Monday, April 28, 2008

Rash Words and Misunderstanding

I'm reading von Balthasar's Razing the Bastions. He has something of a controversial reputation, apparently, though his having been appointed to be a cardinal shortly before his death speaks well of him. While I'm certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on the basis of the opinions of John Paul II and Benedict, it seems to me that if he has a controversial reputation, he didn't try to alleviate it by some things that he said in this book.

Example #1:
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, emphasis added).
The first thing that comes to my mind is Ecclesiastes: "There is nothing new under the sun." The second thing is that if St. Augustine, St. Thomas, St. Gregory the Great, Leo XIII, and a host of others have no solutions to offer for modern problems, then - as Mr. Grimwig said - I'll eat my head. And I don't by any means intend to denigrate the Gospel, although von Balthasar doesn't tell us what its "simple solution" is supposed to be, nor how it might be that the men I've mentioned - most of them Doctors of the Church - have stumbled so badly as to offer solutions that are completely offbase.

It's not that history has no solutions. It's that modern men don't care to hear what history has to say. They've plugged their ears and they're looking the other way, just so sure are they that they can figure things out for themselves with the aid of Infallible Science. And as far as I'm concerned, the right way to deal with such tomfoolery absolutely isn't to throw out the answers that the Church has formulated over 2000 years; it's to keep telling modern man, "Hey. You're screwing up. The answers are over here." Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It's wisdom to learn from the good (and bad) examples of those who have gone before us.

Example #2:
In terms of the history of religion, each year the Church spends on earth is another proof she will the sooner die; no religion on earth lives much longer than two thousand years (p. 44; emphasis added).
Pardon me if I have greater faith in the words of Christ ("The gates of hell will not prevail against it;" "I am with you always, even to the end of the age") as to the durability of the Church than I have in von Balthasar's pessimistic application of what religious historians might think. The Church has outlasted two (or maybe even three) civilizations; I see no reason to suppose that it's going down the drain with this one.

Okay, so I got a bit heated up there. :-) I'm all better now.

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, and I am certainly not saying that I am a qualified judge of his theology. I think I've got enough wits and experience, though, to be at least a casual judge of English, and if this translation fairly represents what he was trying to say, then von Balthasar has no one to blame but himself for his reputation. I can well believe that there are folks out there who will read stuff like this and say, "he's a liberal - he's casting off the Church's theological treasury!" And if that's all they ever read by him, that opinion will stick in their heads.

I'm seriously going to have to give up on these German theologians. They make my head spin. Make mine St. Thomas, thanks. :-)

No comments: