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incisiveness, equates philosophy as such with the question of

being, which is simultaneously the question of freedom(!).73In

Retrieving the Tradition
his insistence on the question of being, Balthasar agrees with
Heidegger. Heidegger's refusal to acknowledge God as the
giver of all being sets the two a ~ a r t . ~
If 4philosophy no longer
asks the question of being, and does not allow itself to enter
On the tasks of Catholic
into the question about God, it sinks into boredom, and ulti-
mately degenerates into rationalism and positivism.75 But
philosophy in our time
when it dares seriously to keep inquiring anew about being, it
will find out that "the invisible God, contemplated in his cre-
ation, is ontologically no farther from our age than from any Hans Urs von Balthasar
other" (SC, 278).-Translated by Thomas Caldwell, S.J., and
Albert K. Wimmer
The finally valid answer to pagan wisdom,
the answer equal to it in rank, can lie only
in the total Christian wisdom.

Catholic philosophy stands today in the same twilight as every

other area of the Church's theoretical and practical activity,
indeed in the same twilight as the Church as a whole v i s - h i s
the modern world. Increasing secularization has forced the
73"Borrowing Heidegger's phraseology, if the philosophical act happens Church out of her undisputed position as the crowning of all
where existence entirely reveals itself in its totality, how can a human being
or an epoch that exists oblivious of existence (Seinsvergessenheit) philoso- worldly domains and has brought her ever more strongly into
phize?"("Freiheit," in Freiheit [Polis 71: Radio Lectures by H . Barth, B. Drrkor, A . another situation which is juxtaposed, or even subordinated, to
Portnmnn, H.U. von Balthasar, K . Barth and W . uon drtt Steinen, ed. by M . worldly structures; seen from the outside and from the per-
Geiger, H. Ott, and L. Vischer [Zurich, 19601, p. 47). Cf. also H I, 137-38; H spective of the world, she is permitted to remain in this situa-
111, 1, 943; Dir Walrrheit ist sy~nplro~rische. Aspekte des clrristlichen Pluralismus tion as something perhaps still tolerated, but in any case thor-
(Einsiedeln, 1971), 45; Epilog, 14ff. Balthasar was fully aware of the fact that
the question of existence may be formulated in different ways (Die Walrrheit ist oughly obsolete and questionable. This frequently brutal
synphonbclre, 41-43). Consequently, M . Theunissen's verdict, "only undistin- dismissal of the Church's authority also in worldly matters of
guished imitators (Epigonm) know what constitutes philosophy" (Negative politics, of the planning of the world, and above all in matters
Tlrcologi~irrZeit [Frankfurt a.M., 19911, 14), will not apply to Balthasar. of the spirit and science, does indeed correspond in part to an
7.1H 111, 1, 786-87. Regarding the conversations with Heidegger, cf. J.B.
increasing falling away of the educated and of the masses from
Lotz, Vonr Sein zrlln Heiligen. Metaplrysiclrrs Dellken nadr Hridegger (Frankfurt
a.M., 1990).The intimate connection between the topics discussed during the the Christian faith, but in part also to a process (acknowledged
conversations with Heidegger and the conversations with Taoists and Zen- and justified by the Church herself) in which the natural orders
Buddhists mentioned in footnote 87 is documented by R. May, Ex orietrte lux: and areas of knowledge assume autonomy, as was demanded
Hci~i~ggers Wcrk rrn trr osti~siatisclrenrEil~flrlP(Stuttgart, 1989). It is entirely pos- by the Vatican Council itself in its clear distinction between the
sible that the necessary inter-cultural dialogue will once again determine that natural and the supernatural orders: duplex ordo cognitionis,
asking questions about existence has nothing to do with a craze long since
abandoned. For instance, G. Scherer correctly refers to Taoism in his discus-
proprio objecto, propria methodo (Denzinger 1795, 1799). This
sion of the question of existence (Welt-Natur odrr Schopfirllg? [Darmstadt, makes a kind of subordination between Christianity and the
19901, 140).
