Saturday, August 3, 2013

Another note on Hebrews, this one from Von Balthasar

Not in addition to, but precisely because he was a master of Sacred Scripture, Hans Urs Von Balthasar was, in my estimation, the premier theologian of the twentieth century. As I was reading once again, in my uneven, delayed, and inconsistent manner, the first volume of his theological aesthetics, Seeing the Form, this once again became apparent. In his discussion of the Church's experience of faith, which he asserts has Petrine, Pauline, Johannine, and Marian dimensions, in addition to masterfully and comprehensively synthesizing and summarizing 1-2 Peter, in the Pauline section he gives an amazing summary of the latter third of The Letter to the Hebrews. He does not attribute this text to St. Paul, but sees it as the "the first interpretation" of what he calls "The vertical Pauline Church."

In Balthasar's view, the Church's Petrine dimension is hierarchical, which he insisted is essentially horizontal, that is, human-to-human handing on of what was once received. The Pauline dimension, as he explained it, is vertical as a result of the dramatic nature of Paul's calling, which came crashing in unexpectedly from above as it were. Balthasar described the thought expressed in Hebrews as manifesting a kind of "Platonism." In any case, here is what he wrote:
We have come now not to Mount Sinai (cf. Gal 4.24), 'but to Mount Zion, to the Civitas Dei Viventis, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven' (Heb 12.21f.). It is from here that God's Word now resounds, no longer as a temporal word but as definitive for all eternity, and its acceptance must, therefore, also be definitive (Heb 12.25f.). We must cling to the painful discipline of the 'Father of spirits' 'so as to come to share in his holiness'; if we do not 'withdraw' from the grace of his discipline (Heb 12.9f., 15), we will be following Jesus the High Priest 'through the curtain of his flesh' (Heb 10.20) into the truth which is beyond the 'shadowy images' (Heb 8.5) and the 'symbols of the present time' (Heb 9.9).

For the author of the Epistle, the curtain of Christ's flesh no longer conceals, as did the temple veil of the Old Testament; rather, in the place where Christ, 'by virtue of his eternal Spirit, has offered himself to God as a spotless sacrifice', there, in a Platonic-Christian contemplation, the heavenly is already seen in the events of the flesh. Even if we 'do not yet see everything in subjection to him, we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death' (Heb 2.8 f.); thus, in Christ's humiliation and exaltation, we see the full dimension of the redemptive process, and ourselves taken up in it. We do indeed believe (Heb. 11.1) and in this sense we do not yet see; but, at the same time, in the temporal shadows of the Old Testament we have learned to see the definitive eschatological archetype. To be sure, this gnosis [here simply meaning knowledge, as opposed to pistis, or, faith] is a permanent ethical demand that we urgently strive after Christ as his disciples. But, at the same time, it means becoming adults in the divine doctrine; it is the need for solid food that lies beyond the milk of infants; it is progress beyond merely listening to the kerygma to its interior assimilation. As such, it is 'illumination', a 'tasting' (γεύομαι) of the heavenly gift', a partaking of the holy Pneuma', a 'perceiving of the beauty of God's Word and of the powers of the age to come' (Heb. 6.3-6). The beginner is still 'inexperienced' (ἄπειρος) in true speech, but the one who has been perfected possesses 'well-trained perceptive faculties' (αἰσθητήριο γυμνάζω) to distinguish the beautiful from the ugly (Heb 5.13f.)(355-356)

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