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BALTHASAR'S USE OF THE THEOLOGY OF AQUINAS }AMES J. BUCKLEY Loyola College in Maryland Baltimore, Maryland T HE AIM OF THIS essay is to raise some questions about the internal consistency of Hans Urs von Balthasar's use of the theology of Thomas Aquinas. These are genuine questions. That is, they are not questions ("Is Balthasar's use of Aquinas consistent?") disguising or masking answers ("Balthasar's use of Aquinas is inconsistent"). While I hope the questions set an agenda for disputations between students of these two theologians, my aim is not to settle the many disputations between the theologies of Aquinas and Balthasar, but to propose some quaestiones disputatae. In Balthasar's terms, the aim is to set up the theater and put some characters on the stage, not to stage the drama itself. Why bother? First, Balthasar's theology arises out of a tradition critical of the theology of Aquinas, and students of Aquinas can only ignore such objections at the price of abandoning Aquinas's habit of responding to such criticisms. The locus classicus of this critique is Balthasar's claim that he omits Aquinas from his canon of theological aestheticians because Aquinas is one of those whose "deep and lucid philosophical aesthetics" has "failed to achieve a theological translation, that is, to be seen as the unfolding of a theology based on biblical revelation" (GL II, 21).1 Thomas Aquinas (Balthasar later says) "was more of a philosopher than a theologian" (GL III, 9). We shall see later that ' I shall use the following abbreviations: ST = Summa Theologiae. Latin text and English translation, ed. Thomas Gilby, various translators (New York: McGraw-Hill; London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1964-80). GL =The Glory ofthe Lord: A Theological Aesthetic, ed. Joseph Fessio, S.J., and John Riches, various translators, 7 vols. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press; New York: Crossroad Publications, 1982-91). 517 518 JAMES J. BUCKLEY Balthasar also mentions other objections to Aquinas. In fact, part of my argument will be that this central criticism of Thomas's aesthetics is intelligible only against the background of other even more important criticisms of Aquinas's theology. I ought also to note at this early stage, however, that Balthasar 's criticisms of Aquinas are almost always carefully qualified. For example, in the locus classicus just cited, Balthasar objects to Aquinas's aesthetics, not his ethics or metaphysics; indeed, it is a criticism of Aquinas's theological aesthetics, not his philosophical aesthetics. Still further, Balthasar even says it "would perhaps" be possible to develop the "implicit" theological aesthetics in Thomas's philosophical aesthetics; however, Balthasar (inexplicably, some would say at this point) thinks this could only be done "witn uncertain success" (GL II, 21). One reason for the frequent allusiveness of Balthasar's objections to Aquinas is a second reason for bothering with Balthasar's use of Aquinas: in and with the firmness of Balthasar 's criticisms of Aquinas, the vast majority of Balthasar's uses of Aquinas are constructive rather than critical. Indeed, if taking the measure of theological disputation were primarily a matter of weighing quotations, it could easily be shown that Balthasar's use of Aquinas is by far more positive than negative. More importantly, I shall propose that Balthasar notices features of Aquinas's theology not often noted (or still not noted often enough) by many students of Aquinas. This common ground between Balthasar and Aquinas recalls how, among Roman Catholics in the first part of this century, there was a sort of alliance among Catholic reformers-over against strains of Catholic traditionalisms-between some forms of Thomism and TD= Theodramatik, 4 vols. (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1973-83). T-D =Theo-drama: Theological Dramatic Theory, various translators, 5 vols. planned (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988-). TL= Theologik, 3 vols. (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1985-87). For a summary of Balthasar's trilogy on beauty and goodness and truth, see his Epilog (Einsiedeln/Trier: Johannes Verlag, 1987) as well as My Work: In Retrospect, trans. Cornelia CapoI (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993). BALTHASAR'S THEOLOGY OF AQUINAS 519 what was known as la nouvelle theologie (including Balthasar).2 It is this common ground that ought to make us wary of...


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