Hans Urs von Balthasar

February 24th, 2007

Yesterday I just finished reading a little book, Credo: Meditations on the Apostles’ Creed, by Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), rather famous Swiss theologian of the Roman Catholic persuasion.  It is among the last of his writings, and is very simple.  Below are some quite fine and noble things that he said, but I would not want to give a wrong impression: these are what I considered the high points of the book, and some of them were quite high: but alas that was not all he said.  He says some unfortunate things about Mary, for instance (pp.70,83), and seems very preoccupied with the relation of the sexes to the Trinity (e.g, pp.30,78): his views on the one and the many, intra-Trinitarian relationships, and certain of the divine attributes also seem somewhat substandard to me, as well as the things one would expect from a Roman Catholic: a certain lack of understanding with regard to the church, the judgment, etc. (see, e.g., problem passages on pp.29,48,51,63,71).  I found his stress on the individual rather interesting, given the current buzz about community (pp.83-86).
Anyway, the upshot of all of this is, that I am preserving what stood out as the highlights of this book (borrowed from the Marion County Library and shortly to be returned), but what is below is by no means a full picture or an at all unqualified endorsement of this man’s theological writings.

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…if God is not in himself love, then, in order to be love, he would need the world, and that would spell the end of his divinity—or we would have to characterize ourselves as part of God and thus ascribe necessity to ourselves. (p.37)

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Why, then is there a world at all?

As a Christian, one can venture an initial answer (nobody else can do so): If three must exist within God himself (in order that he can be called “love”) a One and an Other and their Union, then it is “very good” that the Other exists, then the world is not, as in the rest of the monotheisms, a fall from the One. (pp.38,39)

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The “Other” is, in the first instance, the Son, and therefore other beings can be created only in the Son (“without him was not anything made that was made,” Jn 1:3). Hence, if the world is to be “risked” and judged conclusively to be “very good,” it is the Son who is guarantor for the success of the venture. (p.39)

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Yet still we acknowledge in faith that he does incarnate himself, does not himself take hold of the human nature that he will inhabit, but allows himself to be conveyed, as the “seed” of the Father, into the virginal womb by the Holy Spirit. But this means that the occasion of his Incarnation is already the beginning of his obedience. Theologians have very often claimed the opposite, on the ground that the union of the human and the divine natures occurs solely in the Son as the Second Person in the Divinity.

However, the creed describes not a “taking of something to oneself,” but an “acquiescing in something that happens to one.” In this pretemporal obedience, the Son still differs profoundly from naturally engendered human beings, who are not asked whether they wish to come into being or not; the Son permits, in full consciousness and with full consent to the divine plan for redemption, himself to be used as the Father wishes. But already here, he does so in the Holy Spirit of obedience, through which he will atone for the disobedience of Adam and “infiltrate” it. (pp.45,46)

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For us humans, that will mean that our obedience, which we owe to our Creator and Lord and to all his direct and indirect commands, can be, in Jesus Christ, and even must be, an expression of our love; so that any love of God or other human beings which excludes obedience, or wishes to get beyond it, does not at all deserve the name love. (pp.46,47)

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…[Of the death of Christ, that He] died with the surrender of his Spirit into the hands of the absent…. (p.52)

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Thus, in the communion of saints in God, the adventure of creative, imaginative love are intensified beyond all counting. Life in God becomes an absolute miracle. Nothing is given in a concluding way, the act of giving goes on unfolding boundlessly. The heavenly are therefore always ready to help in cases of earthly need—certainly through eternal, perhaps also through temporal, gifts—so as to rekindle our courage to strive, despite everything, toward the life everlasting, and to grant us a foretaste of that which awaits us. And if we are given to suffer, deeper shafts are sunk in us than we thought we could contain, depths destined to become, in the life everlasting, reservoirs of greater happiness, wells still more productive. Wells that flow forth of themselves, gratis; for in the life everylasting [sic], all is gratis. The words “without money,” “for no payment,” when it is a matter of God’s gifts, run through the whole of the Bible (Is 55:1; Sir 51:52; Mt 10:8; Rev 21:6; 22:17). This “gratis” is the innermost essence of divine love, which has no other ground than itself; and by it, everything that exists in eternal life with God is determined. And precisely because this love is without any ground, its depths cannot be plumbed; one never gets to the bottom of it, it remains deeper than anything that can be grounded or “put into concepts.” Hence, Paul quite accurately says: “Know the love…which surpasses knowledge,” in order to “be filled with all the fulness of God” Eph 3:19).” (pp.103, 104)

