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More on Balthasar, Metz, and Conceptual Neatness

Earlier I discussed Johann Baptist Metz’s critique of Hans Urs von Balthasar on the basis of his alleged tendency to “sublate” the history of human suffering into the Trinitarian history of God in such a way that the particular historical character of such suffering is glossed over.  I think that ultimately such a criticsm of Balthasar fails to really find its target.  For Balthasar, the self-dispossessing, kenotic love of the Trinitarian God made known in Christ doest not give us a conceptual system that harmonizes the horrors of human existence and sin with the infinite redeeming love of God.  As Balthasar says in his superb little summa, Love Alone is Credible:

“We are therefore not required to bring a systematically conceived hell into harmony with the love of God and make it credible, or indeed to justify it conceptually as love (and perhaps merely as the revelation of self-glorifying divine justice), because no such system could be constructed out of a possible “knowledge” apart from or beyond love and at the same time related to it. We are required only not to let go of love, he love that believes and hopes and through both is suspended in the air so that its Christian wings may grow. Soaring in the air, I also necessarily experience the abyss below, which is only part of my own flight.”

For Balthasar, the claim that the infinite love of the Trinitarian God has entered into the fullest depths of human suffering and hell does not offer a conceptual justification for such suffering and sorrow, but rather speaks a word of vulnerable hope into the abyss of death that may be believed and acted upon.  It seems to me that Balthasar and Metz are actually after exactly the same thing, an apocalyptic proclamation of the radical newness promised in the future of the God of Jesus Christ.  Neither seek to justify or escape the abyss of human suffering, but rather seek to continue to traverse it in hope that the all-consuming love of the Triune God may be found therein.


  1. Brian Niece wrote:

    I wonder if Balthasar doesn’t even try to answer the question of “Why?” in human suffering.

    I’ve been thinking and writing and reading on this again lately myself. The condition of suffering and a suffering God is something I return to often.

    I heard an interview the other day on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Bart Ehrman about his new book “God’s Problem.” Read and listen here:

    I have begun blogging some cursory thoughts on suffering and the Triune God here:

    Fretheim speaks to this with great persuasion. I’m also revisiting his work on the matter.

    Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 7:01 am | Permalink
  2. Andrew wrote:

    i read milbank a little while back and, while i haven’t read metz, i have begun reading balthasar and i have to say, milbank really is carrying forward balthasar. its an element in his work i didn’t see until after the fact. i went back to milbank’s chapter on liberation theology because i remembered he had some small quarrel with metz (and everyone else ever), and in light of both your post and my reading on balthasar, i understand now.
    thanks for these. they have been very good posts.

    Friday, February 22, 2008 at 10:58 am | Permalink

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