Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Balthasar's Theological Vacuoule, Part 1

EVEN THE REDOUBTABLE Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar,* unquestionably one of the great Catholic theologians of the 20th century, shared in de Lubac's error on the distinction between nature and grace. De Lubac was not alone in his conflation of the orders of grace and of nature with the resulting deprecation of the order of nature. In his book Pura Natura, Steven A. Long shows convincingly that Balthasar's famous analysis of the Protestant theologian Karl Barth contains a deficient ("deeply flawed"), if at times, inconsistent notion of nature and grace, one that has abandoned the Thomist doctrine that accords both human nature and divine grace a separate, real order, with real separate ends, and attempts to reconcile them by subordinating, or perhaps better, superordinating, the natural to the supernatural. Steven A. Long's critique of Balthasar's work is respectful, even apologetic, but withering. It is perhaps this error in Balthasar's work, and the similar error in de Lubac's work, that explains, until rescued by John Paul II's encyclical Veritatas splendor, the weakness of Catholic moral theology over the last generation.

Hans Urs von Balthasar

Long focuses on Balthasar's work The Theology of Karl Barth.** Since the Protestant theologian Karl Barth was so uniquely hostile to the doctrine of the natural law, Balthasar's treatment of Barth would be an opportune condition for investigating Balthasar's own viewpoint, particularly the second chapter of section three of that work, entitled "The Concept of Nature in Catholic Theology." Long calls it the "mother load of Balthasar's rich reflections on nature and grace." Long, 54. In Long's view, nature for Balthasar is merely a "postscript," indeed, maybe not so much as that, perhaps more like "the equivalent of a theological vacuoule or empty Newtonian space, a placeholder for grace." Long, 55.

The best approach for synopsizing Long's critique is to identify those portions of Balthasar's work that are criticized, identify those portions with which Long is critical by number, and then summarize Long's observations of those portions.

[A]s a created being of nature, man has no other goal than the supernatural vision of God. It is essential to realize that Thomas does not regard this as a hypothetical goal. Indeed he knows of a finis naturalis, meaning a fulfillment corresponding to the immanent structure of human powers. But he sees this fulfillment either as a goal for this life as opposed to the next, in the Aristotelian tradition, the ideal of the seeker after wisdom. Or he sees it as the cognition verpertina [evening knowledge] [sic] [should be vespertina] as opposed to a cognitio matutina [morning knowledge], in the Augustinian tradition where this distinction first arose. Or finally, he might have meant it in the sense of a distinction between the praemium essentiale [essential reward] and praemium accidentale [accidental reward] internal to a supernatural glory. But Thomas never entertains, even hypothetically, a final goal that could be unmoored from the supernatural vision of God. According to his medieval presuppositions, it would have been impossible for him even to make the conceptual distinction implied by this problem.

"But Thomas never entertains, even hypothetically, a final goal that could be unmoored from the supernatural vision of God." This, of course, is a conspicuous error. St. Thomas explicitly "entertains . . . hypothetically" precisely this. In his Quodlibetal questions (I, q. 4, a. 3, resp.), St. Thomas says in no uncertain terms: *** "But because it was possible for God to have made man in a state of pure nature, it is useful to consider how far natural love could be extended." There are other examples which Long cites to and quotes. Long, 57. On this "strategic point" it appears Balthasar has "accepted an erroneous reading" of St. Thomas. Long, 57.

More generally, the three various interpretations of what St. Thomas may have meant by positing a natural end of man do not do justice to the Thomistic teaching, though they are not inconsistent with it. They just do not seem to go far enough to touch what St. Thomas intended. St. Thomas plainly sees the natural order as have a final end that specifies who man is, and and end that is wholly valid, entire, ontologically thick, and integral in itself, even though, by God's free gift, it is raised into the supernatural life. This rich understanding of what St. Thomas envisioned for the nature of man, particularly its theonomic nature, seems to be lacking or at least not entirely embraced by Balthasar. There is already a discomfiture with a theonomic order in nature. Whatever ordering or end is in nature is immanent, which suggests no natural ordering with the transcendent without recourse to supernatural grace.