" ~ h r i s t ~sind
n einfiiltig, 107. Cmmunio 20 (Spring, 1593). 01593 by Communio: l n l e r ~ t i o Gtholu
~l hinu
150 Hans Llrs von Balthasar Catholic philosophy 151
it does not take its stance on this watch-tower, it will vacillate of theology to be identical. But if philosophy primarily contem-
nervously and restlessly between on the one hand a modernity plates the Being of this world, in order to press forward from this
that has fallen captive to the philosophy of the modern world, to the boundary of absolute Being as principium et finis (Denz-
enticed and fascinated by its magic-a modernity that adheres inger 1785), while theology primarily begins with God's self-
to every tendency and current that blossoms at the present utterance in the Logos, in order ultimately to include the mean-
moment, under the pretext of keeping up with the march of ing of the world also in God's revelation in Christ and in the
time, and thus loses itself-and on the other hand an arrogant Church, then these two objects overlap materially to such an
self-sufficiency that thinks it can avoid every interior confron- extent that the confrontation becomes unavoidable. And it is
tation with modern philosophy merely on the basis of the once only in this confrontation that something like Catholic philos-
valid, medieval synthesis between Christianity and the world. ophy comes into being. It has its origin in the consideration that
If one looks at it in a merciless light, then, this is the situation the light of faith in God's self-utterance about his own essence
of Catholic philosophy today, and only a courageous reflection and the meaning of the world is the ultimate authority to such
on the most universal structure of what is Christian can show an extent that this light must necessarily also send its rays over
the way out of this situation. onto the light of reason: in negative terms, this means that
1. 011the general attitllde of Catholic philosophy nothing which opposes the light of faith can be true on the level
of reason, i.e., that theology must count as the negative norm
The formal solution of the position of Christian of reason. But going beyond this, in positive terms, too, this
thinking vis-a-vis worldly thinking has been sufficiently means that a reason which is illuminated by faith is able to know
sketched in the words which we have quoted from the Vatican things of the natural world which a reason lacking this light-
Council. Philosophy as such is a conclusive worldly science indeed, a reason deprived of this light by sin and weakened and
which on the one hand establishes a priori the ultimate laws obscured in itself-will necessarily overlook, or will recognize
about Being and about the world, its meaning, its provenance, only in a disfigured form.
and its goal, which can be deduced'from what exists and from The negative demarcation over against theology
spirit; on the other hand it a posteriori brings together the results would not suffice by itself to justify the expression "Catholic
of the investigation from the individual spheres of Being-mat- philosophy." Within its own sphere, philosophical activity
ter, life, soul, consciousness-and confronts these with the ap- would be a purely worldly activity that was regulated only from
rioristic laws of metaphysics. To the extent that reason is au- the outside by the laws of a higher sphere, in the way in which
tonomous at all, such an activity is no less autonomous in a subordinate science does not lose its autonomy simply by
relationship to faith and to revelation than other branches of virtue of the fact that its first axioms have their place in a higher
human investigation: but precisely "to this extent." This au- science. Only the positive perspective in which it becomes clear
tonomy remains at the service of the revelation, opened to that philosophy's instrument, reason, and philosophy's object,
revelation and therefore also available to faith and to the worldly Being, if these are contemplated in their ultimate con-
genuine needs of faith. One such need is faith's self-under- creteness, cannot in the least be separated from the reality of
standing, the fides qziaerens intellectunz, which can make use in its revelation-viz. of the grace which has gone out into nature and
own way of the results, the methods, and the concepts of phi- of the faith which has been given to reason and has been de-
losophy in this activity which is not philosophical but theoret- manded by reason-only this perspective demonstrates the to-
ical, in order to attain its own ends. And since the light of faith tal interweaving of both spheres and justifies speaking of Cath-
is a supernatural light, it is superior to the light of reason and olic philosophy. In the light of faith, both a pure nature and a
does not owe to reason any ultimate reckoning for the use it pure reason appear as abstractions which indeed need not be
makes of philosophical thought. But it is impossible for these false as such, but which lack any corresponding detached and
two ways of forming concepts about the ultimate essence of the separate reality in the concrete world-order. The human person,
world and of Being to remain unconnected to each other. It is as he exists de facto, is always a priori one who has taken a
not indeed possible for the formal object of philosophy and that position and a decision for or against the God of grace, because
152 Hmzs Urs von Balthasar Catho1ic philosophy 153

the entire order of nature has been set a priori by the revelation God the triune. Philosophy and theology in him are nourished
of Christ at the service of his supernatural kingdom. Thus, too, from the same er&.