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Doing all to the glory of God

February 18th, 2007

Thomas Watson:

Though a child of God shoots short, yet he takes a right aim.

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Insipid Literalism

February 16th, 2007

John Calvin, Commentary on Amos 8:9

Were any one disposed to lay-hold on what is literal and to cleave to it, his notions would be gross and insipid, not only with regard to the writings of the Prophets, but also with regard to all other writings; for there is no language which has not its figurative expressions.

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To make Ben happy:

Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, pp.443-445

Without here anticipating the full inquiry into the promise of His immediate Coming, it is important to avoid, even at this stage, any possible misunderstanding on the point. The expectation of the Coming of ‘the Son of Man’ was grounded on a prophecy of Daniel, {Daniel 7:13} in which that Advent, or rather manifestation, was associated with judgment. The same is the case in this Charge of our Lord. The disciples in their work are described ‘as sheep in the midst of wolves,’ a phrase which the Midrash {On Esther 8:2, ed. Warsh. p. 120 b} applies to the position of Israel amidst a hostile world, adding: How great is that Shepherd, Who delivers them, and vanquishes the wolves! Similarly, the admonition to ‘be wise as serpents and harmless as doves’ is reproduced in the Midrash, {On Song of Solomon 2:14} where Israel is described as harmless as the dove towards God, and wise as serpents towards the hostile Gentile nations. Such and even greater would be the enmity which the disciples, as the true Israel, would have to encounter from Israel after the flesh. They would be handed over to the various Sanhedrin, and visited with such punishments as these tribunals had power to inflict. {St. Matthew 10:17} More than this, they would be brought before governors and kings, primarily, the Roman governors and the Herodian princes. {ver. 18.} And so determined would be this persecution, as to break the ties of the closest kinship, and to bring on them the hatred of all men. {vv. 21, 22.}The only, but the all-sufficient, support in those terrible circumstances was the assurance of such help from above, that, although unlearned and humble, they need have no care, nor make preparation in their defense, which would be given them from above. And with this they had the promise, that he who endured to the end would be saved, and the prudential direction, so far as possible, to avoid persecution by timely withdrawal, which could be the more readily achieved, since they would not have completed their circuit of the cities of Israel before the ‘Son of Man be come.’

It is of the greatest importance to keep in view that, at whatever period of Christ’s Ministry this prediction and promise were spoken, and whether only once or oftener, they refer exclusively to a Jewish state of things. The persecutions are exclusively Jewish. This appears from verse 18, where the answer of the disciples is promised to be ‘for a testimony against them,’ who had delivered them up, that is, here evidently the Jews, as also against ‘the Gentiles.’ And the Evangelistic circuit of the disciples in their preaching was to be primarily Jewish; and not only so, but in the time when there were still ‘cities of Israel,’ that is, previous to the final destruction of the Jewish commonwealth. The reference, then, is to that period of Jewish persecution and of Apostolic preaching in the cities of Israel, which is bounded by the destruction of Jerusalem. Accordingly, the ‘coming of the Son of Man,’ and the ‘end’ here spoken of, must also have the same application. It was, as we have seen, according to Daniel 7:13, a coming in judgment. To the Jewish persecuting authorities, who had rejected the Christ, in order, as they imagined, to save their City and Temple from the Romans, {St. John 11:48} and to whom Christ had testified that He would come again, this judgment on their city and state, this destruction of their polity, was ‘the Coming of the Son of Man’ in judgment, and the only coming which the Jews, as a state, could expect, the only one meet for them, even as, to them who look for Him, He will appear a second time, without sin unto salvation.

