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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Love Alone is Believable: von Balthasar

Image and video hosting by TinyPicThe Revelation of Love as Beauty
One of 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. Since most non-believers like to consider themselves open-minded, Balthasar capitalized on that desire by helping them see the mystery of Being as revealed in beauty. His thought in this regard has been developed wonderfully by Fr. Thomas Dubay in The Evidential Power of Beauty (Ignatius, 1999). Non-believers must also consider the limitations of worldly beauty, especially in the brokenness and failures of all human love. Why is love in this world so finite and fractured? Why are all attempts at love stamped as "failed" by the inevitable reality of death? This predicament leads to the vital question: Is there a love beyond this world?

At this point the non-believer can be led to wonder at the Cross and be provoked by this sign of divine revelation. They can be challenged to open their heart to the encounter with the beautiful form of Christ crucified revealing in its depths the Triune God of love. The non-believer with an open heart can be drawn by the grace coming through this form into the dynamic of love, leading to an act of faith. Though this theme is present throughout Balthasar vast writings, I will concentrate on two of his foundational works: Love Alone Is Credible (Ignatius, 2004), and The Glory of the Lord, (tr. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis), vol. 1 (Ignatius, 1982).

Balthasar argues that the encounter with beauty in the world is analogous to the encounter with the Triune God. What happens in the "aesthetic encounter"? He sees that beauty is an indissolvable union of two things: species and lumen. Beauty consists of a specific, tangible form (species) accessible to human senses with a splendor emanating from the form (lumen). Beauty has a particular form, is concretely situated in the coordinates of time and space, and thus has proportion so that it can be perceived. The splendor is the attractive charm of the Beautiful, the gravitational pull, the tractor beam pulling the beholder into it. When confronted with the Beautiful, one encounters "the real presence of the depths, of the whole reality, and . . . a real pointing beyond itself to those depths" (GL).

In the perception of beauty, two moments occur: first vision and then rapture, the result of which is the impression of the form on the beholder. The splendor moves out from within the form, enraptures the person and transports him into its depths. Thus the visible form "not only ‘points’ to an invisible, unfathomable mystery; form is the apparition of this mystery, and reveals it while, naturally, at the same time protecting and veiling it" (GL). In beauty, the beholder is drawn out of himself and pulled into the form by the attractive force of the beautiful thing, thereby encountering the beautiful thing in itself.

The Aesthetical Encounter

A simple example to illustrate the aesthetical encounter can be found in looking up into a clear night sky at the stars. One is struck by the immensity and order of the universe, by the arrangement of the constellations. On an especially clear night, one seems engulfed by the sheer number of stars. Presented with this beautiful form, a sensitive viewer is drawn in by light breaking forth from the form. This light is not simply the light emanating from each star, the result of burning gases. It is the light of Being. Transported into the depths of the form, the viewer ponders foundational questions such as: How did this happen? Where did these things come from? Why is this form so beautiful? Why am I so moved by it?

The result of the aesthetical encounter is an encounter with the mystery of Being-in-itself. One has been shown the form and through the form been brought into an encounter with the depth of Being. Wondering at the mystery of a particular being, one is drawn into that beautiful form, and touches the mystery of absolute Being. The form and the depths of its being are indissoluble. In beauty one doesn’t "get behind" the form. Rather one touches the depths of Being in the form itself.

For Balthasar, things that exist don’t just lay there in existence; they glow from their participation in absolute Being. In Beauty, one is taken in and grasped by Being. In order to perceive a particular being as it is, one must surrender, be receptive, and be willing to be taken in by the form. Control or manipulation on the part of the beholder derails the aesthetical encounter. To share in the beauty, the viewer must renounce himself. The result of the encounter with beauty is the impressing of the form on the person leaving him breathless, exhilarated, full of awe and infused with joy. He is "seduced" by the beautiful form whether it is a stunning landscape or one’s beloved.

Love Alone is Believable: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Apologetics | by Fr. John R. Cihak

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