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Remaining in Christ: a paradox at the heart of Hans Urs von Balthasar's theology.


THE JOHANNINE IMAGE of the vine and the branches aptly articulates the following paradoxes of Christianity: apart from Christ we can do nothing (cf. Jn 15:5); we are free only when we become his; joy and fruitfulness come through his death and the taking up of the Cross. (1) It has been promised that "streams of living water shall flow out from within" those who are thus united to Christ, the vine (Jn 7:38). Consider this article a small exegesis of how Christ appears as the vine and we the branches in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. (2)

First, I shall look at a few salient points in von Balthasar's life that shed light upon his own experience of "remaining in Christ." What shall prove decisive here is how St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. John the Evangelist, and Adrienne von Speyr led von Balthasar to the one thing necessary: complete abandonment to Christ. A few comments on von Balthasar's Mariology will round off this first section.

Second, I shall turn to von Balthasar's meditation on "The Father's Vineyard," which makes up the fourth chapter of his lyrical The Heart of the World. Like the first part of the article, the emphasis here shall be upon the fruitfulness that only comes through remaining in Christ. Let us remain mindful, however, that the vine and the branches are in the Father's vineyard. Our "remaining in Christ" only makes sense in light of the way that Christ and the Father remain one precisely in the distance manifested by the Son's mission. Von Balthasar's theology has been called "Christocentric," but he was always careful never to neglect the Father and the Spirit in his Trinitarian theology. It is within a Trinitarian framework that our remaining in Christ is given its true meaning, for Christ in his life, death, and Resurrection did not come to proclaim himself, but the will of the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, I shall examine von Balthasar's comments on the Gospel according to St. John. In particular, I shall look at the image of the vine and the vinedresser. Here the theme of growth in grace through the sacraments will prove central to von Balthasar's Catholic vision for the mystery of remaining in Christ. For von Balthasar, the Christian message makes little sense apart from fruitfulness and the radiation of Christ's resurrected life into the world.

I. Ignatius, John, Adrienne von Speyr, and Mary: The Spirit of Indifference

Just after the onset of the Second World War, Hans Urs von Balthasar took up a position as a student chaplain in Basel, Switzerland, instead of accepting an offer to become professor at the Gregorian University in Rome. In Basel he became friends with Karl Barth, who was to remain one of the most influential dialogue partners for von Balthasar's theology, but upon whom I shall not comment here. More importantly for my theme of remaining in Christ, and for the notion of indifference, which shall be examined momentarily, he came into contact with a doctor by the name of Adrienne von Speyr. (3) Under von Bathlasar's influence, von Speyr converted from Protestantism to Catholicism; von Balthasar subsequently became her confessor, recorded her mystical visions, and published her writings. In fact, he considered his work to be little more than a translation of her insights into technical theological discourse.

Von Speyr's insights into the Gospel of St. John especially influenced von Balthasar, and it was through her Johannine sensibilities that he gained such admiration for St. John the Evangelist, later naming his publishing imprint Johannesverlag and his Secular Institute the Johannesgemeinschaft. "It really took Basel," von Balthasar reflected, "especially the all-soothing goodness of [Adrienne von Speyr's] commentary on St. John, to lead my aggressive will into true indifference." (4) The context of the comment is his reflection on entering the Society of Jesus with what he called his "unbounded indignation" at being unable to carry out his own plans. Part of religious life is the life of obedience before one's superiors and before God. Evidently von Balthasar found this dual obedience rather difficult and the theology in the novitiate terribly boring.

Von Balthasar confessed that the desire to pursue his own vision barred him from entering into what St. Ignatius called "indifference." (5) Indifference is not apathy. (6) Rather, after meditating deeply on the Father's care, Ignatius saw how "as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honour to dishonour, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things. Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we were created." (7) The recitation of definitions is one thing, but learning to live this reality is an entirely different matter. (As Pope Benedict XVI has noted, faith is both informative and performative; the saint exemplifies the dramatic character of the latter.) (8) It was not until he was a student chaplain at Basel in the 1940s that von Balthasar had to face the choice between his own plans and the plan of God. Von Balthasar knew full well that nothing can live and move without a telos, but he was more often ready to project his own plans than to wait patiently upon the Lord and receive the end for which he was created.

In one of the more celebrated calls, von Balthasar experienced a deep sense of God's will, indicating that waiting patiently was required of him. It occurred at about the age of twenty-three, and helped him choose religious life in the Society of Jesus. That first intuition of indifference, however, took time to come to fruition. He described that first call in these terms:
 Even now, thirty years later, I could still go to that remote path
 in the Black Forest, not far from Basel, and find again the tree
 beneath which I was struck as if by lightning. ... And yet it was
 neither theology nor the priesthood which then came into my mind
 in a flash. It was simply this: you have nothing to choose, you
 have been called. You will not serve, you will be taken into
 service. You have no plans to make, you are just a little stone in
 a mosaic which has long been ready. All I needed to do was "to
 leave everything and follow," without making plans, without wishes
 or insights. All I needed was to stand there and wait to see what
 I would be needed for. (9)

The Ignatian seed of indifference was implanted early in von Balthasar's heart. This form of waiting emphasizes one's docility, one's receptivity before God's initiative, but von Balthasar rightly understood that this never means inactivity; for prayer, a seemingly inactive task, requires all the energies at one's disposal. Von Balthasar's waiting was to commence with the Jesuits after the completion of his doctorate in German philosophy and literature (1928). It took another eleven years for this first sighting of Ignatian indifference to surface through the influence of von Speyr and the Gospel according to St. John. (10)

