"God is an event of love."
In order to ponder anew the mystery of love, without which man’s “life remains senseless” and “incomprehensible,”1 I would like to appeal in this essay to Balthasar’s understanding of God as an “eternal happening.” This insight attempts to bring together what the Triune God reveals of himself in Jesus Christ: he reveals himself as love (1 Jn 4:16), and as a love that is both an eternal being (esse) and an eternal event (Ereignis, Geschehen).2 In Christ, man has come to learn that love is not a transient emotion, but rather the mystery that encompasses all of being: from the moment when there was nothing but God (Gn 1:1) to the present instant in which man lives out his existence (2 Cor 5:14–15). The essence of being is love. Everything and everyone finds its proper place within this eternal mystery. At the same time, the Incarnate Word has disclosed that the mystery of love that constitutes us (Jn 1:3; Col 1:15–20) is pure gift of himself. Divine love is an ever-new gift of himself to himself (Hingabe) and an undeserved gift of himself to us (Eph 2:4; Rom 8:32). God is an event of love.3
To better perceive the richness of Balthasar’s proposal, this article has been divided into five parts. After an introductory philosophical analysis of the term “event,” which indicates the main characteristics of this complex term, attention shifts to the person of Christ in order to delineate what he reveals of the “eventful nature” of God.4 The third part of the paper attempts to elucidate a notion of person that is fitting for the portrayal of the divine love Christ revealed as an agapic threefold donation. This understanding of the divine hypostases will then enable us in the fourth part to approach the richness indicated by the mysterious unity of esse and event. This section shows in what sense the divine being is “ever-greater.” The final section offers some remarks on the implications for human existence that emerge from this understanding of God as event.
1. John Paul II, Redemptor hominis, no. 10.
2. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama. Theological Dramatic Theory (=TD), vol. 5: The Last Act, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983), 67.
3. The centrality of this concept in Balthasar’s thought is indicated by, among others, Gerard F. O’Hanlon, S.J., The Immutability of God in the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Karl J. Wallner, “Ein trinitarisches Strukturprinzip in der Trilogie Hans Urs von Balthasars?” Theologie und Philosophie 71 (1996): 532–546; Guy Mansini, “Balthasar and the Theodramatic Enrichment of the Trinity,” The Thomist 64 (2000): 499–519; Stephen Fields, S.J., “The Singular as Event: Postmodernism, Rahner, and Balthasar,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 77, no. 1 (2003): 93–111; Angelo Scola, Hans Urs von Balthasar. A Theological Style (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995), 53–64.
4. On the importance of the category of event see, among others, Martin Heidegger, On Time and Being, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper and Row, 1972); id., “Postscript to ‘What is Metaphysics?’” in Pathmarks, ed. William McNeill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 231–238. Jean-Luc Marion offers an interesting analysis of the meaning of “event,” which, in contrast to the one presented here, is geared towards illustrating how the given phenomenon, and givenness as such, needs to be considered apart from any logic of causality. See Jean-Luc Marion, Being Given. Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness, trans. Jeffrey L. Kosky (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002); Luigi Giussani, He is if he changes, Supplement no. 7/8 to 30 Days (Rome), 1994; Luigi Giussani, Stefano Alberto, and Javier Prades, Generare tracce nella storia del mondo (Milan: Rizzoli, 1998); Joseph Ratzinger, The God of Jesus Christ. Meditations on God in the Trinity, trans. Robert J. Cunningham (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1979).