David L. SCHINDLER, editor,
Love Alone Is Credible: Hans Urs von Balthasar as Interpreter of the Catholic Tradition.
Volume 1. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008. pp. 360. ISBN 978-0-8028-6247-1.
Daniel P. SHERIDAN, Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, 278 Whites Bridge Road, STANDISH, ME 04084
These essays, originally presented at a conference in 2005 celebrating the centenary of von Balthasar’s death, discuss the renewal of theology, the trinity and creation, motion and the body, eros and agape, personal agency and communio, and the Christian as a good citizen. The essayists are a very distinguished group: Roch Kereszty, Adrian Walker, Michael Hanby, Antonio Lopez, Richard Schenk, Stephen fields, Jose Granados, Simon Oliver, Jacques Servais, Juan M. Sara, David S. Crawford, Margaret, H. McCarthy, Romanus Cessario, Stefan Oster, Emmanuel Tourpe, Roberto Graziotto, V. Bradley Lewis, and William L. Portier. A second volume of essays is to follow.
A collection of wide-ranging essays is always difficult to review. Thus in this review I will zero in on the three essays which place von Balthasar in dialogue with Thomas Aquinas. My context is Fergus Kerr’s very arch comment that von Balthasar
“is widely regarded as the greatest Catholic theologian of the century... [with] an entirely different version of Catholic theology from anything ever imagined by regular disciples of Thomas Aquinas.... He is by far the most discussed Catholic theologian at present, as the ever-expanding secondary literature shows, overwhelmingly positive in tenor, which is perhaps surprising—unless critics do not know where to start” [Twentieth-Century Theologians, p. 121, 144].
Adrian Walker in “Love Alone: Hans Urs von Balthasar as a Master of Theological Renewal” refutes the charge that von Balthasar is a fideist or theological positivist. He speaks of Balthasar re-theologizing theology by an account of philosophy that recaptures philosophical wonder at being and thus undergirds intelligence. According to Walker, von Balthasar draws out from the Christological “love alone” a theological first principle of intelligence, which enables a re-integration of philosophy within theology. This re-integration must be done in dialogue with the Thomists who also have something to learn from Balthasar about the nature of wonder.
“Balthasarian ‘love alone,’ far from adding up to a one-sided ‘theologism,’ is really another name for what is sometimes called the ‘Catholic “and,”’ which embraces both the ‘from above’ and the ‘from below,’ grace and nature, theology and philosophy in a differentiated unity that is plural without being pluralist and one without being uniform” [p. 20].
Michael Hanby in “Trinity, Creation, and Aesthetic Subalternation” seeks to avoid a “fideistic retreat” in the doctrine of creation. Hanby uses both Aquinas and von Balthasar to appreciate the universe by means of an understanding of the universe as created out of nothing. The doctrine of a created universe allows for the order of natural science a greater rationality than its alternatives.
“This understanding will accord priority to faith not in opposition to knowledge but as inherent within knowledge and as its genuine possibility, which is to say that it is finally only the acknowledgement of creation, and the aesthetic rationality attending to it, that protects the scientific character of science and holds out hope for retrieving the unity of the world from the fragmentation of a post-rational culture” [p. 45].
Finally, the Thomist from outside the Balthasarian community, Romanus Cessario, in “On Moral Theology,” makes an interesting aside:
“there exists a body of scholars that now exegetes Balthasar with as much assiduousness as do Thomists who comment on Saint Thomas, at least since the time of the fifteenth-century princeps, John Capreolus” [p. 297].
Cessario then offers a startling criticism [unanswered in this volume]:
“If von Balthasar does claim that the doctrine of the intellectual generation of the Son is an ‘anthropological projection,’ then it seems to me that our honoree is far and away abandoning the doctrine that there are transcendental truths regarding intellect as a pure perfection. This move would, in my judgment, imply a significant devaluation of the role of being, and metaphysical wisdom, within theology” [p. 300].
This charge of “a prior removal of metaphysical scientia from theological contemplation, or perhaps more accurately a redefinition of metaphysics as merely the dialectical residuum of revealed theology,” is a reading of Balthasar and Aquinas opposed to that of Walker’s and Hanby’s. Cessario’s reading suggests that von Balthasar’s views on personal agency need to be complemented/improved by Aquinas’ metaphysics. In any case, these different readings need to be taken seriously. The intellectual life of the contemporary Church will be enriched by a mutual, constructive, and complementary critique between the Balthasarians and a revitalized Thomism.
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