Elements of Catholic Theology

Thomas

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Hans Urs von Balthasar, with over 100 volumes to his name, is a giant of Catholic Theology, and some have suggested he might mark the theology of the third millenium. The following is an extract from an article in Communio magazine, from which I have drawn some of the elements of his thinking.

Element 1:
Man exists as a limited being in a limited world, but his reason is open to the unlimited, to all of being. The proof consists in the recognition of his finitude, of his contingence: I am, but I could also 'not-be'. Instances of being are limited, but being itself. This is the "real distinction" of St. Thomas, and the source of all the religious and philosophical thought of humanity. All human philosophy is essentially religious and theological at once, because it poses the problem of the Absolute Being, whether one attributes to it a personal character or not.

What are the major solutions to this enigma attempted by humanity? One can try and escape this inherent dualism by insisting that all being is infinite and immutable (Parmenides) or that all is movement, rhythm between contraries, becoming (Heraclitus).

But the finite and contingent is not being as such - this is the solution of the Asiatic mystical traditions (eg: "the Tao that can be spoken of is not the real Tao"). It is also the Plotinian solution: the truth is only attained in ecstasy (eros) where one touches the One, which is at the same time All and Nothing (relative to all the rest which only seems to exist). The second case contradicts itself: pure becoming in pure finitude can only conceive of itself in identifying the contraries: life and death, good fortune and adversity, wisdom and folly (Heraclitus did this).

Thus it is necessary to commence from an inescapable duality (not ignore or flee from it): the finite is not the infinite. In Plato the sensible, terrestrial world is not the ideal, divine world. The question is then inevitable: Whence comes the division? Why are we not God?

The first attempt at a response: there must have been a fall, a decline, and the road to salvation can only be the return of the sensible finite into the intelligible infinite. That is the way of all non-biblical mystics.

The second attempt at a response: the infinite God had need of a finite world. Why? To perfect himself, to actualize all of his possibilities? Or even to have an object to love? The two solutions lead to pantheism. In both cases, the Absolute, God in himself, has again become indigent, thus finite (eg: the Sufi saying "I was a secret treasure that wanted to be known").

But if God has no need of the world - again: Why does the world exist?

No philosophy could give a satisfactory response to that question. St. Paul would say to the philosophers that God created man so that he would seek the Divine, try to attain the Divine (as he did on the Areopagus).

The true response could only be given by Being himself, revealing himself from himself. Will man be capable of understanding this revelation? The affirmative response will be given only by the God of the Bible. On the one hand, this God, Creator of the world and of man, knows his creature. "I who have created the eye, do I not see? I who have created the ear, do I not hear?" And we add "I who have created language, could I not speak and make myself heard?" And this posits a counterpart: to be able to hear and understand the self-revelation of God man must in himself be a search for God, a question posed to him. Thus there is no biblical theology without a religious philosophy. Human reason must be open to the infinite.

Element II
Man exists only in dialogue - with the world and with his neighbour. The infant is brought to consciousness of himself by love, by the smile of his mother. In that encounter the horizon of all unlimited being opens itself for him, revealing four things to him:
1 that he is one in love with the mother, even in being other than his mother, therefore all being is one;
2 that that love is good, therefore all being is good;
3 that that love is true, therefore all being is true; and
4 that that love evokes joy, therefore all being is beautiful.

The One, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful (Sit, Chat, Ananda in Vedic terminology), these are what we call the transcendental attributes of Being, because they surpass all the limits of essences and are coextensive with Being. If there is an insurmountable distance between God and his creature, but if there is also an analogy between them which cannot be resolved in any form of identity, there must also exist an analogy between the transcendentals - between those of the creature and those in God.

Man exists only by interpersonal dialogue: therefore by language, speech (in gestures, in mimic, or in words). Why then deny speech, deny the ability to communicate, to Being himself? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (Jn 1:1).

Element III
Von Balthasar starts from an analogy not of an abstract Being, but of Being as it is encountered concretely in its (transcendental) Attributes. And as the transcendentals run through all Being, they must be interior to each other: that which is truly true is also truly good and beautiful and one. A being appears, it has an epiphany: in that it is beautiful and makes us marvel. In appearing it gives itself, it delivers itself to us: it is good. And in giving itself up, it speaks itself, it unveils itself: it is true (in itself, but in the other to which it reveals itself).

A theological question: How do we distinguish his appearance, his epiphany among the thousand other phenomena in the world? How do we distinguish the true and only living God of Israel from all the idols which surround him and from all the philosophical and theological attempts to attain God? How do we perceive the incomparable glory of God in the life, the Cross, the Resurrection of Christ, a glory different from all other glory in this world?

