Hans Urs von Balthasar is a short summary. I don’t have a firm grasp of the man Balthasar. But at a high level, it appears that Balthasar is similar to GK Chesterton in his focus on the codependency of mysticism and theology. That is, Balthasar sees Thomas Aquinas’s system view of God to be as true and valid as Francis of Assisi’s mystical vision. He also sees the Church Fathers as a “source” of the faith which has been neglected in favor of Aquinas’s “summary” of theology. Balthasar focuses on Glory as a goal of worship. The book does not spend enough time on Balthasar’s seemingly odd ideas about the Son, or his role in Catholic intellectual history.
I’ve become more aware of Balthasar over the last year, primarily from social and new media. Taylor Marshall, author of The Crucified Rabbi, greatly dislikes Balthasar. On his show he dedicated an episode to criticizing Balthasar and his ideas:
Meanwhile, Robert Barron, author of To Light a Fire, admires Balthasar greatly. He’s also put out his own videos — shorter but punchier, praising the man. A similar view has appeared on Catholic podcasts like Clerically Speaking* and Credal Catholic
Balthasar focuses on the “Glory” of God. Doxa, or “Glory,” is a form of belief that contrasts with (and complements) episteme. Thus the relationship between Glory and Theology is more obvious in Greek than it is in translation in Latin and in the West. Indeed, the demand that Aquinas’s theology have a mystical pairing is close to the Orthodox criticism of Catholicism.
The word doxa picked up a new meaning between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC when the Septuagint translated the Hebrew word for “glory” (kavod) as doxa. This translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was used by the early church and is quoted frequently by the New Testament authors. The effects of this new meaning of doxa as “glory” is made evident by the ubiquitous use of the word throughout the New Testament and in the worship services of the Greek Orthodox Church, where the glorification of God in true worship is also seen as true belief. In that context, doxa reflects behavior or practice in worship, and the belief of the whole church rather than personal opinion.
But more often than “Glory,” Balthasar uses the word “Beauty.” I don’t understand what Balthasar means by using “Beauty” as a strict synonym, or his purpose in seeming to adopt the German romantic tradition into Catholicism. I am unsure if this is a culture touchstone that Balthasar uses to demonstrate his point, or indicates goals beyond the recovery of Glory into Christianity.
According to the book, Balthasar also shared ideas that fit less well with the Catholic or Orthodox traditions. He seems to see the Son as inferior to the Father, and insists that it was the Father who raised the Son, and not the Son who raised Himself. This changes the view of Good Saturday away from the Harrowing of Hell and towards the suffering of Christ in hell. Yet Balthasar’s insistence that the Christian re-presents the procession of the Trinity may fit with the Shepherd of Hermas.
I would have enjoyed a greater discussion about Balthasar’s role in Catholic intellectual history. Balthasar gives an important focus to Mary and prayer, in a way that’s presented as a change from neoscholasticism. This fits with what I have heard before, that it was Balthasar influence (and those with similar views) influence on the Second Vatican Council that helped center these in the Church’s teachings, and pivot away from the specific scholastic process that had been common before. Yet how his thoughts related to others in that council, what was the cause and what was the effect, is left unanswered in this short volume.
I read Hans Urs von Balthasar: Rediscovering Holistic Christianity in the Audible edition.