S. Joel Garver
Balthasar’s Theo-drama is very much the centerof his theology, not only in its place as the central element of his great trilogy, but in its bold theological developments in Trinitarian theology, Christology, anthropology, soteriology, and eshatology.
The dramatics contains five volumes, the first of which is a introductory prolegomenon which discusses the possibility of using the categories of drama (actor, stage, playwright, director, script, etc.) to expound theological truths. The second and third volumes introduce the characters of the play, meditating primarily on the notion of our freedom under God’s free sovereignty (in the second volume: Dramatis Personae: Man in God) and of personhood in Christ (in the third volume: Dramatis Personae: Persons in Christ). The fourth volume, The Action, focuses on soteriology, setting out in grand strokes the drama of salvation and Christ’s passion, death, and descent into the grave. The last volume, The Final Act, concerns eschatology and, among other things, sets out Balthasar’s universalistic leanings, but also contains a fascinating discussion of divine immutability.
Freedom, Human and Divine
In some ways the Theo-Drama is an attempt to explicate the infinite, absolute sovereign freedom of God in relation to the dependent, limited freedom of man in God and to construct a theology of history, a Christology, and a theological anthropology (inseparable tasks in Balthasar’s mind). But in his discussion of freedom Balthasar sets aside much of the traditional language of efficient causality, secondary causes, concursus, and the like, in order to meditate on the images of drama—particularly those of playwright, director, and actor.
In the first instance, this drama finds its expression in the life of the Trinity—the author is the Father, the actor is the Son, and the director is the Spirit. But in redemptive history Christ is the chief actor and we are call to be co-actors with Him. The basic thrust of Balthasar’s discussion is that only by our insertion into the authentic acting of Christ—that is, a mission that overcomes the duality between self and role—are we freed to become true persons ourselves. But let’s return to the Trinity to begin a discussion of freedom
God Himself is infinitely free, but in non-Christian thought the idea of God’s freedom always falls into difficulties in, at least, one of two ways. First, there is the freedom of a unitary One, like that of neo-Platonism, which is closed in upon itself and so is not free to enter into relation—even the fall or declension that results in this world is not overcome by relation, but by a reabsorption into the One. There is also the freedom of a dialectical Otherness, like that of Hegelianism, which makes God’s freedom dependent upon something other than Himself—by the setting up of an opposition through which God returns to Himself. And so the Hegelian God is not truly free in Himself.
In the doctrine of the Trinity, Christianity provides a solution to these difficulties. God is both One and Many. Each Person of the Trinity is truly different from the other Persons and yet God is not different from Himself. Unity is not incompatible with difference, nor is it achieved only by some kind of primordial violence, splintering, or dialectic. The relations between the Persons of the Trinity are necessary and yet supremely free relations of reciprocal giving, exchange, and receptivity. Thus God is both in no need of the world and yet may choose, in the freedom of His love, to create a world within the space of His infinite divine life. Thus the existence of the world is neither necessary nor it is merely the whim of an arbitrary divine will.
By means of the infinitely free self-giving of God, a real difference of Persons exists within the Trinity, each with His own infinite freedom. So analogously, the creation itself has its own integrity as something radically distinct from God and with its own free responsiveness to Him. This freedom is also, of course, radically disanalogous (the maior dissimilitudo of the Fourth Lateran Council) from the freedom of the divine Persons in that it is wholly dependent upon God (it is a creaturely freedom) and exists within His sovereign freedom. And yet this creaturely freedom is the necessary presupposition of the divine drama of salvation, by which we are freed from the enslavements of sin.
In speaking of our finite freedom under God Balthasar often reflects on the nature of human self-consciousness and language. What essentially distinguishes us from the animals is our possession of language, in particular, the ability to say "I"—the expression of self-awareness. Nevertheless, this "I" is not the "I" of a self-contained Cartesian ego. It does not isolate me from others or from the world, but rather requires them. My self-awareness is a gift I have received from the Other since it is through the smile of my mother that I first became aware of myself—the love of others calls us into being. Where Descartes said "I think, therefore I am", Balthasar would say "I am addressed, therefore I am" (and, as we shall see, for Balthasar "to be" is a dynamic, personalistic event; so he would sympathize with the analyses of the Cartesian cogito provided by Rosenstock-Huessy and Simone Weil).
