by Hans Urs von Balthasar
This article on the nature and mission of Communio was originally presented on May 26, 1978.
The idea of founding a new International Catholic Review which would bear the name Communio emerged during an international
meeting of theologians in 1970. Further on, I will explain what led us to this decision; but first I will give a brief of account of the events that came out of it.
In 1971, another meeting was held in Paris at the home of the late Msgr.
Fernand Guimet. Among the approximately fifteen men present were the Fathers de Lubac,
Bouyer, Bouillard, and Le Guillou; Abbot Toinet, Mr. Marrou, and several representatives of the
German group. Mr. Pierre Emmanuel encouraged us all with his illuminating lecture
on the role of symbol in life and in Christian theology. But the formation of an editorial board proved difficult, and negotiations
with publishing houses dragged on. Thus it was in 1972 that members of the German
board took the initiative to launch the first edition, and were soon followed in their endeavor by the Italians.
The German edition was translated into English and distributed to countries around the world,
including some behind the Iron Curtain. In 1974 the American journal made its debut,
followed in 1975 by the French and in 1976 by the Flemish and Dutch edition. It was not long before
we were joined by a Yugoslavian edition, which could only barely overcome the obstacles it encountered--rationed
paper and censorship were among the difficulties only recently dispelled by the founding of a theological society officially
recognized by the state. The Polish, in their turn, revealed a deep desire to participate in our work, and
did everything possible to obtain governmental permission; but in spite of their efforts failed to get off the ground.
At the end of this year or at the beginning of 1979 a recently founded Spanish board will begin publication
of its edition, which they also hope to introduce in Latin America. Still other editions, including one in Portuguese, will in all likelihood follow.
At first glance, all of these journals with their separate editorial boards and their independent juridical
and financial structures hardly seem to form a unified whole. One might, on the contrary, liken them to a chain on which each journal is a link
notably different from the others. But it is here that the idea of communion comes in to determine the form and the
content of all our editions.
Permit me now to offer a brief explanation of the three terms
that make up the name of each editions: International Catholic
Review: Communio. What does the word Catholic
signify to us? It means, precisely, all-inclusive, reaching for universal
scope. But why? Because according to the Catholic faith the believer, or still more simply, mankind,
has only one norm to follow: that of the man par excellence, who revealed to us the meaning of existence, who knew and
took on himself all the sufferings of humanity and whom God--through the Resurrection--affirmed as the perfect expression of his truth and will. According to the
Bible and to our faith, Christ is our liberation from all imaginable ideologies: we are no longer bound to the Jewish law that
regulated communication between man and God; nor must we bow to what Paul calls the "cosmic elements"
that dominate pagan religions, and under which we could easily subsume all evolutionist ideologies--and therefore also Communism. A Christian is the
paradigm of the liberated man; for us Christianity is the only form of humanism
that can be truly complete and thus meaningful for all; thus it is universal and catholic.
This explanation (much too brief to be fully comprehensible--I apologize for this) calls for another:
that of the term communio. For us Catholics, any community that decides to live in accordance
with the norm of Christ as liberated man must be a communion, a sharing, an exchange, in every sphere,
spiritual and material alike. This, according to the New Testament, is the Church of God: a communion in Christ of those who are
liberated by him and who, in communion together, continue to liberate one another. The Church, then, can only be a supple
organism, made up of organs fully distinct from one another--as the eye is distinct from the ear, the hand from the foot--but emanating from a single vital
source and determined by it in their functions.
Here we begin to see the
two dangers that the Catholic must avoid: on the one hand, a rigid legalism or traditionalism that would supplant Christian liberty
with a mechanical law, a lifeless dogmatism, an all-too-pure heritage from the past; on the other hand, a lax pluralism that would abandon Christ's interpretation
of the founding event of ecclesial communion to the whim of every member, thus
leading to the immediate destruction of the strong unity brought us by the one liberating fact,
and so inevitably alienating us from one another. Thus, neither plurality nor
uniformity will do if there is to exist a Church in communion: either extreme would bring
an end to Christian liberty. There can be no gain in depth if the central
christological fact is understood in contradictory ways--he is the God-man or he is pure man; he
took on our sins or he did not, and so forth. On the other hand, there can be no gain in depth if Christ, our life, is reduced to a dogmatic formula,
abstract and dead.
In this context the third term--international--takes on a meaning much subtler and more clearly defined than when used in daily speech.
Each of our national journals is a quasi-personal organ that expressed the mentality of its own domain. This it does whether
its domain be a single nation or a whole region dominated by a common language such as French, German, or English. . . . But what matters to us above all is that the life of Christian community
be able to function without restriction across diverse cultural lines, allowing us to exchange
the leading articles of each edition of the review without undermining the liberty
of each national board to organize its journal according to the spiritual demands of its own domain.
All of this--you will surely understand--calls us to an effort of labor that is both subtler and more assiduous than would be
demanded by an international journal uniformly translated into ten languages. But we believe that our work is both compensated and rewarded by an interior light
that outshines the fatigue of our toils--a light that can only bring us closer to the experience of a truly Catholic communion.
Copyright 1992 by Communio: International Catholic Review
Translated by Susan Clements