the concrete eye of reason is always already either an eye that But it is precisely at this point that Catholic philos-
is purified and made keener by the light of faith and love, or else ophy, which has just been justified, becomes a problem once
an eye that is obscured by original sin or by personal guilt. This again. It is surely not necessary to prove that the non-Catholic
supernatural modality does not in any way destroy the relative thinker strives explicitly to attain the ultimate dimension of the
autonomy of nature and of its epistemological capacity. A re- truth in his philosophizing, that for him it is only this ultimate
peated error in the course of the history of Christian thought has striving that deserves the name of wisdom, just as it is only
been to consider the potency of reason as annihilated and re- wisdom that deserves the commitment of the whole intellectual
moved in its essence by sin, and therefore to set faith in the passion of his search for the truth. An intellectual ergs that would
position of natural knowledge. But the n~aterialseparation of the stop short at a penultimate truth would not at all deserve the
two spheres of reason and faith, as this is demanded by the name of philosophy, in the eyes of Plato or Hegel. The venture
Vatican Council, does not in any way prevent the recognition of of the total gift of self, the adventure of the spirit, is so enticing
their de fncto interconnection in the concrete world-order as this and so promising only because it is the ultimate dimension
in fact exists from Adam onwards and as indeed it was deter- attainable to the human person. Even when they see the sphere
mined from primeval times in the plan of God's providence. of the knowledge which can be formulated in concepts as some-
This becomes particularly clear when one recalls thing that transcends itself into a sphere of the mystic, orphic,
that all the great thinkers have presented philosophy, as an mythical, symbolic in some sense or other, nevertheless it is this
ultimate knowledge of the ultimate foundations of the world, transcendence-and precisely this-which remains the genu-
as a function that goes beyond mere theoretical thinking and inely philosophical act for the sake of which the entire concep-
makes demands of the entire human person. Philosophy tual preparatory work was worthwhile: as it were, the basis and
means literally love of wisdom: Thus it contains an ethical material of the absolute knowing. Thus there is no doubt that
element and thereby an element of decision, because it is not the non-Christian philosopher lives in his thinking from the
possible for the human person to turn with ultimacy to the same passion for what is ultimate which is the only source from
total object, to the Absolute, without a decision. From Plato which the Christian thinker can live as a believer and as a
and Plotinus to Hegel, Nietzsche and Bergson, we find a keen theologian. All truly living philosophy outside Christianity lives
awareness of the insight that the pure intellect in its turn is from a theological erds, and it is only through this erds that it has
only an abstraction, when it is a matter of philosophy, of the the power to move and to draw others into the same disposition
love of wisdom. The one who loves burns with passion for this of seeking orientated towards what is ultimate.
object in which the one who does not love sees only a dry But how do things stand with Christian philoso-
concept. For the one who loves, knowledge can be achieved phy, seen from this perspective? When the concrete Logos pro-
only by committing the total personality. This commitment is ceeds forth from the Father as the ultimate dimension of wis-
not an irrational element, something that would call into ques- dom and utters unheard-of and unimagined things about the
tion the objectivity of the knowledge achieved, but a method- abysses of the Godhead and about the designs of God and the
ological precondition for attaining objectivity itself. For the meaning of creation and redemption, when the believer begins
Christian thinker, however, this decision cannot be cleanly sep- to drink at these eternal springs and thereby streams of the
arable from the other total decision which is demanded in a eternal wisdom begin to spring up in the believer himself, does
leitmotif that goes through the whole of the gospel: the deci- not Christian philosophy then come into the position of some-
sion for God which means in concrete terms the decision for thing penultimate which thereby loses the genuine power of
Christ and for his Church. There is not space in one soul for conviction that catches others up, too? If the Christian philos-
two ultimate orientations and gifts of self. That love which opher once looks back, from the height of God's self-utterances
draws Plotinus to the infinite beauty of the "One" and which about himself and the world, and from the total act of the
makes the knowledge of this "One" possible for him has no loving faith with which he adheres to these statements, upon
other name in the Christian thinker Augustine than love for what human reason was able to stammer in its own power
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156 Hans llrs von Balthasar Catholic philosophy 157

chains of thought with which one can adorn and garland the of absolute Being may have validity as a proposition that has
Christian dimension externally. Rather, it is itself a genuine, been reduced to order, and the triplex via positionis, negationis,
philosophical achievement and as such it is surely to be ac- eminentiae may have its validity as a genuine (though dialectic)
claimed as the genuine achievement of Christian philosophy in methodology that permits one to be sure of the contents of this
the course of intellectual history. Here there lies the creative proposition and to make some kind of sense of it. But if one's
element of Catholic philosophy, which cannot be disregarded boundaries are broken open ever afresh and ever more widely
for a moment or passed over as something of secondary sig- in the knowledge of Christ, so that one enters into the truth
nificance. This is not altered by the fact that it remains an which lies in him and above him, the truth of the infinite love
achievement in the service of theology, carried out with a view between the Father and the Son, into this ever illimitable tes-
to theology. This achievement remains so significant in itself timony which is one (Jn 8:14) and yet double (Jn 5:31f.) because
that it call be set beside the greatest achievements of non-Chris- it has the trinitarian form; if one has learned to locate the es-
tian philosophy without any need for it to blush; naturally, sence of truth in general in this unique mystery of the love
precisely this comparison discloses that these non-Christian between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit, and one
achievements are themselves veiled theology. is able now to see all other truth as only a reflection of this
It is possible to distinguish and to describe sepa- innermost kernel of truth-then one will also have grasped
rately two sides of this Christian achievement, although they that, just as the archetype of the revealed truth, the Son, is true
belong together inherently: the art of breaking open all finite, because he eternally opens himself to the infinite Father, then
philosophical truth in the direction of Christ, and the art of the a fortiori all the finite truth of this world can establish itself as
clarifying transposition. truth only by opening out onto the mystery of God. Thus it is
In "taking captive all human systems of thought" not for nothing that the Fathers adopt the term "philosophia"
(2 Cor. 10:5) for the truth of Christ, the Catholic philosopher for the Christian act of thinking of the revealed truth, precisely
demonstrates that he does not cany out his worldly activity in also in its function of breaking through the boundaries of all
an independent special sphere, but stands here in the very pagan truth outside Christianity in the direction of Christ; and
heart of his Christian task. If he is truly a Christian thinker, in this, they do not overlook the point that one can speak of
there is no other conclusive meaning which he can give to his philosophy here only when the whole existence, the bios
thinking. But this produces in him a quite specific awareness of philosophikos, accompanies this thinking and is in accordance
the truth. As a believer, he knows the word of the Lord, in with it.
