Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Being itself, and the Personal God

One of "those other" being itself guys

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Hans Urs Von Balthasar (1905-1988)

Balthasar one of the most interesting and brilliant figures of the twentieth century, yet hardly anyone has heard of him outside the confines of academic theology. Even most theological students in the Proestant world are not very familiar with his works. He was a friend of John Paul II, called “the most cultured man of our time by Henri de Lubac. His achievements are called ‘breathtaking’ my one of the major catholic theologians of the century, Carl Rahner.[1] He wrote over a thousand books and articles. He was born in Lucerne Switzerland, 1905, and Grew up a Catholic, son of a pious mother.[2] He took his doctorate from the Liberal Protestant University of Zurich, having grown up educated by Benedictines and Jesuits. He became a Jesuit priest. He worked as a student Chaplin in the 30s. He became good friends with Protestant theologian Karl Barth, one of the greats of the century.

Balthasar was unable to work as a full fledged Jesuit priest due to the war years and the arrangement the government had between Protestants and Catholics, he was seen as belonging to the area of south Germany. He made a living as a translator and lecturer and editor. He ran publications and started a spiritual community. He spent most of his adult life this way, in association with a woman named Speyr who was never recognized as a mystic by the church. He had miracles and visions but being unrecognized, Balthasar’s community was not accepted and he was unable to gain a post. This situation dominated his life in the 40s,50’s, and 60s. He had to leave the Jesuits. He also lectured in these years on spiritual topics and made a living that way, but his health deteriorated as a result. In the 60s he began to be recognized as a theologian and was given honors and doctorates. In 1988 John Paul II made him a cardinal. That was also the year of his death. His community of st. John was a publishing house and he ran a journal called Communio. These eventually found great success in the 70s and were recognized by the Vatican. The major avenue to his success was his books and his lectures.[3]

Balthasar’s overall theological project centers upon the dualities between human conflict with ourselves and our place in being. Examples of the dualities that fascinate Balthasar include: our own contingency and that of the world around us in contrast to the sense of being 
itself. [4] Balthasar openly and obvious equates being with God. In his work about Balthasar’s live, David L. Schindler includes a short article by Balthasar himself called “a Resume of my Thought.”[5]He begins this “resume” by talking about the dilemma between human contingency and limitation in contrast to the infinite nature of being. This does not necessitate asserting God up fornt although he’s not concerned with a “proof.” His thesis is that all human philosophy either explicitly or tacitly concerns itself with this topic and by implication tacitly affirms the infinite and the absolute.[6] He comes to the conclusion that the duality is inescapable. The finite is not the infinite. Even the monism of the east is seen through nuanced dualities. Thus he asks the question “why are we not God?” The basis of the question is that we are aspects of being. We are products of being, yet we are contingent being, Why are we contingent and not necessary? The solutions that he ponders seem to end in one way or another with an indignant God creating a finite world out of need or alienation from his own infinity. He finds that only the God of the Bible offers a satisfactory answer, and that answer is in a sense the opposite of what we would think.

The common human tendency is to think God created because he needed something. Balthasar is hinting, I think, that God creates because its his nature as being to foment more being, in other words, its creative and God is Creative. It is not for God’s need that he creates but for what will become our need once we are created. In other words, God created us so that we can enjoy being, not because he needed us because once a part of being we would need and would be fulfilled in the need by love.

No Philosophy could give a satisfactory response to that question [why did infinte create finite?] St Paul would say to philosophers that God created man so that he would seek the Divine, try to obtain the Divine. That is why all pre Christian philosophy is theological at its summit. But, in fact, the true response to philosophy could only be given by Being himself, revealing himself from himself. Will man be capable of understanding this revelation? The affirmative response will be given only by the God of the Bible. On the one hand this God, creator of the world and of man, knows his creature. “I who have created the eye do not see? I who have created the ear do not hear?” And we add who who have created language, could not speak and make myself heard?” This posits a counterpart: to be able to hear and understand the auto-revelation of God man must in himself be a search for God, a question posed to him. Thus there is Biblical theology without a religious philosophy. Human reason must be open to the infinite.[7]

Notice how he capitalizes “B” in being and refers to being as “himself.” He personifies being and clearly speaks of it as the creator.