In von Speyr's commentary von Balthasar witnessed the way three women offered no resistance to grace: Mary of Bethany, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene. Apparently von Balthasar needed to sit for a while in "the school of Mary" and learn to live anew from what Pope John Paul II would later call the "fruits of feminine holiness." (11) The holiness of the Blessed Virgin Mary in particular provided John Paul II with his image of the highest model of created wisdom, the model of the philosopher who contemplates and loves God in receptive wonder. (12) For in the Gospel of St. John, von Balthasar witnessed in all three women the call to a "single stance" of receptive wisdom shaped by the sacrifice of Christ.
 It is a Yes that is fundamentally open in an a priori, disposing
 itself of nothing but holding itself ready in all things and
 allowing itself to be formed ... this feminine lack of limits
 becomes the pure medium in which the sacrifice of Christ can be
 accomplished and can draw on elements that make it visible. It is
 sacrifice as a pure act of setting no hindrances, a pure act of
 permitting oneself to be drawn, and precisely in this it is the
 hardest sacrifice for the one who loves. (13)

Had he yet cast his best perfume, like Mary of Bethany, upon the body of Christ without consideration of the cost? Had he been so drawn to the Resurrected Christ, like Mary Magdalene, as to renounce all desire to "hold on" to him, to let go of what could be misconstrued as a personal possession, to be wielded at his own whim? Had he loved with self-abandon as Mary Mother of Christ had done, who had constantly opened herself "during the course of a lifetime, from the beginning and ever anew, up to the moment of the piercing of the divine-human heart on the cross?" (14)

Von Speyr brought out the beauty of the concrete "Yes" to God in these three women and challenged von Balthasar's own self-image. Von Balthasar had thought and written extensively about such things before, but he had not fully opened himself to participation in this reality. Pride and the love of his own plans held him back.

Through the intercession of Ignatius, St. John, von Speyr, and the three Marys, von Balthasar came to see that the relationship between divine and human freedom converges upon one reality: the beauty of love that empties itself so that it might receive every good and perfect gift from above. In his The Christian State of Life, written in 1945, but not published until 1977, von Balthasar composed a manifesto that captures this unique confluence:
 Love adorns itself, not to be beautiful for its own sake, but to
 appear beautiful to the beloved. ... We have only one desire [as
 Christians]: to bestow on the beloved our whole person and all our
 powers. We will henceforth have no other rule or law of life than
 that which we receive from the beloved. We will regard it as our
 greatest freedom to do, not our own will, but the will of the
 beloved. We will treasure it as our greatest riches to possess
 nothing but what the beloved bestows upon us. We will esteem it
 our greatest fecundity to be but a vessel held in readiness for
 every fructifying seed of the beloved. (15)

The desire of the Beloved must become our deepest desire, as it was Christ's. Only in this context of abandonment can we be made free, rich, and fruitful. Since the Beloved (Christ) is unpretentious childlike simplicity itself, we must imitate Christ's filiation which always "does what pleases the Father"; this simplicity is evident in his "unreflected gift of self which in no way throws light on itself " (2 Cor 9:11, 13), "an obedience which has no thought for itself (Eph 6:5)." (16) Christ's obedience is accordingly beautiful. "Beauty," wrote Simone Weil "is a fruit which we look at without trying to seize it." (17) Christ is indeed beauty incarnate to the eyes of faith, a beauty we cannot seize but, that in beholding, seizes us. More strikingly, however, here we catch a glimpse of the beauty that pleases even the Father: "Love adorns itself ... to appear beautiful to the beloved." Thomas Aquinas said of beauty that it is "pleasing to the eye" (pulchra enim dicuntur quae visa placent). (18) Obedience to the "eyes" of the Father pleases in its simplicity, indeed in its playfulness, we might say. Listen to Gerard Manley Hopkins: "For Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father through the features of men's faces." (19) When von Balthasar speaks of the glory of the Lord, he envisages Christ adorning himself in obedience and playing "To the Father" in "ten thousand places" out of love. Obedience in the order of creation finds its model and impetus in the divine obedience freely enacted by the Son.

Correspondingly, Mary, Mother of God, is the model for human obedience perfectly reflecting the perfect obedience of the Son before the Father. She is archetype for the human being's reciprocal relationship to God: "It was essential ... if God's Word willed to become incarnate in the womb of a woman, to elicit the latter's agreement and obedient consent ... God could not violate his creature's freedom." (20) The Annunciation is the event par excellence for witnessing the openness sought by God in his relationship with us, a kind of consent von Balthasar calls "adequate and therefore genuinely unlimited." (21) Mary offered no resistance to grace, but opened herself without any stipulations to the infinite grace of God, who gives everything to the one who asks. Mary's obedient Yes, the obedience of faith, is the counterpart to Eve's disobedience. (22) We thus embark upon the freedom of obedience and discipleship that turns humanity from the death of the first Adam to the life of the second on account of Mary's fiat mihi.

Von Balthasar saw one central mystery stand out in every scene of Mary's life contemplated in the prayer of the Church: Mary's freedom. (23) Her consent shows us what "following on the Son's course" looks like. "No finite freedom," writes von Balthasar, "can be freer from restrictions than when giving its consent to infinite freedom. Or (which is the same thing) no mission can be more unrestricted and universal than that which gives the Yes that God looks for, the Yes to his all-embracing plan. The sole condition is the consent that makes no conditions." (24) Mary as a particular woman in time and history made herself available for God's plan that embraces the entire cosmos. She thus gave the consent that every human being must also offer before the God who speaks.