Now this is all true not only on the individual level, but of humanity as a whole. Each of us receives language as a gift, but the possibility of language itself presupposes a theological answer in a God who speaks, who is Logos. And so, as the ancients and primitives saw, language is a gift of the gods. We are created, then, in a relation of being addressed by God. But as we saw in the aesthetics, to hear is to be under the authority of another, in a position of surrender and receptivity, be required to give an answer. Monologue, therefore, is of the essence of sin. Balthasar writes, "Man is so constituted in his essence that he is endowed with the word to be a response." Thus Christ as chief actor, both God and Man, as we shall see, is, for Balthasar, both God’s supreme address to us (Wort) as well as the provision of our response (Antwort).
Let’s stop here, however, and return to the problem of freedom. We are indeed truly self-conscious and real beings who have possession of ourselves—likewise we are truly free. But even as our self-consciousness exists only in openness to the Other and in our receptivity to the Other—so also are we free only in movement beyond ourselves towards the Other. Our awareness of ourselves and of the world—since we are constituted in relation not only to other humans, but to the Logos of God Himself—is open to all of being, even to God Himself; as Aquinas says: "the human knower is, in a sense, all things, for human knowledge opens to the totality of being."
Likewise, in our freedom we are free only in movement beyond ourselves, not merely towards our neighbor, but towards God Himself. Since God Himself is alone infinite self-subsistent freedom, our freedom is received only as a gift from Him. Balthasar quotes two authors. First, Nicholas of Cusa who prayed: "How could you give yourself to me if you had not first given me to myself?" Second, Gabriel Marcel who writes: "Everything is gift. The receiver of the gift is the first gift received."
Therefore, for Balthasar we are only players within the provision of God, in the assigning of roles within the larger drama; he writes:
Man’s freedom and choice are not infringed by the freedom of God, who for the sake of his own name and insulted honor, provides what is done by man with a scale of reference on the divine plane, [our freedom is not infringed] any more than the "play within the play" in Hamlet is deprived of its dramatic character because Hamlet and the court are watching and interpret it in terms of the events of their world. True, Hamlet is responsible for devising the play within the play and seeing that it is acted out, so that the reason and purpose of the minor tragedy lies in the major one. But this does not involve any violation of its own interior laws.
Here though, we are faced with a difficulty: While the activity of our lives, regardless of what we do, is the working out of the divine drama, it also true that, due to sin, we are not the actors we should be but continually find ourselves merely "putting on an act," fulfilling a role without any sense of mission. We each live to our own ends, as an actor with "an inner distance between his consciousness and his role-playing." The double-mindedness of sin, therefore, runs deep.
Ideally, we would, in faith, be surrendered to the drama as any artist sometimes is when possessed with the idea by which he is inspired. For such an artist the sheer compulsion of creativity and the openness freedom meet as one. This, however, is not our natural condition in a world of sin.
Balthasar sees the solution to this difficulty in Christ; he writes:
By and large the actor’s nature and person do not coincide with the role he has to play, and this is true not only of the stage play…but also of the theatrum mundi itself. In the play that takes place on the world stage, the author, director, and producer is—in an absolute sense—God himself. True, he allows [human] freedom to act in its own part according to its nature—and this is the greatest mystery of creation and of God’s direct creative power—yet ultimately the play [God] plays is his own. In this play there can be and tragic or comic dichotomy between the actor and the role; and this produces the comedies and tragedies of world history…Only in the drama of the God-Man do we find identity between the sublime actor and the role he has to play.
