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Oakes on Balthasar on Modernity March 20, 2007

Posted by Ninja Clement in Theology.

Source: “Hans Urs von Balthasar”, by Edward T. Oakes in Key Thinkers in Christianity, Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason and Hugh Pyper, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)  

…For Balthasar, the often strained relations between secular culture and Christian thought stem fundamentally not from Christianity’s failure to keep in step with history but from modernity’s habit of seeing things from the wrong end of the telescope. Indeed Balthasar’s critique of the Enlightenment bears interesting resemblances to that found in many postmodernist thinkers – not surprising, considering how greatly he was influenced by Nietzsche. But in contrast with the extreme perspectivism that has become the standard position of postmodernism, Balthasar will always insist that there is a whole that governs communication across the partial perspectives seen by the finite mind: perspectives are partial because there is a whole that exceeds our partial grasp. Indeed, this is the source of his polemic against all systematic thought: that it pretends to have captured the whole in a graspable ‘system’…

…certain other themes emerge, many of which also show Balthasar’s deep anti-Kantianism. For example, it is a fundamental thesis of Kant’s that religion must be able to justify itself before the bar of ‘reason alone’. But Balthasar’s own aesthetic starting point insists that the Particular (for example, an event of history) gives a deeper insight into reality that does the (abstract) Universal of reason. We see this especially in his christology, where, in a fascinating image, he insists that the claim of Jesus to be ‘the way’, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6) is equivalent to the whitecap on a wave claiming to be the sea itself: one phenomenon inside the world of Becoming has claimed to be Being itself (‘before Abraham was, I am’)…



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