Sunday, November 05, 2023

Being itself, and the Personal God.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar (1905-1988) I feel like I talk too much about Tillich and not enough about other theologians who agreed that God is being itself. Balthasar is not as well known but is as deeply respected as Tillich in Catholic circles. He believed God is being itself and personal.

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 becasue he "needed to" but becasue his nature is creative.

[1] Joel Graver, “a Short Biography,” website:Hans Urs Von Balthasar, an Internet Archieve. URL sighted: (visited 12/3/10).

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, “overview of Balthasar’s project: URL:

[5] Hans Urs Von Balthasar, “A Resume of my Thought,” in David L. Schindler, Hans Urs Von Balthasar: His Life and Work. San Francisco:Ignatious Press, 1991, on like version p1-2 URL:

[6] Ibid, 1

[7] Ibid., 3

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

Posted by Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) at 5:22 AM Labels: apologetics, being itself, existential theology, God takl, Hans urs Von Balthasar, Paul Tillich, Personal God, philosophy of religoin


im-skeptical said...

"Deepity is a term employed by Daniel Dennett in his 2009 speech to the American Atheists conference, coined by the teenage daughter of one of his friends. The term refers to a statement that is apparently profound but actually asserts a triviality on one level and something meaningless on another." -

What does the word "being" mean? It is essentially existence. You might say that God (as the creator) is responsible for the existence of all things. But if you say that God is "existence", it sounds as if you are reducing God to a mere attribute (as in things that exist have the attribute of "existence"). That statement in itself doesn't account for intelligence, or love, or intention - unless you try to hang a lot of other qualities onto a word that really doesn't say anything about those things. Now I know that much ink has been spilled over "being itself" as a profound expression of the essence of God. But very time I hear it, I can't help but think "deepity".

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Tillich distinguished between existence and being. i don't mess with it. It's not saying God is an attribute, it's say8ng us and all of nature and all that exists is an attribute of God.

im-skeptical said...

That sounds like the definition of pantheism. Why doesn't he just use the existing definitions of words, instead of re-defining words that we already understand to mean something different? It is my belief that theists love to use language that is shrouded in mystery and ambiguity, because it makes them seem deeply intellectual if their audience has trouble understanding what they say. And that is intentional.

Kristen said...

The way I see it, this is not pantheism -- the belief that everything is God. It's panentheism-- the belief that God is in everything and yet is also distinct.

As for language shrouded in mystery-- no, it's not an intentional desire to obfuscate in order to impress. Rather, theism by its nature is about something that is a mystery; something that is in its essence impossible to capture in mere words. Our words are ambiguous because our understanding of the infinite is limited by our finitude, and we can't pin something down to human understanding, that is too far beyond it to be understood.

Anonymous said...

Kristen: As for language shrouded in mystery-- no, it's not an intentional desire to obfuscate in order to impress. Rather, theism by its nature is about something that is a mystery; something that is in its essence impossible to capture in mere words. Our words are ambiguous because our understanding of the infinite is limited by our finitude, and we can't pin something down to human understanding, that is too far beyond it to be understood.

It is interesting to compare religion and science. Quantum mechanics is also extremely difficult to understand, but in science the terms are carefully defined, and the meaning of words is explicit. Quite the opposite to religion it seems, where the meaning of words is freely changed to suit the moment.


Kristen said...

I don't know if the meanings are quite as fluid as you suggest, but it's quite true that religion is related much more to the humanities than to the physical sciences. Religion is about humans and meaning, not about research and measurements. In that sense, its ability to adapt words to fit what it's attempting to express, is a feature, not a bug.

Anonymous said...

Joe's "rational warrant" is a great example of the fluid use of language.

Other examples are "die" in Genesis 2 and "fulfill" in Mat 5. The texts do not say what Christians want them to say, so they pretend the words have other meanings.

Is that common in other humanities? Somehow I doubt it.


Kristen said...

The interpretation of an ancient text, even when translated into modern language, is always a difficult matter. Not all Christians interpret these passages the same way. Many passages are a lot more like poetry than you might think. There's also the cultural practices of the time to take into account. For instance, one of Jesus's rhetorical practices was to use exaggeration. As for "rational warrant, " I'm afraid I don't get your point. It means precisely what these words commonly mean. If you don't like the evidence that Joe says give him a warrant (reason) to rationally believe, that's not a problem with the words themselves.

Anonymous said...

The text in Genesis 3 is clear; God tells Adam he will die the day he eats the forbidden fruit. Christians are obliged to pretend that it does not really mean die. It is not a translation issue.

The text in Mat 5 is Jesus saying he has come to fulfill the prophecies in the text known as the Law and the text known as the Prophets. Christians, however, want to eat pork and shellfish, so they pretend "fulfill" means they no longer need to keep the law. It is not a translation issue.

As for rational warrant, what that means is having good reason to think something is more likely to be true than not, and then concluding it is probably true. it does not mean finding one reason why it might be true, and using that to rationalise utter certainty.


Kristen said...

Pix, I agree that these are not translation issues. What I said, and still say, is that they are interpretation issues. The Genesis 2 story was written down during the Babylonian exile, from a long-standing oral tradition. Do you really believe that the point of the story, as understood by the Jewish compilers of the text, was that the serpent was right, God was lying, and Eve was the hero of the story for calling God's bluff? That's where a strict literal interpretation takes us, but authorial intent really must be taken into consideration, as must poetical use of words, and other literary devices.

Kristen said...

For Jesus's words about fulfilling the law, other Christians may interpret it that way, but I don't. Jesus was speaking to his fellow Jews. It's Paul's teachings, not those of Jesus, that release Gentile Christians from having to become Jewish and obey the dietary codes in order to follow Christ.

Kristen said...

Finally, about rational warrant, I don't think that's what Joe is doing. He can speak for himself, of course, but I think you are mixing up certainty and faith. Rational warrant means there's adequate evidence supporting the trust in God that I choose to walk in. It's not about certainty, and never will be.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

"As for rational warrant, what that means is having good reason to think something is more likely to be true than not, and then concluding it is probably true. it does not mean finding one reason why it might be true, and using that to rationalize utter certainty."

When I use that term--warrant-- it's not about utter certainty. It's about giving up on that. Certainty can only come with proof. That only comes with Mathematics and whisky made in Scotland.

The next best thing after that is warrant, belief is warranted meaning there is good sound reason to believe.

Kristen said...

Proof only comes with mathematics and scotch! I love that! ❤️ 😀

im-skeptical said...

>>"Proof only comes with mathematics and scotch!"
And yet, Joe keeps bringing it up. For religious arguments, the conclusion is "therefore, there is rational warrant for belief". But when he rejects scientific arguments, he typically says "that's not proven."

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Good point Skep. I think the nswer is we use proof in two sences. we either means major validation of the overall position or we means validation of a given point, I guess i must learn to talk like Mr Spock. "you have failed to validate your immediate assertion." WE don't have proof in the larger seance we can have in the small since. If I say there were 0 arrests for drunk driving in Dallas last year. You show the records say there were 356 that statement is disproved for practical purposes.

im-skeptical said...

Good comment. I generally don't talk about proving things, because I understand that absolute proof is usually impossible. Instead, I think it's better to base belief in terms of probability or likelihood. And you have to be careful with that, too. Because we often don't have a true measure of probability, either. But we may at least be able to see where the preponderance of the evidence lies. And that's good enough for most reasonable people. On the other hand, disproving things at a practical level is often quite possible. An assertion is disproved if it is contradicted by known facts (or objective evidence).