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  • Trinitarian Suffering and Divine Receptivity after Balthasar
  • Joshua R. Brotherton

In his treatment of God's relationship to evil, Hans Urs von Balthasar seeks to maintain a delicate balance between the kenoticist strain of contemporary theology and the traditional theology of divine immutability articulated by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and their disciples. Wishing to avoid both the "classical dogmatism" on divine impassibility and the putatively mythological excesses of modern passibilist accounts, Balthasar strives to incorporate contingent realities into God's immutable identity via the intradivine personal relations themselves as eternally enriching. Guy Mansini summarizes Balthasar's argument in the Theodramatik regarding the relationship between the Trinitarian God and the created world:

If creation is really to count and add something to God, if created freedom is to be in real dialogue with God, if the event of the Cross is really to matter to the interior life of God, then the reality of God must be such as to be an ever-more increasing event of Trinitarian exchanges.1

I concur with this straightforward interpretation. In what follows, I will attempt to decipher whether there might still be legitimate insight in Balthasar's treatment of divine suffering, despite his engagement with kenoticism. Thus, while I am still generally appreciative of the dialogue Balthasar's articulation generates, this essay will critically engage methodological [End Page 189] dimensions of his soteriology in dialogue with several of his interpreters and interlocutors.

One of the central Balthasarian theses is that the Trinitarian processions are constituted by what he calls ur-kenosis, or an original analogue to the love-filled suffering permeating Christ's redemptive work. Mark A. McIntosh comments on a passage from Das Endspiel:

[T]he divine Persons have themselves, on the Cross and in the Resurrection, revisited the alienated distance between human and God, emplotting it once more with the 'space' between the Father and the Son: 'The extreme distance between Father and Son, which is endured as a result of the Son's taking on of sin, changes into the most profound intimacy . . . The Son's eternal, holy distance from the Father, in the Spirit, forms the basis on which the unholy distance of the world's sin can be transposed into it, can be transcended and overcome by it' (TD4, 361-2; see also TH).2

Hence, pointing to the Father as the origin of Trinitarian surrender, Balthasar reflects:

Inherent in the Father's love is an absolute renunciation: he will not be God for himself alone. He lets go of his divinity and, in this sense, manifests a (divine) God-lessness (of love, of course). The latter must not be confused with the godlessness that is found within the world, although it undergirds it, renders it possible and goes beyond it.3 [End Page 190]

It is statements like these that lead some to believe that Balthasar is unduly influenced by Hegel, albeit via Moltmann and Bulgakov.4 But the matter is quite a bit more complicated. Not only does the distinction between the so-called immanent Trinity and economic Trinity play a significant role in the great debate concerning divine impassibility, but discourse on analogical and metaphorical predication also ought to figure into this complex question. Kevin Duffy, on the basis of contemporary Thomistic discussions, critiques Balthasar's peculiar attempt to combine metaphorical discourse and analogical predication.5 Therefore, I [End Page 191] will engage Duffy's argument in dialogue with defenders of Balthasar on this point.

Before investigating whether or not Balthasar's analogical discourse on Trinitarian suffering is coherent, it is necessary to probe briefly the disputed role of Hegelian dialectic in Balthasar's Christocentric approach. Cyril O'Regan has recently done a masterful job of exonerating Balthasar of the accusation that he is fundamentally Hegelian.6 I will argue that Balthasar borrows [End Page 192] more from kenoticism with respect to the Trinitarian being than is acceptable for the classical Christian theology of divine impassibility.7 Nevertheless, in the process of engagement he reaps legitimate insight into the profundity of divine suffering and into the very identity of God, if his discourse is effectively "de-mythologized" through rigorous philosophical parsing. Jacques Maritain's cursory treatment...


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