To pose such a hypothesis, to maintain that a graceless order of nature or creation is at least possible, only became urgent for theology when a heretic wanted to make the fluid bond between nature and the supernatural a forced and juridic one.(1) This happened when Baius chose to derive a de jure compulsory right to grace understood as a strict requirement (debitum) from nature based on the de facto configuration of both orders, which were linked because of free grace, not necessity.(2) This conclusion gave birth to 'natural theology' in the modern sense of the term, that is, to a theology of "natura pura."(1)

(1) If Balthasar suggests that the first time the hypothetical notion of nature prescinded from a supernatural order came in response to Baius in the 16th century, he is clearly wrong. As Long observes and prior postings on this subject have made amply clear, St. Thomas entertained the concept of pure nature, a natura pura, in distinguishing between the natural orders and the supernatural orders which, at his creation, were joined in man. Therefore, this hypothetical conception is at least as old as the 13th century.

(2) Having erred on the position of St. Thomas, Balthasar appears to suggest that the notion of a hypothetical possibility of a "graceless order of nature or creation" first came to pass in opposition to the heresy of the Franciscan theologian Baius or Michel de Bay (1513-1589), a heresy called Baianism. Some of Baius's false propositions were condemned in the papal bull issued by Pope St. Pius V, Ex omnibus afflictionibus (1567), which condemnation was reaffirmed by Pope Gregory XIII in his bull Provisionis nostrae (1579). Baianism, whose critical errors stem from the relationship between nature and grace within the contexts of man's Creation, Fall, and Redemption, seems to be a confused and unacceptable amalgam of unreconciled Pelagianism, Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Socinianism, which, of course is defining one ism with four isms and is not very helpful. But the topic of Baianism is for another day, since it is Balthasar we look at in this post.

Though Balthasar is correct enough when he states that grace cannot be considered a necessity of nature, but a free gift to nature, that may not be enough fully to quench the Baian flame. That the gift of grace may be free and not a necessity of nature, does not quite fully answer the question of, as Long puts it, "there is a necessity of justice that it [grace and supernatural life] be given." Long, 58. Is grace like oxygen, a free gift and yet an evident necessity to our nature? Withholding oxygen from a man would seem a punishment, perhaps even an injustice. Similarly, is withholding grace from man a punishment, or even an injustice? This would seem to be the conclusion if supernatural beatitude is man's natural end.

*I call Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) "redoubtable" because he is a formidable Catholic theologian and was deeply loyal to the Magisterium if at times, as may befit a speculative theologian, on edge, perhaps even with a foot over the boundary [I refer here to his controversial and "apocatastastical" Was dürfen wir hoffen (What Dare We Hope?) and Kleiner Diskurs über die Hölle (A Little Discourse on Hell)]. Balthasar was Swiss, having been born in Lucerne, and grew up in a Catholic family. He was a brilliant, cultured man, steeped in European classics, with a great love for music ("my youth was defined by music," he wrote), had a passion for Mozart, and had perfect musical pitch. (At one point in his life, he gave away his record player and entire works of Mozart because he had memorized the entire corpus and could picture both the scores and hear the music in his mind with completely fidelity.) He entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1928, and, dissatisfied with the state of Thomistic scholasticism ("languishing in the desert of neo-scholasticism," as he put it) ventured, through the influence of de Lubac, "beyond the scholastic stuff to the Fathers of the Church," and into the nouvelle théologie. Balthasar was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1936. His ventures in the at first distrusted nouvelle théologie, his support of the mystic Adriene von Speyr (for whom he was confessor), and his other activities found disfavor with his Jesuit superiors, and he postponed his annual vows to the Jesuits and later left the order in 1950. His post-Jesuit career met with practical difficulties which he eventually overcame. He devoted himself to teaching and to writing. His writings were prolific and immense in scope and in subject matter. Perhaps his greatest achievement was his fifteen-volume trilogy, Herrlichkeit: Eine theologische Ästhetik (The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics). He was a peritus for the second Vatican Council, was a member of the papal International Theological Commission from its establishment in 1969, and was the founder of the St. John's Community (Johannes Gemeinschaft) and its publishing house. He also was a founder of the international Catholic journal Communio. In 1988, Balthasar was chosen by John Paul II to be a cardinal, but, two days before his elevation, on June 26, 1988, he died.
**Karl Barth was inveterately hostile to the concept of natural law. We have written about this in our postings, Karl Barth's Response to Natural Law: Nein!, Karl Barth's Tin Ear: Notes, But No Melody (which drew the ire of Barthian George Hunsinger), and Karl Barth: Rubbing Out the Image of God in Man.
***Sed quia possibile fuit Deo ut hominem faceret in puris naturalibus, utile est considerare ad quantum se dilectio naturalis extendere possit. Quod., I, q. 4, a. 3, resp.

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