Fall 2003: Does God Suffer? An Exploration
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Does God suffer? If “suffer” means “suffer in the sense that human beings, or other creatures do,” the answer can only be “No.” God is God, and, as Thomas Aquinas reminds us, nothing can be univocally predicated of God and the creature. And yet, if we take seriously what Scripture tells us about God’s involvement in the history of
Israel and, even more radically, in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, the question returns again at another level: what does this involvement mean, not only for us, but also for God himself? Can God, without losing his divine transcendence, make his creature’s suffering his own? And, if so, what, if any, are the conditions in God
himself that make this assumption possible? Granted that the
creature’s suffering is distinctively creaturely and so cannot be transferred tel quel to the divine nature, does it nonetheless correspond to a real event that “happens” in God himself, perhaps in the
depths of his intra-trinitarian life?
The Fall, 2003 issue of Communio seeks to address these questions, fully aware of the peril of projecting creaturely suffering onto God’s inner being, yet also in the conviction that genuine theological questions like these—which have arisen in the twentieth-century for a variety of historical reasons: the
challenge of Hegelianism; the urgency of the so-called “problem of evil”; an ongoing dispute about the relationship between philosophy and biblical Revelation—deserve the genuine sort of theological exploration the authors presented here seek to give it. Three of the
five contributors on the theme Does God Suffer? An Exploration refer explicitly to the thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar, who, in their view, has offered at once the most radical and the most balanced answer to the question, “Does God suffer?”
In “The Suffering of God in Patristic Theology,” Michael Figura surveys the theology of the Latin and Greek Fathers on the
theme, finding there a firm insistence on the impassibility of the divine nature coupled with an awareness of what, for Figura, constitutes the specifically Christian paradox: “The unsuffering God
Jean-Pierre Batut, writing in “Does the Father Suffer?” presents a historical overview of the question of God’s suffering in order to show both the novelty and the deeply traditional character
of what is the core of Balthasar’s theology of divine pathos: Balthasar’s grounding of God’s real involvement in history in the intra-trinitarian difference between the Father and the Son.
In “The Divine Drama, From the Father’s Perspective: How the Father Lives Love in the Trinity,” Antoine Birot further explores this intra-
trinitarian grounding. According to Birot, a properly Christian understanding of divine transcendence as a matter of God’s trinitarian freedom holds the key to reconciling a genuine pathos with divine transcendence.
Jan-Heiner Tück’s “The Utmost: On the
Possibilities and Limits of a Trinitarian Theology of the Cross” develops the Balthasarian intuition of an intra-trinitarian basis for a
theology of divine pathos in terms of analogy—and shows how this analogical model responds to the legitimate concerns of, while at the
same time transcending, the so-called “theology of complaint” [Klage] defended by Johann Baptist Metz and others, who fear that talk of a “suffering God” too quickly quiets the anxiety of the theodicy-question.
Finally, Christoph Dohmen, in “The Suffering
Servant and the Passion of Jesus,” uses a careful exegesis of the fourth of the Suffering Servant Songs in Isaiah to suggest just what
the legitimate intuition of the “theology of complaint” is. The
substitutionary suffering of Jesus, Dohmen hints, is precisely what
reveals suffering to be, not simply an automatic, merely this-worldly,
retribution for one’s past deeds, but what it in fact is: a mystery
whose “why” can be illuminated only dramatically, which is to say,
only in the encounter with the innocent suffering of the “Suffering
In this issue’s installment of Spirit and History, “Christ in
Contemporary Exegesis: Where We Are and Where We Are
Going,” Klemens Stock argues that critical access to the whole
Jesus, as he really was, depends upon a willingness to receive the
whole of the New Testament’s message concerning Jesus as an
inextricable interweaving of what Jesus did and said and of the
disciples’ witness to what Jesus said and did. Such attention to the
whole in its actual, concrete form, Stock argues, will enable scholars
to perceive in the New Testament the outlines of a full-bodied
ecclesial Christology (even where there is a seeming paucity of
explicitly christological titles and declarations, as in Mark).
Retrieving the Tradition marks the 175th anniversary of the
death of the great Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797–1828)
with a highly personal appreciation of Schubert’s unique contribu
tion to music by philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, who in
this piece, simply titled “Franz Schubert,” reveals something of the
aesthetic dimension of his own multi-faceted philosophical work.
Finally, we are pleased to publish in Notes and Comments the
complete text of “‘We must hold each other’s hands from afar.’ A
Correspondence,” which gathers letters exchanged between
Herbert A. Kenny and Patricia Buckley Bozell from the late
nineties until Kenny’s death in 2002. Distinguished by their wit,
their unsentimental and unbitter consciousness of the human
condition, and their uncommon delicacy of taste and feeling, these
beautifully written letters testify to the unity of humanity and
catholicity that marks all truly great men and women of the Church.
Order this issue.
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