Consequently we can affirm with Weil not only that humanity must wait upon God but also that God waits upon the creature and works toward his or her readiness. (25) God is indeed in quest of human hearts, sometimes in the form of the "hound of heaven" or the "trap" of beauty capturing the beloved unawares. (26) Yet God will work out the salvation of all only in cooperation with persons, as with Mary. Von Balthasar comments: "The divine act whereby Christ provides himself with a vessel, a Bride (Eph 5:26f.), is not simply one-sided, for the divine-human Agent [Christ] has himself been brought into the world by a woman. Her cooperation, the work of her who serves both as a woman and as a creature, is not forgotten: it is integrated into his." (27) Through the woman, who represents the Bride of Christ, the second Eve united to the second Adam, we, like von Balthasar, can learn what the indifference of love looks like in the Christian life. It is always a mutual cooperation between divine and human partners who are free. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing.

As von Balthasar would have prayed in his daily celebration of the Mass, "Preface IV" on weekdays of ordinary time expresses the reciprocal nature of the gift of Marian cooperation in terms of thanksgiving: "Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks. You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to serve you is itself your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness, but makes us grow in grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord." I will take up this theme of "growth in grace" in the final section. But it is important that the final note of von Balthasarian indifference be on this reciprocal form of thanksgiving.

II. "The Father's Vineyard": The Paradox of the Vine and the Branches

In order for this following section to make sense, we need to place ourselves imaginatively in the Father's Vineyard. Von Balthasar's theology returns us again and again to a contemplation of the Trinity. The image of the vine and the branches makes little sense without the Trinitarian nature of God revealed by Christ, the vine. Let us therefore place ourselves imaginatively in the vineyard of the Father, which is, after all, the place that we presently inhabit.

Adopting the voice of Christ in chapter four of The Heart of the World, von Balthasar muses:
 Why do you rush on to deed and achievement? I am the vine; it is I
 who achieve. What is your deed if it is not to ripen? Let my sap
 rise up within you that you may hang heavy and golden ... and when
 in the bowers of heaven this wine is served up at the Lamb's
 marriage-feast, then the whole world will be borne within it--as
 spirit. Then one will be able to taste on which hillside and in
 what year of salvation it grew, will be able to savour in it the
 whole landscape of its origin, and not the least of our joys will
 be lost. (28)

Here we are certainly not bringing to taste the full breadth of flavor present in the von Balthasarian vintage, nor have we even begun to survey the full landscape of its origin. Still, these few lines are worthy of an extended meditation, especially those very first lines: "Why do you rush on to deed and achievement? I am the vine; it is I who achieve. What is your deed if it is not to ripen? Let my sap rise up within you that you may hang heavy and golden." As we have seen, indifference could not have borne such fruit in his life had he not renounced his own rush toward deed and achievement. We remember Weil's notion that we do not grasp at true beauty; true beauty is not something we try to seize. To rush on toward deed and achievement too quickly can be a form of illicit seizure of the divine gifts God desires to bestow to the one responding to grace through prayerful obedience.

"I am the vine; it is I who achieve"; the heart of Christ brings the divine life to birth in willing humanity. Here is a quintessential von Balthasarian paradox holding two realities together in polar tension. One pole is the vine. The other pole is the collection of branches. Neither pole can be so emphasised that the other is discarded as irrelevant to the actual structure of the vineyard. Both poles must be held in tension, which means that each time reference is made to one pole, the other must somehow be included in the account lest we proudly prune the branch from the vine.

We cannot have one without the other. For the Father's vineyard bears fruit because he has chosen, freely chosen, to plant in this vineyard one seed, one root, one trunk through whom all life is given to the myriad branches. He freely chooses to bring about his fruit in this manner, the vine united to the branches, the one living in and through the other. They can never work apart from one another without the branches shrivelling up.

However, the Father's vineyard is so structured that he will never allow the vine thus to separate itself. Rather, he leaves the branches with the same freedom with which he feely chose to bring about the vineyard in the first place. One pole--the branches--might thus freely choose to separate itself from the other and thereby dissolve the paradox into a monstrous domination, the branches lording it over the vine.

Von Balthasar offers a narrative from Christ that helps us understand how vital it is to remain in this polar tension that holds the vine and the branches together:
 I am the vine, you are the wine I have wept. Tendrils at first,
 succulent and supple as snakes, you shoot out. Greedy for life,
 for freedom, you crave to escape the barky trunk and try out an
 independent existence, and you stretch out in the sun for sheer
 love of life. You hold out long, prehensile arms to grasp, to
 snatch, to fetter, to bind to yourselves anything alive with
 movement. You call it knowledge and love. The intertwining
 tendrils curl up to heaven, up towards the light and the stars,
 greedily grasping for God, but all they seize with the crooked
 fingers is air and nothingness. (29)

The rhythm Balthasar establishes is distinct. It is the rhythm of the gift of life given freely and joyfully by the giver; yet this rhythm is squandered and strangled by the solipsism of the one who receives the gift. Greedy for life, the branch craves an "independent existence," an autonomy that answers to no one and receives no gift unless it deigns to demand it first. What starts out as a love of life, an appreciation for the gift that it is, turns into a drive "to grasp, to snatch, to fetter, to bind" so that all might become subject to our powers and our desires.

