The strange witness of the saints: Hans Urs von Balthasar's embodied theology of mission

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Theological Studies


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: William L. Portier


The thesis surveys Hans Urs von Balthasar's theology of mission as presented within the context of the first two parts of his trilogy: The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics; and the Theo-Drama. Primary characteristics of his theology of mission are highlighted regarding his assessment of the state of the discipline of theology and its ability to apologize for the faith and to dialogue with contemporary culture. Balthasar envisions the transcendentals of beauty, goodness, and truth, as vital for reimagining the faith and the aggiornamento proposed by Vatican II. Balthasar identifies beauty as the transcendental that has been marginalized by an acquiescent academy deferential to modern pragmatism. For Christianity, the form of beauty that reconciles existential tensions is Jesus Christ. The crucified Christ is the concrete, awe-inspiring, counter-intuitive beauty that demands a response. Balthasar uses the doctrine of analogy of being to reunify the transcendentals and reconcile them with theology. By contemplating the three Persons of the Trinity and their perichoretic dynamism, Balthasar uses the analogy of the theater to disclose the drama of the Christian life. With the hinge of history, Christ, in the incarnation, cross and resurrection, a space is opened up for persons to participate in Trinitarian relationship and redemptive suffering for the salvation of the world. Individual subjects freely respond to a personal encounter with Christ. Receptive assent and obedient submission to a uniquely tailored personal mission transform individual subjects into theological persons, or saints. The theological person lives out a theological mission, and existence takes on a theological hue quelling existential anxiety and instilling hope. As Jesus Christ is the full utterance of the Father, so, by analogy, through Jesus Christ, each theological person can utter anew a tiny fresh utterance of revelation. After laying out the matrix of Balthasar's theology of mission, the thesis seeks to illustrate how mission is actually lived out in individual lives beginning with the source of all missions, Jesus Christ. Mary, the mother of God, and St. Therese of Lisieux are held up to the template of mission since Balthasar is vigorous in his assertion that concrete embodiment is paramount for the fresh relevant proclamation of the faith. The flesh and blood men and women who answer the call of Christ, and the idea of who God intended them to be, are born again as irresistible icons of meaningful living aligned and rooted within Scripture, Sacrament, and the Church. Mary and Therese prove to be holy fools or the strange witnesses that embody Christ to the world. The thesis closes with a look at the healing power of the saint for the ruptures in theology as defined by Balthasar. A short reflection on mission as embodied theology, briefly explores his critique of Therese and his relationship with Adrienne von Speyr.


Balthasar, Hans Urs von, 1905-1988 Criticism and interpretation, Christian life, Witness bearing (Christianity), Missions, Theology, Balthasar, theology of mission, theology of saints, embodied theology, trilogy, saint, theological person, theological mission, witness, theodrama, theoaesthetics

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