which he himself calls himself the truth. He is the infinite truth The nonchalance with which they relativize even
as God, in his unity with the Father in the Holy Spirit; but in the greatest of humanity's attempts at thought when compared
him, this infinite truth has appeared in the form of finite, to this Absolute is derived from the absoluteness of the truth of
worldly truth. After the Son has lived on earth, this truth can Christ, which appears as a person, and from their faith in this
no longer be considered an unattainable transcendentale, but truth as the immovable rock on which all other knowledge
must count as something attainable, even if it is also eternally rests. This is not at all a relativization in the sense of a skeptical
surpassing and overwhelming. Through this approach on the calling into question of all inner-worldly truth, but in the sense
part of the eternal truth, the Christian thinker has received a of a loosening up of all the systems which, thanks to original
concrete vision of the provisional character of all purely human sin, had congealed into absoluta and which only for this reason
thinking in its relationship to the divine, revealed truth which were mutually exclusive, in order to put them at the universal
is quite different from what is apprehended by the non-Chris- service of the one Christian truth. In this activity, the Fathers
tian. In faith, he has attained an experience that allows him to do no more than take seriously the principle of analogia entis,
sense what eternal life may be: the infinite and ever new ex- according to which all worldly Being and therefore, also, the
perience of being flooded by the ever incomprehensible great- transcendental properties of this worldly Being (which includes
ness of the glory and by the inexhaustible marvels of the love the property of truth) can be spoken of as Being only in a
of God. Without this experience in faith in Christ, the infinity secondary, analogous sense which is determined by the first
158 Hans Urs von Balfhasar Cafholic philosophy 159
sense of this term. And as the one infinite Being of God reveals summa of what can be thought, and would have given them the
itself through the fullness and manifold character of the form of place appropriate to them. The genius for ordering which this
worldly Being, which is in itself held in tension, contradictory greatest of Christian thinkers possessed is a genius of lay-out:
and mutually determinative in a polar relationship, so too the few thoughts of human beings are so foolish that they cannot
infinite truth of the Trinity is portrayed only through innumer- attain their own relative significance at the distance from the
able forms of expression of worldly truth, which can of course center which is appropriate to them. In themselves, and in
come more or less close to the ideal of the divine truth. isolation, they appear to have little value, but even the most
This makes it clear that what is customarily called contemptible stone, if it is hewn correctly and given its place in
the philosophical syncretism of the Fathers, and still in part of the totality of the cathedral building, takes on its significance as
the scholastics, corresponds to an intention and an attitude bearer or as ornament. Everything can be used, unless it wishes
which are quite different from what can be called syncretism in to exclude itself from the great order, refusing to serve the total
the realm of the natural intellectual sciences. Their aim was not truth. This is how Thomas thought and worked, as did Leibnitz
in the least to pluck out individual propositions in each case later on, and Newman later on again. They -are affirmative
from different systems, in order to juxtapose them cleverly and spirits to an eminent degree, capable of discovering the faded
select them and thus to arrive at a new form of philosophical copy of the original provenance even in inconspicuous forms of
knowledge which would perhaps be more up-to-date, perhaps the truth. The fragment or stone that they pick up may come
looser. When the Fathers adopt elements of Platonic, Aristote- from the bed of a Christian stream, or of a pagan or heretical
lian, Stoic, Neo-Platonic, Gnostic, and Hermetic thought, and stream, but they know how to cleanse it and to polish it until that
make use of these simultaneously alongside one another with radiance shines forth which shows that it is a fragment of the
an apparent nonchalance, this is not due to an impotent, dec- total glorification of God. Such a methodology may appear dan-
adent and syncretistic form of thought, but on the contrary to gerous, because the clear and sharp outlines of the evangelical