Recall Kierkegaard's similar description of grasping: "I stick my finger into existence and it smells of nothing." (30) When our crooked fingers are bent upon seizing and controlling the world around us, existence smells of nothing. We need the Trinitarian God revealed in Christ to free us from this drive to domination and possession. "With respect to God," writes von Balthasar, "there can be no will-to-possession, since God himself has no desire to possess. Does he not give his Son away to all, irrevocably? Only in this way does he have him. No human being can be rich in God if he does not want to partake of God's poverty." (31) Just as Jesus completely abandoned himself to the Father and thereby received the Father's glory, so must we completely abandon ourselves to the Son in order that we might radiate his glory: "one always gives to the other" and sows the riches of poverty in a "sincere gift of self." (32)

We, the branches, can never seize anything in the world without being enslaved by our seizing. The paradox at the heart of von Balthasar's theology comes back to bite the supple snake, like the snake Ouroboros eternally biting its own tail. The only seizure that saves and frees us is the embrace of Christ. When the sap of Christ pulses through us to overflowing, then we are freed from the slavery of sin and death.

Correspondingly we find the assertion of "remaining in Christ" a difficult paradox whenever we associate freedom simply with autonomy and self-sufficiency. We late-moderns are prone to think of freedom as the power to remain in ourselves, the branch roaming freely apart from the vine in denial of its fruitful dependency. The third-century founder of Neoplatonism, Plotinus, depicted the One in a seemingly modern mode of self-sufficiency. For Plotinus, the One "is turned entirely to itself and is interior to itself; it has no relation to the outside or to others but is totally concerned with itself." (33) You may recall St. Augustine's phrase in the Confessions that alters this Plotinian self-inversion: "tu autem eras interior intimo meo et superior summo meo," "But you were at the same time more interior to me than my interiority; and more superior to my highest excellence." (34) Even our own gaze toward the interior, which always runs the risk of rendering the human being what Martin Luther damningly called "homo incurvatus in se" (the person curved in upon itself), can direct us to the outsider who has made his permanent home in the center of our being. (35) The Lord of the universe comes to dwell humbly in his creatures and free us from the desire to become self-enclosed monads without windows.

In the tumultuous '70s, when asked why he remained in the Church, von Balthasar noted the centrality of freedom from self that comes from union with Christ. Together with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he published a short pamphlet entitled Two Say Why. In his contribution von Balthasar wrote:
 Why, then, do I remain in the Church? Because it is the only
 chance there is of freeing myself from this curse that is the
 deadweight of self, so that in loving my role I fall in love with
 myself; to be rid of that but not alienated from humanity, because
 God became man not in a vacuum but in the dimensions of community,
 in the Church. ... God set up in the middle of humankind's history
 of horrors and abominations a bridal bed, shining and unsullied,
 which is described in the Song of Songs. And the endless problem
 of the history of the Church is not so murky that the light of
 love does not come shining through again and again in the lives of
 her saints. (36)

Von Balthasar's reason for remaining Catholic lies thus in his experience of how love becomes properly ordered. Properly ordered love feeds upon union with the vine. Disordered self-love, on the other hand, feeds only upon the "deadweight" of its own constructed role. (37) The first type of love produces rich and pliable fruit; the second type produces only eternal decay. "There are two Ways," begins the Didache, "a Way of Life and a Way of Death, and the difference between these two Ways is great." (38) Ignatius of Loyola later echoes the gravity of this choice in his imagery of the two standards in the fourth day of his Spiritual Exercises: "Here it will be that Christ calls and wants all beneath His standard, and Lucifer, on the other hand, wants all under his." (39)

The standard of disordered love imprisons one in a cycle of self-consumption, whereas the love of Christ in the Church always radiates with a life-giving mission of service. Von Balthasar, in good Thomistic fashion, asserts: "All beings are, in the last analysis, interpreted according to their goal and calling, which, in the human being's case, is always love. All else is but means to an end; love alone is the goal. But because the human being himself is not love, because the calling to love is a grace given him by God to draw his whole nature, like a magnet, above itself to its final goal, for this reason the calling to love has for the human being the form of service." (40) The highest forms of service are particularly evident in the lives of saints.

The light of love that von Balthasar sees "shining through again and again in the lives" of the Church's saints is not the self burning at its brightest. No, if the light is to have that complete spectrum of beauty--which is rightly ordered love--drawing one closer to the heart of the Church, it cannot be a self-fashioned monochromatic light. The beauty of the saint bears the love of Christ and lets his love radiate as a spectral wonder illumining grace received. The saint shows us that we can never find true joy while protecting and remaining in ourselves, like Plotinus's One--the self-sufficiency of the All in Plotinus can thus be usefully contrasted with the reality that Christ shall be "all in all" (Col 3:11). If Christ shall be "all in all," then we are granted a vision of the wonder and surprise that comes from the self-abandonment of remaining in Christ. Love becomes rightly ordered and most truly expansive when it is centered in Christ.

Let us remember, however, that we are in the Father's vineyard. To be centered in Christ is to be transported to the heart of the Trinitarian divine life, which is a life of giving and receiving. Contrary to the images of the enclosed circle, Christianity postulates the free God who gives himself away without reserve as the foundation of true freedom. As von Balthasar says in his Theo-Drama, God's nature "is always both what is possessed and what is given away, and we cannot say that a particular hypostasis is rich in possessing and poor in giving away, for the fullness of blessedness lies in both giving and receiving both the gift and the giver." (41) In Christ God has freely opened his own being to us, the "first fruits of his creation" (1 Jas 1:18) so that we too might join in God's infinite life of exchange. If the summum bonum, God, is a life of giving and receiving, which we can see best in the gift of God's only begotten Son to the world, then we too reach the perfection of our nature in a life that joyfully receives and gives back in gratitude for "every good and perfect gift" from above (1 Jas 1:17). Surely G. K. Chesterton was correct: "The test of all happiness is gratitude." (42)

How is the wonder of gratitude, and subsequently happiness, made available to us today? It is made available through a thanksgiving that must take the form of service. According to von Balthasar, "The human being has to accept that he must go through the narrow door of humiliation, of the Cross, encountering the infinite preciseLy in the most finite, in order to arrive at communion with infinite freedom." (43) This narrow door of communion has to be freely entered and can only be entered with the same self-abandonment with which Christ went to the Cross. Our self-giving must also "become obedient unto death" (Phil 2:8) so that we, like Timothy, might take our "share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works, but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, and now has manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus" (II Tim 1:8-9). (44) The paradox that we receive ourselves in full only when we give ourselves away is rooted in God's plan from ages ago to give himself away in his Son. The Son's choice to empty himself of every power so as to be filled with the Father's will is called kenosis, self-emptying.

