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This little volume will come as a surprise even to avid readers of Father von Balthasar's other translated works. The religious ardor of the poet-
theologian usually evades us with all the pure serenity of a volcano under snow. But in revealing to the Heart of the World he could not do less than bare
his own heart. The poetic form of the work, in particular, strikes us with it intimate tone. ...
Who could hesitate to say that the constant theme of Balthasar's theology is the abyss of God's love? And what other subject, by its native beauty, could prove
a greater challenge to aesthetic creativity? But nowhere does he explore the unifying might of faith with more urgency than in Heart of the World,
for here we cannot escape the stern beauty of that Face whose every glance heals and saves.
The austere lyricism of these meditations is no external embellishment, added to the dogmatic substance so as to make it more enticing. Perhaps the
key to all of von Balthasar's work, and his principal contribution to modern Christian theology, is the rediscovery and practical application of the
axiom unquestioned by either Scripture or the Fathers: the strict unity existing between the transcendental content and the perceivable form of
revelation. God manifests his eternal love for us not behind the Scriptures, the sacraments, the magisterium, but within them. In the
last analysis, if the beauty of the Christian faith is an intrinsic and indispensable aspect of the divine economy, it is not because a certain
(romanticizing) school of theology chooses to see it as such. It is because in this beauty we confront nothing other than the radiance of the incarnate
Word himself. ...
Heart of the World deserves a place next to the Imitation of
Christ. Especially in passages where Christ speaks to the soul, Father von
Balthasar shows himself a worthy successor to Thomas à Kempis. Both works combine an intense personal piety with a precise awareness of the believer's
position as child and servant of Christ's Church. And if I add that they both speak "from the heart," I do not mean that they typify the tradition of
subjective pietism, but that they are ruthlessly honest in not falsifying for a moment the anguish and the mortal risks which the disciple shares with
the rest of men. For Balthasar, as for Kempis and all genuine Christians, the saint is first and foremost the one who renders constant thanks for having
been loved and who never forgets the misery of once not havin gloved or let God love. ...
From "The Translator's Note" to Heart of the World, by Erasmo S. Leiva
The Conquest of the Bride | Hans Urs von Balthasar | From
Heart of the World
My kingdom is invisible, but I want to establish you, my Bride, before the eyes of
men so visibly that no one will be able to overlook you. I want to raise you up like the brazen serpent in the desert, like the rock against
which hell itself is dashed to pieces, like Mount Tabor over whose peak the shining
cloud hovers, and like the Cross that casts its shadow over all lands the
blazon of my victory in failure.
I want to establish you upon iron foundations,
and your structure is to be a true and distinctive sign that I am setting up a
memorial to myself upon the earth. You will be my witness to the very edge of
the world, a witness that I was in the world, and I will not forsake you until
the end of time. You will be a sign of contradiction among the peoples, and no
one will even as much as whisper your name, O my Church, without shuddering. Over
you men will have to part their ways, for many will love you and squander everything
for you, but very many will hate you, and these will swear an oath not to rest
until they have exterminated you from the land of men. And you will be despised
like no man or thing, except myself, has ever been despised on earth. They will
stand in line for the privilege of spitting in your face, of wiping off on your
garments the mud from their shoes.
On all walls they will scrawl caricatures
of your mystery, and in the bars, writhing with laughter, they will sing obscene
songs about you. They will set you in the pillory and, after they have bound and
gagged you, they will accuse you of every vulgarity and demand that you wash yourself
clean. No means will be left untried to bring you under suspicion and every
one of your shortcomings will be inflated to monstrous proportions. You will know
hard times, nor will there be any assigned place for you. Wherever the path seemed
to lie open before you, you will, before long, find a landslide and a roadblock,
or perhaps a wall.
"Impossible!", you will say. You will have to live on earth,
yet without possessing a home. You will have to acquaint yourself with both the
good and the evil customs of every people and with all of men's distresses. But,
although you will be in their midst, men will make sure to exclude you from both
their trust and their confidence. They will let you feel that you remain the
foreigner in the house, at best tolerated, never truly loved. No matter what you
may attempt in order to make yourself of service, they will not be satisfied.
