Wednesday, February 27, 2008

[THO] von Balthasar on the Encounter of Absolute Love

"The majesty of absolute love, which is the most fundamental phenomenon of revelation, is the source of any authority human mediators may possess.The original authorityis possessed neither by the Bible (as the written "Word of God") nor by the kerygma (as the living proclamation of the "Word of God") nor by ecclesial office (as official representation of the "Word of God"): all three are "merely" word, and thus not yet flesh. The Old Testament too, as "Word", is merely advancing toward ultimate authority. The sole authority is the Son, who interprets the Father in the Holy Spirit as divine Love. For it is only here, at the source of revelation, that authority (or majesty) and love can - and necessarily do - coincide. All that the demand for obedient faith to revelation can do is thus prepare man [sic] to perceive the manifestation of God's love and to give it its due. Divine Love can appear in such an overwhelming way that its glorious majesty throws one to the ground; it shines out as the last word and leaves one no choice but to respond to the mode of pure, blind obedience. Nevertheless, both the word and the response acquire their meaning only through a gift from the eternal Person to the finite person, a gift that includes the ability to respond as a finite creature to the infinite, and whose heart and essence is love."
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible (Ignatius, 2004), 56-57.

There is something scary and beautiful in the way Balthasar describes love. Interesting enough he refuses to accept that fear is the opposite of love, but sees that there is a fear that is a constituent part of our response to Love (the fear of God) (p.59). I'm really enjoying his theological aesthetic, I think he demonstrates what he is trying to describe.


byron smith said...

Not only do we get love wrong, we get fear wrong too.

Hank said...

Hey Frank,

I'd be interested in seeing how you scored on Scot McKnight's 'Hermeneutics Quiz' (available here:

I scored as a conservative, but just this side of moderate (big surprise).

The quiz is borne out of the notion that leaders may espouse one view of biblical interpretation in the pulpit, but may actually believe something else.

If nothing else, its an interesting quiz.

One of Freedom said...

Hey Hank, I scored 70 - Progressive. There were a couple questions that I didn't really like any of the answers though. Especially in regard to purity laws.

I'm in a debate right now on facebook with someone I'm sure is very Conservative, in fact they are a literalist. (Which is what started the debate).

BTW I'm pretty progressive in the pulpit too. But I appreciate the more conservative views and try to let them live in our congregational conversations as much as the more progressive views. That is a fun dynamic.

Hank said...

Now that I've actually, y'know read the post, I do have a comment about love being the opposite of fear.

I've always understood that the biblical version of 'fear' (at least OT-wise)is that of reverence, respect or even awe. Only in our time and culture have we gotten to the point where we look at fear in the same ways as 'terror,' which is what I think James (wasn't it?) was meaning when he said that perfect love (i.e., Holiness) drives our fear. In other words we are not motivated by a fear of the consequences or punishment of disobedience; we obey out of ouor supreme undiluted love for our Beloved and are afraid of causing Him shame and disappointment.

I don't know; is that a conservative, moderate or progressive view?

Hank said...

oops, that should be drives out fear...

Hank said...

You're really going to get tired of me...

But I found this article on Preaching Today that caused me to think of your interest in Kingdom Theology. It is about a sermon entitled 'The Kingdom of God is near,' and the editors believe that "holds these two conceptions of the kingdom—the eternal and the temporal—in Biblical tension. The kingdom, he (Adam Hamilton, the preacher in this case) explains, is both a present reality and a vision of the future; our hope for today and tomorrow."

I haven't read it yet, but you can find the article here:

One of Freedom said...

I think what Balthasar is getting at is that fear is not related to love as an inversion. But they are different. That you can encounter the Love of God and experience a type of reverental fear (and even trembling). But it is the Love that you are responding to. This isn't a fear of judgement, but a sense/awareness of holiness (think Rudolf Otto).

I think what you say that is really important is that we can respond either to that encounter of Love or we can respond to a fear of judgement. But Balthasar draws our attention to Holy Saturday as the moment in which God enters our Godforsakeness with us so that the Love of God supercedes the judgement. We face the judgement together with God and are liberated in the power of the resurrection.

It often feels like a dance close to the edge of fear of judgement. But I think that would miss what von Balthasar is saying about Divine Love.

For me he invokes Paul, both on the horse, thrown down by the Love of God, but also in Romans 8 where the experience of the Love of God leaves us with no other option than obedience (living sacrifice).

I think we are both pretty conservative on matters of Incarnation, death and resurrection!

One of Freedom said...

I never get sick of you Hank!

I'll have to look at that. Sounds like pretty standard fare for Kingdom Theology. That is indeed what I work in. I'm all about the eschatogical tension, the now and not yet of the Reign of God.

byron smith said...

I got 68, though also didn't like many of the questions, which I felt presented false alternatives.