Academic journal article Theological Studies

Psychological Analogy and Paschal Mystery in Trinitarian Theology

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Psychological Analogy and Paschal Mystery in Trinitarian Theology

Article excerpt

Trinitarian theology is enjoying a surge of interest and creativity in contemporary Roman Catholic theology and from a variety of theological perspectives.(1) Works on the Trinity present considerable differences in approach and emphasis. A common characteristic feature of many of the newly emerging trinitarian theologies, however, is their rejection of the psychological analogy, the linchpin of the classical Latin treatment, which took human acts of intellect and will as a way of explicating the mystery of the Trinity and the immanent processions.(2) Another characteristic feature is a very strong emphasis on the personal, relational, and social aspect of being, as well as its ramifications for human being, coupled with the rejection of any hint of an essentialist metaphysics that accords priority to categories of substance over categories of relation.(3)

Hans Urs von Balthasar stands as something of a maverick in the field. So captivated by the sheer mystery of the Trinity as revealed in Jesus, he seems quite unconcerned for its social applications and economic and political ramifications.(4) Instead, he offers a profoundly inspired and highly evocative reflection on the Trinity as it is revealed in the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. Based on that reflection, he rejects the classical psychological analogy and seeks instead to explicate God's being, including the trinitarian processions, not in classical terms of absolute being, Actus Purus, and its acts of intellect and will, but rather in terms, as revealed in the paschal mystery, of the self-emptying, self-sacrificing, and intrinsically dynamic nature of love, not Ipsum Esse Subsistens but Ipsum Amare Subsistens. A sophisticated critique of Augustinian-Thomistic trinitarian theology pervades Balthasar's work.(5) In his rejection of the psychological analogy, Balthasar meets what one might call the "social models" of trinitarian theology that are currently enjoying considerable popularity.(6) In contrast to them, however, it is doxology, not praxis, that is Balthasar's primary concern. Faith, according to him, is first of all an esthetic act; it is a seeing or a beholding of the glow of the Lord, before it is a believing and before it finds expression in praxis.(7) Balthasar would have us turn and behold Jesus Christ in his paschal mystery and therein find the icon of the triune God. There the glory of our trinitarian God is revealed. Balthasar would persuade us that all other analogies and models simply pale into insignificance in relation to the revelation of the glory of inner-trinitarian love that is given in the person of Jesus Christ in his paschal mystery.

My aim here is to reflect on Balthasar's extraordinary contribution to trinitarian theology in the light of its classical Latin form and the psychological analogy that has for centuries enjoyed unrivalled hegemony as the classical explanation for the trinitarian processions. That Balthasar's trinitarian theology does not connect in any obvious way with its classical Latin form is perplexing. How can one understand the relationship between the two? Is Balthasar's virtuosic contribution a brilliant but passing shooting star in the theological sky? Where does it stand methodologically? Why has it emerged only at this recent stage of the tradition, oddly contemporaneous with the development of more socially and politically oriented models for trinitarian theology, with which it otherwise has little in common other than the rejection of the psychological analogy? Although Balthasar, together with proponents of the social models for trinitarian theology, rejects the psychological analogy, does this imply that the psychological analogy is utterly obsolete? Or do its medieval metaphysical wrappings perhaps conceal a precious pearl of trinitarian truth there to be retrieved, one that would in fact lend leverage to the urgent contemporary desire to have trinitarian theology motivate us to social engagement and action for justice in our world, and one that would perhaps offer an important complement, even corrective, to Balthasar's theology? …

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