AUTHORS/ von Balthasar, Hans Urs
Hans Urs von Balthasar (12 August 1905-26 June 1988) was a Swiss theologian and priest who was nominated to be a cardinal of the Catholic Church. He is considered one of the most important theologians of the 20th century.
LIFE AND SIGNIFICANCE
Born in Lucerne, Switzerland on 12 August 1905, he attended Stella Matutina (Jesuit School) in Feldkirch, Austria. He studied in Vienna, Berlin and Zurich, gaining a doctorate in German literature. He joined the Jesuits in 1928, and was ordained in 1936. He worked in Basel as a student chaplain. In 1950 he left the Jesuit order, feeling that God had called him to found a Secular Institute, a lay form of consecrated life that sought to work for the sanctification of the world especially from within. He joined the diocese of Chur. From the low point of being banned from teaching, his reputation eventually rose to the extent that John Paul II asked him to be a cardinal in 1988. However he died in his home in Basel on the 26 of June 1988, 2 days before the ceremony. Hans Urs von Balthasar was interred in the Hofkirche cemetery in Lucern.
Along with Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan, von Balthasar sought to offer an intellectual, faithful response to Western modernism. While Rahner offered a progressive, accommodating position on modernity, and Lonergan worked out a philosophy of history that sought to critically appropriate modernity, von Balthasar resisted the reductionism and human focus of modernity, wanting Christianity to challenge modern sensibilities.
Von Balthasar is very eclectic in his approach, sources, and interests and remains difficult to categorize. An example of his eclecticism was his long study and conversation with the influential Reformed Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, of whose work he wrote the first Catholic analysis and response. Although von Balthasar's major points of analysis on Karl Barth's work have been disputed, his "The Theology of Karl Barth: Exposition and Interpretation" (1951) remains a classic work for its sensitivity and insight; Karl Barth himself agreed with its analysis of his own theological enterprise, calling it the best book on his own theology.
Von Balthasar's "Theological Dramatic Theory" has influenced the work of Raymund Schwager.
WRITINGS AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Von Balthasar also wrote of the lives of saints and church fathers. Saints appear as an example of the lived Christian life throughout his writings. Instead of merely systematic analysis of theology, von Balthasar described his theology as a "kneeling theology," deeply connected to contemplative prayer, and as a "sitting theology," intensely connected to faith seeking understanding guided by the heart and mind of the Catholic Church.
As a Latin Rite Catholic priest and member of a religious order, von Balthasar was very concerned that he address spiritual and practical issues. He insisted that his theology never be divorced from the mystical experiences of his long-time friend and convert, the physician Adrienne von Speyr.
Von Balthasar has varied published works, spanning many decades, fields of study (e.g., literature and literary analysis, lives of the saints, and the Church Fathers), and languages. His most controversial theological assertions were that Christ deposited His Divine knowledge with the Father before the Incarnation (kenotic doctrine), the possibility that all men will be saved, that Christ literally was "made sin," and was for a time separated from the Father in suffering in Sheol pain worse than hell.
He has used the expression 'Casta Meretrix' to argue that the term 'whore of Babylon' was acceptable in a certain tradition of the Church, in the writings of Rabanus Maurus for instance.
Von Balthasar has an enduring legacy as one of the most important Catholic theologians of the 20th century. Most, but not all, of his major writings have been translated into English, and the journal he co-founded with Henri de Lubac, Walter Kasper, and Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), "Communio," currently appears in twelve languages, including Arabic.