God as the “Super-Word”

Light of truth

God is for Hans Urs von Balthasar the Super-Word: “Christians value the positive fullness of his silence, the breath of the Father in the Word.” For Balthasar, “everything depends on whether God has spoken to man or if the Absolute remains silence beyond all words.” literary men and women everywhere in the world tried to echo the Word which was with the Divine. So he laments that the Christian tradition has dialogued for a thousand years with Plato “without notice of the Tragedians and their forefather Homer.” To the “forefather Homer” Balthasar reserves the highest praise: “In no other poetry of world literature is God so unceasingly recalled in every life situation—His might, His presence, His activity in everything through outer events, through inner inspiration and strengthening—in no other poetry does one pray so much, petition so much for help, render thanks, sacrifice, or make vows as in Homer.” Homeric man lives in a world in which “the divine… holds sway.” Thus, “In the free indwelling of God the fulfilling elevation of the human is experienced, as that purification of his mortal lowliness which simultaneously bestows upon him happiness, meaning of life and beauty.” It is this willingness to let man be man that lets man’s true worth be seen, the “light out of darkness, life in death.” The heart of man dares risk itself. It is precisely at this point that what the Ancients had known as “Glory” yields to that which in the “age of philosophy… will be called the ‘beautiful” – the literature.

Even in the Song of Songs, he wonders if the notion of the “union of Yahweh with His People” is understood as something that happens “in person.” Thus, “Even when the Jewish element sees itself as liberal, unbelieving, atheistic: Israel as a People is that which counts in the individual”… “While the Gentiles seek to escape the world through contemplation, “non-believing ‘Jewry’ produces world-changing, futurological schemes, which are mightily stimulated by the wonders of modern technology and not least by the insights of the natural sciences concerning evolution. If the Gentiles are tempted to a “flight out of time,” the Jewish temptation is the utopian one of “transforming the world into a paradise.”

The “theological a priori of all Balthasar’s thought is his aesthetics.” They inquire little about God, but God asks uncomfortably much about them. In his praise of the “being found by God,” Balthasar writes that, “Being found stands so much higher over Seeking (revelation over myth, theology over philosophy), it has so overtaken Seeking with its light and overshadowed it into insignificance and triviality…, that the stage of Seeking seems dispensable to those who have been Found.” No word touching the human relation to God resounds so ceaselessly, in a hundredfold repetitions and variations through the entire Old Testament as the word, “quaerere Dominum” it is as if the ray of grace which has struck the lowest and innermost part of man reveals for the first time the entire reality of his being as a created nature.

Glory and Power stand close together, yet to be sure not so much like the “eternal power” (Rom. 1:20), which shows itself in transitory, temporal creatures, but rather much more as God’s more astounding power to express His abyssal Being Other in His supernatural “Word” as a revelation that is understandable and appropriate to the world. Christian “theology” is Logos about God from the Logos of the God who is expressing Himself in the prophetic Word become man. God’s three speeches to man we learn that nature is a book that is really only read by Christians who can see the hand of God in it. Nature is an exteriorly written book, Scripture an interiorly written book, Christ the God-man is the “apocalyptically outer and innerly written book.”

Reality has the dialogical character. The word character of the Incarnation corresponds to the word which is at the heart of being a human. Word means something like full expression of abundance, the word abundantly. Pascal has written that to understand Scripture one must have the same Spirit in which Scripture was written. This is a spirit which can see Heaven in a blade of grass, one which looks for the whole in each of the pieces. Christ is the primordial Word that includes all the words of the Old Testament and indeed all the words of creation. He is that which keeps the meaning of God’s expression together and is the total Word-form that must be understood before one can understand any of the words of Scripture.

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