- Marcion and Prometheus: Balthasar against the Expulsion of Jewish Origins from Modern Religious Dialogueby Jr. Anthony C. Sciglitano
While much has been written on the thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar in such areas as Trinitarian theology, Christology, anthropology, and spirituality, Balthasar’s contribution to the theology of religions has garnered less attention. Indeed, given his strong Christocentrism and more polemical writings, for many it would not be obvious that Balthasar has much to contribute. And yet, argues Anthony Sciglitano in Marcion and Prometheus, Balthasar yields vital insights for theologies of religions. Balthasar’s principal contribution, according to Sciglitano, is his vigilance against modern iterations of Marcionism that would sever the ties between Christianity and Judaism.
Sciglitano aligns himself with such commentators as Kevin Mongrain and Cyril O’Regan in highlighting the anti-Gnostic thrust of Balthasar’s thought, but he posits that for Balthasar ‘‘the fundamental pathology of modern Christian theological discourse is Marcionism’’ (xvii). Marcion severed the Old and New Covenants and separated the orders of creation and redemption, fragmenting the one divine economy. For Balthasar, Marcionite tendencies in modernity are closely aligned to ‘‘Prometheanism,’’ the human arrogation of divine prerogatives and reduction of God’s sovereignty. Modern Marcionism can appear in obvious forms: Balthasar forcefully condemns ‘‘Hitlerism’’ and ‘‘national messianism.’’ It can also appear more subtly, in the supersessionist eschatologies of Joachim of Fiore, Hegel, and Marx. And by implication it can appear wherever the analogia entis, the ever-greater dissimilitude-within-similitude between God and creation at the core of Jewish-Christian revelation, is collapsed into an identity metaphysics.
According to Sciglitano, Balthasar offers a ‘‘hermeneutic of anti-Marcionism.’’ In Glory of the Lord, Balthasar emphasizes the unity of the form of revelation. While the Old Covenant is propaedeutic in relation to Christ, it is in no way dispensable, since without the Old Covenant, revelation in Christ becomes illegible. In his theology of aesthetic form and his theo-dramatics, Balthasar resists Hegelian reduction of symbolic and representational language ( Vorstellung) to concept ( Begriff). He thus argues for maintaining the multiplicity of images and themes of the Hebrew Bible in all their complexity, including divine sovereignty and pathos, law and judgment, expropriation for mission, and vicarious suffering. Such themes belong inextricably and irreducibly to the form of God’s revelation in Israel and in Christ.
While Balthasar’s nuanced reading of the metaphysics of the Old Covenant in Glory of the Lordclearly establishes the permanent value of the covenant with Israel, Balthasar’s engagement with post-biblical Judaism is more ambivalent. With Barth, Balthasar speaks of the rejection of Israel within the mystery of salvation. Sciglitano argues, however, that Romans 9–11 is key for Balthasar, such that Israel always remains elect, and the salvation of all Israel lies in the eschatological future. There is therefore no explicit Christian mission to convert the Jews. Here, Sciglitano sees Balthasar as prescient, foreshadowing Nostra Aetateby almost a decade (and, one might add, the more recent comments of Benedict xvi).
For Balthasar, Judaism has a lasting theological mission in the world, which makes it more than one of the religions. At the same time, the covenant with Israel points to the eschatological integration enacted by Christ. It is this christological integration to which Sciglitano turns in his final chapter, arguing for a ‘‘capacious, Christocentric theology of religions’’ (111). While ‘‘integration’’ in Christ can easily sound Hegelian or triumphalist, for Balthasar integration always involves eschatological reserve. Thus, argues Sciglitano, Balthasar advocates an a posteriori approach to religious pluralism that respects difference. Christian encounter with other religions grounded in christological integration is never [End Page 289]unidirectional; rather, it is always marked by receptivity and hospitality to the truth and holiness present throughout human religions and cultures.
Sciglitano’s achievement in this book is impressive. He excels at listening carefully to what Balthasar is saying, whether in scattered statements from various texts or in closely interwoven arguments of a single text. Readers...