If you make yourself one of them, they will scorn you; and, if you keep to yourself,
they will say: "You see, she knows herself where she belongs. Let's then put an
end to the affair and drive her out once and for all."
For a time it will seem
as though you have attained to well-being and success among them. They will rally
around your banner and make themselves at home in the great shadow of your cathedrals.
Your word will be their nourishment and your blessing will transfigure their lives.
But then it will be as if your children had outgrown the milk of your breasts.
The more clever among them will shake themselves loose of your heavenly bonds,
and the avalanche of their apostasy will gain momentum through the centuries,
until the masses, inexorably dragged along by this irresistible pull towards the
earth, will also desert your fold.
You who wanted to gather up humanity in
order to present it to me as the one fruit in the libation-cup of your prayer:
See how you now stand leafless like a tree in the autumn. No harvest has been
brought in, and the commandment to go forth which burns within your heart is today
still less fulfilled than on the first day when you set out. At that time everything
was still possible, even in the midst of the heathen's immense darkness. A
light had gone up, and all faces turned automatically towards this New Thing.
But now it seems as though your song is becoming a hurdy-gurdy. Whenever you appear
in a street all windows are shut, and the little which people's ears nonetheless
still unwillingly perceive excites in them nothing but disgust and infinite boredom.
You can no longer conceal the disgrace of having failed totally, of having
lost the game for good. People's distress may still fill a couple of your bombed-out
churches... But just wait for the day of prosperity to return and you will be
more forgotten than a corpse of a thousand years. You have not recognized the
signs of the time. The rushing stream of love that you once released over a thirsty
world (the slave raised up a hopeless eye, women lifted their veils, all the disinherited
felt the breath of a more-than-earthly mercy): this rushing stream, I say, is
now dammed up.
Your administrators stingily dole out through well-run pipe-systems
and institutions the precious liquid of my grace. The bark of the tree which once
blossomed in the wild has now turned to cork. You have become such an established
household that even the catastrophic storms of the times, and persecution rattling
at your gates and windows, can hardly awaken you from sleep, and a slap in your
face can elicit from you but an embarrassed smile. Disgrace covers the length
of you, all the more poignantly as you try to deny it, pretending nothing is amiss.
So there you stand, my Bride, truly a sign over the peoples at which fingers
point, a widely known but little loved sign. Your failure redounds to me, since
on your account my name, too, is blasphemed among the heathen. Many a man who
sought me with a sincere heart came to a terrified halt on his way as he suddenly
caught sight of you, and he turned away. And many a one who saw how troublesome
is the life of your faithful, how little redeemed they appear to be, how pitifully
the glow of their hearts smothers under the ashes, how strictly they judge the
world while being themselves secretly full of the world; has turned resolutely
to the innocence of the heathen.
It is not your love - that overcomes
the world which is a scandal to them; for that is a scandal which you should
give! Their scandal, rather, is your luke-warmness and your unbridled lack of
love. You were meant to be for men an image of the unity between me and the
Father, and it was for this that I sent you our Holy Spirit, the bond of unifying
love; for this it was that I established you on the all-embracing unity of baptism,
doctrine, and the uninterrupted succession from Peter to John Paul II. Your very
essence is unity, and each of the tokens by which you are recognized and by which
you can prove your identity is founded on unity.
And you will not succeed in
falling away from this unity. You will not succeed because I myself put this unity
within you and burnt this indelible mark into you. You will not succeed because
I have entered into you with my Spirit and, as your one heart, I move you towards
unity from within. But you are always in a state of revolt against yourself.
No people is more torn asunder than yours, none so pervaded by discord down to
the very foundations. Every person within you who holds an office, everyone who
has charge of a mission or who administers a task I have given him, constantly
tends to consider the part that he is as if it were the whole. He sees the small
wheel he turns as if it were the power that moves everything else, or the worthless
service he performs as if it were indispensable.