Christ, then, is the solution in whom "role" is transformed into "mission." The distance between self and role that is occasioned by sin is overcome in Christ who undergoes every alienating effect that sin can muster. Balthasar writes:
This barrier, this lack of reciprocity, is broken down by Jesus Christ, who "penetrates all things"…In his being "made to be sin" and bearing the "curse," infinite freedom shows its ultimate, most extreme capability for the first time: it can be itself even in the finitude that "loses itself"…only here, where "God’s love is pouring into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us," is finite freedom driven out of its last refuge and set on the path towards infinite freedom
Since the Spirit who mediates between God and the incarnate Son prevents any "heteronomy," the same Spirit, given to men to enable them to be and to act in a God-ward manner, can close the tragic breach between person and role in mission. It is, therefore, Christ’s filial obedience of love, in the Spirit, which bridges the gap of sin between actor and role—this is the case since that love leads Him into the very abyss of that gap upon the Cross. And by our insertion into Christ by that same Spirit in an experience of faithful surrender, for us too the gap is closed.
So obedience, in faith, far from flattening drama into a monotony or suppressing freedom, catches us up into the mission of Christ, empowering us for true freedom and true personhood in Him so that we may enter fully into the divine drama whose backdrop is the cosmos itself. Moreover, Christology reveals true anthropology, showing us that the human person is not to be defined primarily in metaphysical categories of substance, but in terms of personalizing mission, growing into the likeness of God as beings open to Him, analogous to the openness between the Persons of the Trinity themselves.
Salvation in Christ
Since true anthropology is revealed in Christology, let us now turn to how Balthasar conceives of the restoration of man in Christ.
For Balthasar, the Cross and the Incarnation are inseparable. God not only wanted to assume our human flesh, but to assume it under sin and to bear in it the alienation between God and man. The teleology of the Incarnation, therefore, is the Cross. Nevertheless, Balthasar seems to refuse to decide between the Scotistic and the Anselmian/Thomistic views of the necessity of the Incarnation—God did indeed create the world in view of the Incarnation, so that it might be a place for the Incarnate Son. The Incarnation, for Balthasar, is also consequent on the sin of Adam (and so we may see Balthasar, roughly, as a supralasparian). He writes:
There is only one single plan, embracing everything—what precedes the eon of the world, the eon of the world and the end of time…This plan always included God’s "answer" to every word that may possibly be uttered by finite freedom
Nevertheless, this necessity is not one of causality, but appropriateness. The Incarnation is expressive of the glory of who God is, a God who would create the world at the cost of undergoing the Cross. But the Cross is the revelation of the true beauty of God and so the necessity of the Incarnation is, in part, an aesthetic one.
Drawing from both the central volumes of the Theo-Drama and from his Mysterium Paschale, we can sketch the central moments in Christ’s passion and death as they are explicated by Balthasar.
Balthasar begins with the Last Supper and reflects on the giving of Christ’s blood, the blood of a sacrifice which, in the Old Testament, was given to God alone and poured out to the last drop. In a case of murder the blood of the victim would cry out to God for vengeance and serve as evidence against the murderer who would then have to drink the cup of God’s wrath. In the case of Jesus, however, He freely gives Himself over into the hands of His murderers and His blood, which belongs to the Father and is ever before Him, does not serve as evidence leading to wrath, but is given back to the very murderers that they might drink of it as a sign of reconciliation.
In the Garden of Gethsemane is revealed the essence of Christ’s mission as Son—utter faithfulness to the Father that surrenders even to the obedience of the Cross, the will of the Father loved for it’s own sake. In the handing over of Jesus, however, we see a paradox. He is, on one hand, the principal actor, laying down His life freely. On the other hand, this self-giving entails that He be given over to others, to be handed over into the hands of sinners. Both of these "handings over" have their origin in the will of the Father who "did not spare His only Son but handed Him over for our sakes"—and so Jesus is handed over to the power of sin and death with nothing left but His faithful obedience.
For Balthasar, the mission of Jesus is the Word of God’s loving mercy to a sinful world even in the face of the world’s rejection of His covenant. Yet it is also, at the very same time, the manifestation of the justice of God by which covenant breaking must be judged. Jesus is accused and condemned, but never seeks to defend Himself against these accusations, nor does he accuse those who condemn Him, manifesting, thereby, His self-surrender to human sin and to the wrath of God against it. Nevertheless, since He does not accuse, those for whom He bears accusation are pardoned, manifesting the love of God.
Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday is probably one of his most intriguing contributions since he interprets it as moving beyond the active self-surrender of Good Friday into the absolute helplessness of sin and the abandonment and lostness of death.
In the Old Testament one of the greatest threats of God’s wrath was His threat of abandonment, to leave His people desolate, to be utterly rejected of God. It is this that Jesus experienced upon the Cross and in His descent into the lifeless passivity and God-forsakenness of the grave. By His free entrance into the helplessness of sin, Christ was reduced to what Balthasar calls a "cadaver-obedience" revealing and experience the full horror of sin. As Peter himself preached at Pentecost (Acts 2:23-24; 32-33):
[Jesus] being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you, by lawless hands, have crucified and put to death; who God raised up, having abolished the birth pangs of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it…This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He pour out this which you now see and hear.
We ought to pause and note the passivity that is expressed here. Christ experienced what God was doing through Him by His purpose and foreknowledge. Jesus was truly dead and fully encompassed within and held by the pains of death and needed God to abolish them. He was freed from death by God, not simply by God’s whim, but because for God it was impossible that death should hold Christ. Christ Himself receives the Holy Spirit from the Father in order that He might pour out that Spirit. Balthasar writes:
Jesus was truly dead, because he really became a man as we are, a son of Adam, and therefore, despite what one can sometimes read in certain theological works, he did not use the so-called "brief" time of his death for all manner of "activities" in the world beyond. In the same way that, upon earth, he was in solidarity with the living, so, in the tomb, he is in solidarity with the dead…Each human being lies in his own tomb. And with this condition Jesus is in complete solidarity.
According to Balthasar, this death was also the experience, for a time, of utter God-forsakenness—that is hell. Hell, then, is a Christological concept which is defined in terms of Christ’s experience on the Cross. This is also the assurance that we never need fear rejection by the Father if we are in Christ, since Christ has experienced hell in our place.
It is here, however, that Balthasar’s universalistic tendencies come into play. The NT presents apostasy as a real possibility and one that will lead to the second death—to be found outside of Christ and left in the hell of the Cross (since to return after apostasy would be to crucify Christ over again). Nevertheless, Balthasar, wishes to affirm a number of points. First, God has in Christ, in some sense, destined all men to be saved; God’s saving will is universal. Nevertheless and second, the possibility of apostasy and rejection remain and this grace may be rejected. Third, Balthasar himself wishes to reject the contention that we know there is anyone in hell—to do otherwise undermines the saving efficacy of Christ’s death, moreover, it disconnects hope from love since if our love is to be unbounded we must hope that all be saved.
We can step back now and try to outline Balthasar’s broader soteriology.
Balthasar seems to favor the category of "covenant" in his discussion of redemption and closely links that with the image of bridal union between God and man which is the goal of redemption in Christ. God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises is the well-spring of redemption, but also the cause of the dilemma. The difficulty is how can God remain faithful to His covenant promises to His bride—and God cannot deny Himself—when she remains unfaithful. The covenant-making God is a God of love who vows love to his bride, but the covenant itself is an establishment of order and justice which must be maintained and restored, and yet, the covenant-breaking bride is in no position to restore it.
Of course, the solution is in Christ—but how are we precisely to understand what Christ has accomplished. Balthasar is aware of the various systems developed throughout Church history to give us that understanding, but He is wary of any attempts at a theological synthesis that sees itself as complete since human categories of thought cannot capture the full reality, but only illumine it from various perspectives.
Balthasar lists five aspects of redemption that are prominent in Scripture of which one must not be emphasized at the expense of the others. Frist, there is the double-movement of Father and Son; the Father gives up the Son and the Son is willing to lay down His life. Second, there is the exchange of places between Jesus and the sinner (the admirabile commercium), so that the Son becomes sin that sinners might be sons. Third, there is freedom and deliverance from the power of darkness, from the devil, from the slavery of sin, from the elemental powers of the world. Fourth, there is also a freedom which is not merely a freedom from, but that opens unto the freedom of faithful obedience of life in God. Finally, there is the source of the divine drama of redemption found in God’s own love.