Remaining thus in the self-emptying Christ, the God-man, we men and women are to bear divine fruit that is eternal in its very nature, for we have been made in the image of the divine. Grace is God's gift of a rightly aligned self to us, the gift of participation in the divine life. (45) In emptying ourselves, we are filled with Christ, the Resurrection and the Life. Our consummation in his divine life, our end, is what theologians call theosis, or divinization. At the heart of theology is the paradox that we are being made divine, but without ever becoming God apart from God or becoming subsumed into God to the complete loss of self. Von Balthasar thought that the world of his day, and even the world of our own day, could only accept this mystery--whereby God indwells the creature without doing violence to it--through letting go of ourselves and all our egotistical plans. His theology is thus something akin to this short formula: divinization occurs through participation in Christ's humility, theosis via kenosis. And since this occurs always in the Father's vineyard, our divinization is an elevation into life in the Trinity. Von Balthasar, in the voice of Christ speaking to the Father now, writes: "What flows down into me vertically from you [Father], my Source, this have I spread far and wide horizontally over the earth's expanse. And what was our eternal life, shared by both of us horizontally, up above in the circle of eternity, this have I brought down vertically to the very depths of the earth." (46) This vertical and horizontal form, the form of the Cross, is shared out to all who remain in the vine.

III. "Remain in Christ": According to the Gospel of St. John

In John 15:1-11 Jesus urges his hearers to remain in him, to remain in his love, which is ultimately the love of the Father, through the Holy Spirit. "Remain in" (Gk. menein en, in the sense of a rest-full state of being in which the subject is drawing its sustenance from the object of the preposition) is used ten times in verses 4-10. For the Christian dogmatic tradition, the final line of verse 5 in particular, "apart from me you can do nothing," has greatly influenced discussions of grace. As one biblical scholar has rightly noted, "Augustine used it to refute Pelagius who stressed [the human being's] natural power to do good works worthy of eternal reward; and the text was cited in 418 by the Council of Carthage ... against the Pelagians and again in 529 by the Second Council of Orange ... against the Semi-Pelagians ... again in the Council ofTrent ... in the argument of Rome against the Reformers, defending the meritorious quality of good works done in union with Christ." (47) Catholic tradition has tried to maintain the deifying paradox contained in the imagery of the vine and the vinedresser. Any resurgence of Pelagianism threatens to pare off one aspect of the paradox that the Church must always remain in: that is, the paradox of the infinite God indwelling the finite creature who does no violence to freedom, yet makes all freedom possible.

Von Balthasar reflects on this paradoxical participation in the final volume of The Glory of the Lord. He asserts that there are various formulae of remaining and indwelling unique to the Johannine corpus that he calls "reciprocal" on account of the fact that the order of faith and grace seems reversed. Scripture affirms that everything truly is grace. Nevertheless, many Johannine references reverse the order of causality: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him" (Jn 6:56); "All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us" (1 Jn 3:24); "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 Jn 4:15-16). (48) The believer abides in Christ and in God only because Christ and God dwell in him. Such images, writes von Balthasar,
 presuppose the trinitarian revelation of the inmost depth of God
 for the believer who makes space in himself: more precisely, they
 presuppose the identity of love between Father and Son both in the
 separation (which allows the obedience of faith to be conformed to
 the obedience of Christ) and in the abolition of this separation.
 It is only thus that the double formulae of immanence can be set
 up: "I in them, you in me" (Jn 17:23): "as the Father has loved
 me, I have loved you. Remain in my love: if you keep my
 commandments, you remain in my love, as I too remain in the love
 of my Father, since I have kept his commandments" (15: 9f). (49)

The double construct of immanence concerns our place in Christ and Christ's place in the Father. If we radiate Christ while remaining in him, we radiate the glory of the Father, since all that Christ has comes from the Father. The reciprocal nature of this interrelationship comes through whenever the freedom of the one who has been given all from outside the self must nonetheless venture all in discipleship. John has it in this order: "since" Christ has kept the commandments, he remains in the Father's love. (50) Yet the Father's love makes this remaining possible, and therefore the keeping of the commandments as well. The Johannine "remain in Christ" brings both aspects of divine and human freedom together in organic unity.

Accordingly, remaining in Christ is never separated from the activity of bringing forth divine fruit in this world, for "grace must grow." (51) Von Balthasar consciously continues the tradition of St. Irenaeus who spoke of the slow growth of the fruits of immortality in the human being. (52) Images of growth in the gospels, such as flowing water and bearing fruit, as in the passage of the vine and the vinedresser, are associated with the gift of the Holy Spirit to believers. Von Balthasar calls the Spirit's gift of growth the process of being "born of God," in accordance with John 1:13 (those who received Christ "were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God"), and all the other passages that "call Christians the children (sons) of God." (53) To be made into children of God, and thus "partakers of divine nature," as 2 Peter 1:4 has it, is to be incorporated into the Son's way of being with the Father.

