The Attractions and Dangers of von Balthasar’s Writings

Dr. Karen Kilby offers in this video interview one of the fairest and most balanced assessments of von Balthasar’s work that I have come across in the past 25 years.

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  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Thanks. I have never read much von Balthasar though I found his article on the Casta Meretrix very illuminating. I read somewhere once that he was Pope John Paul II’s favorite theologian. Is there any truth to this, and why was this the case?

  • Dante Aligheri

    I’ve heard the same thing.

    What I would like know, if anyone here knows, is what is the Church’s current stance on the Harrowing of Hell. I’ve read a little bit from Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev’s work and some essays by commentators on Balthasar. And, at least according to Second Spring’s Stratford Caldecott (whom I asked about this), there might be some room on this issue.

    Granted, I find Eastern traditional “Christus Victor” model of the Harrowing more plausible and grounded than Balthasar’s radical alienation of the soul of Christ and participation in eternal suffering.

    It seems Balthasar might be severing the Trinity to me into tritheism, but maybe I’m just not grasping something here.

    I agree with the video’s conclusion that, taken by itself without Traditional moorings, his theology could become unbalanced. Yet in its own right, the excerpts that I’ve read seemed powerful.

    Thank you.

  • dismasdolben

    Sorry, but this little “discussion” seems to me like the modern version of an Inquisition hearing. Both of these dessicated characters came across to me as missing their cassocks and cowls. We would do well to remember that most people have to do more than “do theology” in order to be devout, and that the same sort of “intellectual suspicion” was turned on John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. Sorry, but I just don’t like such people, and I honestly don’t understand what good they do in the Church.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      DD: I really do not see where you are getting this from. This is a very tame academic discussion, though I wish the speakers had provided more evidence for their positions. As a regular participant in academic reading groups, I have seen my colleagues attempt to shred figures such as von Balthasar (though in this case philosophers and not theologians) much more brutally.

    • Dante Aligheri

      I’m not really trying to indict him. To be honest, I’ve always been sympathetic to the idea of Harrowing of Hell myself, and it seems like a solid Patristic tradition. I’d like for it to be true. I’ve found Von Balthasar to be very spiritual and also someone who lived on the theological cutting edge (not unlike Chardin or de Lubac for their times, although they were in reality heavily grounded in the past). Yet, as far as I understand, the Harrowing of Hell has not been the position of the West so I’m trying to figure out whether such views are compatible.