Balthasar's Theo-Logic

S. Joel Garver


Balthasarís Theo-Logic consists of three volumes focusing on the truth, language, and the pneumatological hermeneutics of divine revelation.

The first volume (Truth of the World) is a philosophical account of truth. The second and third volumes are more theological in nature. The second volume (The Truth of God) examines the question of how it is possible that Jesus Christ can express Godís truth in the categories of human language. The third volume (The Spirit of Truth) is a treatise on the Holy Spirit, in particular, the way in which the Spirit interpret the truth of Jesus Christ for us.

Balthasar begins by reflecting on the coinherence of truth, goodness, and beauty; he writes:

The reduction of a knowledge of the truth to a purely theoretical kind of evidence from which all living, personal, and ethical decisions have been carefully excluded entails such a palpable narrowing of the field of truth that it is already robbed of its universality and thus of its own proper essence. If truth and goodness are both really transcendental properties of being, then both must interpenetrate each other and every exclusive juxtaposition of their respective realms can only lead to a distortion of their mutual essence. Correspondingly, the same also goes for the last transcendental property of being, that of beauty; she too makes a claim staked on her universal validity; she too can never be separated from her two sisters. And so the quite elementary demand for an ethic and aesthetic of truth and a knowledge of the truth naturally arising from the insight that only the three transcendental determinants of being reveal beingís inner richness as it really is: that is, only they unveil its truth. Consequently, only a constant, living unity of theoretical, ethical, and aesthetic attitudes can mediate true knowledge of being.

Some explanation may be helpful. What Balthasar is saying is that recognition of the true requires a commitment to the true and so what is recognized as truly good must be lived as well. To choose evil is a form of contradiction. But the perception of the true is also the unveiling of beauty. In fact, for Balthasar, truth is what happens when beauty is unveiled.

Furthermore, since the truth of being is love, there is a connection between truth and love. Everything that exists, exists in its own integrity, but that existence is one of openness to the Other and existence for the Other. The existence of things for themselves is only in relation to their openness to others, in particular, their openness to be known by, to appear to the Other. Thus truth is objective insofar as it is the loving surrender of being to be known.

Nevertheless, there is an important subjective element to knowledge and thus to truth. Truth is only possible when the human knower is himself open to the appearance of being. There must a surrender to the world in order for it to be known. And so truth involves the mutual loving surrender of subject and object. Balthasar writes:

The meaning of being lies in love, and knowledge is only explainable through love and for love. The will which exists in the object to open itself and the will which exists in the knowing subject to open itself in receptivity are the double form of the surrender which manifests itself in these two ways. From this follows the insight that love is never separable from the truth. Just as little as there could be knowledge with the will, so also truth is hardly knowable without love.

This model of truth and knowledge is to be contrasted with the Cartestian one which presupposes a distance and rupture between subject and object that simultaneously reduces the world to a set of externally related, atomistic, and mechanized objects and theorizes our knowledge of those primarily in terms of control.

In the second volume of the logic the focus is on the revelation of God in Christ in terms of how Christ expresses the truth of God in human language. For Balthasar Christ is myth become fact. Unlike the classical myths, in Christ the world is not divinized by the mythologizing of cosmic powers into concrete images. Such a mythology is inherently non-historical. The revelation of the truth of God in Christ is radically worldly and historical in character. In Christ His every word, gesture, and deed is perfectly expressive of the divine.

Looking specifically at Jesusí speech, however, we encounter a difficultyówhile His language is simple and clear, expressing the reality of the Kingdom in everyday language, Jesus is not understood by His hearers. How can we account for this? Balthasar denies that there is any defect in the communication. Rather the communication is incompleteóthe full Word of God was not uttered until the Cross and so its form could not have been seen for what it is until that time. Moreover, Jesusí hearers lacked the faith which is necessary to perceive the form of His revelation. That faith awaited the resurrection of Christ and the sending of another Paraclete who would interpret Jesus to the world.

The foundation of the communication of divine truth in human language lies in the Trinitarian nature of God. Within the Trinity there is both the perfect unity of the one God and infinite difference of the three Persons. This finds analogous (thought ever more dissimilar) expression in the relation between God and the creation. While there is an absolute distinction between God and the creature, this distinction is also a unity and so the creation can be a medium of Godís own self-revelation. This unity in difference is analogously expressed in the unity of the divine and human natures within the one Person of the Logos. Even as the human nature of Christ is the perfect revelation of divinity without in any way destroying the integrity of that human nature, so likewise may the creation, including human language, become a perfect expression of divine truth without destroying the integrity of that language or its authors.

Balthasar sees this kind of analogy as opposed to any view that is fundamentally dialectical. The foundation of dialectics is, he says, being torn asunder in contradiction. But Christianity allows no room for such a basic dialectic. Even in Christ being made sin and in the full experience of God-forsakenness that this implies, there is no contradiction since Christ remains faithfully obedient, expressing filial love, even under the conditions of lovelessness. Even in the ultimate silence of the Cross, the Word triumphs.

Balthasar sees Lutherís position, in which the believer is simul iustus et peccator, as hopelessly contradictory and dialectical. The Christian life is not a contradiction, but a union to Christ by a faith that surrenders to the form of love and is thus enabled, by grace, to love the Other.

The final volume of the Theo-Logic focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit. While Balthasar devotes some pages to the relations within the Trinity and to the problem of the filioque, he spends the better part of the volume presenting his notions of the objective and subjective aspects of the Spiritís person and work.

These objective and subjective aspects find their basis in the life of the Trinity. Within the Trinity the Spirit is the subjective love of the Father and Son, but, on the other hand, He also is the fruit of the love between the Father and Son and in this objective aspect He is wholly "normed" by the Father and Son. He never shows His own face, but only that of the Son, who is Himself the express image of the Father;. It is to the expression of this reality that the Spiritís life is ordered. Of course, these subjective and objective aspects, while distinguishable are inseparable.

These objective and subjective aspects also express themselves also in the economy of salvation. The Spirit is the heart of the Church and the presence of love within her, individually and corporately, giving her gifts and motivating her to service and prayer. Nevertheless, this subjective aspect is inseparable from the objectiveóordered and institutionalómanifestation of the Spiritís work in Scripture, the Sacraments, the hierarchy, and the teaching office. But, since the Spiritís objective aspect is essentially normed by the Christological, these are also the revelation of and presence of Christ.

For Balthasar, then, theology is always already Christology and ecclesiology.