a wholly original, precise, and irreducible insight of faith into decision threaten to become blurred in it. This is the form of
the essence of the divine truth. They are so deeply convinced of thought which necessarily had to be confused by unbelieving
the all-embracing authority of Christ not only over all creatures criticism with the syncretism of late Antiquity, the form of
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, but also over all the thought which permitted Christianity to amalgamate itself with
forms of creaturely truth, that they cannot rest until they have the elements of Hellenism which were alien to its own being. But
brought all these forms into the service of the one truth. "Ev- everything depends here on the disposition in which the syn-
erything is yours; but you belong to Christ, and Christ to G o d thesis is made: if the knowledge of the absoluteness of the truth
(1 Cor. 3:23): this is the ethos out of which they think. Thus of Christ stands at the abiding origin of such thought, and if the
what presents itself externally as a Hellenistic syncretism, e.g. decision for him has been made with the entire purity of a loving
in Alexandria (just as one may find much in Origen that exter- soul, then it is legitimate and safe to adopt the intellectual
nally sounds like an echo of Philo), is seen on closer examina- mission to go out into all the world and to take captive all truth
tion to be the attempt to let the entire worldly truth become for Christ. "Test evenjthing and retain what is good!" (1 Thess
transparent to the divine truth. 5:21). But "do not conform yourselves to the spirit of the world"
High scholasticism does not behave in any different (Rom 12:2). Thus the one who submits himself to this task ought
manner with the intellectual material of humanity which is to be a saint; and all the great figures who succeeded in this task
available to it. The entire breadth of human thought-from the were saints. The mission given by Christ has the effect in the
Pre-Socratics via Plato and Aristotle and the Stoics, via Augus- sphere of thought, too, of a shirt that makes one invulnerable
tine and Dionysius to Boethius and to the Arabs, to Anselm, and permits one to walk unharmed through the flames. As long
Albert and their contemporaries-is scarcely broad enough to as one who thinks is vigilant in his mission, he cannot at all be
serve the theological wisdom of a Thomas Aquinas as inaterial effected by the temptation to fall captive to some philosopl~ical
for his presentation. If he had known Buddha and Lao-Tse, idea of the world or other, to follow some trail or other that leads
there is no doubt that he would have drawn them too into the away from Christ who is the center (no matter how much this
162 Hans Llrs von Balthasar Catholic philosophy 163
concepts of the scholastic doctrine of Being itself. Sertillanges leathery and dead. In this encounter, philosophy takes on the
has attempted something similar for Bergson's philosophy of countenance of a genuine science of experience; but the un-
life. The greatest progress in this methodology has been made avoidable experience is the true encounter with the vitality of the
by Erich Przywara, who brought all the great forms of thought foreign thinking. Not only does such an encounter educate one
of the Western spirit (perhaps with the exception of those in the will to understand the alien forms and concepts: it already
which have an orientation to the natural sciences) into relation presupposes this will. The spirit of the know-all-something of
to one another until the point at which their harmony became which Catholic thinkers are often accused, and perhaps not
the concrete historical proof of the a~ralogiaelltis and veritatis. unjustly-would make the necessary experience impossible,
The Christian thinker who attempts to let the unity thus preventing philosophy from existing. The will to under-
of the truth be embodied in the many languages and dialects of stand is love, and this is why no true and fruitful thinking is
the spirit will have to endeavor above all to attain the gift of the possible outside love. But true love never makes blind: rather,
genuine discernment of spirits. He will have to listen and pen- it gives the power to see. It is far from dissolving everything in
etrate the systems in order to hear their secret heart-beat and the blur of a general emotion: rather, it is love that is able to give
thereby to recognize to which spirit they belong. Thus he will the other the correct place, in the genuine endeavor to see where
sense that the root is dead in many systems which are perhaps he is standing.