Dei Verbum states:
"the invisible God (Col 1:15, 1 Tim 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (Ex 33:11, John 15:14-15) and lives among them (Bar. 3:38), so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself. This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having in inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them. By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation."
DV paragraph 2

Element IV
How does the absolute liberty of God in Jesus Christ confront the relative, but true, liberty of man? Will there perhaps be a mortal struggle between the two in which each one will defend against the other what it conceives and chooses as the good? What will be the unfolding of the battle, the final victory?

One can terminate with a logique (a theo-logique). How can God come to make himself understood to man, how can an infinite Word express itself in a finite word without losing its sense? That will be the problem of the two natures of Jesus Christ. And how can the limited spirit of man come to grasp the unlimited sense of the Word of God? That will be the problem of the Holy Spirit.

"In conclusion, it is nonetheless necessary to touch briefly on the Christian response to the question posed in the beginning relative to the religious philosophies of humanity. I say the Christian response, because the responses of the Old Testament and a fortiori of Islam (which remains essentially in the enclosure of the religion of Israel) are incapable of giving a satisfactory answer to the question of why Yahweh, why Allah, created a world of which he did not have need in order to be God. Only the fact is affirmed in the two religions, not the why.

Element V
The Christian response is contained in these two fundamental dogmas: that of the Trinity and that of the Incarnation. In the trinitarian dogma God is one, good, true, and beautiful because he is essentially Love, and Love supposes the one, the other, and their unity. And if it is necessary to suppose the Other, the Word, the Son, in God, then the otherness of the creation is not a fall, a disgrace, but an image of God, even as it is not God.

And as the Son in God is the eternal icon of the Father, he can without contradiction assume in himself the image that is the creation, purify it, and make it enter into the communion of the divine life without dissolving it (in a false mysticism). It is here that one must distinguish nature and grace.

All true solutions offered by the Christian Faith hold, therefore, to these two mysteries, categorically refused by a human reason which makes itself absolute. It is because of this that the true battle between religions begins only after the coming of Christ. Humanity will prefer to renounce all philosophical questions-in Marxism, or positivism of all stripes, rather than accept a philosophy which finds its final response only in the revelation of Christ.

Forseeing that, Christ sent his believers into the whole world as sheep among wolves.

Before making a pact with the world it is necessary to meditate on that comparison.

Originally published in Communio 15 (Winter 1988). © 1988 by Communio: International Catholic Review.
www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2005/print2005/hub_resume_print.html
 
Element II
Man exists only in dialogue - with the world and with his neighbour. The infant is brought to consciousness of himself by love, by the smile of his mother. In that encounter the horizon of all unlimited being opens itself for him, revealing four things to him:
1 that he is one in love with the mother, even in being other than his mother, therefore all being is one;
2 that that love is good, therefore all being is good;
3 that that love is true, therefore all being is true; and
4 that that love evokes joy, therefore all being is beautiful.

The One, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful (Sit, Chat, Ananda in Vedic terminology), these are what we call the transcendental attributes of Being, because they surpass all the limits of essences and are coextensive with Being. If there is an insurmountable distance between God and his creature, but if there is also an analogy between them which cannot be resolved in any form of identity, there must also exist an analogy between the transcendentals - between those of the creature and those in God.

Man exists only by interpersonal dialogue: therefore by language, speech (in gestures, in mimic, or in words). Why then deny speech, deny the ability to communicate, to Being himself? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (Jn 1:1)....

This would imply that man is not sentient, until interacting with another human being. If such were correct then Jeremiah 1: 5 is in error.

“ Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”

For if we are known, sanctified and set apart, then our personalities are intact, as is our character, before we are born.

Also, some have conscious memories before, during and immediately after birth, and it wasn't because of love or dialogue with a another that they were self aware so early.

Something has to give here.
 
it isnt our love within ourselves that causes us to exist, it is gods love that his face is turned in our direction and his words and hands have given us life, we are given certain abilities, the heavens have been stretched to infinity, and all things obey the commands god except man who abuses the ability of choice that god has given, for many have chosen to stray from a god that loves us and allows our days to continue.
 
This would imply that man is not sentient, until interacting with another human being.

I don't think so - that's just the brevity of my post. I think in the 'dialogue' there's three things involved, man's sense of self, man's sense of other-than-self (the world, etc.), and the dialogue/reflection going on between the two ... it's there that man 'defines' himself?

For if we are known, sanctified and set apart, then our personalities are intact, as is our character, before we are born.
True ... but 'finding out who we are' is part of the dialogue, with the world and with God.

Also, some have conscious memories before, during and immediately after birth, and it wasn't because of love or dialogue with a another that they were self aware so early.
I think this is a question of terms - I think self-awareness is a dialogue, between 'I' and 'me'?...

Put another way, man cannot imagine anything without something ... a word, and image, a sound ... to imagine with ... 'awareness' is a sense of the data from the stuff streaming in through the senses ... and everything man says about himself is in relation to this sensory data?

Thomas
 
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