Saturday, October 11, 2014

Theology & Dogma: St John XXIII, Balthasar, and Romano

This afternoon I (finally) had the chance to do some undirected, that is, not-required reading. I chose to delve into reading Hans Urs Von Balthasar. In addition to making progress in his short book Who Is a Christian?, I re-read the introduction to volume two of his theological aesthetics The Glory of the Lord: Studies in Theological Style: Clerical Styles. The short chapter from the first book complemented a striking passage from the second.

The third short section of Part III of Who Is a Christian? is entitled "The Crucial Point." The "crucial point" is the Incarnation. The Incarnation of the Son of God is the incarnation of divine love. According to Balthasar, "what is revealed of the nature of this love in the existence of the Son is the renunciation of self-ownership. This renunciation alone is what gives the fulfillment of his mission its unheard of dramatic impact" (66-67). The dramatic impact is made manifest in Jesus' abandonment to the Providence of the Father, which "relieves him of any obligation to calculate, to measure out, to be diplomatic, and gives him endless energy that need care nothing for the walls of contradiction, pain, failure, and death, because the Father is leading him and will bear him up, even at the farthest end of the night" (67). In this, Balthasar asserts, we "can see how dogmatics, in its two fundamental pillars - of Incarnation and Trinity - is likewise the embodiment of the Christian doctrine of life" (67).

How we have lost sight of this in our loss of transcendence, in the forgetfulness of our destiny: "Dogma and existence go together"! (67). We need to re-read Von Hildebrand and books like August Adam's Tension and Harmony: About the Value of Dogma for Personal Life, or perhaps even Balthasar's short work In the Fullness of Faith: On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic. I am convinced that this deficiency plays a large role in the confusions we seem to constantly experience these days. So as not to sound too passive-aggressive, in nothing perhaps more than when it comes to marriage.

Today marks the fifty-second anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in Rome by Pope St John XXIII, whose liturgical memorial (the first since his canonization earlier this year) the Church observes today in honor of this event. In his opening address to the Council, Papa Roncalli stated,
The manner in which sacred doctrine is spread, this having been established, it becomes clear how much is expected from the Council in regard to doctrine. That is, the Twenty-first Ecumenical Council, which will draw upon the effective and important wealth of juridical, liturgical, apostolic, and administrative experiences, wishes to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion, which throughout twenty centuries, notwithstanding difficulties and contrasts, has become the common patrimony of men. It is a patrimony not well received by all, but always a rich treasure available to men of good will
In his great work, Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century, Romano Amerio noted during the time of great confusion after the Council (which time persists):
Some authors deny the existence of the present confusion in the Church or else deny its specific character by attributing it to the duality and antagonism inherent in the nature of the world and of the Church. This denial seems to us inadequate, because the essential opposition here is not between the Gospel and the world which Christ comes to save, that is, the world understood as the totality of creation, but rather between the Gospel and the world for which Christ does not pray, that is, the world inasmuch as it is in maligno positus, infected by sin and oriented towards sin (2)

Turning then to the introduction to second volume of The Glory of the Lord, in which Balthasar picks five representative "clerical" aesthetic theological styles- Irenaeus, Augustine, Denys, Anselm, and Bonaventure- he discusses the difficulty inherent in theology:
At first this bewildering variety of styles alarms one, and there arises the suspicion that between the glory of the divine revelation [culminating with the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity] and its imitative expression there can be achieved no kind of convincing correspondence. Is not perhaps then the paradoxical pointer, consciously intending shock and offence, the only possibility? A human word, which, in witnessing to God's word, witnesses itself to its own inappropriateness, even contradictoriness? Were that all, then the Word of God would not have become flesh. So there is a twofold mediation to be considered: the general phenomenon of the freedom of human expression in spiritual utterance and the humanity of the historical revelation of salvation (26)
This leads Balthasar to identify three "fixed points of reference" for Christian theology freely expressed, if it is to be considered Christian theology at all. The middle point is "the teaching of the Church, which has the duty of proposing the binding ground rules of such hermeneutics and to which each orthodox theologian has to conform, for the Church as such possesses the Holy Spirit of interpretation and the theologian only in so far as he undertakes to express himself in the spirit and in the name of the Church." In this regard it certainly bears mentioning Ratzinger's The Nature and Mission of Theology: Approaches to Understanding Its Role in the Light of the Present Controversy.

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