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SPCK Publishing. All profits go to our charitable work Order from us to support the promotion of Christian knowledge. In stock. ISBN grouped. Grouped product items Paperback. Out of stock. Add to Basket. Wish List. About our ebooks. To compare the Trinitarian perspectives of the Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth and of the Jesuit Hans Urs von Balthasar means engaging with the thought of two of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century.

Their long and intense friendship crossed the boundaries of confessional and theological differences, resulting in a fruitful intellectual debate. However, due to their difference in age, Barth was more influential on Balthasar than vice-versa: their respective standpoints are often indirectly linked by that of Erich Przywara , another Jesuit whose treatment of the analogia entis proved influential on both. Contemporary systematic theology is indebted to Barth and Balthasar especially for their contributions towards the recovered centrality of Trinity and Christology; however, Balthasar's book on Barth's theology 1 is focused rather on the debate about the analogy of Being and the analogy of Faith, to which I will return later.

Although Balthasar's account of Barth's thought sometimes rests on oversimplifications or faulty presumptions, 2 his book was highly appreciated by Barth himself, and still constitutes an exegetical milestone for the understanding of their respective theologies. In the following pages, I will attempt first to summarise the most important features of Barth's Trinitarian theology, and then to compare them with Balthasar's, outlining their points of convergence and Barth's influence on Balthasar, but also how Balthasar offers interesting alternatives to some of the most problematic aspects of Barth's theology.

In particular, I will be concentrating on Barth's collocation of his Trinitarian theology within the framework of his discussion of Revelation and the Word of God, as well as on his concept of the divine hypostases as "modes of being"; I will also compare Barth's and Balthasar's viewpoints on how Christ's suffering relates to inner-Trinitarian relationships, and on the Spirit's role in the immanent Trinity; and I will show how the two theologians' respective viewpoints on the divine processions and on God's creative activity influence their understanding of human freedom and obedience.

It is impossible to consider Barth's Trinitarian theology independently from his Christology and Pneumatology, as well as from his doctrine of revelation, of grace and election and of analogy. Moreover, there is little scholarly agreement on the consistency of his Trinitarian thought throughout the entire Church Dogmatics 3 : as I will discuss later, for some commentators two Trinitarian doctrines are found in his greatest theological accomplishment, whereas for others there is a non-contradictory evolution, and for still others his overall approach undergoes no significant change.

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Both the collocation of Barth's Trinitarian doctrine and this definition mirror one of his primary concerns: revelation cannot be considered as a set of propositions; natural theology cannot reach by itself any supernatural truth, and dogmatic theology should not start by metaphysical disquisitions regarding the divine essence, since, in revelation, God's unity is inseparable from his Trinity, as is God's being from his becoming.

The impossibility for human reason and natural theology to "reach God", for Barth, is ontological "we have no organ or capacity for God". Thus, revelation is never a human "discovery"; it is always the result of God's action, which creates faith and through it the knowledge of God in Christ.

By this, Barth approaches the inherently modern problem of epistemology in a thoroughly polemical fashion. The Trinity thus is theology's "ontic and noetic" basis, defining its "whole compass". Revelation is, for Barth, a true miracle of Grace, 15 which is constantly and continuously enacted by God, and is closely related to the miracle of reconciliation and atonement; 16 it is made possible within the mystery of God's Triunity, where God is, manifests himself and is known as Revealer, Revelation and Revealing.

He reveals Himself through Himself. He reveals Himself " 17 : the analysis of this statement, with the three different emphases, is for Barth at the root of the doctrine of the Trinity. This aspect is fundamental, otherwise Barth's theology could imply "that the Trinity exists for the sake of revelation and thus for the sake of our knowledge of God", 19 and thus represent a variety of modalism.

However, Barth distances himself also from a Rahnerian coincidence of immanent and economic Trinity, since this compromises both God's freedom 21 and his hiddenness, notwithstanding revelation. As stated above, for Barth God's trinity and his unity cannot be treated separately, since the God who reveals himself is the Triune God. Moreover, the conflicts between threeness and oneness only arise when philosophical considerations are added to the substance of faith, 22 and, properly speaking, "even numerical predication with respect to God is strictly metaphorical in nature".