Luther, Rahner, and Girard
Balthasar goes on to examine the doctrinal history of soteriological reflection and from that we can briefly draw some comments on Luther, Karl Rahner, and René Girard.
While Balthasar appreciates Luther’s emphasis on the centrality of the Cross, he is critical of what he sees as Luther’s contradictory presentation of redemption and of God as Deus sub contrario. For Luther, as Balthasar interprets him, Jesus experienced on the cross the wrath of God that was deserved by the sinner while at the same time remaining the holy one. Jesus, then, in a sense is the first person to be iustus et peccator (or perhaps even iustus et damnatus). It is by His divinity that Jesus can bear this contradiction, in Luther’s thought.
For Balthasar, however, this drives a wedge between Christ’s divine and human natures that borders on Nestorianism. Moreover, it projects back a fundamental contradiction in God between His wrath and His mercy. Balthasar sees God as love—God certainly manifests His justice against sin, but God is love. Even the rejection of sin that is God’s wrath is the manifestation of His love. The Son of God manifests this same unbounded love and thus suffers no contradiction upon the Cross, but in love, by faith, surrenders Himself to the Father and to our sinful condition (He is made sin for us) in one act, placing love in the midst of contradiction and bridging it. Love endures even through the God-forsakenness of the Cross.
Balthasar also sees Luther falsely separating justification and sanctification, grace and obedience. All is grace (gratia) and yet the gift (donum) of sanctification needs to be cultivated by our efforts.
Rahner’s theology is marked by his starting point in the human search for God and his rejection of overly-Anselmian approaches to Christ’s satisfaction for sin in favor of seeing Christ as a sign of the victory of God’s grace in human history, of faithfulness to the end. Balthasar is quite critical of Rahner, first, rejecting his methodology which he sees as reducing Christ to human expectations of the divine. For Balthasar, as we have seen, the form of God’s revelation Christ is that by which all else is to be measured. It is incommensurable with any human expectation.
In regard to Rahner’s soteriology, Balthasar is equally critical, accusing Rahner of failing to do justice to the Cross. Rahner cannot explain the necessity of the Cross or what it adds to God’s grace already given in creation. Nor can Rahner make sense of Christ’s bearing of sin upon the Cross.
Girard, more or less, views human history as a series of acts of violence, producing guilt, followed by the search for a scapegoat and catharsis, often through ritual sacrifice, hopefully to bring blessing. But such violence only begets more violence in an endless cycle. In the view of Girard, the overcoming of this scapegoat mechanism takes place by Jesus’ death on the Cross—it is the perfect self-offering and overcoming of sacrifice in the face of a God who does not desire violence. Thus a God of non-violence is revealed, putting sacrifice, and with it religions and the sacred, to an end.
Balthasar appreciates Girard’s insights but questions several aspects of them, beginning with the notion of guilt that Girard employs—for Balthasar it is too reductively psychological and fails to comprehend the true depth and horror of sin. Balthasar is also critical of the notion that God does not, in some sense, desire the violence and sacrifice of the Cross. He agrees that God is not a violent God, but instead a God who allows the violence of the world to be heaped upon Himself without begetting more violence, transforming violence by love. So while God is not violent, He is just and it is the relation between God’s love and His justice that leads to the sacrifice of the Cross.
From another perspective, the question is who lays sin upon Jesus. In some sense, Balthasar would agree, it is we as sinners who do so. But it is also Jesus Himself who willingly enters the passion and takes upon Himself the sin and violence of the world. Can we go further, however, and say that the Father lays sin upon Jesus? Balthasar would insist on this and yet, as we noted above, he sees the wrath poured out on sin as still another manifestation of the love of God.
