Jesus Is Catholic | Hans Urs von Balthasar | From In The Fullness of Faith: On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic
Jesus must be Catholic, otherwise his Church, which follows him and is promised his fullness, could not be called Catholic. Being Catholic means embracing everything, leaving nothing out. How can an individual human being do this, even if he is the only begotten Son of God? We shall not explain this by theological speculation. It is something that can reveal itself to us only if, in the openness of faith, we let our eyes rest on his self-manifestation. He is the revelation of someone else, of the Father, who is "greater" than he, and yet with whom he is "one". This is the message of his words and his life.
He can reveal the Father in this way only through a twofold movement: he steps forward (with divine authority) in order to make the Father visible, and simultaneously he steps back (as the Suffering Servant) in order to reveal the Father, not himself. We must not fail to discern him in his mode of stepping back, for he is the only way to the Father. In other words, the Father reveals himself by revealing the Son; he gives himself by giving his Son: dando revelat, et revelando dat (Bernard). Nor must we cling to him in his stepping forth, for, in all the density of his flesh, his whole aim is to be transparent, revealing the heart of God. In the same breath he can say, "My flesh is food indeed" and "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail." We must not hedge him round with a pietistic Jesus-spirituality on the grounds that "only the Son knows the Father"; he is the Door, and a door is not for clinging to: it is for going through. He is "the way": we are not meant to stand still on it but walk along it, toward "my Father's house", which has "many rooms". And at the same time we do not leave these rooms and this path behind us, for Jesus is also the light of the world, the truth, the Resurrection, the presence of eternal life. But he is these things, not in his own power, but because he manifests the Father's love.
Lest we become completely confused and wearied by this riddle of his simultaneous stepping forward and stepping back, his appearances and disappearances, he goes beyond it: when he rises from the dead and goes back to the Father, he sends the Holy Spirit from the Father. This Holy Spirit is the one, whole, personal manifestation and confirmation of this baffling unity between Father and Son, the divine "We" that is more than the mere "I" and "Thou". It leads beyond the endless process of counting up, of supplementary definitions, to the reality of mutual presence and indwelling, without causing Father and Son to submerge in the Spirit. The Spirit comes to the aid of our helplessness in the face of the unity of opposites so clearly expressed in the gospel. He rewards us for not trying to resolve this apparent contradiction by our own efforts-for this would be to destroy the core of the Catholic reality: if we are to see things properly, we must include the opposite of what we have seen. It is not that what we see suddenly turns ("dialectically") into its opposite, but that in the lowliness of Jesus there is a direct revelation of his lofty nature; that in his severity we discern his mercy, etc.
And it is not that, in his human lowliness, he shows the greatness of the divine Father; it is not that his human severity prepares the way for the Father's compassion. Rather, his lowliness reveals the humiliation of the Father's love, and that shows his greatness. Thus, too, his human severity reveals the unshakable nature of the Father's love, and hence of its compassion. So, in the distinction between Father and Son, we discern simultaneously the unity of the divine essence, and, within it, the possibility of uniting those qualities that seem to us irreconcilable. The famous Catholic "and"--Scripture "and" Tradition, etc.--which is the object of Protestant criticism, has its true origin here, and here alone.
A Church can be Catholic only because God is Catholic first, and because, in Jesus Christ and ultimately in the Holy Spirit, this catholicity on God's part has opened itself to the world, simultaneously revealing and giving itself. The Spirit is "Person", the "We" in God: he provides the basis for the "we" that exists between God and ourselves, and hence too between men. But we would know and possess nothing of this if Jesus Christ had not stood at the alpha and omega of all God's ways in the world, as the form of revelation available to anyone who is open to it, i.e., is prepared to believe.
The Spirit Proves ... What Is Beyond Proof
The Spirit's chief quality, in obediently allowing himself to be sent out into the world by Father and Son, is his freedom. He blows whither he will and cannot be fixed in any particular form. He appears as a hovering presence (the "dove"), communication ("tongues"), devouring transformation ("flame"), a breeze that allows us to breathe deeply ("wind"). He "interprets" the mysterious figure of Jesus, revealing its divine being, its trinitarian dimensions, its mystery-quality; in this way the Spirit proves and "convicts" (Jn 16:8). He withdraws Jesus from all rationalistic incursions, and he also prevents Scripture (which he inspired), dogma (which interprets) and the Church's discipline from being swallowed up in purely worldly categories. He lends his wings to the Woman of the Apocalypse so that she may flee to the desert. He refuses to let himself be caught and domesticated, not even by pneumatic "methods" of prayer. We must not cling to Jesus, but let him ascend "to my Father and your Father"; only if we exhibit a readiness that stipulates no conditions can the Spirit, in his freedom, prove to us that the entire Catholic revelation-God, Christ, the Church- was and remains a project undertaken by the sovereign free love of God.
God's Love Is Catholic
God's love is ever greater; we can never catch up with it. It has no other ground but itself. It comes to us from ever further afield and goes forth to embrace wider vistas than I could ever imagine. That is why, in my limitedness, I always have to add an "and"; but what I thus "add" has always been there in the love of God.
When God, in sovereign freedom, enters into a world, he is not doing something else, something additional (as if God were Catholic in himself and became even more Catholic by bringing what is not-God, creation, into his totality); the Father of Jesus Christ is never any other than the Creator, who, showing them great care, carries all his creatures in his bosom. Everything temporal has its place within God's eternity. The Incarnation is not an episode in the life of God: the Lamb is slain from all eternity, and hence was born, grew up, and rose again from all eternity too. In itself, the adopting of human nature, with all its ignorance and limitation, into the divine nature is not an event in time, although the human nature so adopted, like ours, was something living and dying in time. (C. S. Lewis) Furthermore, the process of integrating creation into God's world (and within the time-dimension it really is a process: the lost sheep is searched for, carried home and put back into the flock) is always present in God's plan of salvation (cf. Eph 1 :1-10) as a complete design; it is carried out in a sequence that is unbreakable (cf. Rom 8:29f.) and in which neither human nor divine freedom is overplayed.
At the beginning there stands the "and" in "God and the world". In its abstractness, in this context of juxtaposition, however, it would not be a Catholic "and" unless it were contained, right from the outset, in the concrete "hyphen" represented by the incarnate Son (and he is more than a mere "mediator" between two parties: he is the One who creates unity: Gal 3:20) and the sending of the Holy Spirit, who brings everything to a conclusion (yet definitively opens everything up), enabling the creature to participate in the "divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4) as well as embracing it-as the divine "We"--in the community of the Trinity. This community cannot perfect itself apart from the mutual presence to one another of the divine Persons; equally, it cannot do without the reciprocity of God and his creature if it is to show forth its precious richness.
Just as this catholicity goes beyond a dialectic of reversed opposites, it also goes beyond a coincidentia oppositorum. Rather, it is an inclusion: nature is included in grace, the sinner is included in forgiving love, and all plans and purposes are included in a supreme gratis--"for nothing".
Urs von Balthasar (1905-88) was a Swiss theologian, considered to
one of the most important Catholic intellectuals and writers of the twentieth
century. Incredibly prolific and diverse, he wrote over one hundred books
and hundreds of articles. Read more
about his life and work in the Author's Pages section of IgnatiusInsight.com.
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