Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88) was a Swiss
theologian, considered to be one of the most important Catholic intellectuals
and writers of the twentieth century. Incredibly prolific and diverse, he
wrote over one hundred books and hundreds of articles.
He studied at universities in Vienna, Berlin, and Zurich and his doctorate
was completed in 1928. His dissertation was titled "The History of
the Eschatological Problem in Modern German Literature." The following
year he entered the Society of Jesus.
Having studied theology and philosophy for several years, Balthasar was
attracted to the work of Erich Przywara (d. 1972) and Henri de Lubac (d.
1991). Tired of the prevalent neo-scholasticism of his day, Balthasar was
drawn to the spirituality-theology of the Church Fathers. Along with de
Lubac, Jean Daniélou, and other Continental theologians, he would
work to return to the Scriptures and patristics as primary theological sources.
In 1940 he was offered a teaching position in Rome, but chose to go to Basel
and be a chaplain for students. There he met the mystic Adrienne von Speyr
(1902-67); she would become a Catholic under his spiritual direction. Her
became a major source of inspiration for his writing and he insisted that
her work could not be separated from his own. Together they founded the
Community of St. John, a "secular institute."
In 1950 he left the Jesuits; in 1972 he formed Communio: International
Catholic Review with Daniélou, de Lubac, and Joseph Ratzinger. From
1961-87 he produced his most important work, a trilogy published in fifteen
volumes: The Glory of the Lord, Theo-Drama, and Theo-Logic.
After many years of fighting illness and exhaustion, Balthasar died on June
26, 1988, one day before he was to be made a cardinal by Pope John Paul
The Holy Father wrote: "All who knew the priest,
von Balthasar, are shocked, and grieve over the loss of a great son of the
Church, an outstanding man of theology and of the arts, who deserves a special
place of honor in contemporary ecclesiastical and cultural life."
In his online
bio of Balthasar, Joel Garver writes:
He was said, by Henri de Lubac, to be "perhaps
the most cultured man of our time." Karl Rahner described his achievements
as "really breathtaking." His works include over a thousand
books and articles. At one point he was able to give away his stereo and
records since, he said, he had all the works of Mozart memorized anyway.
And it is my guess that history may well find him to be one of the most
important theologians of the 20th century.
Witness of Christ in the Church: Hans Urs von Balthasar," which
is a chapter from The Church: Paradox and Mystery, by Henri de
Lubac, S.J., is an excellent introduction to Balthasars theological
work and vision.
Several dozen links to articles about Balthasars life and work can
be found on
this page over at www.ratzingerfanclub.com.
You can read online the
Preface and Chapter XII, "
The Conquest of the Bride," from Balthasars
Heart of the World (the first Balthasar book published by Ignatius
Press, in 1979).
Alone Is Credible is the most recently published Balthasar book.
In Hans Urs von Balthasars masterwork, The Glory of the Lord,
the great theologian used the term "theological aesthetic" to
describe what he believed to the most accurate method of interpreting
the concept of divine love, as opposed to approaches founded on historical
or scientific grounds. In this newly translated book, von Balthasar delves
deeper into this exploration of what love means, what makes the divine
love of God, and how we must become lovers of God in the footsteps of
saints like Francis de Sales, John of the Cross and Therese of Lisieux.
An excellent examination of Balthasar's thinking
Urs von Balthasar: His Life and Work, edited by David L.Schindler.
This collection of essays, gathered under the auspices of Communio
editors, represents the most wide-ranging study of the life and work of
Balthasar. The twenty contributors include highly respected theologians,
philosophers and bishops from around the world such as Henri Cardinal
de Lubac, S.J., Walter Kasper, Louis Dupre, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,
and Pope John Paul II.
Ignatius Press has been the predominant publisher of Hans Urs von Balthasars
writings in English, having published over sixty of his books. Here are some of Balthasars more well-known or
popular books translated and published by Ignatius Press.
Dare We Hope "That All Men Are Saved"? (With a Short Discourse on Hell)
The Church's teaching on Hell has been generally neglected by theologians, with the notable exception of Fr. von Balthasar. However,
what he has said has stirred controversy both in Europe and in the United States. Here he responds in a clear and concise way, grounding
his reflections clearly in Scripture. Revelation gives us neither the assurance that all will be saved, nor the certitude that any are
condemned. What it does require of us is the "hope that all men be saved" rooted in a love of Christ that reaches even into the depths of Hell.