One of the most distinctive and debated features of Barth's Trinitarian theology is his use of the term Seinsweise 26 , "mode of being", instead of the traditional "person" for the divine hypostases. God's eternal self-differentiation is therefore the root of incarnation, and thus is in "the eternal act in which God elects himself for the human race" 30 : generation and procession are willed by God, and are paradoxically grounded in his eternal decision for the covenant of grace.

The mutual indwelling perichoresis of the three "modes of being" guarantees both the unity of God 31 and his self-knowledge, imparted to humankind by grace, within the active relationship among the hypostases. Conversely, through "appropriation" Barth can differentiate the characterising actions of the three divine "persons" without denying the fundamental unity of their being and operating. However, this theory is still debated. Barth's Trinitarian theology has been defined as "epistemologically Christocentric".

This brings us to a crucial question: how does election relate to the immanent Trinity? The logos ensarkos , " pro-nobis ", is within God's "inner being", 39 where Jesus' historical event pre-exists eternally in God. This implies that the election of Jesus Christ is part of God's eternal life, as is the "divine-human history enacted in Jesus".

Myers goes as far as to define Jesus as "the free necessity of God's deity". A similar problem is posed by the role of Christ's suffering within the immanent Trinity, and how it can be harmonised with God's immutability. Analogous problems apply to the relationship between the Son's divine nature and Christ's humility and obedience. Here Barth's statements are more unequivocal, but not less problematic: "the one God is both [ The main point, however, is that if obedience is a "pre-eminent characteristic" of the man Jesus, it should also be "a disposition predicable of the Son as such", 53 and thus become "essential to God" 54 : otherwise, the danger of modalism lies in ambush.

Indeed, Barth is rather clear in stating that Christ's humility is "a free choice made [ It is striking, nevertheless, that this most troubling moment of Christ's life becomes for Barth a qualifying element of the Father's life, who is "revealed" in and through Good Friday, i.


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These harsh and somehow disturbing statements should be interpreted within the framework of Barth's indebtedness to Anselm's theology: although Anselm's perspective emphasises the spontaneous and voluntary character of Christ's sacrifice, the concept of "satisfaction" is notoriously problematic when transferred "from devotion to dogmatics" 60 and can imply a latent pluralist Trinitarian concept.

However, we should not forget the stress laid by Barth on the fact that the Father and the Son, the One who "decrees in majesty" and the One who "submits in humility" are "the same", 62 and that we should avoid projecting a human sense on the words "command" and "obedience"; 63 instead as Balthasar will state more clearly , they should rather be read in terms of the Son's eternal generation by the Father although this can imply, in turn, a confusion between the willed act of election and the divine processions. Since Barth never completed a structured "doctrine of Redemption" the "future of reconciliation", operated by the Spirit , 67 the characterising features of his Pneumatology should be traced to his Trinitarian and Christological expositions.

At the level of revelation, the Spirit enables our speech about Christ and our capacity of hearing the Word, and he realises the "miracle" of faith. Within the immanent Trinity, the Spirit is defined by Barth as the "common factor" of the other two hypostases, "not in so far as they are the one God, but in so far as they are the Father and the Son". This primordial communion acquires a dramatic dimension with the Son's incarnation: the Spirit effects and maintains the "communio naturarum " between Christ's divinity and humanity, as well as the union between Jesus and God.

Through Christ, the Spirit also realises our union with God, and operates the "impartation" of revelation to believers: thus "the saving work of the Spirit is Trinitarian in ground, Christocentric in focus, miraculous in operation, communal in content, eschatological in form, diversified in application, and universal in scope". As concerns the procession of the Spirit, Barth is adamant in his defence of the filioque clause, whose denial would compromise the very "unity of the Trinity". In particular, he wrote that "Even if the Father and the Son might be called 'person' in the modern sense of the term , the Holy Spirit could not possibly be regarded as the third 'person'" 78 : an obscure assertion, throwing a sinister light on his Pneumatology.

Moreover, it has been feared that Barth's view might adumbrate "a model of two subsistents linked by a quality", 79 with a latent pluralism and diminution of the triadic structure: a problem which might invalidate, in Williams' opinion, the entire structure of Barth's Trinitarian doctrine.

