Hans Urs von Balthasar: On the Sacrament of the Stranger (Brother)

Hans Urs von Balthasar: On the Sacrament of the Stranger (Brother) March 30, 2011

The Gospel shows that Christ at first intended to announce and found, not a Church separate from the world, but the “kingdom of God”. In the primary idea of the Redemption, this kingdom would have been light and life flowing from God immediately into the world. It would have been wholly interior, and in it the whole law would have been fulfilled. Humanly, but not incorrectly speaking, the structural Church is only a secondary plan of Redemption, which had become necessary because men, that is the Chosen people, did not receive and accomplish Redemption as pure metanoia, as conversion from the inmost heart. But this does not prevent the “foundation” of Jesus with its hierarchy, its Sacraments and manifold institutions from being still the Kingdom open to the world. The love of Jesus, which gives itself for all sinners, is itself this kingdom. It is not a mutual human love (“Do not also the heathens this?”), but a love that, surrendering itself to non-love, experiences the Father’s love beyond death in the grace of the resurrection. The mutual love within the Church which Paul and John praised so exultantly is yet, radically understood, always a love that helps fundamentally to build up the Church itself: this means it has its roots in the sphere where Jesus founds the kingdom as a whole. His saying that he is behind each of the poorest and those in need of love is the Magna Carta of his love. This means that he is not even a little more present in the Christian than in the stranger who does not know him at all, and who precisely for this reason is all the poorer and more needy, hence all the more the Sacrament of Jesus Christ. This stranger is always the primary “object” love, while the love within the Church is rather the sacred sign of the love that passes over into the world. Of itself it does not stop short at the frontier of the Church, indeed, being love, it does not know this frontier at all. It is its essence to transcend it and thus to reveal the essence of the Church herself. For transcending love is never private, it is always the love of the Church, drawn directly from the love of Jesus Christ that he has given his his bride for her property which she is to administer and pass on. In so far as the lover comes from God, he comes also from Christ and from the Church. God, Christ and the Church form an inseparable whole in which love has its source.

Hans Urs von Balthasar. The God Question and Modern Man. New York: Seabury Press, 1967. p.146-7.  Bold-faced sentences mine.


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