hans urs von balthasar

new translation of adrienne's commentary on Mark

Transient

You need to read this commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Last fall, Ignatius Press released the translation of Adrienne von Speyr's commentary on Mark. For any theological study of her, this book is central to Adrienne's earlier thought and should belong to any Adrienne essential reading list, which must also include her commentary on John, Handmaid of the Lord, and Confession.

Mark: Meditations for a Community, translated by Michelle K. Borras, is special because of its time and method. When founding her secular institute, the Johannesgemeinshaft, Adrienne composed a series of foundational meditations on the Gospel of Mark to give the new community a a contemplative bedrock. Whereas Balthasar wrote the community's rule with his book Our Task: A Report and a Plan, Adrienne's meditations on Mark were to be the formal spiritual opening of the gate to the community's new life and mission. One of the members present at this gate opening was Frau Cornelia Capol who will tell you that this book is her favorite of all Adrienne's books.

The method of composition is special in that the vast majority of Adrienne works were dictated to Balthasar who later edited them (some more than others) into publishable books. We should remember that he founded the Johannesverlag for publishing these works. So unlike her other books, Mark was dictated to the community and these notes of the community (including Balthasar's initial notes as he tells us in the "Forward" of the book) became the text we now have before us. It appears too that Adrienne was involved in some of the initial editing of these notes. This information should give you an idea of these meditations' importance and also give you insight on how to read the commentary.

Let us think about that insight. Balthasar explained in the "Forward" that the "meditations are addressed to young people who have made a decision for the state of the evangelical counsels in a worldly profession, for a secular institute that was coming into being." In these meditates Adrienne will be using the Gospel of Mark to prepare the community for living in the world following the way of Jesus through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. While of course Adrienne is not intent on composing an academic commentary, her interpretation of the text is all within the dogma of the Catholic Church and comes from her own contemplation. It is also not a full commentary on the Gospel. The passion narratives of Mark were not offered because we are told the initial meditations were given during Eastertide. If you are familiar with Mark this could be read as a major oversight of a proper spiritual commentary, but like all of Adrienne's writings the passion of Christ is never absent. The loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the foundation for one's mission to be in the world through the evangelical counsels.

As I come back to this book now in English having read it in German, I am reminded of how the book gives you continually new openings toward new paths of contemplation. Like a lot of Adrienne's writings, this is a hard book to read quickly. So many doors open as you walk down the hallway of the book. I hope you will read the book and get distracted into deep contemplation.

You can find it at Ignatius Press paperback and ebook and at any other major online book seller.

As a closing, here is a picture I took of Lac-de-Neuchatel from the town of Estavayer-le-Lac where these meditations were given and where the founding of the Johannesgemeinshaft began.

View of Lac-de-Neuchatel from Estavayer-le-Lac

View of Lac-de-Neuchatel from Estavayer-le-Lac

new article on balthasar and speyr

A journal article of mine is now available online through the theology journal New Blackfriars. My article called “Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr’s Ecclesial Relationship” explores the double mission charism of their relationship.

Since I analyze this complex relationship theologically through Paul’s theology of charism, I think I’m able to find a more appropriate way to see the mutual influence of these two. In the article, I analyze a couple alternative assessments of this relationship in order to highlight my understanding of it. I appreciate all of the attempts to see von Balthasar on his own apart from von Speyr’s influence. I have learned a lot from these attempts. And yet, in my reading of these two, I find so much more interpretive power by considering them both mutually influencing each other. For me, it is hard to see von Balthasar’s method as articulated in his important article “Theology and Sanctity” without seeing it lived out in his ecclesial cooperation with von Speyr. What is missing in this article is a more exhaustive comparative textual analysis of these two figures. My article only attempts to give a theo-logical interpretive for their ecclesial relationship. I hope you will see this article brings us one step closer to seeing the great gift God has given to the Church through von Balthasar and von Speyr.

Here’s the abstract:

Many systematic theologians acknowledge the relationship between Hans Urs von Balthasar, the significant twentieth-century Catholic theologian, and Adrienne von Speyr, the Swiss physician and Catholic mystic. There is, however, difficulty understanding the actual character and purpose of this relationship. I argue in this paper that Paul’s theology of charism, particularly dealing with double mission charisms, will help us understand correctly the ecclesial relationship between von Balthasar and von Speyr. After an overview of von Balthasar’s statements regarding the relationship and the three main interpretations of it, I offer my own interpretation of this relationship by using Paul’s theology of charism. The ramifications will be a reinterpretation of central aspects of von Balthasar’s theology including but not limited to his theology of Holy Saturday, Trinitarian theology, and theology of the communion of saints.