All of you are members, and
as members all of you should serve so as to complete one another, thankful that
your brothers possess what you yourself do not have. in the love which does not
seek its own you would possess the whole. For I am the whole, I who am the Head
of the Body and the soul which unifies it. But no! Down the centuries you quarrel
over the better places, forever tearing up and mangling my Body to the bone. And
when you do not succeed in tearing a whole member, a whole land, away from the
community of the Church, when you, blinded by spite, do not set up a new
the thousandth! sect alongside my real house, then you strive, insatiable
and agitating burrowers that you are, to hollow out like mice the walls within
the house, and like moles to shake the foundations.
Your priests' enviousness
has become proverbial, and the fights among your Orders, the rivalries among your
organizations, make them the subject of derision. Each individual thinks his own
limited program is the best and only valid one, and so the members become detached
from one another and my holy, life-giving Blood can no longer flow through them.
Long before a new part of your house caves in, long before an external schism
is sealed, the sap of love has already become stagnant within; stealthy heresy
and omnivorous sin have already made the terrible events inevitable.
with you, my Body, that I am forever fighting the great, apocalyptic battle. Whatever
remains far from me and my heart is nothing but hollow flesh, lost in itself.
But I do not find it difficult to save such flesh: it puts up no resistance and
lets itself in due time be brought into the fold. Whoever stands closer to
me, however, has been initiated into my mystery and, belonging to my Body, perceives
the throbbing of my Heart as it resounds throughout the Body's internal vaulting:
this person has received the Spirit and is, therefore, awake and able to choose
freely. Only he truly knows the meaning of sin.
Thus, I am endangered within
my own Body; it is within me that my deadly enemy lies in wait. I have suckled
a snake at my breast, a worm that does not die. In this, too, have I become like
you: just as temptation rises within you from your own flesh, so, too, does the
deepest threat leap up against me from my own flesh. The spirit is willing and
strong, but the flesh is weak, and where the spirit borders on the flesh it is
vulnerable, having come to terms with weakness. That is a borderline where the
spirit has always betrayed itself, giving itself away.
For, if the spirit had
nothing of flesh, how could it come to form one being with the flesh? In the same
way, I, the strong God, have betrayed myself to you my Body, my Church
and in the place where I did this I became weak: there alone could I be
wounded to the death. In that place I yielded, I surrendered to the temptation
of loving a body within my own Body (for who can hate his own flesh?); the temptation
of delivering myself up to the obscure chaos of a body, of plunging below the
shiny surface of the flesh; the temptation of passing over into this world
this simmering darkness, opposed to the Father's light; the temptation, I say,
of passing over into this adventure of the senses, into this unknown virgin forest
Just as you, passionately, with throbbing pulse, cross over
temptation's boundary, so, too, have I crossed over the boundary of the flesh
with a quivering heart, fully conscious of the danger. I dared to enter the body
of my Church, the deadly body which you are. For the spirit is mortal only within
its own body. And so, from now on, we are no longer two but, together, only
one flesh which loves itself and which struggles and wages battle with itself
even to the point of death. For your sake I became weak, since I could experience
your being only in weakness.
No wonder you realized your advantage over me
and took my nakedness by storm! But I have defeated you through weakness and my
Spirit has overpowered my unruly and recalcitrant flesh. (Never has woman made
more desperate resistance!) In order to put a seal on my victory and exploit my
triumph, I have engraved a mark upon you, O my flesh: on your carnal weakness
I have engraved the mark of my own carnal weakness, and on your sin the mark of
Never again will your sinful battle against me be anything other than
the long wrestling of love. This is the meaning I confer upon it, and now it can
have no other meaning. Precisely because you, O wretched one, knowingly sin against
love, precisely for that reason is your sin enfolded by my love. And because I,
who am at once Spirit and Love, am myself the battlefield between God and the
world, the battle is already and eternally won in me. Our wrecked covenant
- our blood-wedding, the red wedding of the Lamb - is already, here and
now, the white bridal bed of divine love.
Do what you will, you remain the
captive of love. I raised you up, wild one, when you were struggling and weltering
in your own blood. I have washed you in the bath of my Blood, in the water-bath
of my baptism and in the Word of Life, and I have fashioned for myself a glorious
Church, without blemish or wrinkle, holy and unspotted. You may behave like
a wanton courtesan and daily betray me with another: still, you will never be
what you in this way pretend to be. For all eternity you are my pure Body and
my chaste Spouse. I am going to clothe your disgrace with such holiness that the
aroma of your garments will fill the whole earth, and no one will be able to deny
that he has really and bodily sensed your fragrance.
