BALTHASAR Hans Urs von—theologian and thinker, b. August 12, 1905 in Lucerne, d. June 26, 1988 in Basel.
He studied German literature, philosophy, literature, and art in Munich, Vienna, and Berlin, where he met Roman Guardini. In 1928 he earned a doctorate in German literature and in philosophy at the University of Zurich (on the basis of his work Die Geschichte des eschatologischen Problems in der modernen deutschen Literature). He entered the Jesuits in 1929 and spent the two years of his notiviate in Feldkirch. He did his philosophical studies in Pullach near Munich (1931–1933) and his theological studies in Lyons-Fourviére (1933–1937). There he became interested in the works of the Fathers of the Church, especially the thought of Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, and Maximus the Confessor. With G. Fressard, H. Bouillard, and J. Daniélou he started a group of young theologians around his teacher Henri de Lubac. The group was called théologie nouvelle. He was ordained a priest in 1936 in Munich. From 1937 to 1939 he collaborated in editing a periodical of Jesuit priests, “Stimmen der Zeit” in Munich. While in Germany he was a student and later a friend of Erich Przywara. At the beginning of 1940 he was transferred to Basel as academic pastor. There he met Karl Barth who became his chief partner in conversation in theological and philosophical writings.
Meeting Adrianne von Speyer was of decisive significance for von Balthasar’s life and thought. In 1945 he founded the community of St. John (recognized since 1948 as a lay institute). Von Balthasar was its spiritual director and remained in this position to the end of his life. In connection with his new duties, von Balthasar left the Society of Jesus and in 1950 became a diocesan cleric. In the publishing house of St. John he founded in 1947 (Johannes Verlag, with offices in Einsiedeln) he published the works A. von Speyer, his own works, and translations of various authors. After Vatican Council II he became a member of the papal theological commission and worked in a variety of ways as a lecturer and retreat master. In 1972 he helped to start the “International Theological Review. Communio”. In 1988 Pope John Paul II named him a cardinal.
Von Balthaser wrote, translated, and published a wide range of works. His philosopical works: Apokalypse der deutschen Seele (I–III, Sa 1937–1939); Wahrheit (I, Wahrheit der Welt, Ei 1947); historical theological studies: Kosmische Liturgie. Höhe und Krise des griechischen Weltbildes bei Maximus Confessor (Fr 1941, 19612); Présense et pensée. Essai sur la philosophie religieuse de Grégoire de Nysse (P 1942); Thomas von Aquin. Besonderes Gnadengaben und die zwei Wege menschlichen Lebens. Kommentar zu Summa Theologica II–II, 171–182 (Hei-Gr 1954). His major theological works: Herrlichkeit. Eine theologische Ästhetik (I–III, Ei 1961–1969); Theodramatik (I–III, Ei 1985, 1987); Verbum Caro. Skizzen zur Theologie II (Ei 1960); Spiritus Creator. Skizzen zur Theologie III (Ei 1967); Pneuma und Institution. Skizzen zur Theologie IV(Ei 1974); Homo creatus est. Skizzen zur Theologie V (Ei 1986); Das betrachtende Gebet (Ei 1955, 19653; Modlitwa i kontemplacja [Prayer and contemplation], Kr 1965); Theologie der Geschichte. Neue Fassung, (Ei 1959, Teologia dziejów. Zarys, Kr 1997); Leben aus dem Tod. Betrachtungen zum Ostenmysterium (Fr-Bas-W 1984).
Von Balthasar wanted to renew theology by holding a polemic with neoscholastic thought, which had introduced divisions and divided theology into various separate fields. Von Balthasar’s theological method, called “theological phenomenology”, which was shaped under the influence of the thought of the Fathers of the Church, consists in explaining each particular theological question by looking to the whole, to the core of faith, in performing a so-called reductio in mysterium. He brought his conception of theology to realization and between 1961 and 1986 published a fifteen-volume trilogy in which he brought together his knowledge as a scholar of German, a scholar of literature, a historian of philosophy and theology, an exegete, and systematizer, into a theological synthesis. The successive parts of the trilogy display the central mystery of the Christian faith, the revelation of God’s love in the Crucified Christ, from different points of view. Von Balthasar derived three leading aspects from the doctrine of transcendentals. The transcendentals are the universal properties of being: truth, good, beauty, and according to von Balthasar they belong both to the creature and God who reveals himself. For the first time in centuries he introduces the transcendentale pulchrum into theology as the center of reflection. He saw in the mystery of beauty the unity of “ungraspable splendor” with “definite form”. The first part of the trilogy, theological aesthetics (Herrlichkeit. Eine theologische Ästhetik), is a consideration of the beauty that is is manifested in the love of God as it pours forth. The love that comes from God is manifested as His “glory” (Herrlichkeit). The believer, as he looks at the human form of the Son obedient unto death, who exceeds and concentrates in himself “all natural beauty, all human desire for beauty, and all fragmentary attempts to conquer it”, is entranced by this form and becomes joined into the action of God’s love. Hence theological aesthetics moves into a new dimension of theological reflection on the mystery of Revelation. Theodrama (Theodramatik), the name of the second part of the trilogy, considers man’s consent to what God in his freedom intended for him in the drama of God’s love in which God himself created the scene. In the event that is God laying himself bare in the Incarnation and on the Cross, God offers man “good and love, overlapping each other and completing everything to which man aspires and everything that he loves, everything that is full of value in creation”. The man who consents to choose his own role in the drama of God and the mission may collude and collaborate with God as a partner in the dialogue in the dialogue of love by the mediation of the “chief person of the drama”—Jesus Christ. The third stage in von Balthasar’s theological synthesis is the question of Truth that reveals itself in the Word of God who became flesh and was crucified. The truth, through the figure of Christ, accepts all human questions, answers them, and integrates all human knowledge. The third part of the trilogy, theological logic (Theologik) is devoted to the problematic of truth.