The print edition of the article may take some time to become available. The editors informed me that it may be in a print issue next year. But with the availability of online early editions, I chose to spread the love now. As with most academic journals, you will need to access the online edition through your academic library in order to read the full article. My thanks to the editors of the New Blackfriars for such a quick turn around on this article.

Please let me know what you think of the article. Enjoy.

a compelling trinitarian theology

Happily my article “A Compelling Trinitarian Theology: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theology of the Trinitarian Inversion and Reversion” has just been published by the International Journal of Systematic Theology. If your institution gives you access to the journal’s articles, you can find it here.

The abstract of the article:

In trinitarian theology, the problematic place of the Holy Spirit in the taxonomy of the immanent Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) does not seem to correspond to what is revealed in the economy (Father, Holy Spirit and Son). Because of this pneumatological problem, some theologians have abandoned the traditional trinitarian taxonomy. This approach, however, does not provide a finally convincing answer that is consistent with both the biblical witness and the theological tradition. In this article, I argue that Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theology of the trinitarian inversion and reversion does provide a convincing answer to the trinitarian taxonomy problem. After supporting my thesis by first referencing the traditional trinitarian taxonomy offered in Augustine’s de Trinitate and then examining the possibility of abandoning the taxonomy given by Jürgen Moltmann and Leonardo Boff, I will offer von Balthasar’s solution as the most compelling trinitarian taxonomy, especially in light of the ecumenical dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

This was first posted at my other website doctorsutton.net.

book review: to the heart of the mystery of redemption

A new Hans Urs von Balthsar book is out that includes a few selections from Adrienne von Speyr (emphasis on a few).

To the Heart of the Mystery of Redemption (THMR), which you can find here, is actually a book of four authors in one. The shortest contribution comes from von Speyr.

To see von Speyr in print is always good (let us remember the Speyrian phrase “always more”). This book is actually a sketch of von Balthasar’s soteriology with a long essay from Jacques Servais, S.J., a scholar of von Balthasar and von Speyr as well as the director of the Casa Balthasar.

Henri de LubacHenri de Lubac, teacher and friend to von Balthasar compiled the original collection, which were two conferences von Balthasar gave to priests in Paris. After these conferences there are seven one-page selections from von Speyr, mostly from Objectiv Mystik and Passion nach Matthaeus. It is fascinating that de Lubac would have included von Speyr in this collection. In the introduction, he says that “there is no better initiation into this mystery than the experience received from the mystics, who are no more lacking to the present generation than to earlier ones” and this why von Speyr’s selections were added because “They will introduce the reader into that participation in the mystery of the redemption” (p. 12). I have always wondered about de Lubac’s understanding of von Speyr. Now we know more.

Fr. Servais was responsible for releasing the book again in French and included with it his essay on Balthasar’s soteriology from 2005. The book has now come to us in English by the translating work of Anne Englund Nash. This book has actually been touched by many hands.

Immer mehr (always more) Adrienne is good. Yet, this book gives us very, very little. True, these are words not yet read by English-only readers of von Speyr. But, after the bold release of Book of All Saints (Nachlassbaende vol. 1), this is disappointing to von Speyr readers.

Let me be clear. The book is not a disappointment. Von Balthasar is at his most highly associative in these conferences. You see his mind at work as he leads you through multiple sources in order to provide you with an elevated ground to consider the whole landscape of soteriology in the modern age. Even though you will need some background in von Balthasar to work through his thoughts here, he is always worth reading.

Still … (how to say this gently) … the English-speaking world needs more substantive von Speyr than this book. What about offering these: Subjective Mystik, Objective Mystik, Markus, and the very important Apokalypse (her commentary on the Book of Revelation)? When the English theological world reads these, Speyrian theology will really blossom.

Yes, read THMR if you are interested in de Lubac, von Balthasar, or Servais. You should know, it is not required reading for those interested in von Speyr. Instead, pick up John, Confession, Handmaid of the Lord, or Book of All Saints. Better yet, read her auf Deutsch. Sie werden nicht enttäuscht sein.

