Pope Praises von Balthasar and His Theology

In Message for Centenary of His Birth

Share this Entry

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 10, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI says that spirituality does not rob theology of scientific weight but rather gives it coherence.

The Pope made that point in a message written for the centenary of the birth of a friend, Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.

“Theology, as and how he conceived it, had to be combined with spirituality; only in this way, in fact, could it be profound and effective,” said the Holy Father in his message addressed to the international congress entitled “Love Alone Is Credible,” organized at the Lateran University in tribute to von Balthasar.

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), one of the most important Catholic intellectuals and writers of the 20th century, wrote more than 100 books and hundreds of articles.

Tired of the prevalent Neo-Scholasticism of his day, von Balthasar was drawn to the spirituality-theology of the Church Fathers.

While a professor in Basle and a chaplain for students, he met the mystic Adrienne von Speyr (1902-1967); she would become a Catholic under his spiritual direction. Her writings became a major source of inspiration for his writing, and he insisted that her work could not be separated from his own. Together they founded the Community of St. John, a “secular institute.”

Communio

In 1972 he formed Communio, an international Catholic review, with Jean Danielou, Henri de Lubac and Joseph Ratzinger (the future Benedict XVI). From 1961-1987 he produced his most important work, a trilogy published in 15 volumes: “The Glory of the Lord,” “Theo-Drama” and “Theo-Logic.”

After many years of fighting illness and exhaustion, Balthasar died on June 26, 1988, one day before he was to be made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II.

In his message, Benedict XVI said: “On an occasion such as this, it would be easy to fall into the temptation to return to personal memories, based on the sincere friendship that united us and on the numerous works that we undertook together, addressing many of the challenges of those years,” and he mentioned in particular the foundation of the review Communio.

“However, I do not wish to make reference to memories, but rather to the richness of von Balthasar’s theology,” said the Pontiff. “Hans Urs von Balthasar was a theologian who put research at the service of the Church, as he was convinced that only theology could be characterized by the ecclesial.”

Spirituality does not diminish the scientific weight of theology, “but imprints on theological study the correct method to be able to arrive at a coherent interpretation,” the Holy Father added.

Change of heart

A theology conceived in this way led von Balthasar “to a profound existential reading,” stated the papal message, clarifying that “one of the central topics to which he dedicated himself with pleasure was to show the need of conversion.”

“Change of heart was a central point for him; only in this way, in fact, is the mind freed from the limits that prevent it from acceding to the mystery and the eyes become capable of fixing their gaze on the face of Christ,” stressed the Holy Father.

“In a word, he had understood profoundly that theology can only be developed with prayer which is capable of perceiving the presence of God and trusts in him obediently,” Benedict XVI stated.

For the Pope, “it is a path worth following to the end. This calls for avoiding unilateral paths which can only distance one from the goal and calls for fleeing from the fashions that fragment interest in the essential.”

Share this Entry

ZENIT Staff

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation