Monday, 7 October 2013

3. Balthasar on Kenosis

The following passage from the Bible contains the key to the doctrine of kenosis or self-giving. “Have this mind among yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though he subsisted in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). The self-giving of Christ is traced back to the Trinity, via analogy, to the relationship of Father and Son. This act of self-revelation is the very Essence of God (it even means that creation becomes an act of love within the Unknowable God Himself). We may recall it during the most profound moment of the Mass, the consecration of the wine and offering of the blood of Christ.

Hans Urs von Balthasar's theology was very largely a reflection on this dynamic, and he was always coming at it from different angles, the truth being
inexhaustible. "In the Son's deed of self-outpouring it is no longer only the love of the Father which is expressed (a love at whose disposal the Son obediently puts himself); nor is it only the love of the Son which is expressed (of the Son who alone became man and who alone can die). What is expressed is the indivisible essential love of God himself. The surrender of this love's  essence assumes the expressive form of a 'going to the extreme,' into darkness. Like the water of an eternal fountain that is poured out until it becomes itself an eternal thirst" (Glory of the Lord, I, p. 616, refs omitted).

Now the true archetypes of creaturely life reveal themselves. "Just as the ability to die now becomes the expression of a distinctly divine love, so too the creature's prayer to God now becomes the expression of the intra-divine relationship of the Son to the Father.... Jesus is manifested as substantial intra-divine prayer, so much so that any accidental, individual prayer of intercession becomes [ultimately] superfluous. In this form of prayer the content of prayer itself and of revelation receives its ultimate explanation: the unity of essence and love is uttered in a way that surpasses all exterior attestation. The witness of Jesus is no longer a a mere assertion that things are so (as was necessary with the unbelieving Jews): it is an open interior space which shows forth the existent reality itself" (ibid.,  pp. 616-17).

I will add a passage from Balthasar's book Our Task, in which he writes about passages in Adrienne von Speyr's commentary on St John's Gospel that "circle around this mystery of triune glory revealing itself in the destiny of Christ," through kenosis. In a footnote on p. 108 he gives these examples: "Jesus as the 'glory of the Father himself,' who for his part 'seeks the glory of the Son'; the objective seeing of God's glory by Martha; the Son's possession of the whole glory of the Father and his returning of it to the Father; the glory of the Son is one with his holiness, which abandons itself to the darkness of sin, and so 'he places his own on the dividing line between the glory of the Father and the sin of mankind'; Jesus' self-abandonment is his transparency to the whole glory of God's love – he is 'pure openness'. 'Certainly, God remains mysterious and beyond our reckoning, but he is not like an opaque mystery that one cannot get behind. No, he is mysterious in the boundlessness and openness of his mystery."'

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