Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More Rash Words

As I said in the previous post, I don't pretend to be a judge of von Balthasar's theology, and I have no reason to question his orthodoxy. I'd like to reiterate that.

One of the quotations from the last post was this:
In a glance we perceive that all that has been realized hitherto is not what Christ now, immediately demands of me, of you, of our generation; that history knows no solution for this hour (for the simple reason that it is history, and not the present day); and since history does not know, we are free to look at the Gospel and its simple solution (p. 27).
Here's another that I forgot to mention, on the same general theme:
To honor the tradition does not excuse one from the obligation of beginning everything from the the beginning each time, not with Augustine or Thomas or Newman, but with Christ (p. 34).
Well, it depends upon who the "one" is, and upon what he's doing. And I'm certainly not suggesting that there is any other adequate grounding for theological enterprise than Christ himself. But to suggest that we must not rely upon the tradition that has been founded upon him for millennia seems ridiculous. For a theologian doing some comprehensive work - sure. But not everybody, and not everything, everytime. I note that the work in which von Balthasar writes this is just 103 pages, and covers a fair amount of ground. I certainly don't see him starting from the beginning "each time," then. And it's simply crazy even to suggest, in a book aimed at a broad audience (I'm not sure how this could be reckoned to be aimed at a scholarly audience) that emphasizes the overwhelming importance of the laity and the fact that we are obliged by the explosion of knowledge in our day to trust the work that others do - in such a book it's just crazy to also say that we have to skip relying on the tradition.

Do we not have an explosion of theological and biblical knowledge in our day? Are we not equally obliged to trust the experts's work in these fields just as in physics or chemistry? And who better to trust, then, than Augustine, Thomas, Newman and other greats in the Church's history - those whose work has been approved for centuries? I have no idea why I'd want to ignore them, but von Balthasar's assertion alone is nowhere near convincing. It makes no sense whatsoever to reinvent the wheel: especially not for the laity.


Anonymous said...

Ditto to your comments on the post before and this one. I am puzzled by B. he's a friend of and admired by the last two Popes yet writes things that would curl your hair.

If you ask Randy he might be able to find a link to "First Things" I posted in a combox showing two theologins discussing whether he is a heretic or not. The whole business is way above my head.


Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Martin,

Thanks for your comments.

In the next day or two I'll have another post on a related topic. I'm reading another von Balthasar book (see the Reading List in the sidebar), and it's much less frustrating. But it shows some features that are similar to things I've said in the last two posts.



Tony said...

"Razing the Bastions" was written to awaken the Church to take a look at the contemporary situation and not to hide its head in the sand. As the title of the book says, the Church as Balthasar knew it in the 50s was a Church that was not engaging the world as it should and as required by Christ, the Lord of the Church, and therefore it was a Church that was concerned more about protecting itself than with proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Of course it is important to read and to learn from Augustin and Aquinas, but the simple truth is that they lived in a different time and a different world. You cannot accuse Balthasar of not paying attention to these people; his trilogy and his myriad other works show the depth of his engagement with their thought, and of others as well. (If you do accuse him of neglecting the tradition, then you obviously have not read him and are not acquainted with his works.) What he is saying is that the Gospel is contemporaneous with the Church at every moment of its history, and therefore the Church must, in a sense, be continually reflecting from the NOW...because God's presence through Christ in the Spirit is TRUE TODAY... Your comments strike me as carping and fault-finding and not really open to the depth and height and width of Balthasarian theology....

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Tony,

Well, first off, I said (repeatedly) that I'm no judge of the man's theology, and that I'm no judge of his orthodoxy.

Secondly, I said "I'm perfectly willing to concede that a tiny little book like this will be more characterized by the things it omits than by the things it includes. So I am by no means willing to say that these silly snippets tell me anything substantive about von Balthasar..."

Thirdly, I don't think I accused him of not paying attention to Augustine and Aquinas. I simply quoted him about them.