"Balthasar's is a very careful argument, clearly distinguishing between universal salvation as a hope and universal salvation as a doctrine. He
supports the former and rejects the latter. In sum: we do not know; only God knows; but we may hope." -- Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief,
First Things magazine
"The most sophisticated theological argument against the conviction that some human beings in fact go to hell has been proposed by
Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved? He rejects the ideas that hell will be emptied at the end of
time and that the damned souls and demons will be reconciled with God. He also avoids asserting as a fact that everyone will be saved.
But he does say that we have a right and even a duty to hope for the salvation of all, because it is not impossible that even the
worst sinners may be moved by God's grace to repent before they die. He concedes, however, that the opposite is also possible.
Since we are able to resist the grace of God, none of us is safe. We must therefore leave the question speculatively open,
thinking primarily of the danger in which we ourselves stand." -- Avery Cardinal Dulles, writing in First Things
Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter
This is an account, at once rigorously theological and warmly devotional, of the death and resurrection of Christ, and their significance
for the Christian life. Von Balthasar offers sharp insights into some current controversies--for example, the 'bodiliness' of the Resurrection--
and spiritual inspiration for the year round. This scholarly reflection of the climax of the Christian year is an established classic of
contemporary Catholic theology.
"Mysterium Paschale is the most profound contemporary theology of the Cross in the Catholic tradition." -- John McDade, S.J.
"One of the most important works in Hans Urs von Balthasar's large oeuvre ..." -- Journal of Religion
"One of von Balthasar's most revealing works: the major themes of his theology are knit together in a concentrated meditation on the
triduum mortis--an astonishing achievement of theological and imaginative attention." -- John Riches
A completely new translation, this is perhaps the best and most comprehensive book on prayer ever written.
From the persons of the Trinity through the Incarnation to the Church and the very structure of the human person, this book is a
powerful synthesis of what prayer is and how to pray. The testament of a great theologian on something which is most personal and
interior, contemplative prayer.
Jesus Is Catholic | From In The Fullness of Faith:
On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic | "Jesus must be Catholic, otherwise his Church, which follows
him and is promised his fullness, could not be called Catholic. Being Catholic means embracing everything, leaving nothing out."
Church Authority and the Petrine Element | From In The Fullness of Faith:
On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic | Nothing is plainer, nothing is more evident, than that in the Catholic realm the
authority exercised in the Church of the Word and Sacrament is both form and content
The Cross--For Us | From A Short Primer For Unsettled Laymen |
"Without a doubt, at the center of the New Testament there stands the Cross, which receives its interpretation from the Resurrection."
The Conquest of the Bride | From Heart of the World |
This little volume will come as a surprise even to avid readers of Father von Balthasar's other translated works.
A Theology of Anxiety | From The Christian and Anxiety |
One would not miss the mark if one were to describe Kierkegaard's lucid and equally profound study of the "concept of anxiety"
as the first and last attempt to come to terms theologically with his subject.
"Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary" |
From Credo: Meditations on the Apostles' Creed | In the months before his sudden death, Father von Balthasar was
writing a series of reflections on the twelve articles of the Apostles' Creed. These texts, undoubtedly among the last
things he wrote, take on the character of a legacy, a spiritual testament.
Unity, Plurality, and the Papacy |
From the Introduction to The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church | "Our main aim," wrote Father von Balthasar about this defense
of the papacy, "is to argue theologically, and adhering as closely as possible to the gospel of Jesus Christ, that the role of the office of
Peter--even as defined at Vatican I!--is both indispensable and, at the same time, relative."
Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Tarot | A Review of Meditations on
the Tarot by Anonymous (Valentin Tomberg) | by Stratford Caldecott | Was Swiss theologian Father Hans Urs von Balthasar--acclaimed by
both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI--a closet New Ager who dabbled in the occult?
Love Alone is Believable: Hans Urs von Balthasar's Apologetics | by
Fr. John R. Cihak | One of von Balthasar's key insights into how God incites man with his divine love is to encourage the non-believer
to ponder his encounters with beauty in the world, especially as found in human love.
Balthasar and Anxiety: Methodological and Phenomenological Considerations | by
Fr. John R. Cihak | The following paper was presented at the International Convention on the Occasion of the Centenary of the Birth of
Hans Urs von Balthasar, October 7, 2005, at Lateran University in Rome.
Reading von Balthasar Together | An Interview with Adam Janke | A new
online reading group provides readers from hither and beyond an opportunity to read, study, and discuss together online von Balthasar's
Doctor, Convert, and Mystic | The Life and Work of Adrienne von Speyr |
Adrienne von Speyr (1902-1967) was a contemporary Swiss convert, mystic, wife, medical doctor, and author of over sixty books
on spirituality and theology. She entered the Church under the direction of Father von Balthasar.