The theology of history that von Balthasar created on the basis of Karl Barth’s thought is original. Jesus Christ, the universale concretum of history, is the center and end of all reality. The concrete and unrepeatable person of the eternal Son of the Father who became man gives full meaning to universal history, the history of particular people and nations, and to all values, concepts, ideas, and general structures. Jesus, who is the “one who infinitely integrates”, takes up even partial truths, joins them into the truth of Christ, and in this way completes them.
In his paschal theology, von Balthasar put special emphasis of Christ’s descent to hell. This emphasis on Jesus’ solidarity with the dead who have been ultimately shut off from God’s love gives von Balthasar’s eschatology a soteriological character. A discussion on the soundness of the hope of salvation for all may also be renewed.
M. Lochbrunner, Analogia caritatis. Darstellung und Deutung der Theologie Hans Urs von Balthasar, Fr-Bas-W 1981; M. Kehl, Hans Urs von Balthasar (portret), in: In der Fülle des Glaubens, NY 1982 (W pełni wiary, Kr 1991, 9–77); L. Balter, Na osiemdziesięciolecie urodzin Hansa Ursa von Balthasar [On the eightieth birthday of Hans Urs von Balthasar], Communio 5 (1985) n. 8, 3–8; M. Hartmann, Ästhetik als ein Grundbegriff fundamentaler Theologie. Eine Untersuchung zu Hans Urs von Balthasar, St. Ottilien 1985; The Analogy of Beauty. The Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, E 1986; R. Fisichella, Rileggendo Hans Urs von Balthasar, Gregorianum 71 (1990) n. 3, 511–546; E. Guerriero, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Ei-Fr 1993; C. Capol, Hans Urs von Balthasar. Bibliographie 1925–1990, Ei 1990, Porto 1993; W. Laak, Allversöhnung. Die Lehre von der Apokatastasis. Ihre Grundlegung durch Origenes und ihre Bewertung in der gegenwärtigen Theologie bei Karl Barth und Hans Urs von Balthasar, Sinzig 1990; J. O’Donnell, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Lo 1992; E. T. Oakes, Pattern of Redemption. The Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, NY 1994; T. Krenski, Hans Urs von Balthasar. Das Gottesdrama, Mz 1995; I. Bokwa, Kszałtowanie się problematyki chrystologiczno-eschatologicznej w teologii Hansa Ursa von Balthasar (1905–1988 [The shaping of the christological-eschatological problematic in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–1988], Studia Theologica Varsaviensa 34 (1996) n. 1, 155–181; idem, Metoda teologii Hansa Ursa von Balthasar, ibidem n. 2, 51–74; S. Budzik, Dramat odkupienia i nadzieja powszechnego zbawienia w teologii Hansa Ursa von Balthasar [The drama of redemption and the hope of universal salvation in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar], Tarnowskie Studia Teologiczne 14 (1996), 209–226; Z. Kijas, Homo creatus est. Ekumeniczne studium antropologii Pawła A. Florenskiego (+ 1937) i Hansa Ursa von Balthasar (+1988) [Homo creatus est. Ecumenical study of the anthroplogy of Paul A. Florenski (d. 1937) and Hans Urs von Balthasar (d. 1988)], Kr 1996; S. Budzik, Dramat odkupienia. Kategorie dramatyczne na przykładzie R. Girarda, Hansa Ursa von Balthasar i R. Schwagera [Drama of redemption. Dramatic categories in the example of R. Girard, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and R. Schwager], Tw 1997; S. H. Stiglhamer, Freiheit in der Hingabe. Trinitarische Freiheitslehre bei Hans Urs von Balthasar, Wü 1997; L. Balter, Hans Urs von Balthasar—Kardinal Nominat [Hans Urs von Balthasar—nominated Cardinal], Communio 8 (1998) n. 6, 5–7; I. Bokwa, Trynitarno-chrystologiczna interpretacja eschatologii w ująciu Hansa Ursa von Balthasar [Trinitarian-Christological interpretation of eschatology in the approach of Hans Urs von Balthasar], Radom 1998.