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Notwithstanding these concerns, the Trinitarian structure of Barth's theology shapes his ecclesiological and moral doctrine as well. The Church is called to participate in the Triune God's supreme communion through Christ and in the Spirit, and thus is engaged in the divine perichoresis which allows the disclosure of God's self-knowledge. Moreover, the Church is the temporal figure of the relationship between humanity and the Triune God as Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer; 83 the divine triunity also shapes the structure of Barth's theological ethics. This is derived from the Bible only indirectly: the revelation shapes Barth's incarnational Christology, enabling him to propose a Trinitarian theology, which in turn forms the model for human and social behaviour and has also political consequences.

Thus, Barth does not build an abstract ethical model just as he did not erect his Trinitarian dogmatics outside the revelation framework , but suggests that human actions should be determined by our condition toward the Triune God, i. In order to engage properly with Barth's theology, it would be necessary to be familiar with the unity of his thought, to have a culture and perceptiveness comparable with his, and to be able to discern between the transient and the definitive aspects of his theologising.

I cannot claim to fulfil any of these criteria. A first problematic aspect regards Barth's theological style, which has sometimes been charged of excessive assertiveness. However, since Trinitarian dogmatics is not found explicitly within the biblical testimony, and since Barth does not give great importance to the interaction between the Scripture and the Church's tradition 86 and worship, the risk of potential arbitrariness seems to be lurking.

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Similarly, and especially as concerns such subjects as the immanent Trinity, a certain tendency to "revelation positivism" and a lack in the "apophatic" 87 as well as the mystical dimension have been observed. For example, Torrance rightly questions Barth's choice of electing revelation instead of worship as the root of his Trinitarian theology.

A similar issue is encountered regarding Barth's reductive treatment of human freedom as regards the acceptance of revelation and the relationship with God 89 : as Williams correctly suggests, one of the paradoxes of Christ's incarnation is precisely God's "self-surrender" to humanity. Another frequent criticism concerns two apparently opposing risks in the treatment of the immanent Trinity, i. On the other hand, the reduction of the Spirit to a "nexus " might create a dialectical polarisation of Father and Son, 92 leading to a potential pluralism.

Of course, as mentioned before, Barth opposed the concept of "personality" as referring to any individual Seinsweise. However, his statements on the Spirit being "less personal" than the other two, and the potential reduction of the Spirit to a "quality" 93 do not dispel all suspicions. Moreover, there are some ambiguities or unusual attributions among the Trinitarian appropriations proposed by Barth. Paradoxically, notwithstanding the overwhelming importance given by Barth to the concept of revelation, the relationship between Father and Son seems not to coincide with that described in the Gospel.

The term "Lord" is normally applied to Christ: characterising the Son only by his obedience and humility seems to contradict the glorious status given by the Father to him. Indeed, what characterises the Son as such within the immanent Trinity is his being begotten, and this begetting has never been understood as a form of subordinationism in orthodox theology.

True, Barth suggests this correlation of obedience and begetting, 98 but the stress laid in the Son's humiliation and compliance is much stronger and evident. Related with this topic is the feeling of a certain lack of relationality between the divine hypostases, 99 especially in consideration of the rather abstract quality of the expression Seinsweise.

Clearly enough, Barth aimed at avoiding the risks of social trinitarianism and pluralism; however, just as "one cannot pray to a mode", the relational dynamics within a Trinity of "modes of being" may appear slightly understated. Similarly, Barth's use of the term "form" to describe the Son's generation seems to insert a distinction between substance and form in the divine nature; and the "alternative" suggestion of a Trinity made of "Revealer, Revelation and Revealing" appears to be slightly anthropocentric, almost as if God's self-differentiation was instrumental to his revelation to humanity.

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As mentioned before, Barth explicitly rejected this possibility; however, his lexical choices are not unambiguous here. The eternal dimension of the Trinity seems to be conditioned by the temporal necessity of revelation; similarly, if God's "Lordship" is one of the temporal names of God, Barth's derivation of the immanent Trinity from the analysis of the statement that "God is the Lord" seems to pose the same problem. On the other hand, Barth's theology has often been reproached with an insufficient appraisal of creation and of the created world, which seems to be marked, in his view, by a radical negativity.