Moving on from Girard, then, Balthasar’s fundamental perspective on the saving work of Christ is the following. On the Cross Jesus is made sin for us in such a way that the Father sees in Him the rejection, the "No" of humanity. Since God is love, He cannot accept humanity’s loveless "No" and cannot reply but by rejecting and forsaking that very "No"—and so Jesus experiences total abandonment by God. Nonetheless, Jesus’ death is itself an act of obedience to the Father carried out in the surrender of faith. It is a pure "Yes" of loving submission—and so the Father also sees in Jesus an unflinching "Yes." Thus in the simultaneous acceptance upon Himself of the sin of humanity and the acceptance upon Himself of the wrath of God, sin is overcome in the love of Jesus—and so we have something like the catharsis of which Girard speaks.
Supra-suffering and Supra-mutability
Balthasar, however, see the whole movement of sin and love within Christ’s work as somehow eminently precontained within the life of the Trinity, a divine archetype of the sacrifice of the Cross, a "supra-suffering" in the very life of God.
Here Balthasar is seeking to find a middle way between the traditional doctrine of divine immutability and any kind of simplistic process theology. He finds this "middle way" in Trinitarian theology and in the Chalcedonian definition of the two natures of Christ. If the humanity of Jesus is the definitive revelation of who God is, then this raises important questions about how God is affected by us—does God suffer, is His affected by sin, does He remain in some kind of Stoic apatheia in regard to the prospect of hell?
Balthasar’s basic path to a solution lies in the idea that there is some kind of fundamental self-emptying—some kind of kenosis or humility—in the inter-Trinitarian life of God that is the foundation for the kenosis of the Incarnation and Cross. The latter kenosis, however, is not simply a manifestation of the first, which would entail the Incarnation and Cross as somehow absolutely necessary for God to be God (a form of theopaschism). Rather, there is analogy between the two so that the revelation of God in Christ is truly revelation and this analogy is based on the identity of the Person of Christ as Logos.
Reflecting on the Chalcedonian presentation of this Logos, Balthasar rejects the notion that somehow only the human nature of Christ changes and suffers while the divine remains wholly unaffected. Chalcedon affirms the distinction but also maintains the ontological and personal identity of the one Logos as the subject in whom the human and divine are united. The two natures, then, must be seen as truly and strictly analogous, though ever more incommensurably dissimilar (the analogia entis of the Fourth Lateran Council again). Denying this will lead to either a distinction of natures in which the divine is unaffected by the human—which would be Nestorian—or to a positing of change and suffering in God Himself in Christ—which would be Monophysite.
Thus within the inter-personal relations of the Trinity, even as there is real difference within unity that is neither dialectical nor violent, there is also a certain poverty, weakness, humility, and self-emptying that is neither a defect nor a privation, not passive, but active. It is, in fact, a manifestation of the true nature of love. The positivity of kenosis, then, is the very way of God’s being, and necessarily involves a receptivity to difference and otherness.
Turning to the human analogue of receptivity, we can see that love is the openness to the Other. And yet this receptivity to the Other is the ground by which it is possible to suffer with respect to the Other in the face of his sin. The more loving, and so receptive, the relationship is, the more disposed one is to suffer. Yet this suffering is not a passivity in regard to the Other nor a means of control by and dependence upon the Other. Rather it is something actively received and so neither a defect nor a privation.
If this is true on the human level, then, Balthasar submits, something must be analogously true for God (and yet ever more different than our experience). The Persons of the Trinity are absolutely infinitely, freely, and actively receptive and this provides a "space" within the divine life that gives rise to and contains the sufferings of Christ. Balthasar terms this a "supra-suffering" and he writes:
Insofar as sin has finally and ultimately been concentrated in the crucified Son, God’s final judgment on this sin also proceeds from the Cross…This reversal [from judgment to mercy] is no extrinsicist decision of God: it is made possible by the incorporation of God-forsakenness into the Trinitarian relation of love. The Holy Spirit who embodies the unity of the two is also the Guarantor for the unity of love that perdures even in this division.
This overcoming of sin and suffering and death by God, then, involves accepting those realities and freely embracing them within the life of the Trinity in a way that is compatible with joy and only analogous to human suffering. So the sufferings of Christ in His humanity are not foreign to God but represent true aspects of divine love which is of the essence of the drama of the Trinity.