I will deposit such love
into your hands love for you to distribute that your name among
the peoples will be called "The Lovable" and "Love's Watchtower." And I will put
in your heart such concern for the world and for my lost sheep that the dull herd
will smell their shepherd and run to you almost against their will. The insults
which you are preparing for me will not be as great as the disgrace that I will
bestow upon you from the treasury of my Cross. The mockery they will pile upon
you will be nothing compared with the mockery I will entrust to you as my precious
gift and my priceless wedding present, taken from the storehouse of my divine
The inglorious weakness with which, in this century of collapse,
you stand before the world unable to transform it: this weakness is already a
part of the mystery of my own inglorious weakness, for when was I ever strong
enough to renew the face of this exterior world? Thus, it is my will to give you
a worth which does not properly belong to you, and to fashion you solely from
the might of my heart, as Eve was fashioned from Adam's rib.
The source of
your life, O Church, is both a demand and a promise. Live not from yourself: live
solely in me and from me. Think of yourself no longer as of the one you used to
be. Think no longer of your heart, but rather let my Heart alone be sufficient
for you the heart which I have planted in the center of your body. You
ought, in this way, to be my Bride and my Body, and it is my will to redeem the
whole world in you, exclusively in you. Be my handmaid. Renounce your will and
nestle, like Ruth, at my feet. Become obedient even to death.
Be for the world
my embodied obedience, shown forth visibly and sensibly throughout all ages. Be
so obedient that to say "Church" will be to say "obedience"; for redemption is
found in obedience, and whoever proclaims me must depict my obedience even to
the death on the cross. Thus it is that I want to exalt you to be Queen of the
World, and all peoples and ages will have to bow before you. You, however, yourself
obeying, are to exact obedience in my name, for it is my will to rule the world
in none other than you, and in no other body but yours does my Heart throb. This
is the demand and this the promise.
Bind yourself to me so irrevocably that
I will be able to descend to hell with you; and then I will bind you to myself
so irrevocably that, with me, you will be able to ascend to very heaven. Empty
yourself out into me so completely that I can fill you with myself. I will spare
you no extremity not the heights and not the depths--for I wish to have
no secret from you. Where I am, there you too are to be. What I do, that are you
to do in me.
So it is that I wish to teach you my obedience: a blind obedience
leading you to abandon your every insight, your every love, your every faith,
and through this obedience they will recognize who has my Spirit and who belongs
to my Body. But this obedience will be but the pledge of my love for you and of
your love for me, and in the midst of your slavish service you will experience
the freedom of the children of God coming upon you like the ray of a light from
above. You will experience how greatly servitude follows the coercion of love.
In all of this you will fare as I did when I, by being my Father's slave, was
only bound the more intimately to his love, and every creaturely distance from
my Father revealed itself as a means and a detour and a more cunning ruse leading
I now repeat with you the same game which the Father played
with me. I dismiss you, out into the world; I leave you behind on earth, widowed,
only in order to unite myself to you from heaven in a more interior, more spiritual,
more divine manner. I leave you as if bereft of soul in the grave of the world,
with your spirit wandering among the shades of the underworld, only to deliver
you from death suddenly, abruptly, thus again proving to the world that you live
and that I live in you. For your existence in the world is an incessant miracle,
and no one can ignore the fact that you drink from an alien spring, that a table
other than theirs nourishes you.
And so, in spite of everything, you will be
my sign among the nations. To them you will remain a very implausible thing, so
much so that they will daily prophesy your death. And you will indeed die after
a fashion. But see: we live, you and I, for I have died once, and whoever eats
of my death will live eternally and I will awaken him on the Last Day -
and each day is the last.