splendidly puffed up, and thus he will save himself the loss of The art of assigning a place presupposes the sense
energy through a serious confrontation with these. For example, for the dimensions of truth, and this sense in turn can exist only
the artificially polished system of Sartre's nihilism is only a where the broad spaces of the truth are not crammed a priori into
concoction that is unfruitful, promising no living impact on the some systematic scheme or other. Schematism may be a tech-
present age and the future. In other systems, which perhaps nique that permits one to give a complete structure to the sphere
present themselves externally as utterly traditional, or as a fruit- of the truth, so that one may become aware of its extent in the
fill germ of new thinking in their revolutionary vitality, he will most various ways and may give it depth and perspective for the
possibly hear a secret negation within and he will attack this eye of the human spirit. But if this technique becomes an end
directly in his confrontation with the system in order to unmask instead of a means, it kills the living awareness of space, instead
it. Other forms, which behave externally in a wholly anti-Chris- of awakening this awareness to life. The breadth of the space of
tian manner, can either themselves contain living fruit in a truth is not formless and indeterminate, and determination
hidden way, or else be helpful at least in provoking a very does not mean, per se, a reduction to finitude. In the midpoint
fruitful confrontation. The true Christian thinker will discern of this space, dominating it, stands the truth: Christ, the Lord;
and probe everywhere in order to test everything and to be able and the forms of human truth lie in living circles around him,
to retain what is good. This requirement made of him is so at a greater or lesser distance. Thus it is never possible to grasp
urgent that he cannot be excused if he evades the laborious hold of the midpoint itself: the only relationship to it is one of
attempt to come to know the totality of the philosophical forms adoration and of faith. And yet all truth receives a relationship
of thought in such a way that he attempts to encounter them not that moves towards this midpoint, and a recognizable profile.
only in the dry form in which they can be found in the herbal It becomes a kind of organism that is animated and given life in
gardens of the books of the history of philosophy, but in their its various limbs by the fullness of Christ which fills all in all. Out
freshness and original vigor, as they disclose themselves only in of the consciousness of this fullness, it will not be difficult for
the fontal writings of the philosophers of the past and the the Christian thinker to recognize that one or another position
present, One cannot form a judgment about Chartres on the in the organism of the truth still stands empty: that, for example,
basis of a postcard, and, in the same way, one cannot form a an insight which has newly arisen takes its place between two
judgment about Thomas, Kant, or Hegel if one has not sub- truths which have already been recognized, and this recognition
mitted to the laborious task of encountering their spirit person- demands that one also attributes and grants to the new insight
ally. It is not possible to recognize and get a taste for their the place which it is entitled to claim. It is only when this insight
essence in any other way, and all discussions about them remain arises that one becomes aware that there was hitherto a blank
164 Hans llrs von Balthasar Catholic philosophy 165
spot on the map of the spirit at this precise place. It is not self in such an attitude and would split his personality in a
necessary for the thinker, when he is confronted by this new pathological manner into a religious-christian personality that
insight, to endeavor above all to prove that this place had always knows about the truth of revelation, and a philosophical per-
been filled from the outset in the philosophia perennis. It is enough sonality that behaves as if it did not know this, and disguises
that he shows that there was always a space reserved for it, that itself in the attitude of the seeker. On the other hand, it would
there is sufficient space available to allow this insight too to live be presumption if one wished to exclude the ultimately ques-
and to develop within the total organism. Plato and Aristotle tioning character of what is called "Catholic philosophy," the
were certainly the first to think very important things; Thomas, questioning character which emerges so clearly from the mod-
too, brought creative new contributions over against Augustine; ern controversial philosophers, Blondel, Gilson, and Maritain,
why should it be forbidden to the present and the future to and which is generated objectively again and again from the
cnrich the kingdom of thought in a genuine and completely position between natural thinking and theology which cannot
original manner? And the place which is legitimately given to be pinned down precisely. Precisely because the Catholic
what is new must also be left to it afterwards. For these free thinker is to lead those who do not yet believe to the total truth,
spaces have often the remarkable tendency to grow together through arguments of the truth, he must be the first to portray
once again; the new thing with which people had been con- in his own life the movement that he demands of others, the
cerned apologetically, as if with a phenomenon of that particular movement that lies in the abdication of his own absolute stand-
epoch, is forgotten again, as if it had never existed. The great point and judgment.
movement of the philosophia perennis ought to develop in its These are the general preconditions for a fruitful
progress in such a way that it absorbs into itself, and elaborates encounter between Catholic philosophy and modern philoso-
in itself, the quintessence of all that is truly living, whether one phy. It was necessary to begin by demonstrating these, so that
finds this in Leibnitz or Kant or Hegel, in Kierkegaard or Scheler the general laws might not be unnecessarily confused with the
or Heidegger. special laws which are generated by the circumstances of the
The Christian thinker's consciousness of his mis- present day. In what follows, we shall speak of this encounter
sion must go hand in hand with a profound humility. Like today.
every Christian mission, his is a mission of love of neighbor.