The Son of God shows us what it means to be a filial self-gift in the hands of the divine Father. As such, Christ enlightens our hearts to see how a child acts, always dependent yet returning the gift of nurture with his playful love. In such childlike acts he permits us to see how it is that the human image bears the structure of trinitarian self-gift within itself wherein the Father is pleased by the playful obedience of the Son. "For the child," writes von Balthasar, "it is natural to receive good gifts, and so docility, obedience, trust and sweet surrender are not for him virtues to be expressly achieved but the most unreflectedly natural things in the world. ... He [also] shows his little treasures without hiding any of them; he wants to share (teilgeben) because he has experienced sharing (Teilgabe) as a form of goodness." (54) To give and receive is natural and spontaneous on the part of the child, and very seldom a matter of external command. Note the commonality here with Pope Benedict XVI's Deus caritas est: "Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere 'command'; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us." (55) Love received elicits the desire in the other to respond lovingly. Most children pull away when something is taken too violently or given in a manner of deliberate deceit. When parents give the child a sheltered place in which to give, then the giving and receiving occurs with creativity and joy that never ceases to amaze the parents.

Now, I shall indulge in a mixing of metaphors; for, complementary to the aforesaid, growth of the branch upon the vine depends upon this childlike transparency to the Father. To be "born of God" is to be incorporated into a relationship of trust that takes on the form of the mutual playfulness between child and parent. As followers of the Son, Christians are to be filled to overflowing with every good gift. In Paul, von Balthasar discerns this theme of superabundance, and such transparency travels as gift and gratitude. (56) The Spirit of God dwelling in the hearts of believers bears the divine life to the very center of our being. "Let my sap rise up within you," writes von Balthasar in the voice of Christ, "that you may hang heavy and golden." (57) The triune divinity occupies the depths of his creatures to such an extent that, according to von Balthasar, "the image becomes the space in which the archetype dwells and develops its power as grace ([delta][upsilon]v[alpha][micro][iota][??]--X[alpha][rho][iota][??])." (58) This power, of course, is made perfect in weakness and in serving others in the form of love.

We are thus indwelt and born of God preeminently through participation in the sacraments of the Church. (59) Our sins are forgiven through baptism, where we are incorporated into the eschatological and redemptive event of the Incarnation through the action of the Church and the imparting of the Holy Spirit. (60) In the Eucharist, von Balthasar asserts, "we have primarily the ever-new presence of Christ's physical humanity that has now become pneumatic." (61) Subsequently, the reciprocal action of receiving and being received by the pneumatic Christ also renders the human being pneumatic. We are inserted into the process of being changed into his image by his Spirit, as we saw earlier in Paul. The Eucharist changes us into the image of God's glory, the crucified Christ, so that we might radiate his spirit and life.

This Eucharistic Christ is present in the Church, and it is toward the Church as the source of Christ's life that we must continually turn. If the Resurrected Christ is to be received in the Church and bring us to unity, von Balthasar also urges us to remember that this return to the source is always accompanied by a mission toward the world: radiation and return, diastole and systole, (62) is the rhythm of the Christian life. (63) It is a rhythmic motion simultaneously moving in both directions. The Christian's power comes through weakness and the loss of self so that deified in Christ, who is kenotically transparent to the Father, we too might radiate the Father's glory into the world. (64) We are being moved toward theosis through kenosis because God the Father, through the sacred humanity of the Son, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, adopts us as his sons and daughters. Who the Son is by nature we become through grace: filii in Filio, no less son or daughter, the Father's paternity is now extended to created persons. (65)

According to von Balthasar, it is the Spirit who teaches us that we have been granted a share in the triune life. The Spirit does this by introducing us to "Our Father," the filial prayer of the Son to the Father. These words of the Only-Begotten teach us that we too might no longer be servants, but members of the Father's household, where the son "continues for ever" (Jn 8:35). This "continuing," writes von Balthasar, "is also an 'indwelling' and can also be applied to the Spirit himself (Rom 8:9, 11; 1 Cor 3:16) ... by this same indwelling of the Spirit we are initiated into that indwelling whereby Father and Son indwell the believer (Jn 14:23)." (66) In Christ, God the Father has opened his household to adopted sons and daughters. The adoption of the human person by the divine Persons is achieved by the power of the Holy Spirit, who makes his home in the center of our being so as to introduce us to the way that each divine Person dwells in the other. Theosis via kenosis is an adventure of journeying further and further into God's own way of dwelling as a communio with himself. It is vital that we register this notion of adoption when we speak of theosis because it reminds us that our participation in God's mutual indwelling never makes us into one of the divine Persons; our divinization is always of a creaturely sort. Von Balthasar never tired of reminding his readers that the difference between Creator and creature is the beginning of all dialogue with God, and that it can never disappear, even in the most intimate union with the divine life in eternity. Eternal life will therefore always be an adventure of remaining and dwelling because the divine life itself, imparted to us, is the pure act of persons remaining in one another in the form of service and self-gift, in the form of kenosis.


