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A Theology of Alterity

Levinas, von Balthasar, and Trinitarian Praxis

by Glenn Morrison

Publication Year: 2013

For centuries, but especially under Heidegger’s influence in the twentieth century, Christian theology has consistently approached its inquiry through the language of ontology and within the framework of Being. These attempts to find a rational way to articulate religious life and the mystery of God, making spiritual praxis secondary to theory, not only run the danger of reducing God to a set of propositions, but also risk condoning violent indifference to interhuman relations. In response, Glenn Morrison suggests that Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophical corpus, which puts into question Heidegger’s fundamental ontology, can serve as a valuable resource for developing new theological language that unites theory and praxis. Building on previous attempts to appropriate Levinas to Christian thought, Morrison critiques thinkers such as Michael Purcell, David Ford, Michael Barnes, and Graham Ward for hesitating to go beyond ontotheology. A Theology of Alterity strives to more radically utilize Levinas’s philosophical framework, bringing it into conversation with the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, to construct a post-ontotheological account of theology that coincides with ethical behavior. In looking at these two thinkers in relation to each other, Morrison brings out the drama of eros that is often hidden in Levinas’s texts, and he points the way toward a less mystical, more ethical, and more metaphysically transformative reading of von Balthasar. In allowing Levinas’s Judaism to challenge von Balthasar’s Catholicism, Morrison develops a perspective that is both theologically rich and philosophically provocative. Following Levinas’s demand that we think Being “otherwise,” Morrison explores the implications of alterity in both systematic and practical theological matters such as the paschal mystery, Christ’s person and mission, pastoral care, mental health, forgiveness, prayer, and Jewish-Christian friendship. Reflecting on central articles of the Christian faith through the language of alterity, such as Christ’s death and resurrection, he describes the work of an ethically grounded theology that inspires a “trinitarian praxis”—wherein theology is driven by a kenotic, self-giving love, a radical gift of passivity, and the desire to encounter Christ in the face of the other person.

Published by: Duquesne University Press


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

I am indebted to the encouragement, inspiration, and goodness of others. I am forever grateful to Fr. Gordon Jackson SSC who first instilled in me a love for philosophy and theology, spoke passionately of the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and nimbly combined study with friendship. Fr. Gordon?s passion and affectivity taught me to ...


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pp. xv-xvi

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One. Toward a Levinasian Lens for Christian Theology

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pp. 1-28

The theological imagination is an intriguing phenomenon, perhaps because it represents the challenge to bring together meaning about mystery, truth, and being. This intent not only creates some space for theological reflection but also centrally reveals a search and quest for Jesus the Christ. Providing an avenue by which to nurture and...

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Two. A Step into Levinas’s Philosophy

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pp. 29-72

Levinas’s thought and style are of unusual difficulty. Adriaan Peperzak, to give just one example, implies that it is impossible to arrive at a complete overall grasp of Levinas’s thought.1 But Richard Cohen argues against trying to simplify or systemize it, or even relate it too quickly to other disciplines, lest it be reduced to the ordinary level of ...

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Three. Von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics

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pp. 73-119

What might it mean to imagine the world otherwise? Although our world is bent on making a fortune and then consuming it at great speed on projects of vanity and machinations of pride, there exists a way beyond the material gluttonies of the self. Thinking about God and the Other creates hope for a new vision of humanity. To do this, one must take up courage and confidence to reflect on difficult...

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Four. Von Balthasar’s Theological Dramatic Theory

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pp. 120-161

There can be something quite dramatic about a theology of alterity; it can seem like a commentary on the tragic state of human beingin- the-world. To forget the face of the Other’s needs, fears, feelings, and desires portrays a self-interested ego bent on being for-itself. Naturally, people are “allergic” to one another. The Other’s face of suffering and loneliness, or even fear of death, can be readily objectified ...

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Five. Von Balthasar’s Theological Logical Theory

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pp. 162-209

There is a profound human need to understand suffering. This is not surprising, given that understanding has the potential to effect relief and well-being. But what happens when understanding is put to the test by violence or insults? Such a question points out that the state of uttering truth exists not just in the pleasant discovery...

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Six. Trinitarian Praxis

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pp. 210-254

At the very moment where everything seems lost, everything is possible. The evocative condition of alterity defines a praxis of being for the Other so that the impossible might be breached. Where praxis takes us toward a quest to encounter Jesus the Christ in the face of the Other, we have discovered something Trinitarian about our existence:...


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pp. 255-274


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pp. 275-286


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pp. 287-293

Back Cover

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pp. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705897
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704609

Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 872122437
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Theology of Alterity

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Subject Headings

  • Lévinas, Emmanuel.
  • Balthasar, Hans Urs von, 1905-1988.
  • Other (Philosophy) -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Trinity.
  • Philosophical theology.
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