grace permits us to call a thing what it is. Two and a half cents.

    • cal said

      That’s the rub on Luther studies. He has left a bizarre and iconic crater in the history of Western theology. Historically, Luther remains a strange and hardly recognizable figure: Medieval in his mind, peasant in his sensibilities, capable of remarkable insight and stunning/disturbing ignorance, insanity or superstition (at least as we today might classify it). In other words, a man of his era.

      But where Luther remains is in the power of his insights and their meaning today. Luther is hailed by psychotherapists, orthodox LCMS Lutherans, existentialists, etc etc.

      So, the future of this debate doesn’t really matter about a real Luther (does anyone want to take up the semi-farcical “Thus Speaketh Herr Doktor Luther” attitude he wields against Papists?), but the legacy of his insights. Balthasar would say he accumulates into the Bultmann. Balthasar was not a mere polemicist and not an idiot. This is at home with his typological approach, and when trying to think through historically for the purposes of theology or philosophy, it’s not a bad way to take.

      One would have to argue this way, not appeal back to a “real” Luther, which may still be a constructed figure yet.

      cal

      • Kevin Davis said

        I do like Balthasar’s typological approach. It can drive a historian mad, but it makes for far more interesting theology.

      • Why any less real than Bultmann or Balthasar? It’s not as if we lack for his writing.

        And yes, Balthasar may argue that he ends in Bultmann–but is Bultmann the only Lutheran of his century? What gives him the unique claim? And is Bultmann so pure in his influences? Balthasar may be no ‘mere’ polemicist, but this tack is certainly polemical–anoint the true heir, then destroy him. Now look, the head of the dynasty has been nullified.

      • cal said

        The reason why not Bultmann or Balthasar is that they do not carry some deep legacy behind them or have become particularly titanic typologically. It’s not about how much someone has written, it’s what they mean and where their thought has led to. I think it’s fair to analyze beyond what merely a person has said.

        So you’re right, Balthasar may not be fair in saying Luther’s thought leads to Bultmann in the grand scheme of things. However, it’s not completely unfair. I’m not arguing for Balthasar on this, I’m just saying that to appeal to the original Luther is not good enough. You are right though. There are other Lutherans who could exemplify a different path.

  4. I have a hard time seeing the value of that sort of typology. Luther was a theologian like any other, albeit one with a considerable legacy. If his legacy is all that matters, why invoke his writings at all? No, there’s an actual problem here. Balthasar has associated Luther with a position he stood in diametrical opposition to, and not obscurely. The particular issue shares much territory with Luther’s controversy on the bound will–but Balthasar has reversed the poles, assigning to Luther’s legacy that which more resembles Erasmus. Yes, that’s completely unfair.

    • cal said

      I’m not sure Bultmann’s position equals Erasmus in any real sense, and I’m not sure Luther would oppose Bultmann, I’m not sure what Luther would even do with Bultmann. Conceptually they might as well be speaking another language.

      But, typologically, it’s fair to ask even if von Balthasar does not see the silliness in his own typing. If Ignatius of Loyola is his example, could not the legacy of Rome be the sort “God’s Marines”, politically conninving, Papal venerators that the Jesuit order has left?

      It’s kind of a sleight of hand to take Ignatius at his word and to ascribe the pitfalls of Luther’s legacy squarely on his shoulders. Why not ask questions of the bizarre legacy the Jesuits possess? And why is Ignatius, and not say Thomas or Therese of Liseux, not the type? Couldn’t one (and there would be some) that would summarize Rome in the works of Garrigou-Lagrange?

      • cal said

        But, of course, von Balthasar would see a misreading, a kind of antiquarianism, in the Manualist tradition that spawned in the Neo-Thomist reaction to the modern world. Therefore, according to von Balthasar(!), the Resourcement movement is more faithful to tradition, and Thomas, than the Manualists.

        But here is a kind of picking and choosing on who is more faithful to the tradition. Why can’t Lutherans apply the same arguments (as Adam is doing)? How can von Balthasar see the future of Protestants?

      • Ian said

        Well, in the same way there’s a picking and choosing going on in Bultmann who thinks separating form and content 1) is reasonable and 2) is possible. I don’t see an organic inevitability in the progression from Luther to Bultmann: there are some fundamental assumptions shaping Bultmann’s appropriation of Luther and his delineation of what the gospel actually is that don’t lie coiled within Luther’s program overall. But Bultmann thinks it just makes sense to cling to one insight and jettison that insight’s accompanying aspects for some virtual “pure” kerygma no one has ever proclaimed prior to him. I just can’t see how cleaving form and content apart to get at the pure existential secret shorn of any historical particularity would make sense to Luther or Bernard of Clairveaux either. Sure, he allegorizes, but insofar as that bridges between embodied agents past and embodied agents present who are made contemporary in preaching, prayer, and the sacraments.

