David L. Schindler's Balthasarian Project
A Précis of Heart of the World, Center of the Church

S. Joel Garver


David L. Schindler is a professor of fundamental theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, DC. He was a student of Balthasar and now is the editor of Anglo-American edition of Communio: International Catholic Review, a theological journal that was founded by Balthasar.

The basic task of Schindler’s book is to take the "communio" theology of the Second Vatican Council and the insights of Balthasar’s theology and apply them in a critique of leading currents in contemporary Catholic thought and American culture in general

The main areas into which he propels his critique are the neo-conservative liberalism of John Courtney Murray’s political pluralism; the economic and social thought of Wiegel, Neuhaus, and Novak; the implicit and impossible neutrality of Theodore Hesburgh’s philosophy of Catholic education; the academy more generally; the relation between the contemplative and active life; the confusions on gender in modern society; finally he attempts to construct a positive account of the relevance of a Balthasarian Thomism for the concept of the human person in community.


Schindler argues that Murray’s notion of religious liberty is flawed. Murray interprets the religious clauses of the First Amendment in a formal-judicial way as "articles of peace" implying immunity from coercion; as such they preserve the essential openness of free society to God. Nevertheless, Murray’s interpretation purports to allow an openness that, from a purely formal and juridical perspective, lacks any positive theological content.

According to Schindler, this is not an interpretation and political system that is empty of theological content--this very conception of religious liberty as immunity from coercion through legal procedure presupposes a certain openness to some religious worldviews and not others (e.g., theocratic Islam). Furthermore, the theological content it does presuppose is not distinctively Christian since it posits a society that is basically neutral or indifferent in regard to God and transcendent values--but that is to say that the realm of nature (culture, society, the civil order) stands in an extrinsic relation to grace, rather than being intrinsically ordered to grace at its proper end.

Since Murray’s theory already expresses a certain kind of theological content which sees the legal and public order in terms of a fundamental dichotomy between nature and grace, certain consequences follow. An official, public indifference to God, is, therefore, not truly neutral in that it makes it a matter of principle to disfavor those religious viewpoints that understand the human person to be rightly ordered towards God.

Moreover, it follows that to insert religious discourse into the public sphere is to add something to that sphere which is not fundamentally proper to it; and so worldviews that favor theological silence within the public sphere have a theoretical advantage over those which do not. This essentially promotes, then, a privatization of religion

Schindler suggests an alternative: if we see grace as directing nature from within and drawing it to its proper, grace-given end, then the realm of nature must be seen as distinct from grace, but nevertheless, while distinct, always already situated within grace.

In practical terms this means that any truly Christian notion of religious liberty must see that liberty not as a freedom from coercion and the like, but rather as a freedom for positive openness towards God. Since the order of grace is not primarily a juridical order, this does not imply any kind of juridical union between the Church and the State.

Nevertheless, the Church is the "forma mundi" and it is therefore proper for it to seek to transform society with the love of Christ and, though the Church should never employ the coercive methods of the State, she should strive to Christianize that State by placing that State in a civilization of love.


On Schindler’s interpretation, neo-conservative Catholic authors such as Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and George Weigel conceive of liberalism and Catholicism as possessing similar notions of human creativity. It is this creativity that is the basis of such cultural virtues as entrepreneurship and goes into the construction of any ethical economic system.

Schindler argues that these authors are basically mistaken in this conception. The Christian notion of the freedom that underlies human creativity is not to be identified with that of liberal capitalism. For the Christian, human freedom and creativity is, in the first instance fundamentally receptive. Human creativity is analogous to the creativity of God the Father only in the receptive, obedient creativity of the Son, for we are sons in the Son. The model for us as creatures is the "fiat" ("Let it be done unto me") of Mary who in receiving the promise of the Redeemer as pure gift is then caught up into the promise of God in fruitfulness, and this fruitfulness, in turn, generously pours forth towards others in a "magnificat" that brings glory to God.

Thus the notion of freedom at work in Catholic neo-conservatism is not only a form of economic liberalism, but is implicitly Pelagian in its assumption of a radical human autonomy.

Schindler goes on to examine a number of specific claims in regard to self-interest and profit, lifestyle, pluralism, and the like. Here we shall only consider self-interest and profit.

The Catholic neo-conservatives attempt to be realistic about human sin and, thereby, optimistic concerning the ability of the market to order human self-interest in a way that aptly serves the common good. Nevertheless, in viewing the market as a systematic check on self-interest, the goodness of exchange is not itself maintained. Rather market exchanges presuppose a necessary evil that can be used to serve the common good.

While Schindler agrees that economic measures and bureaucratic control are not the means by which we should attempt to eradicate the sinful excesses of human self-interest, neither does he accept the resigned realism of the neo-conservatives in regard to the market. Rather, he wishes to see the medium of exchange itself transformed by grace.

Thus, while profit is a helpful indication of the health of a business, profit ought not to be the bottom line, but is to be integrated within a more holistic picture of the human good. A Christian businessman would seek first to produce a product that is good, that truly serves others and, though he recognizes that making a profit necessary for continuing to serve others in society, that recognition is integrated within a larger context in which the good of the one is found in meeting the good of the other. This reflects an authentic expression of the Christian concept of creativity and the idea that true humility is also true self-fulfillment.

The Academy

Theodore Hesburgh sees the concept and form of the university as something that is prior to any further qualification of the university as Catholic. Schindler argues, however, that this presupposes an non-existent neutrality that is inimical to the formation of an authentically Catholic institution. To define the university simply in terms of certain formal disciplinary methodologies is to already to shift the nature of the quest for truth in a direction away from a truly Christian academics.

Schindler goes on to sketch the outlines of how he would conceive Christian presuppositions as informing academic disciplines. For instance, he sees the assumptions of the sciences, as they come to us from the Enlightenment, as seriously flawed in their emphases on purely extrinsic and mechanistic relations between objects and in a Cartesian distancing of the subject and object of knowledge, as well as the privileging of control of the subject over the object in the pursuit of knowledge.

He proposes an alternative conception that stresses the analogical nature of being, the primacy of wholeness and integration, an emphasis on causes that are internal and intrinsic (more in line with Aristotle’s formal and final causality than material and efficient causality), notions of causality that are generous rather than forceful, and the like.

Gender and Society

Schindler goes on to argue that our culture needs to recover the meaning of the feminine as a perfection within a larger context that sees love as essentially nuptial. Since God has established His relation to humanity (and in us the whole cosmos) in Christ--through His Bride and our Mother, the Church--the relation of humanity to God is primarily feminine. Authentic human culture, then, must have a feminine face.

On Schindler’s view, therefore, one of the deep problems with modern culture is a false masculinization that, as seen in his critique of liberalism, takes human autonomous creativity as primary rather than the feminine form of receptive (re)creativity. This distorted masculinization is seen not only in the American emphasis on doing, making, control, acquisition, self-interest, and the like, but also in the increasing valorization of homosexuality as an "alternative lifestyle" and the feminist drift towards androgyny.

But this is to be expected. Since human culture is fundamentally ordered toward a relationship with God, such a masculinization cannot but produce a culture that is increasingly non-nuptial in character and, thereby, in a very real sense gay in character and moving towards nihilism.