And fourthly, I said that if he is misunderstood, it's his own fault when he says things like these. And I stand by that. You can't expect the layman, who reads tiny little books like RtB but who will never read big fat theology books where the details are hashed out, to "get it" when all they have to go by are sound bites where vB seems to toss the tradition on the ash heap of history.

I sincerely do appreciate your comments, so please don't take my tone here as being hostile towards you. My remarks about this book are more visceral than anything, I freely admit...oh, and I meant to include it in at least one of these posts, but it slipped my mind both times: I know he wrote the book before VII, and that this fact alone makes a lot of difference. That doesn't change my opinion of his rhetoric: if one uses shocking expressions, no one should be surprised if some people are in fact shocked by them. If I am carping - which I'm perfectly willing to let others judge - it's not about vB's theology (about which this book tells me very little, as I already said) or his orthodoxy; it's about his rhetoric in this book.

the simple truth is that they lived in a different time and a different world.

A fact which does not relativize the truth that they taught us.



Reginald de Piperno said...

Tony, I should also like to point out two other things. The title of my first post about von Balthasar is "Rash Words and Misunderstanding, by which I meant to signify the fact that his own rhetoric may be responsible for his controversial reputation. If I have in fact misunderstood him - which I certainly agree is possible or even likely (you may say it's a certainty, and I won't argue with you) - I appeal to what I've already said: his rhetoric didn't help me avoid misunderstanding him; it was a contributing factor. And for that, he has no one to blame but himself.

(I also noted that I am dependent upon his translator, so that my opinion may be entirely skewed by that if the translator did a poor job.)

And the other thing is that the title of this post is "More Rash Words," and I knew as I chose it that some readers might suppose that the rash words were my own - a double meaning in the title of both posts that I was (and am) perfectly willing to accept :-)

So - I am by no means put out by the fact that you seem to have decided that I'm the rash one. :-)



Martin Tohill said...

I said that if he is misunderstood, it's his own fault when he says things like these. And I stand by that. You can't expect the layman, who reads tiny little books like RtB but who will never read big fat theology books where the details are hashed out, to "get it" when all they have to go by are sound bites where vB seems to toss the tradition on the ash heap of history.

Ditto. "Know your audience"

BTW: Here's the "First Things" Link. Tony, it would be interesting to see your comments on this. I only know I am waaay outta my depth just reading the article itself. Things like this make me say, "Thank God I'm a Catholic" as I am entirely content to let the theologians slug it out and the Magisterium to rule on what all this means (though, unfortunately probably sometime in my great-grandchildren's lives).

Oh, yeah...the link:


Martin Tohill said...

silly me for trying to be sophisticated. The link doesn't seem to work. Here's the cut and paste version (actually it seems to dislike the length of the link. I'll have to cut it and leave it for you to pick up the pieces)(and, BTW, RdP *I* got your pun on the post title):


Tony said...

RdP, my apologies if I myself sounded negative... I guess what I really wanted to say is that one must read any book with an eye to the historical context in which that book was written. Razing the Bastions was written at a time when the Church needed to get out of s self-imposed straight-jacket that limited her ability to respond to the world. In that small book, a programmatic work to be sure, but one that, decades after, led Balthasar himself to admit, in the turmoil of the immediate post-conciliar years, to pause and to reflect once again, he called for a "poor Church," a Church that relies on the power of the Spirit of the Risen Christ to read the signs of the times and to respond with Gospel-inspired vigor. I myself think that that little book, which must be read in tandem with "Love Alone is Credible", remains valid for today: a Church that relies on institutional power to evangelize gets in wrong. It is not power that converts the human heart, it is Love.

Tony said...

As for Alyssa's critical book on Balthasarian theology, I don't buy her arguments. She freezes the tradition and makes a judgment that the tradition was absolutely CLEAR on the issues involved. She has not made her case, and I absolutely reject her casting aspersions on the orthodoxy of Balthasar's position on such eschatological topics as Hell, etc. I dare say her book, after the initial brouhaha it has caused, will pass to oblivion precisely because of its tendentious assertions about Balthasar's orthodoxy.