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Ratzinger on Balthasar

October 29, 2006

Excepts from the Message of Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger)to the Participants in the International Convention on the Occasion of the Centenary of the Birth of the Swiss Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar

“It is with great pleasure that I join you spiritually in celebrating the centenary of the birth of Hans Urs von Balthasar. I had the joy of knowing and associating with this renowned Swiss theologian. I am convinced that his theological reflections preserve their freshness and profound relevance undiminished to this day and that they incite many others to penetrate ever further into the depths of the mystery of the faith, with such an authoritative guide leading them by the hand. On an occasion like this I could easily be tempted to dwell on personal memories, based on the sincere friendship between us and on the numerous projects that we undertook together, in response to the many challenges of those years. The founding of the review Communio, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, remains the most evident sign of our common commitment to theological research. Yet it is not memories that I intend to speak about, but rather the richness of von Balthasar’s theology.”

I can testify that his life was a genuine search for truth, which he understood as a search for the true Life. He looked everywhere for signs of the presence of God and of his truth: in philosophy, in literature, in religions, always managing to break through the circuitous reasoning that often holds the mind a prisoner of itself, and opening it up to the horizons of the infinite.”

Hans Urs von Balthasar was a theologian who placed his research at the service of the Church, because he was convinced that theology could be defined only in terms of ecclesiality. Theology, as he conceived of it, must be joined with spirituality; indeed, only in this way could it be profound and effective.”

Accordingly, one of the central themes that he liked to dwell on was demonstrating the necessity of conversion. The change of heart was a central point for him; indeed, only in this way does the mind free itself from the limits that prevent it from drawing near to the mystery, enabling the eyes to fix their gaze upon the face of Christ. In a word, he had grasped profoundly the fact that theology can develop only with prayer that recollects the presence of God and relies upon him in obedience. This is a road that is worth traveling to the very end. It allows us to avoid one-sided approaches that can only lead away from the goal, and it safeguards against following fashionable trends that fragment our interest in what is essential. The example that von Balthasar has given us is, rather, that of a true theologian who in contemplation had discovered a consistent course of action for giving Christian witness in the world. We remember him on this important occasion as a man of faith, a priest who, in obedience and in a hidden life, never sought personal approval, but rather in the true Ignatian spirit always desired the greater glory of God.”

With these sentiments, I encourage all of you to continue, with interest and enthusiasm, your study of the writings of von Balthasar and to find ways of applying them practically and effectively.”

Read full message here


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