Balthasar sees the understanding of the revelation of “being himself” (my phrase based upon his) to humanity as rooted in the most fundamental human relationship. He says, “the infant is brought to consciousness of himself only by love, by the smile of his mother. In that encounter the horizon of all unlimited opens unto him.”[8] What he means by that is it is only through being por soir, for itself, in other words, consciousness, that we are able to comprehend the infinite and that only in contrast to the finite. Before we can do that, however, we have to become aware of ourselves so we can know we are finite. I think he’s making an implication that love is a link to being itself, and that through our encounter with love, the mother, we encounter the father, so to speak—by way of encountering love. We can see this in four truths that Balthasar finds rooted in this encounter: (1) realizing that he Is other to the mother, the only way the child realizes he loves the mother; (2) love is good, therefore, being is good; (3) love is true, therefore, being is true; (4) love evokes joy therefore being is beautiful.[9] Notice the link between being and love. He is one of the rare theologians to point out this curial link.

The one, the true, the good, the Beautiful, these are what we call the transcendental attributes of being, because they surpass all the limits of essence, and are coextensive with Being. If there is an insurmountable distance between God and his creature, but if there is also an analogy between them which cannot be resolved in any form of identity, there must also exist an analogy between the transcendentals—between those of the creature and those in God.[10]

In this quotation he as much as equates being and God, since he speaks of the attributes of being then connects the understanding of these to the link between God and the creature. There is more to be said about Balthasar based upon this observation and it will figure importantly in two more chapters, including the last one, and the over all conclusion.

Balthasar confirms for me so many things I thought but didn't have the courage to say, or that I "sort of thought" but didn't have the intellect to formulate. I think he boldly and unabashedly resoled the problem of paradox between personal God and being itself. He was the first to show me the link bewteen being and love (although Tillich does mention it but I saw it in Balthasar first). He capitalizes "B" in "Being" and speak of Being a "he." The idea that God created not because he "neededs to" but because his nature is creative.

Sources

[1] Joel Graver, “a Short Biography,” website:Hans Urs Von Balthasar, an Internet Archieve. URL sighted: http://www.lasalle.edu/~garver/bio.htm (visited 12/3/10).
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid, “overview of Balthasar’s project: URL: http://www.joelgarver.com/writ/theo/balt/overview.htm
[6] Ibid, 1
[7] Ibid., 3
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.

26 comments:

7th Stooge said...

God transcends being, I think, or any formulation.

Joe Hinman said...

I don't get much sense from that statement, if God transcends being he is beyond existence. That does not mean anything to me.

7th Stooge said...

I don't get much sense from your statement. Could you try to explain it a little?

Joe Hinman said...

transcend means to go beyond,you can;t go beyond being because then you wont exist,

7th Stooge said...

Two dimensions go beyond one dimension but don't cease including one dimension. I transcend the reptilian mind but don't cease incorporating the reptilian mind. So Idon't really understand your point.

Joe Hinman said...

That works if you are stalking about two states of being, But if you are talking about transcending being then all you are saying is you want to fantasize. Go for it.

Mike Gerow said...

No, I think he's saying that to limit God's being to anything within our understanding might be....well, essentially idolatrous?

(The idea that some formulation of a given phenomena isn't a sufficient explanation doesn't have to include an alternative -- a fantastic one or otherwise -- since it could just be left open, called "mysterious" or whatever)

Mike Gerow said...

Do you think both God's "being" and God's trascendance of being still have to viewed as essentially metaphorical?

7th Stooge said...

Yeah, I think Mike's on to something. As soon as you essentialize God into a formula, you're verging on maybe idolatry. The way I see it, God would be beyond formulation, except metaphorically.

Wouldn;t God have to incorporate into himself non-being in the form of possibility, potentiality, freedom, creativity, becoming, negation, etc, if those things are fundamentally real?

Mike Gerow said...

At the risk of tripping up and offering a formulation of our own, we could mention Nicolas of Cuso's concept of "posse ipsum" - ie "infinite possibility," according to some interpreters ....


:-o

Joe Hinman said...