Precisely because he knows that Christ reigns supreme over the
realm of truth, he will guard against a false attitude of infalli- 2 . The encounter today as a formal problem
bility, and to the-extent that he entrusts to Christ the criterion After all that has been said, it can no longer be
of truth, he will refrain from judging as a final authority. He doubted that a true encounter between Catholic thought and
can indeed not avoid judging when he thinks, and judging modern thought is a strict requirement for the former, and that
means making a judgment about what is true and false. But he it must exercise its art of reduction and of the clarifying trans-
will remain conscious that he can judge only when he knows position on modern thought no less than on every other kind
that he himself is assessed and judged at a deeper level by the of thought. But it cannot be denied that special difficulties are
truth of God, and it is only in this consciousness of being em- opposed on both sides to this encounter, and that these repeat-
braced within the ever greater divine truth which reserves the edly depress the sincere will to engage in the encounter and to
judgment to itself that he will receive from on high the power perform the task satisfactorily.
to cooperate in this divine judgment in the mission of love. This The first difficulty comes from the particular spirit
is why such an act of assessing and judging can and may never and character of modern philosophy. It can be affirmed cor-
be anything other than a directing and orienting .towards the rectly that, without the secularization of Christian thought,
superior truth of God. It would be untruth and hypocrisy for modern philosophy would not have come into existence at all.
the Catholic thinker if he were to set himself absolutely on the Modern philosophy is a kind of refuse product of formerly
same level as the non-believing philosophers in order "to seek Christian (more precisely, theological) intellectual contents-
for the truth" together with them, so that he would deny him- and this, not merely in a subordinate sense, at the margin, but
166 Halls Urs von Balthasar Catholic philosophy 167
essentially and in its kernel. The curve of this secularization has pletely into a system, so that the faith lies like something ulti-
been described so often that it has left its mark on each one of mate around what is only penultimate. The secularization takes
us as something taken for granted; thus only a few references on almost the form of a vampire, sucking at the living veins of
suffice here. Already in the Renaissance and the Baroque pe- what is Christian in order to transfuse the blood into other
riods, one is justified in asking to what extent the new cosmo- organisms, but this is done in the attitude of deep acknowl-
logical natural philosophy and mysticism, which already be- edgement, indeed of veneration for the "immortal values" of
gins with Nicholas of Cusa and develops in Bruno and in the Christianity. And since a naive ignorance of the true form of
Florentine Neo-Platonism, is anything other than the mere sec- what is Catholic must be presupposed in the consciousness of
ularization of the theological-mystical view of the world as this this century, since what is Protestant has become the dominant
reaches from Origen and Dionysius via Erigena to Eckhart and form of what is Christian, it will indeed be psychologically
Lull. One is likewise justified in asking (from the other side) to impossible in most cases to decide whether in the particular
what extent the teaching about the natural human being with thinker the decision for or against Christ has been taken. The
his natural final goal, which is demanded by the struggle process of secularization goes on before our eyes with such
against Baianism in the Catholic sphere, too, and which is fa- anatomical precision that we can follow it into its ultimate fi-
vored from the outside also by the development of the period, bers. What is Kant without Luther, and how is one to under-
pressing on towards the development of a natural ethics, a stand his ethics without the presuppositions created by Prot-
natural doctrine of the state and a sociology, would be conceiv- estantism? What is Herder without the Bible and the Church
able without the secularization of theological intellectual mat- Fathers, Novalis without Bohme and Zinzendorf, what are
ter, as these are invested within Scholasticism-which how- Holderlin and Hegel without the deepest impregnation by the
ever, even as late as Thomas, knows only the one single finis Johannine writings? And yet all of this, when we contemplate
szrper~zatitralisof the human being. Further, one can raise the it from our standpoint today, is a process of decay that cannot
problem of the extent to which everything that behaves in mod- be halted: for there is only one step from Holderlin to Ni-
ern times as a philosophy of religion that is apparently inde- etzsche, and only half a step from Hegel to Feuerbach and
pendent of Christianity in fact lives in its innermost being ei- Mam. One may indeed prefer the full (even if primitive and
ther from the adoption or from the negation of ideas that are barbarous) negation of Christianity to the whole ambiguous
supernatural in a Christian sense. The unfinished discussion profound meaning of the idealistic hybrid world in which the
about the relationship between Christianity and German Ide- Christian-anti-Christian amalgam has been melted together in
alism is especially well suited to bring these matters clearly to such an indissoluble fashion that dialectical thought can devote
light. None of the great Idealist philosophers and thinkers can itself to all the games of endless speculation without ever need-
be thought of even to the least extent without Christianity. In- ing to come to a decision. And even those like Kierkegaard who
deed, they themselves do not at all wish to be thought of in this attempt to cut through this demonic knot, in order to re-estab-
way, for they all endeavor openly to salvage the so-called lish the Christian decision, will not wholly free themselves
"truth of what is Christian into a post- or supra-Christian from its entanglement. To such an extent has everything be-
sphere: Lessing, no less than Herder and Kant, Fichte, Schell- come ambiguous.
