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  • The Anatomy of Misremembering: Von Balthasar's Response to Philosophical Modernity. Vol. 1, Hegel by Cyril O'Regan
  • William Desmond
The Anatomy of Misremembering: Von Balthasar's Response to Philosophical Modernity. Vol. 1, Hegel. By Cyril O'Regan. New York: Herder and Herder, 2014. Pp. xviii + 678. $36.91 (paper). isbn 978-0-8245-2562-0.

This is a magisterial book by a major theological scholar and thinker. It is focused in its central concerns and wide-ranging in its reference to theological and philosophical resources, contemporary and traditional. It is written with flourish and with the signatures of a distinctive style of intellectual orientation. It has the wide fling of extensive erudition and the sharp focus of intensive insight. It is a book which offers an education in itself, even as it illuminates diverse themes and thinkers, chief among which are Hans Urs von Balthasar and G. W. F. Hegel. One is tempted to compare it to a cathedral in its encompassing embrace, and while these thinkers are brought for dialogue and dispute on the high altar, there are many other side altars filled with the murmurs of other disputations and related discussions. In its range it is a treasury of theology, not in any loose sense of a mere collection of valuables but more literally as containing treasures for theological contemplation.

One senses an extraordinary ambition at work. Among the major concerns are the relations between philosophy and theology—philosophy especially in the extraordinarily challenging works of Hegel and Heidegger, theology in the form of the extraordinarily ambitious work of Balthasar. What are those relations, what form of those relations is preferable for theological investigation? [End Page 123] Some forms of philosophy are hospitable to theology, some not so. Some on the surface are hospitable but, like rip currents on a calm surface, hide secret dangers that might carry one away to places of doom. Others are more directly antagonistic; others again are insinuating of the sacred, and yet the insinuations carry potentially poisonous equivocities in relation to Christian theology in particular. The current volume has Hegel as Balthasar's major interlocuter, Hegel whose surface of philosophical hospitality towards Christianity hides a questionable speculative counterfeiting. The second volume, still to follow, will engage Heidegger as perhaps the equivocally insinuating interlocutor.

The question is if, and how, the theology of Balthasar illuminates the philosophies of Hegel and Heidegger in light of whether they are imperialistic projects which colonize theological discourse, either as a whole, as Hegel might be said to do, or in significant part, as Heidegger might be suspected of having done. A theology that wants to be true to the canonical theological tradition and maintain its faithful integrity must be wary of these thinkers and the inheritances of thinking that have come from their work.

The response to this question would not be some univocal negation of these thinkers but finessed comprehension of how their complex thought presents a temptation and an opportunity. In the work of Balthasar, O'Regan finds multiple resources to respond in ways that are both welcoming of what is to be recognized as worthy and standing against what is to be resisted. There is a diagnostic side to this, as well as a more positive rejoinder, the resources for which again are said to be found in the very wide-ranging, yet significantly focused theology of Balthasar.

Given that Balthasar's thought is spread out over many volumes, it is not an easy task to get the measure of his relation to Hegel via one or a few decisive texts of Hegel. O'Regan's claim is that Balthasar's entire triptych of Theological Aesthetics, Theodramatics, and Theologic (15 volumes in English) contains a sustained engagement with Hegel (and Heidegger). Hegel's philosophical and theological authority is proposed by O'Regan as the motivation for this engagement. This authority is carried by the comprehensiveness of this philosophy, in terms of both its incisive insights and its being in communication, at least in intention, with the history of Western philosophy as a whole. Hegel particularly was concerned with religion in general and Christianity in particular, attempting to transpose into...


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