Let me end with a few words on how von Balthasar begins his great trilogy. He begins the first volume of The Glory of the Lord with the word "beauty," a word that he says "has never possessed a permanent place or an authentic voice in the concert of the exact sciences, and, when it is chosen as a subject for discussion, appears to betray in him who chooses it an idle amateur (Liebhaber) among such very busy experts." (67) Von Balthasar was, indeed, a lover in the best possible sense. The beauty he sought to incarnate in all his work was the beauty of Jesus the Christ, who emptied himself for the Father's self-gift, the beauty of the vine united to even the smallest of branches. In accordance with Paul, this mystery of "remaining in Christ" who "remains in the Father," is a "reciprocal indwelling," writes von Balthasar, "that lies beyond all imagination, proceeding from the perception of the 'unveiled vision of the glory [of love] of the Lord' to an 'ever more glorious reflection through the transformation into the same image, which the Lord works through the power of the Spirit' (2 Cor 3:18)." (68) If we are to depart from these lines with only one thing to remember about von Balthasar, it is this sense of the mystery that lies at the heart of his theology: the paradox of "remaining in Christ" so that we may "hang heavy and golden" upon the vine, filled, not with ourselves, but to overflowing with his wine, which he distributes through our "taut little spheres" (69) to the ends of the earth (cf. Jn 7:37-38). (70)


(1.) A version of this article was presented as a centenary lecture in honor of Hans Urs von Balthasar's birth, September 2, 2005, for the Austria Program, Ave Maria University, and the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria.

(2.) It is worth comparing Karl Barth's comments on remaining in Christ with what follows. See Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.3.2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1969), 543-54. Von Balthasar composed two books in an attempt to win Barth over to Catholicism (see the one-volume English edition, Two Sisters in the Spirit: Therese of Lisieux and Elizabeth of theTrinity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), but Barth found the material on the saints rather too close to an invocation of their lives as an "extension" of the incarnation (see John Webster, "Balthasar and Karl Barth," in Edward T. Oakes, SJ, and David Moss, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 241-55, esp. 253). The previous citation (esp. 543) shows a similar concern, and he further relates this notion of extension to the Lord's Supper and the (apparently erroneous) view of the priest as alter Christus. The relationship between divine and human freedom cuts deeply into the divides between Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic theologies. Even so, we must not read Barth as entirely devaluing human freedom. The work of John Webster and H. Richard Niebuhr (The Meaning of Revelation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, [1941] 2006), 82-100) before him, has shown that close readings of Barth's ethics reveals a profound appreciation for the value of human freedom.

(3.) German equivalents provided by von Balthasar are Gelassenheit and Gleichmutigkeit (Homo Creatus Est: Skizzen zur Theologie 5 [Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1986], 26), but it is important to keep in mind there are many types of Gelassenheit. See Jacques Servais, SJ, 'Au fondement d'une theologie de l'obeissance ignatienne Les Exercices spirituels selon H. U. von Balthasar,' NRT 116 (1994), 353-73; id., Theologie des Exercises spirituels: Hans Urs von Balthasar interprete saint Ignace (Bruxelles: Culture et Verite, 1996), 168-75.

(4.) Cf. Adrienne von Speyr, Erde und Himmel. Ein Tagebuch. Zweiter Teil II: Die Zeit der grossen Diktate, ed. and with an introduction by Hans Urs von Balthasar [Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1975], 195ff. Found in Peter Henrici, SJ, "Hans Urs von Balthasar: A Sketch of His Life," trans. John Saward, Hans Urs von Balthasar: His Life and His Work, ed. David L. Schindler (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 7-43; 13.

(5.) See Ben Quash, Theology and the Drama of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 19, 23, 76-79, 131-35, 140.

(6.) Von Balthasar thinks Ignatian indifference bears a family resemblance to the spirituality of the Stoa, which includes the apatheia of Zen, aspects of Indian thought, the Church Fathers, the "abandonment" of German mysticism, as well as the indiferencia of Ignatius and the amour pur of Fenelon (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology, vol. 3: Creator Spirit, trans. Brian McNeil, CRV [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993], 284).

(7.) St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, [section]23, trans. Louis J. Puhl, SJ (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), 12.

(8.) See Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, esp. [section][section]2-4.

(9.) Hans Urs von Balthasar, Pourquoi je me suis fait pretre (Tournai: Editions Centre Diocesain de Documentation, 1961), 21. Translation by Edward T. Oakes, SJ, Pattern of Redemption: The Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (New York: Continuum, [1994] 1997), 2, n. 2.

(10.) Note that von Balthasar's eminent teacher Erich Pryzwara also held this principle to be at the heart of his work, and gave it immediate reference to a Marian dimension: in Ignatian service "one's everyday life and activities must have as pulse beat the objective rhythm of 'fiat voluntas tua' [E. Przywara, Schriften I, 515.] and continuous fulfilling of the eternal will of God." James V. Zeitz, Spirituality and Analogia Entis according to Erich Przywara, S.J. (Washington, DC: University Press of America, Inc., 1982), 94.

(11.) John Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem, [section]31.

(12.) See David Vincent Meconi, SJ, "Philosophari in Maria: Fides et Ratio and Mary as the Model of Created Wisdom," in David Ruel Foster and Joseph Koterski, SJ, ed., The Two Wings of Catholic Thought: Essays on Fides et Ratio (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 69-87.

(13.) Von Balthasar, Creator Spirit, 225.

(14.) Ibid., 228.

(15.) Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Christian State of Life, trans. Sister Mary Frances McCarthy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983), 29.

(16.) Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, vol. I: Seeing the Form, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982), 489.

(17.) Simone Weil, "Beauty," in George A. Panichas, ed., The Simone Weil Reader (New York: David McKay Company, 1977), 379.

(18.) St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 39, a. 8.

(19.) Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, "As kingfisher's catch fire," in Norman H. MacKenzie, ed., The Poetical Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 141.

(20.) Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, vol. 3, Dramatis Personae: Persons in Christ, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 297.

(21.) Von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, vol. 3: 297.

(22.) Ibid., 296.

(23.) Ibid., 299.

(24.) Ibid., 300.

(25.) See SimoneWeil, Waiting for God (San Francisco: Harper Perennial, 2009), passim.