7th Stooge said...
Yeah, I think Mike's on to something. As soon as you essentialize God into a formula, you're verging on maybe idolatry. The way I see it, God would be beyond formulation, except metaphorically.

Wouldn;t God have to incorporate into himself non-being in the form of possibility, potentiality, freedom, creativity, becoming, negation, etc, if those things are fundamentally real?

I don'y think so. Jesus said God is spirit and truth, that is limiting in some way it Jesus said it,

Limiting God not being contradiction is not limiting God in a way that creates idolatry idolatry is not limiting God it's imposing false God between you and God

Joe Hinman said...

Mike Gerow said...
At the risk of tripping up and offering a formulation of our own, we could mention Nicolas of Cuso's concept of "posse ipsum" - ie "infinite possibility," according to some interpreters ....



you are ignoring the possibility of God'[s self revelation

7th Stooge said...


You didn't respond to my question:
Wouldn;t God have to incorporate into himself non-being in the form of possibility, potentiality, freedom, creativity, becoming, negation, etc, if those things are fundamentally real?

No one is questioning whether God is "spirit and truth" but what spirit and truth are. No one is questioning the possibility of God's self-revelation either. But even you have said that God cannot reveal everything about his nature to finite minds.

Joe Hinman said...

7th Stooge said...

You didn't respond to my question:
Wouldn;t God have to incorporate into himself non-being in the form of possibility, potentiality, freedom, creativity, becoming, negation, etc, if those things are fundamentally real?

That seems lie a pantheistic view of God.Why would God have to have apart of himself aspects that are not part of him or his character just because they are aspects of reality? if God created reality he doens;t have to have reality in himself,


If God creates light darkness is caused by God blocking the light, darkness doesn't have to be part of God as an part of his physical make up to be real it just needs to have God block i the sun,


No one is questioning whether God is "spirit and truth" but what spirit and truth are. No one is questioning the possibility of God's self-revelation either. But even you have said that God cannot reveal everything about his nature to finite minds.

My point about Spirit and truth is in answer to the assertion that we can't make positive knowledge.We can if no other way then at least throuh revleation.

7th Stooge said...

I don't see how "becoming" and "possibility' are analogous with "quarks" and "gravity." I have a hard time seeing how creativity and freedom are like darkness being caused by God blocking the light if you assume that God freely created the world at all.

Maybe the burden is on the "God is Being Itself" advocates to explain how infinite Being infinitely sufficient unto itself would be able to or have need to create a finite contingent world of becoming.

Joe Hinman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Hinman said...

I think you confuse being itself with sum total of all being. I will pick out some stuff to link you to.

Joe Hinman said...

read todays post on being itself, also go to the stand alone pages, chick on "God" and then see beingg itself categories and read those.

below masthead see words God, Jesus,science, ect click on God

Joe Hinman said...

7 reading that article again I see the point you are making,I think you may have a good point there.

7th Stooge said...

I think you confuse being itself with sum total of all being. I will pick out some stuff to link you to.

I don't think I'm doing that. I think you're referring to the Gilsonian idea of the exemplary act of being. I'm talking about how it makes more sense to me that freedom possibility and creativity would be intrinsic to God's nature, as it is to human nature and to all of nature, in order to account for the existence of a world such as this one.

Joe Hinman said...

Ok I can buy that, that makes sense to me thanks man.

Joe Hinman said...

Jim, my sister put up a post on face book that says "Niagara falls." it has a video of the falls all it says is Niagara falls. I said "slowly I turn..." no one got it. You are the only person I know who would get that. you might not think its funny but you would get it.

7th Stooge said...

I'll check it out. I think it's funny. I remember that routine from the Old "Abbot and Costello" TV show which I watched in reruns as a kid. Joe Besser was on that. He played "Stinky," a bratty little kid, pre-the 3 Stooges. But we digress...

Joe Hinman said...

yes he was Stooge five. He is on Joey Bishop (circa 1966) I see re runs at 4am on antenna tv. That bit was also on I love Lucy,that's where I remember it from best.

7th Stooge said...

Ooooowwwwwww!!!!! Not so haaaaarrrrrrrrdddddd!!!!!!!!!

Joe Hinman said...

right, that guy.