Summer 1991

Paradox and/or Supernatural Existential

Cardinal Marc Ouellet

"Ultimately, Balthasar judges that the drama of divine and human freedom is not sufficiently guaranteed by the anticipation of grace in transcendental subjectivity."

Dramatic perspective and transcendental perspective


The Balthasarian conception of finite freedom as a paradox leans on the Thomist delineation of esse. This notion of esse as "similitudo divinae bonitatis" allows us, according to Balthasar, to distinguish more radically than ever before between the finite being possessing its own act of being (fleeting, fluid, oscillating between its infinite Source and its finite end) and God as its transcendent cause, infinitely elevated above all worldly beings, truly the "Wholly Other."1

On the historical and speculative plane, Balthasar rejects, with Przywara and Siewerth,2 the anthropocentric interpretation of the Thomist esse conveyed by the transcendental school.3 According to Balthasar, "when they interpret the 'excessus' of which St. Thomas speaks as the dynamism of the ontological affirmation, Maréchal and Rahner fail to render full justice to the texts, and in particular miss the Thomist understanding of esse."4 By them, esse is thematized in a more or less Kantian fashion as the "condition of possibility of finite, categorical knowledge," as the infinite horizon of the subjective dynamism of the spirit. Human subjectivity is constituted a priori by the anticipation of esse, which confers on it the dynamic structure of auto-transcendence towards the absolute mystery.


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1. Cf. The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, vol. IV: The Realm of Metaphysics in Antiquity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 402ff. Balthasar interprets the Thomist esse with Siewerth as a 'symbol of God', 'energeia, actus, actual essence . . . a comprehensiveness that no concept can entirely exhaust; on the contrary, it is in relation to esse that every essence and every concept can be united" (402). "Thus, esse is communissiumum (In Beoth de Hebd 2; Subst sep 18), that in which all communicate (De Pot 7, 2 obj 5), that which is most perfect (Summa theologiae I, 4, 1 ad 3) beyond all imagining—and at the same time 'innermost and most profoundly present in all things' (intimum, quod profundius omnibus inestS. th. Ia, 8, 1). In fact, as has been said, it is the foundation of the most interior unity of every singular and particular essence" (402). "It is that which embraces all things (and cannot be exhausted by any number of natures, but on the contrary can be participated in more and more in an infinite way), yet only in the sense that it is the actualising support of natures. It only realises natures in so far as it realises itself in natures. In itself it has no subsistence but inheres in natures: esse non est subsistens sed inhaerens (De Pot. 7, 2, ad 7)" (402-03). The reference to Siewerth concerns: Das Seins als Gleichnis Gottes (Heidelberg: Kerle, 1958); Der Thomismus als Identiats-system (Frankfurt: G. Schulte-Bulmke, 1961).

2. Cf. Erich Przywara, Analogia entis (Einsiedeln, Johannesverlag, 1962), 23-28; G. Siewerth, Das Schicksal der Metaphysik von Thomas bis Heidegger (Einsiedeln, Johannes Verlag, 1959), esp. 227-263.