I have died once, and only once does my Body, my
Church, pass over from death to life. This is the one turning. Each of your members
must make it a reality in union with me, each in his own place, in his own century,
but in the unity of the one change, in the transubstantiation of this world into
the other world (they are the same). There is but one turning wherein earth
becomes heaven, and this turning point is the Church. Here the occluded (closed
up) world opens up and awaits the promised grace. Here man confesses his guilt
and recognizes his truth. By the very act of becoming exposed, man's truth is
effaced and in its place he receives the truth of God.
Here the old man is
replaced by the new. Here the world dies and another world rises. Here the two
eons intersect. Here every ending becomes a be ginning, every impasse becomes
the pledge of a hope. Here springs forth out of the hardest rock the water of
eternal life. Here ends the road of reason and faith sprouts wings. Here the puzzle
of the world is solved through the mystery of God. Here is bridged the chasm between
heaven and earth, because your faithful live in both realms at once.
is no longer a distant promise: this, rather, is eternal life that in love
they have come to know you, Father, and also me, whom you have sent. And no human
flinching concerning salvation will constitute such shaky ground that the Rock
of Faith will not outdo instability with firmness. "For my sheep hear my voice
and I know them, and they follow after me, and I give them eternal life, and they
will not in all eternity be lost, and no one will snatch them from my hand. My
Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all others, and no one can steal
from the Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
This is why I myself am
the Resurrection and the Life, and whoever believes in me, whoever drinks from
the source that flows from my open side, from him a new source will spring forth
which will be inexhaustible, for it flows from eternal life into eternal life.
And, Martha, it will not be on the Last Day that I will awaken him, for whoever
believes in me has already passed over from death to life. His grave has already
burst open and he has risen to eternal life. This is eternal life, that believing,
loving and hoping, they come to know you, Father, and also me, whom you have sent.
To you, my Church, have I entrusted this fountainhead. Out of you, who are
my Body, out of your open side does it flow forth to refresh all peoples. Just
as you, as the new Eve, have sprung forth from my sleep, so do I, who am divine
life itself, spring forth from you. Your hands distribute me as the Bread of the
For, to be sure, the woman derives from the man, but the man is then
born of the woman. Everything, however, derives from God. Being God, I am the
Source and am before every being, and for this reason the man is the glory of
God and the source of the woman, and God-become-human is the man, while the Church
is a woman, since the woman is the glory of the man. But, because I became
the Son of Man, I have been born from human beings and am your child, O Church.
For everyone who does the will of my Father is not only my brother and my sister,
but my mother as well. You have sprung forth from my Heart and I have rested under
your heart. You, to whom I gave birth with much suffering at the Cross, will be
prostrate in painful labor with me until the end of the world.
Your image mysteriously
blurs to merge with the image of my virginal Mother. She is an individual woman,
but in you she becomes the cosmic Mother. For in you my individual Heart, too,
widens to become the Heart of the World. You yourself are the holy heart of
the nations, holy because of me, but unifying the world for me, making my Blood
circulate throughout the body of history. In you my redemption ripens, I myself
grow to my full stature, until I, two-in-one with you, and in the bond of the
two-in-one flesh you, my Bride and my Body will place at the feet
of the Father the Kingdom which we are. The bond of our love is the meaning of
the world. In it all things reach fulfillment. For the meaning of the world is
Author Page for
Hans Urs von Balthasar, with biography and listing of books published
by Ignatius Press
Jesus Is Catholic | Hans Urs von Balthasar | An
excerpt from In The Fullness of Faith
The Religion of Jesus | Blessed Columba Marmion
| From Christ, The Ideal of the Priest
Seeing Jesus in the Gospel of John |
Excerpts from On The Way to Jesus Christ | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Encountering Christ in the Gospel |
Excerpt from My Jesus | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
Love Must Be Perceived | Hans Urs von Balthasar | An
excerpt from Love Alone Is Credible
of My Thought | Hans Urs von Balthasar
Authority and the Petrine Element | Hans Urs von Balthasar
Us | Hans Urs von Balthasar
of Anxiety? | Hans Urs von Balthasar | The Introduction to The
Christian and Anxiety
by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary" | Hans Urs von
Balthasar | An excerpt from Credo: Meditations on the Apostles' Creed
is Believable: Hans Urs von Balthasars Apologetics | by
Fr. John R. Cihak
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.
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
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