I’ve been somewhat obsessed with the writing of Hans Urs von Balthasar for the last couple of years have now acquired most (or at least the majority) of his many writings. Despite the magisterial scope and intellectually dazzling (or befuddling) nature of his theological trilogy, I’ve found that some of the greatest works of Balthasar’s are his smaller books. Mysterium Paschale remains one of the greatest books to be written on the great Triduum. Love Alone Is Credible is perhaps the best exposition of the Christian faith in a context that is at once theological, philosophical, and poetic. I have long recommended these books to those seeking to acquire a basic grasp of Balthasar’s theology.
However, in my most recent excursion into Balthasar’s writings I think I have found the most profound and powerful book yet to emerge from his pen. In his Heart of the World Balthasar truly bares his own heart in a series of theological meditations that bear out all the theological richness of his trilogy and simultaneously flow to the reader as gently and beautifully as R.S. Thomas’ poetry, Wendell Berry’s novels, or T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. In it the great theme of Balthasar’s theology, namely the infinite abyss of triune love that is God washes over the reader in a torrent of ecstasy and sorrow, delving into the depths of the tragic estrangement of sin, death, and the life of humanity that is incurvatus in se while always moving beyond the tragic into the tragicomic drama which is the descent of the Son of the Father into the world, swallowing up the abyss of sin into the infinitely deeper abyss of God’s love and light.
Here the aesthetics, the drama, and the logic of Balthasar’s theology coinhere in the beautiful synthesis of the theopoetic. This book is, I would contend the apex of Balthasar’s theology precisely because its form corresponds to the form of God’s revelation in Christ to which Balthasar always sought to bear witness. Balthasar’s constant contention has been that the revelation of God in Christ displays the divine glory of the triune life which is infinite love, and being thus disclosed we perceive it as infinite beauty. Thus, for Balthasar theology must by its very nature bear the form of the revelation to which it bears witness. The beauty of theology is not a stylistic addition to the “actual” content thereof, but its very form without which it has no connection to the revelation of the divine love – which is beauty – at all.
Any of those who wish to understand Balthasar must read this book. In it the entire shape of the story of God in Christ is told and re-told in all its depth and beauty. I’ve never come away from a book so stirred both by the intellectual depth and compellingness of Christianity and its infinite beauty. This book is exactly what theology should look like, for in it the beauty of God is beheld, the drama of God and humanity is told, and the logic of revelation and hope is communicated.
Here’s just one quote from the book:
Who can grasp the Lord’s meaning in his creation and beyond it? Who can tie up with a short string the unbounded bouquet of wisdom? Who can tame the jungle of his incomprehensibility? See how man’s spirit and whole being lies, like the bowl of an impetuous fountain, under the downpour of so many mysteries. Let it gush! By letting it gush you will grasp what you can, and what you can is to be a bowl for the flood. Open up heart and brain and do not attempt to clutch tightly. By being washed out you will become purified. The strange thing that flows through you is precisely the meaning you seek. The more you give away through renunciation, the richer your wisdom becomes. The more you receive by holding out your hands, the stronger your power becomes. See: Everything wants to bewilder you so that, out of the abundance of bewilderment, you will know the superabundance of love. Everything wants to empty you out, so that you become a hollow space for the superabundance of faith. Everything wears you through like a cloth so that, by becoming threadbare through constant friction, you will be transparent to the superabundance of light. (pp. 211-212)