Fall 2005

Love Alone: Hans Urs von Balthasar as a Master of Theological Renewal

Adrian J. Walker

Introduction: Re-Theologizing Theology

Catholic theology is in the throes of an identity crisis, because Catholic theologians work under no overarching consensus about the first principle of theological intelligence.I take it for granted that this fissiparous pluralism is a bad thing. This is not to deny, of course, that truth is “symphonic,” as Balthasar puts it in the title of one of his books.Nevertheless, the “sym” of the “sym-phony” presupposes a unitary principle. Otherwise, legitimate theological plurality would not be symphony, but cacophony. Such cacophony, moreover, would both reflect and result in what might be called “theological emotivism.” As Alasdair MacIntyre explains in After Virtue, “[e]motivism is the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character.”Similarly, what I am calling theological emotivism is the conviction, expressed or unexpressed, that theological judgments are essentially expressions of incommensurable, pre-rational commitments that, as such, cannot be impartially evaluated according to universally recognized standards, viz., in the light of a single, overarching principle of theological intelligence. Theological emotivism thus obscures the reasonableness of the Catholic tradition and thereby calls into question the very existence of theology as “faith seeking understanding.” 



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1. By “first principle” I mean not just a non-negotiable commitment, as when someone says that Jones is a “man of principle,” but the permanent source and governing architectonic of all the things falling within a certain order (here the order is “theology”). This source-architectonic is such that what comes from it processes from it, remains within it, and reverts to it, as Proclus says effects do with respect to their cause in his Elementatio Theologica, proposition 35. At the same time, the reversion is not simply a repetition of the procession, but includes a novel enrichment that testifies to the fecundity of the principle.

2. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Die Wahrheit ist symphonisch. Aspekte des christlichen Pluralismus (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1972); Eng. tr., Truth Is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987).

3. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 12 (emphasis in the original).