Certain statements in CD support a concept of God in which he appears as the "author of sin", and unquestionably there seems to be no "active power of evil" to be defeated by the crucified and risen Christ. Of course, the risk of Manichaeism in the opposition of good and evil is constantly lurking, and the Barthian view of sin is consistent with his adoption of an Anselmian theology of atonement instead of the Patristic interpretation of the "Christus Victor". However, Barth's insistence on the radical fallenness of humanity, on the absolute incapacity for humanity to know God and on the inherence of Jesus's atoning sacrifice within the immanent Trinity seem to suggest that original sin is more radical than the "original innocence" in which God, according to the Bible, created human beings.

Apparently, the created man as such is not "capax Dei", capable of a relationship with God which obviously means neither to comprehend or "objectify" him, nor to be able to know him outside a relationship with him. Finally, it should be said that in several instances the problematic issue is the form of Barth's thought rather than its content: thus, the word "mode" in Seinsweise unavoidably suggests a modalist approach although it has been abundantly shown that it was neither what Barth had in mind nor what he wrote in his theology ; the words "obedience" and "command" should not be interpreted in a human sense, but nevertheless convey a strong implication of distinct if not contrasting wills.

As we will see, although Balthasar adopts several important features of Barth's theology, the semantic shift caused by their different lexical choices often produced significant theological results. Although all comparisons between the theologies of Barth and Balthasar should constantly take into account Balthasar's own discussion of Barth's theology, it can by no means constitute the only basis for contrasting their respective Trinitarian perspectives.

Balthasar's discussion of the analogy of being in his book on Barth is certainly relevant to Trinitarian topics as I will discuss later , but its primary focus is neither on the method applied by Barth to his Trinitarian theology nor on its content. Indeed, Balthasar himself lists Barth's Trinitarian approach among the subjects on which a "clear convergence" is found between the Barthian viewpoint and his, and he repeatedly emphasises that Barth's theology precisely in its Trinitarian foundation is directed against Schleiermacher rather than against the Catholic perspective.

Thus, Balthasar's Trinitarian theology is surely indebted to Barth's on some crucial points most significantly, as we will see, the diastasis , and the very focus given to Trinitarian topics throughout his opus ; however, Balthasar's erudition and his flexible use of scriptural, traditional, mystical and literary sources do not prevent his thought from being very original -- too much so, for some of his critics. Indeed, the sources of Balthasar's Trinitarian theology are rooted within the Patristic tradition especially Irenaeus, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor , and in the medieval theology of Richard of St.

Victor and Aquinas. Balthasar draws upon Richard's painstaking refusal of any form of tritheism and on his definition of the divine hypostases as different "modes of procession". In Richard's wake, Balthasar stresses the relational element and prefers exsistentia instead of substantia , since the former indicates both being and procession. Thus, in harmony with Barth, Balthasar maintains that the only possible access to the mystery of the Trinity is within "its Revelation in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit". However, the Barthian theme of a "tension" between God's hiddenness and revelation is developed by Balthasar within the framework of an incarnational discourse from the one side, and of his treatment of the analogia entis on the other.

Thus, Christ is the centre of Balthasar's method, as the Trinity is its goal, and a merely analogical discourse on the Trinity is doomed to failure if it is not inherently Christocentric.

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Balthasar's response to Barth's refusal of the analogia entis had a precise aim, i. For Balthasar, Barth was not disagreeing with the Catholic perspective on the analogy of being as such, but rather with his own mis interpretation of this same doctrine. For Barth, the Catholic interpretation of the analogia entis was almost idolatrous, since to posit the category of "being" as a common feature of both Creator and creature was akin to establish "Being" as a divine subject "prior" to God.

Consistently with his position, Barth as previously discussed contested the role of natural theology and philosophy, as well as all attempts to "reach God from below" among which the Catholic approach to the vestigia Trinitatis. The role of Balthasar's discussion of analogy within the relationships between his own Trinitarian theology and Barth's is crucial, as it raises not only methodological questions e.

Balthasar's position, elaborated in dialogue with Barth's, is at the same time the simplest and the highest possible: the true analogia entis "is" Jesus Christ. On the other hand, and with equal importance, "the possibility of distance between creature and God" is grounded and contained within the difference inherent in the Trinity, and this in turn has fundamental implications for the theology of creation and of the created world's goodness. In harmony with tradition, Balthasar describes the relationships of procession and generation within the immanent Trinity as the Father's giving "all that is His, including His divinity, to the Son" : this is an active and eternally present process, instead of a "rigid block of identity" bestowed once and for all.