Here is a brief exerpt from von Speyr’s commentary on Matthew 5:39 in Bergpredigt:

“On the Cross the Lord does not show merely that he allows his grace to flow visibly over all … but he also shows that he can make use of all they have accomplished for him. And thus that he does not suffer his Passion simply for sins, but that he is in a mysterious compassion with all believers. … He assumes all the trials of their faith, of their suffering, and of their availability and opens wide to them the grace that flows from the Cross” (THMR, p. 78).

Immer mehr, please.

"our finitude encounters the trinity's infinitude" - audio presentation on adrienne von speyr

Me at Heart's Home.png

On June 17, 2010, I presented an hour and a half long orientation on Adrienne von Speyr to the new volunteers for Heart’s Home, a religious movement I wrote about earlier. I thought I would share the digital audio version of the presentation. 

The presentation is divided into three parts. The first third of the talk (00’-22’) gives an interpretive key to Adrienne’s thought. In the second third (22’-41’), I present an biographical overview to her life. In the last third (41’-1:08’), we read and discuss a few quotations from Adrienne’s book, The Boundless God, which I give to you below. In closing (1:08’-1:25’), we have question and answer.  

I am presenting to the six new volunteers for Heart’s Home for their orientation program before they are sent to their destination for 14-18 months. Oh, and you’ll also hear me laughing at my own jokes. If I don’t, who will? There is much imperfection here, but you may find this worth listening to if you would like to learn more about who Adrienne was and how to begin to understand her.

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Quotations from The Boundless God referenced during the presentation:

1. “When God creates the world he makes a beginning right in the middle of his eternity, a beginning that inaugurates the realm of number and numeration; day and night are already separated, and so times are placed in rhythmic succession.  … The realm of number and of finitude does not close in on itself; it remains the arena of infinite, that is, eternal life.  And when we are told that the Father is in communion with the Son and with the Spirit from eternity, we also experience that he is a God of love who begets the Son as his image and likeness, who pours out the Spirit, and who lets them both participate in the same eternity and infinity while receiving from them this very same eternity and infinity. Love thus knows no bounds; it proceeds from and to the eternal God.” (21)

2. “Because man sins and becomes unworthy of God’s love, God creates a punishment while at the same time also creating—as a new testimony of love—time which alone can be identified as the experience of finitude in the actual sense: he creates death. Through death, God puts an end to the creature who has chosen sin so that the condition of being in sin does not continue without bounds.” (22)

3. “the Son has taken upon himself the end that is death and has died for all men … Because the Son dies for and with him, he will be entrusted in death completely to the grace of God. Therefore, he already knows in life that the finitude of his existence corresponds to a grace from God that has been granted to all men and not just to him. The experience of his finitude, however, affords him knowledge of God’s infinity: his knowledge of the end of earthly life is a recognition of eternal life.  He can thus regard death, not only as punishment, but equally as the Father’s grace. The Son has taken death’s purely punitive character upon himself and thereby released the character of grace for his brothers, whereby he unveils and fulfills the purpose of finitude.” (22-23)

4. “His descent into the underworld is part of this sign: he does not just pass fleetingly through these areas unknown to us; he stays there for three days. He therefore takes the entire accumulation of his strength into the sacrifice that led to his death, beyond death and into the underworld.  … the world that he brought with him is his heavenly world, the world of the Father and of the Spirit, a world that infinitely surpasses our own. As humans, we are inclined to regard each act that the Son performs as finite, yet with each act he opens up infinity. Each time he does something as man, he does something divine. In everything he is and does, he grants us glimpses into the boundlessness of heaven. “ (24)

5. “Confession grants us just such a view of infinity. When we go to confession, we pass through a kind of death and, by acknowledging our sin, reach the end of it—the end that God has instituted through death. We repentantly confess and reach a boundary, an endpoint given us by the Son. The absolution we receive comes from beyond the here and now and is comparable to going to heaven. Sin is  shown its end in accordance with God’s punitive judgment, but a new life is also shown its beginning. Man experiences through this that God is exercising his love anew. He has been granted death and confession so that he can grant new space to the infinite love of the triune God.” (24-25)

6. “for the individual is always invited by the Son to satisfy the demands of the Father with the strength of the Holy Spirit, in the unity of the Son who lives on in the communion of saints, and with the definitive wherewithal of the Mother’s Yes.” (150)

My thanks to Sr. Regine for the invitation to present on Adrienne von Speyr.  Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

balthasar clerihew

Kim Fabricius and Ben Myers of the theological blog Faith and Theology have been composing clerihews (four-line biographical poem) of modern theologians here and here.  I thought you would like to read their clerihew of Hans Urs von Balthasar:

Hans Urs von Balthasar
Really raised the bar,
From descensus, to drama, to logic – higher and higher –
With a leg-up from Adrienne von Speyr.