      • cal said

        And then finally: why can’t this kind of genealogical approach be tossed onto some more damning feature of Rome? Why can’t the doctrine of purgatory not, logically, conclude in the kind of indulgences that von Tetzel sold? Rome has swept this under the rug and called it an abuse. How are we to determine whether something is an abuse or a proper logical outworking, especially since Rome has so much staked in ‘this’ world?

        If we answer according to a hierarchy, then the argument then becomes one of power and dominance. We say it’s abuse or logic according to a divine mandated magisterium. And then you end up in the bizarre statements of Cardinal Manning (I believe), that Rome decides the meaning of history. A kind of pre-Fouccault, post-modern, take if there ever there was one!

        cal

      • Ian said

        And so here is the point where, though I am weary of most populist worldview talk, I see something like it having cash value in understanding Balthasar’s blindspot towards his own homeboys.

      • Adam Morton said

        On second (third?) reading, I think it’s fair to say von Balthasar does see the issue. He refers to Luther’s reliance on “the slender basis of the Letters to the Galatians and to the Romans”–even were this Luther’s only exegetical support, it’s a telling response.

        First, because he recognizes there is support, and second, because he realizes it’s a matter of priority–which supports are slender and which robust? Push this any further and he’d start to sound very like Kaesemann, who insisted that the diversity of modern confessions emerges from the internal diversity of the New Testament. So pick your line–what’s the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae?

      • Kevin Davis said

        Adam, just a quick note — I have seen this criticism, about the Reformers depending too heavily on Paul (and not even all of Paul), elsewhere in Balthasar’s writings, in at least a couple other places. Unfortunately, I don’t have any citations, unless I try to find my notes from Francesca Murphy’s seminar at Aberdeen on B’s trilogy. From what I recall, he doesn’t really give the Reformation interpretation of Paul much basis in Paul, except that he can see how it is a possible reading — and even that might be too generous. It is probably more accurate to say that Balthasar sees it as a distorted reading that happens when the epistles are isolated from the gospels and then used to then interpret the gospels (which is, by the way, definitely how my Reformation Study Bible and ESV Study Bible exegete in the footnotes). It is helpful to read his Theo-Drama and the way he uses a fourfold typology (Petrine, Pauline, Johannine, and Marian) to unfold the symphonic witness of the Catholic faith in the new covenant. Once again, I don’t have the details of this typology at hand, since it’s been over five years since I studied it — but, basically, Protestantism is a truncated and distorted form of Christianity in his view.

        So, Balthasar does see diversity in Scripture but not in Käsemann’s sense of incommensurability, confessional or dogmatic. The Catholic faith alone holds it all together, and thus the Church itself is upon which the Church stands, so to speak! Sorry if that’s not altogether clear on my part, and I am sure that Balthasar specialists could explain this much better.

      • Ian said

        Kevin-
        Re: exegeting the gospels on the basis of the epistles- isn’t that so bizarre? I can seenthat making sense if you emphasize final form within a canonical development receptionnhistory sorta thing, but I’m almost positive Sproul and MacArthur do not jive to that at all. Seems like such a hyper-cognitive way to interpret Scripture (“propositional revelation” first and foremost, right?) which seems consonant with a thinking substance/disembodied approach to both being human and being the church.

      • While it’s true that Sproul and MacArthur have no interest in “final form within a canonical development receptionnhistory sorta thing,” insofar as they would fear driving a wedge between canonical final form and the material process that precedes. And that’s a worthwhile criticism. But I think Sproul and MacArthur are probably open to Balthasar’s censure for interpreting the gospels by way of the epistles — though I admittedly do not have any examples at hand.

        To be clear, I do not have a problem with scripture interpreting scripture. I am, after all, a systematic theology guy, and I am committed to the coherence and integrity of the whole canon. But when Matthew starts to sound like Paul instead of, well, Matthew, then we are flattening the canon. I don’t agree with James Barr on a whole lot, but he had some legitimate complaints directed at theologians in this regard.