This divine intra-Trinitarian receptivity also serves as a theological ground upon which we may speak of divine joy, expectation, newness, liveliness, movement, and the like. Here we reach Balthasar’s notion of divine "supra-mutability." For Balthasar the eternity in which God exists is not so much a static non-time, but a kind of "supra-time" which contains, in an analogous fashion, the liveliness, dynamism, newness, and movement that is proper to time. And so, while maintaining the traditional language of immutability and all that is designed to protect, Balthasar proposes that we need to understand this immutability in a way that includes "the perfection of Trinitarian love within which there is…intrinsic supra-mutability."
How ever one may judge this paradoxical position of Balthasar, it is, I think, important to appreciate his attempt to move beyond the traditional categories of substance and essence to include a more personalist and inter-personal perspective on theological discourse.
The Application of Redemption
In concluding the dramatics we can turn to Balthasar’s discussion of the application to us of redemption in Christ
I have skipped over most of Balthasar’s comments on the resurrection and ascension of Christ, but it is important to note Balthasar’s recognition that Christ gives the Spirit only since He, brought from the grave by His Father, has Himself received the Spirit and so has been declared the Son of God and been made both Lord and Christ. It is this same Spirit of Sonship that is given to us in baptism that we might also be sons of God and so that the same receptive faith working in love that characterized Christ might be in us.
Balthasar sees our response in redemption as essentially feminine. First, the creation itself "can only be secondary, responsive, ‘feminine’ vis-à-vis God." Balthasar writes:
The first Adam calls nature’s animals by name, and as he names them, so they are called. But no adequate response comes to him from them. Only when God forms woman from his side does nature reply ("at last!") with an appropriate word: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my plash; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Thus woman is essentially an answer [Antwort] in the most fundamental sense of ant…"over against" …If man is the word that calls out, woman is the answer that comes to him at last. The two are related and ordered to each other…Moreover, the man is incapable of providing this answering dimension; it is latent within him—for there can be no word without an answering word—but it has to be given to him as grace.
Now it is also true that Adam himself is feminine vis-à-vis God. So, Balthasar writes:
…we may not in any way equate the Creator with Adam, for God does not need the creature for his fulfillment…The life of the Trinity is a circle eternally fulfilled in itself; it does not need the world.
Likewise, in redemption humanity is feminine before and merely receptive of His gift. Nevertheless, this receptivity is itself a fruitful one. And here, Mary is the model of Christian faith and redemption. Balthasar writes:
…God’s action in reconciling the world to himself on the Cross of Christ is exclusively his initiative; there is no original "collaboration" between God and the creature. But as we have already said, the creature’s "femininity" possesses an original, God-given, active fruitfulness; it was essential, therefore, if God’s Word willed to become incarnate in the womb of a woman, to elicit the latter’s agreement and obedient consent…God could not violate his creature’s freedom. But where did the grace that made this consent possible come from…if not from the work of reconciliation itself, that is, from the Cross?
In this same way we are to respond to Christ, by grace consenting in the obedience of faith to the gift of salvation that we receive from the Holy Spirit by whom Christ is formed within us. And, like Mary, this is not a merely passive receptivity, but one that is fruitful. This "decision for Christ" is central to salvation. He writes:
Jesus does not hesitate to confront man with the ultimate decision. Indeed, he demands it, thereby creating for himself a multitude of enemies. He recognizes no gray area of neutral theological truths, for "I am the Truth." Man’s truth and falsehood, light and darkness, salvation and damnation are all judged in terms of his decision for or against Jesus…He wants no mass movement that will envelop the individual in anonymity, but a personal decision that each individual must make for himself alone.
Nevertheless, this is not to be misunderstood as implying the life of the Church as a body is unimportant. Quite the opposite. The reception of Christ in salvation involves incorporation into the Church and, moreover, opens us to true love for the Other. Our fruitful reception of Christ must bear fruit, bearing the grace of Christ to others.