Hans Urs von Balthasar, Johann Metz, political theology

Von Balthasar and Metz: Towards the Interruption

Von Balthasar is criticized for lacking a political dimension in his theological aesthetics. While overtly that may be the case, I have a strong suspicion to the contrary at a deeper reading or implied in VB’s work — strong enough work out an aesthetic interruption. In an endeavor to avoid ideological pragmatism’s successful failure, the transcendentals — the true, the good, and the beautiful — seem another way to inform what constitutes the interruption. In short, I’m constructing a foundational essay for me: I’m combining Metz (interruption and anamnesis) and Balthasar (seizing form, grasping, measurement, and contemplation). If you’re in doubt of such an endeavor, simply look at the quotes below from merely my reading today (the rest of volume one is filled with such statements with political implications).

By becoming man, God does not speak to himself; he speaks to the world. Christ is this speech of God which addresses itself to us all. We are addressed not only from outside, but are affected in our very selves, in our intimate nature; and, in so far as Christ is our brother and has responded to God from within our own nature, all of us have already responded with him. By the Incarnation we have been transferred into the sphere of the dialogical, out of the sphere of sin which is the monological, out into the ‘marvellous light’ of the Word. We already participate in the sphere where things are fundamentally right and attuned and where, therefore, if we so will it, things can be similarly right for us as well. With the appearance of Christ, the Church is already posited: that is to say, his appearance is the measure which God applies to the world, the measure which God has already communicated to the world, bestowed on the world, as a measure of grace and not of judgment, as a freely conferred measure which no one can arrogate to himself but which is given in such a way that anyone so desiring can take it to himself.

… Christian contemplation is the opposite of distanced consideration of an image: as Paul says, it is the metamorphosis of the beholder into the image he beholds (2 Cor 3.18), the ‘realisation’ of what the image expresses (Newman). This is possible only by giving up one’s standards and being assimilated to the dimensions of the image. Christian life is not a second movement subsequent to contemplation, a practical corollary to theoria. For theoria can occur only as we spread out our existence under the image offered by God, which has shone within our darkness as God’s light (2 Cor 4.6). The image unfolds into the one contemplating it, and it opens out its consequences in his life. … The image unfolds into the one contemplating it, and it opens out its consequences in his life.

The Glory of the Lord Vol. 1, 478, 485.


14 thoughts on “Von Balthasar and Metz: Towards the Interruption

    • Michael, as much as I want to give an honest reading for Balthasar, his content and project is not my own. I go in recognizing this, and actually I may abuse him somewhat to get the themes I want (in parentheticals above in the post). I explained this to a friend with a rather gruesome metaphor: I’m ripping an arm off the corpus of his work and what happens to the body itself is only secondary at this point in time. I want the arm.

      The theme of being seized is of tremendous importance for me. Prof. Long, in discussion with him about my incarnation paper last semester (an interruptive incarnation), pushed me on what the interruption means. He wanted to know how it wasn’t just an idealistic failing of a dream in a pragmatic world, where we strive for the goal, but in full knowledge that we’ll never reach it (the moderist/hegelian story-epoch). I got to thinking, and then with this Balthasar class I am taking, it … struck me. In many ways, this is the interruption — we are seized by what is beyond us, it shapes us, and then we live it out. Here enters the transcendentals.

      I hear you on the fad idea. I’m not exactly there either, but I think there is much to be mined, and it is really coincidental that I’ll be doing work in where there is little study. Its a happy accident really.

      I’ll send you the full paper when I’m done if you’re interested.

  1. Tony says:

    “Hipness”??? Balthasar was on the theological scene for decades before his death in 1988. He started to be translated into English quite late however, and therefore the late reception of his work in the English-speaking world. In continental Europe however, he was acknowledged to belong to that group of theologians who helped usher in Vatican II…

    As for your “can’t get into it,” why not? Surely you must have reasons for that?

    • Tony, I don’t think Michael is questioning the importance Balthasar per se, but rather alluding to the rise in interest around him in current academic circles. And thats always a bit different than the theologian’s own work.

  2. Tony – Yes, David is right about what I meant: the current explosion of interest in him in Catholic academia. I suppose I “can’t get into him” because, unlike David, I have not really found anything in his work (not that I am that familiar with it as a whole) useful to my own concerns.

    David – I know a guy who did a dissertation at Boston College using Balthasar and Metz to reflect on abortion. I haven’t read the whole thing but it looks interesting. I can send it to you if you like.

  3. Anne says:


    Please try and describe what you mean by “inbreaking” and I might be able to search out more from VB. I have a sort of intuition about what you mean, but I am not sure.

    Also, please do not ascribe anamnesis only to Metz. VB has a strong sense of anamnesis; indeed, he has a keen liturgical imagination, and so is never far from such a concept of memory. Anamnesis and gestalt are not so far apart.

    Best of luck in your studies!

    • Well, we talked about the anamnesis, so I’ll skip that.

      As for interruption or inbreaking, I have found that hermeneutically reading VB with Metz’s categories enlightens both. VB in someways describes the interruption with the form taking hold, measuring the world, and thrusting us into contemplation. I’m leaning a bit in that direction.

      • Anne says:

        Ah, okay.

        What do you mean by “thrusting us into contemplation”?

        Also, I’m excited to see where you go with this, even if it isn’t in a full “Balthasarian” mode. Half the fun will be to see how you adopt and change VB’s way of thinking.

        • So far in the reading, it seems that contemplation is part of the participatory response, but while it is willful, it is also something that seems compelled — there is no other option to begin with in a right response: to be seized by the form and then measured according to the form, calls us to dwell on this interruption and the relationship there in as we are re-situated (hence the I/Thou discussion).

  4. Halden says:

    Yeah, Dave, I love reading Balthasar, and I’ve read more of him than I’ve read of either Barth or Bonhoeffer. But at the end of the day I think that Balthasar unavoidably comes out on the side of the status quo when it comes to politics. There may be ways to construe his theology that don’t lend to a kind of neoconservative catholicism, but I think its much harder to read him that way.

    His antipathy to liberation theology isn’t so easily thrust aside.

    • Tony says:

      The critique of “Liberation Theology” by Balthasar was, in some ways, necessary and good for Liberation Theology itself. I hope Halden is not saying that EVERYTHING about “Liberation Theology” is above board. Even Pedro Arrupe, the late General Superior of the Society of Jesus, recognized as much when he sought to make a distinction between the Marxist social analysis that SOME liberation theologians use and the action for/with/of the poor that was certainly required by the Gospel. Balthasar’s critique is also apropos given the relative success of pentecostal inroads among the Catholic faithful in Latin America. Gustavo Gutierrez has since moderated his earlier theology of liberation by pointing to the need for a “spirituality of liberation.” The overemphasis on the THEOLOGY of Liberation without any insertion into Christ and the Church is a pelagian emphasis that Halden would certainly not wish.

  5. His antipathy to liberation theology isn’t so easily thrust aside.

    Yeah, that’s a big part of it. Although he did accept the idea of the option for the poor, from what I recall.

    Yeah, I’m not going to use his work as a whole, but there are some themes that I think could be put to good use, both for VB and myself.

    That’s my approach, I guess. I mine these dudes for what is usable.

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