That this is the only natural meaning attaching to this prediction, especially when compared with the parallel utterances recorded in St. Mark 13:9- 13, appears to us indubitable. It is another question how, or how far, those to whom these words were in the first place addressed would understand their full bearing, at least at that time. Even supposing, that the disciples who first heard did not distinguish between the Coming to Israel in judgment, and that to the world in mingled judgment and mercy, as it was afterwards conveyed to them in the Parable of the Forthshooting of the Fig-tree, {St. Luke 21:29-31} yet the early Christians must soon have become aware of it. For, the distinction is sharply marked. As regards its manner, the ‘second’ Coming of Christ may be said to correspond to the state of those to whom He cometh. To the Jews His first Coming was visible, and as claiming to be their King. They had asked for a sign; and no sign was given them at the time. They rejected Him, and placed the Jewish polity and nation in rebellion against ‘the King.’ To the Jews, who so rejected the first visible appearance of Christ as their King, the second appearance would be invisible but real; the sign which they had asked would be given them, but as a sign of judgment, and His Coming would be in judgment. Thus would His authority be vindicated, and He appear, not, indeed, visibly but really, as what He had claimed to be. That this was to be the manner and object of His Coming to Israel, was clearly set forth to the disciples in the Parable of the Unthankful Husbandmen. {St. Matthew 21:33-46, and the parallels} The coming of the Lord of the vineyard would be the destruction of the wicked husbandmen. And to render misunderstanding impossible, the explanation is immediately added, that the Kingdom of God was to be taken from them, and given to those who would bring forth the fruits thereof. Assuredly, this could not, even in the view of the disciples, which may have been formed on the Jewish model, have applied to the Coming of Christ at the end of the present Aeon dispensation.

We bear in mind that this second, outwardly invisible but very real, Coming of the Son of Man to the Jews, as a state, could only be in judgment on their polity, in that ‘Sign’ which was once refused, but which, when it appeared, would only too clearly vindicate His claims and authority. Thus viewed, the passages, in which that second Coming is referred to, will yield their natural meaning. Neither the mission of the disciples, nor their journeying through the cities of Israel, was finished, before the Son of Man came. Nay, there were those standing there who would not taste death, till they had seen in the destruction of the city and state the vindication of the Kingship of Jesus, which Israel had disowned. {St. Matthew 16:28, and parallels} And even in those last Discourses in which the horizon gradually enlarges, and this Coming in judgment to Israel merges in the greater judgment on an unbelieving world, {St. Matthew 24 and parallels} this earlier Coming to the Jewish nation is clearly marked. The three Evangelists equally record it, that ‘this generation’ should not pass away, till all things were fulfilled. {St. Matthew 24:34; St. Mark 13:30; St. Luke 21:32} To take the lowest view, it is scarcely conceivable that these sayings would have been allowed to stand in all the three Gospels, if the disciples and the early Church had understood the Coming of the Son of Man in any other sense than as to the Jews in the destruction of their polity. And it is most significant, that the final utterances of the Lord as to His Coming were elicited by questions arising from the predicted destruction of the Temple. This the early disciples associated with the final Coming of Christ. To explain more fully the distinction between them would have been impossible, in consistency with the Lord’s general purpose about the doctrine of His Coming. Yet the Parables which in the Gospels (especially in that by St. Matthew) follow on these predictions, {St. Matthew 25:1-30} and the teaching about the final Advent of ‘the Son of Man,’ point clearly to a difference and an interval between the one and the other.

The disciples must have the more readily applied this prediction of His Coming to Palestine, since ‘the woes’ connected with it so closely corresponded to those expected by the Jews before the Advent of Messiah. {Sot. 9:15; comp. Sanh. 97 a to 99 a, passim} Even the direction to flee from persecution is repeated by the Rabbis in similar circumstances and established by the example of Jacob, {Hosea 12:12} of Moses,
{Exodus 2:15.} and of David. {1 Samuel 19:12; comp. Bemidb. R. 23, ed. Warsh. p. 86 b, and Tanch.}

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