      • Ian said

        Kevin-
        Typos abounded there, alas. But to be clear I didn’t think you were critiquing Scripture interpreting Scripture, I was lobbing a complaint at the Reformation/ESV Study Bible’s methodology in prioritizing the epistles hermeneutically over the gospels. I’m with you on everything you just said, just isolating that one strand and recognizing how Balthasar is one of the right sparring partners to see that methodological control (and disguised confessional point) and say, “Wait, wait, wait- what?”

      • Ah, okay, I wasn’t sure exactly what you were saying.

  5. cal said

    Adam:

    Thus the need for a divinely ordained magisterium to sort through the voices. The Petrine principle might be the one article necessary for von Balthasar in reality, even if he would protest. How else to marshal the voices properly, and not risk the possibility of genuine (perhaps God-ordained!) polyphony?

    Ian:

    I hope you appreciate the irony of what you wrote. Luther self-consciously did the same thing in terms of the High Middle Ages tradition he received (as he understood it) to get back to a particular kind of kerygmatic purity that he saw preached in the New Testament. So you either appreciate the possibility of such legitimacy (and thus legitimate a Bultmann, even if he is wrong) or your complaint faintly echoes the irritation moderate, reform-minded bishops and cardinals had with Luther’s revolutionary program.

    • Ian said

      Well hot diggity dog! Perhaps you’ve exposed my crypto-Erasmian centrist tendencies then. My complaint wasn’t against the quest for a pure kerygma so much as it was against the tendency to pry form and content apart in that quest. My understanding of Luther’s theological development was that he saw such a divorce in the via moderna tradition and that his theologia crucis was an attempt to cohere the two once more w/r/t to the gospel.

  6. The Contrite Catholic said

    You get a like simply for quoteing Hans Urs Von Balthasar!

  7. The Contrite Catholic said

    quoting*

  8. Kevin Davis said

    Cal, Adam, Ian — I finally was able to catch-up on the discussion, and I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for the contributions and giving me questions to ponder. I am sure that these matters will appear again on the blog.

  9. cal said

    A final comment from me to your note to Adam:

    von Balthasar would critique Protestantism for abusing themes in Paul and reading everything in that light. He chooses the four-fold typology. Where does that come from? Who sanctioned that? How does he not escape from incoherent allegory and typological casting that Origenists maintained?

    I’m sure he explains it somewhere, I’d be curious if you could briefly elaborate why those (instead of, perhaps, Christological types (Throne, Temple, Land)).

    • Or medieval fourfold sense, or any number of other options…

      In any case, I’m not sure pointing to an idiosyncratic reading of Paul as the root of the Reformation is much more than a Roman Catholic commonplace–it doesn’t stand up to even a cursory look at where Luther spent his exegetical energy. As influential as Paul is for Luther, the major shift in method comes in his view of the Old Testament. Even his own account of the breakthrough in Romans (regarding righteousness of God, and probably telescoped a bit) leaves Paul behind and immediately goes to the Psalms–that was his test bed. The issue is the theological significance of the literal sense, especially of the Old Testament, and so the rediscovery of promise.

      • One more point should probably made here, if I’m going to bring up history of exegesis. The kind of view of tradition that von Balthasar would have to rely on (in a sense, the Church standing upon the Church) is actually hard to find in writing much before Jean Gerson, a century before Luther. So it’s quite fair to ask who the radical innovator is…

      • Good questions, Cal and Adam. I honestly don’t know how Balthasar or a true Balthasarian would respond. My sense is that Balthasar’s knowledge of the Reformers is rather thin, especially compared to his incredible depth on the figures I listed in the post. But that doesn’t mean he is incapable of brilliant flashes of insight. His greater interest in Protestantism is in its modern development (19th-20th c.), especially Kierkegaard and then Barth and his contemporaries. Kierkegaard in particular is all over Balthasar’s corpus, citing from a wide array of K’s writings.

        As for the church standing upon the church, I should say that for Balthasar the Church is the sacramental presence of Christ extending from Ascension and Pentecost to today. As such, faith in Christ is also faith in the Church, and they cannot be separated. To believe in one is to believe in the other. Perhaps that is putting it too strongly, and perhaps a Balthasarian may characterize the relationship differently — but that is my sense of things in Balthasar. Of course, there is not a strict identity between Christ and the Church, but there is a guaranteed sanctity (Marian) and divine inviolability in the Church.

  10. […] Kevin Davis gives a short tour of catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who, other than having a pretty cool name has been pegged as a catholic Barthian. Kevin unpicks why that is not quite right and connects with what Balthasar has to say about protestantism. […]

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