Hans Urs von Balthasar

Theologian (1905-1988)
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Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss theologian, never held an academic post. Alone among the great theologians of his generation, he was not invited to participate in Vatican II. Yet, in his massive output, he played an enormous role in shifting the axis of Catholic theology.  

Before joining the Jesuits in 1929, he had already earned a doctorate in literature. Bored by lectures in neoscholastic theology, he found himself engaged by his reading of the Church Fathers, and later by the Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth. A third great influence came from his encounters with a woman doctor and mystic, Adrienne von Speyr, whom he had received into the Church and whom he came to regard as his theological partner and, indeed, teacher. With her he wished to found a Secular Institute to bridge the gap between the religious and lay states. When his superiors would not support this project, he resigned from the Jesuits and became a diocesan priest.  

His most significant work was an enormous trilogy of many volumes, tracing God’s relation to creation in the converging lines of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. He called his work a “kneeling theology,” indicating its relation to contemplative prayer as opposed to a merely academic or “sitting” theology.  

In 1988 Pope John Paul II asked him to become a cardinal. He died two days before the ceremony on June 26, 1988.  

“When you say Yes to God unconditionally, you have no idea how far this Yes is going to take you. Certainly farther than you can guess and calculate beforehand.” —Hans Urs von Balthasar 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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