However, this "gift" is characterised by a strongly kenotic perspective, in which a dimension of "risk" and suffering is more than implicit : the Father's generation of the Son is the primordial kenosis, characterising love by sacrifice even within God's life it is a "self-devastation", in Bulgakov's forceful expression. Balthasar writes about the reciprocal self-surrender and mutual "deference" of Father and Son, happening in the Son's generation to which the Son "consents", "allowing" the Father to realise his Fatherhood and in His Eucharistic offering on the cross.

The Father's eternal self-determination to generate the Son and to create the world is "proper" to his very identity there is no logical possibility to think of something "prior" to this determination : God's distancing Himself from Himself embraces and founds all differences in the created world, whose very possibility is "grounded in [ This differentiation is neither an alienation nor a "multiplication", but it is rather a gift of freedom: through the "groundlessness of freedom in the generation of such total otherness" Balthasar gives a new and fascinating interpretation to the dogma of God's creation "out of nothing".

The Spirit thus is the One who bridges the "distance" between Father and Son, as well as the One by whose grace the distance from creature to Creator is overcome : the span of this bridged distance is therefore so inclusive that Christ's taking the place of the condemned sinner encompasses even the reality of sin itself and transforms His dereliction into the supreme Eucharistic thanksgiving.

Another highly original point of Balthasar's Trinitarian theology is his view of so-called "Trinitarian inversion", i. For Balthasar, indeed, Christ's mission including his suffering and rejection is identical with the Son's generation : with Aquinas, Balthasar posits the coincidence of intradivine processio and extra-divine missio from the viewpoint of the divine Persons. This has however another noteworthy consequence: it is Christ's cross which reveals the Trinity as love, but as a kenotic and somehow "suffering" love. The immanent Trinity's diastasis is therefore the condition for Balthasar's idiosyncratic understanding of Holy Saturday.

All the sins of humankind are "transferred" upon him, who experiences the Father's wrath and curse, so that they both feel the Trinity as "destroyed"; however, the Spirit's bond encompasses even this infinite distance, and thus sin itself is enclosed within the divine love. Balthasar's highly controversial, although somehow fascinating view, has been seen by some famously by Pitstick as a heterodox contradiction of the Church's understanding of Holy Saturday; at the very least, Balthasar's confidence in depicting the immanent Trinity's life and the Descent is rather unsettling.

Within a Trinitarian concept construed on gift, thanksgiving and kenosis, the Eucharist becomes the "stage" of Balthasar's "theo-dramatic" : Balthasar adopts theatrical metaphors to indicate the "roles" of the divine Persons representing the Father as the "author", the Son as the "actor" and the Spirit as the "director". Through these analogies, Balthasar achieves a theological framework in which immanent and economic Trinity, as well as the history of salvation in which the Father's "script" is "his own bending-down to the suffering creature in the form of Son and Spirit" , are organically conceived.


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Within this Eucharistic perspective, the ecclesiological dimension of responsiveness, modelled on the Son's, is crucially taken into account: Balthasar's kenotic perspective stresses that this obedience is a feature of the Triune God. Indeed, Balthasar himself states that Christ's obedience and sacrifice draw the Church and mankind "into the interior space of the Trinity" : the immanent Trinity's mutual gift of love constitutes, in Christ, the basis for the analogous although "immeasurably dissimilar" self-donation of human beings.

It should have become evident, by now, that Balthasar's Christological and Trinitarian theology is often very close to Barth's, and is frequently strongly indebted to his viewpoint. However, their differences are all the more significant as the similarities are striking. For both, indeed, the economic and the immanent Trinity are "mutually interpretative", and in both authors Christ's kenosis in which dereliction and divine nature can coexist, within "God's Trinitarian suffering in Christ" is "the form of the intratrinitarian relations".

This shared Christocentric approach, however, does not prevent Balthasar from criticising what he refers to as Barth's "Christomonism", i.

Thus, Balthasar's Trinitarian and Christological framework inspires the shape of his Pneumatology. Therefore, the Spirit operates in creation, to which he gives life, bearing witness that God's nature is in the "gift of otherness"; within the Church, moreover, the Spirit gives testimony to the Son's revelation of the Father's truth, i.

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