See you can rhyme Speyr.

I’ve thought about revising my tagline for vonspeyr.net.  Perhaps it should be: “devoted to getting higher and higher with a leg-up from Adrienne von Speyr.”

presentation on balthasar and speyr

On May 29, 2009, I will be presenting a paper called "Paul's Theology of Charism and the Ecclesial Relationship between Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr" at the annual meeting of the College Theology Society.

I gave an undergraduate-friendly version of this presentation a few months ago.  Here is the abstract of my upcoming presentation:

Many systematic theologians acknowledge the relationship between Hans Urs von Balthasar, the significant twentieth-century Catholic theologian, and Adrienne von Speyr, the Swiss physician and Catholic mystic.  There is, however, difficulty understanding the actual character and purpose of this relationship.  What precisely does von Balthasar mean when he calls the greater part of his writings "a translation of what is present in more immediate, less technical fashion in the powerful work of Adrienne von Speyr" (Hans Urs von Balthasar, My Work in Retrospect, 105)?

I argue in this paper that Paul's theology of charism, particularly dealing with double mission charisms, will help us understand correctly the ecclesial relationship between von Balthasar and von Speyr.  While Paul's theology of charism (1 Cor 12-14) speaks mostly of singular missions (preaching, teaching, etc.) for the building up of the church, he also sees a necessary place for double missions.  For example, the charism given to the interpreter of tongues accompanies the one who speaks in tongues "so that the Church may be edified" (1 Cor 14:5).  This Pauline theology of the mutual dependence of charisms will provide a way for understanding the inextricably interwoven relationship between Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr.

The presentation is my small effort to advance the essential insight that the joint work of von Balthasar and von Speyr is inextricably connected.  To be comprehensive and valuable, interpretations of their work must acknowledge this connection.

new translation - man before god

Man Before God by Adrienne von SpeyrThanks to the translation of David Schindler Jr. and Nicholas J. Healy, we have a new translation of Adrienne von Speyr's short work the way of sanctification, Der Mensch vor Gott.  The book, Man Before God, published by Ignatius Press provides a one-volume summary of her theological anthropology, i.e. how she views the human person in light of his encounter with God.  

Readers of Hans Urs von Balthasar will see in her book similar themes from his work Heart of the World.  If I allow myself any time to reflect upon my existence as a man before God, I begin to know deeply my finitude, my limitations, and my nothingness.  Yet, since God has become man, I am now able to find within my finitude a way toward the infinite.  I stand before God as a finite man longing for the infinite, but Jesus Christ, who has taken on my position of finitude, stands before God as the perfect man who is perfectly infinite.  

If you read this book, you must know that her title has a double meaning: it means Man (as in a human person) before God, but it also means The Man (Jesus Christ as the perfect man [Der Mensch]) before God. 

the ecclesial relationship between von balthasar and von speyr

I am happy to present to you a very imperfect presentation I gave to the St. John’s University chapter of Theta Alpha Kappa Society (a theology major and minors honors society).  There is nothing more humbling than listening to yourself speak.  There are some minor misstatements that I would like to revise, but you may enjoy hearing this informal presentation on Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr.

Here is an unedited mp3 of my presentation called “The Ecclesial Relationship between the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar and mystic Adrienne von Speyr.”

To introduce my presentation, I used this PDF handout.

Please tell me what you think in the comments section below.  Enjoy!

von balthasar society call for papers

The Von Balthasar Society of the Catholic Theological Society of America has called for papers for their 2008 Convention.  Their call is as follows:

The Hans Urs von Balthasar Consultation invites proposals for its session at the 2008 Convention.  In keeping with the conference theme of “Generations,” the conveners are especially interested in proposals that treat the topic of youthfulness in von Balthasar’s theology.  All proposals, including those dealing with von Balthasar’s thought but not on the convention theme, are welcome and will be reviewed by the conveners (Peter Casarella, Barbara Sain, and David L. Schindler).  Proposals from younger members of CTSA are encouraged.

500-word proposals can be submitted to Barbara Sain by email (bksain@stthomas.edu) on or before August 31, 2007.