Photo by David Besh
The aims and concepts of Hans Urs von Balthasar are thoroughly examined in Bevil Bramwell’s Laity: Beautiful, Good, and True, bringing his profound wisdom to the public consciousness.
In these times where people identifying as Christian is steadily declining, the Catholic Laity is now struggling to move forward and unsure which direction it should take. But drawing from Hans Urs von Balthasar’s great writings that pull from many centuries of tradition, exegetic commentaries, and Scripture, the Laity are given a rich understanding of many things. Von Balthasar’s works are a fount of knowledge on what it means to be a layperson, what it means to be Catholic, and what it means to be an active and obedient participant in worshipping the Lord. His works explain the profundity of being in this world as a willing follower of Christ.
Dense, esoteric, and deeply insightful, von Balthasar’s theology has been extensively researched by Bevil Bramwell, OMI, in his book Laity Beautiful Good and True, an accommodating but still in-depth study. It also draws from the perspectives of other influential theologians who were contemporary to von Balthasar, such as Joseph Ratzinger, Karl Rahner SJ, Yves Congar OP, Henri de Lubac SJ, and John Paul II.
Full of commentary, vision, and appreciation, Laity: Beautiful, Good, and True, a stunning tribute to a great 20th-century theologian, is a must-read for the modern Laity to understand their place in a shifting and modern world.
Who Is Hans Urs von Balthasar?
Seeking to respond to the inevitability of a modernizing Western society, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner, and Bernard Lonergan attempted to upend traditional Catholic thought. Each man had their approach. While the former could easily be tied to prominent schools of interest and study, von Balthasar remained challenging to categorize, with highly eclectic and varied interests. A telling example of his peculiarities was his deep conversations and apprenticeship with Karl Barth, a Swiss Reformed theologian. Von Balthasar would write the first analysis and response of the theologian from a Catholic perspective, and his book The Theology of Karl Barth: Exposition and Interpretation endures as a seminal piece, mainly due to its thoughtful, intelligent and provocative approach.
The Trilogy of von Balthasar’s Works
Von Balthasar’s expansive and systematic theology can be found in a trilogy of sets, following the threefold description of Jesus Christ as He described Himself in John 14:16, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” The trilogy directly invokes the intangible qualities of Christ: bonum (goodness), verum (truth), and pulchrum (beauty).
- Herrlichkeit, The Glory of the Lord. Von Balthasar’s theological aesthetics emphasizes the Great Catholic Tradition, reading it as a perennial work of outstanding human achievement. It reads the history of philosophy and theology ambivalently as the increasing forgetfulness of glory. It describes it as the oblivion leading to philosophical attention to the aesthetics of worldly beauty and eliminating aesthetics from theology.
- Theo-Dramatik, Theo-Drama. Von Balthasar presents his theology as the interplay of God’s sovereign infinite freedom and man’s created finite freedom. It describes it as a drama on the stage of the Heavens and the Earth, which God created and whose structure is the central drama of salvation and forgiveness.
- Theo-Logik, Theo-Logic. Von Balthasar reflects not on what man says about God but on what God speaks about Himself. He ponders on the truth of the Lord and His beauty and the ongoing drama of salvation and, finally, on the realities of God’s revelations about Himself, which conveys the concreteness and mystery of His being as a personal, loving God.