Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Von Balthasar in the Ascendant

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Von Balthasar in the Ascendant

Article excerpt

In Philosophy 101 one learns that all of Western thought, in a certain sense, can be divided into followers of Plato and of Aristotle. Likewise, the basic options in Roman Catholic theology after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) can be expressed in terms of a choice between two German-speaking sons of Ignatius Loyola: Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

If the Rahnerians held the upper hand for the first 20 years, the Balthasarians dominate today, at least in terms of official church teaching and policy.

Rome in the last month has offered unmistakable evidence of the point, from a consistory in which two more disciples of von Balthasar entered the College of Cardinals, to a conference at the Lateran University where von Balthasar's influence on a slew of high-profile prelates and theologians was palpable.

Expressing the difference between Rahner and von Balthasar is not easy, but one way to do so is in terms of attitudes toward "the world." Rahner stressed the presence of grace at the deepest level of every human being--the so-called "supernatural existential." Von Balthasar saw an "analogy of being" between God and humanity which placed more distance between the two and thus left room, he felt, for greater realism about sin. Rahner was a basic optimist about culture, so much so that von Balthasar once accused him of negating the necessity of the crucifixion. Rahnerians tend to take as their charter Vatican II's document on the church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes, while Balthasarians often see that text, and especially subsequent interpretations of it, as dangerously naive. …

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