(26.) See FrancisThompson, "The Hound of Heaven," in The Hound of Heaven and Other Poems (Wellesley, MA: Branden Books, [1978] 2000), 11-16; Simone Weil, Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks (NewYork: Routledge, [1957] 1998) 1-17.

(27.) Von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, vol. 3: 351.

(28.) Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Heart of theWorld, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1979), 76.

(29.) Ibid., 73.

(30.) The letter from the young aesthete, Oct. 11, My silent confidant, in Soren Kierkegaard, Repetition, tran. Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941), 104; or HowardV. Hong and Edna H. Hong, ed., Kierkegaard's Writings, vol. 6, Fear and Trembling/Repetition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 200.

(31.) Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Threefold Garland, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982), 63.

(32.) Cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, [section]24.

(33.) Plotinus, Enneads, VI, 8, 17; cited in Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, vol. 2, Dramatis Personae: Man in God, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 200.

(34.) St. Augustine, Confessions, III.6.11. For more on the Magister Interior, see von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord, vol. 1: 430; Homo Creatus Est, 237; Theo-Drama, vol. 2: 230, 242; Theo-Drama, vol. 4, The Action, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), 373.

(35.) For "homo incurvatus in se" in Luther, see Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther's Theology: Its Historical and Systematic Development (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 251, where he cites an early lecture on the book of Romans.

(36.) Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger, Two Say Why, trans. John Griffiths (London: Search Press, 1973), 215.

(37.) Cf. von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, vol. 4: 370-71.

(38.) Didache 1.1, in Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, trans. Maxwell Stanforth (NewYork: Penguin Books, 1987), 191.

(39.) St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises [section][section]136-48; Puhl, 60-63.

(40.) Von Balthasar, The Christian State of Life, 71-72.

(41.) Von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, vol. 2: 258.

(42.) G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (NewYork: Image Books, 1990), 55.

(43.) Von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, vol. 2: 276.

(44.) Cf. Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, [section]13.

(45.) Cf. Vatican II, Lumen gentium [section]2.

(46.) Von Balthasar, The Heart of theWorld, 87-88.

(47.) Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 678.

(48.) See Hasn Urs von Balthasar's full list of relevant New Testament passages in Glory of the Lord, vol. 7: The New Covenant (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 309, n. 3.

(49.) Ibid.

(50.) The Greek IER with the aorist subjunctive here sets forth a particular condition in the protasis with the implication that the future condition stated in the apodisis [QIRIMXI] will continue as the present as long as the condition remains unchanged. Jesus fulfilled his calling without changing the conditions, and thus he remains in the Father's love. This is different than a conditional love that is performance based. It is a love that is state based and depends on a particular condition being met in the state of the apodisis. As an example of fulfilled conditions Jesus uses to compare his relationship to the father is reflected in the term [QIR?-present indicative] of his active state.

(51.) Von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord, vol. 7: 310, n. 8.

(52.) Cf. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Logic, vol. 3: The Spirit ofTruth, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 187, and Ireneaus, Against the Heresies, 3.19.1.

(53.) Von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord, vol. 7: 310, n. 10.

(54.) Hans Urs von Balthasar, UnlessYou Become Like This Child, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 22; id., Wenn ihr nicht werdet wie dieses Kind, 2nd ed. (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1988), 26.

(55.) Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, [section]1.

(56.) Von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord, vol. 7: 310.

(57.) Von Balthasar, The Heart of the World, 76.

(58.) Von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord, vol. 7: 310.

(59.) Cf. von Balthasar, Theo-Logic, vol. 3: 256-57, for comments on "being born of God" in John and the possibility of faith outside the Church and her sacraments.

(60.) Cf. von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, vol. 3: 431.

(61.) Ibid.

(62.) See von Balthasar, Theo-Logic, vol. 1: 54; Apokalypse der Deutschen Seele: Studien zu einer Lehre von letzten Haltungen III: Die Vergottlichung des Todes (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1998), 384; Theology of Karl Barth, trans. Edward T. Oakes (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 353; von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord, vol. 1: 451; Glory of the Lord, vol. 5: The Realm of Metaphysics in the Modern Age (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 461; David C. Schindler, The Dramatic Structure of Truth (NewYork: Fordham University Press, 2004), 133.

(63.) The systolic pressure of the heart and the diastolic pressure make up the two metric components of the blood pressure measure we use to judge the health of a heartbeat. In essence they are the life-sustaining metrics by which medically we judge the heart's health.

(64.) Cf. the section titled "The Church'sTwofold Movement" (Theo-Logic, vol. 3: 259-66) for more of von Balthasar's understanding of the nature of the Church's mission.

(65.) Cf. von Balthasar, Theo-Logic, vol. 3: 18: "We can only be introduced to the christological reality if we are prepared to be assimilated to it. This unveils the central Pauline aspect of this 'guiding' by the Spirit: it makes us to be sons in the eternal Son, filii in Filio. This can be expressed in Paul's 'in Christ,' 'in the Spirit,'or in the Johannine, 'We will come to him and make our home with him' (Jn 14:23)."

(66.) Von Balthasar, Theo-Logic, vol. 3: 75-76.

(67.) Von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord, vol. 1: 17.

(68.) Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible, trans. D. C. Schindler (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 123.

(69.) The phrase is Von Balthasar's and appears in The Heart of the World, 76.

(70.) I would like to thank Julie Desmond, David Vincent Meconi, SJ, Cyrus P. Olsen Jr., Walter Hooper, Paul S. Fiddes, and Nicholas J. Healey for their support and encouragement.
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