ing and Hegel, Goethe no less than Holderlin or Schiller. And The end of the century lets this twilight brighten
even those who publicly cut themselves free from faith in in a clearer Yes or No. On the one hand, philosophy takes on
Christ, like a Hebbel or Wagner or Nietzsche, do not escape clearly anti-Christian traits in Nietzsche, Klages and other
from the figure of the Son of Man, and attempt to salvage the emphatic philosophers of life, while it shows in figures like
abiding element in this into new knowledge and new forms of Bergson, Scheler, and Driesch sides that, if not authentically
life. The whole air of the century is impregnated with Christi- Christian, are nevertheless in inherent sympathy with Christi-
anity, although a genuine faith in Christ and in his Church anity. But what we are primarily concerned with here is not
does not dominate the images of the world anywhere. Some- the personal profession of faith of the thinkers, but their con-
times, as in Hegel, the attempt is made to build this faith com- scious or unconscious adoption of theological data. It is quite
168 Hans Urs von Balthasar Catholic philosophy 169

impossible to conceive of either group, the anti-Christian or the trine of love. The same seamless transition from nature to su-
Christian, without these presuppositions. In order to paint his pernature, the reflection of Christian truths into the sphere of
prophet Zarathustra, Nietzsche, the pastor's son, borrows natural truth, could finally find an authentication for itself,
above all the palette of the Bible, as Holderlin earlier had apparently with all justification, from the patristic period of
adorned his redeemer Empedocles with all the insignia of the theology. Indeed, it could present itself as the re-establishment
Christian Messiah. Klages's denial of the spirit cannot even be of the primitive Christian unity of nature and grace which had
thought of without the background in the God of revelation. become more and more lost in modern times. But only one
Bergson's plea for intuition against the technologized ratio does thing was forgotten here, namely that patristic theology is and
indeed mean a direct and dangerous calling into question of the wishes to be nothing other than the ecclesial exposition of the
entire Western tradition of the spirit, but (as his late writings Church's life, while Scheler's religious thought carefully
show) he draws the courage for this from the Christian mys- guards against being confronted with the problem of the con-
tical tradition, whose immediate experience of God is secular- fessional decision.
ized into a philosophical contact with the mystery of life. This The entire modern philosophy of value is closely
gives Bergson the advantage of being able to set a kind of halo connected to Scheler's ambiguous (because secularized)
of Christian religiosity around his attack on the Aristotelian- thought. What is described here as the realm of validities and
Thomist-Kantian understanding of the essence of discursive values, precisely in connection with Scheler's turning from the
knowledge, although the intuition which he intends cannot in theory of values which had been formalized in a neo-Kantian
the slightest be equated or even only compared with the true sense and with his turning to a material ethics of value, lives
phenomena of Catholic mysticism. An even more dangerous inherently almost entirely from the fundamental positions of
game is played in Scheler's portrayal of religion and of the holy, the theological doctrine of grace as these are translated into the
as well as in his phenomenology of love, since it is obvious that purely philosophical sphere. This is true not only in the de-
here the most intimate mysteries of the Christian world of scription of the individual areas of value of the ethical, the
grace, which belong exclusively in the sphere of theology, are religious, the holy, but just as much in the way in which the
enticed over into the field of philosophy. The description of the break in continuity between value and Being, the impossibility
religious act begins as a pure philosophical description, but of understanding the realm of value as a part and function of
oscillates unnoticed more and more strongly over into the the realm of Being, is secretly experienced and described on the
Christian revelation and draws its nourishment from Scripture, basis of the theological duality of grace and nature. Once again
from Augustine and Pascal, although the pure supernaturality we ought not to emphasize here the fact that this dualism be-
of what is borrowed in this way is nowhere acknowledged. In tween value and Being-as the continuation of the fracture in
the same way, the description of personal love detaches itself the philosophy of life between life and abstraction, intuition
without any break in continuity from a purely philosophical and intelligence-is a symptom of the decadence of the great
exposition of the vital feelings of sympathy and then adorns Western intellectual tradition. Rather we ought to emphasize
itself towards the end with all the data of intra-ecclesial spiri- that this new philosophoumenon introduces itself in the mantle of
tuality. This seamless transition from the natural plane to the traditional theological truths which bestow on it (as on the wolf
supernatural seemed appropriate to open up a broad access to in sheep's clothing) a familiar appearance that awakens confi-
the understanding of Christian truths without the necessity of dence precisely in the unexperienced Christian spirits.
a confessional decision, initiating outsiders in the innermost Finally, one need only recall the explicitly realized
chambers of Catholic thought without weighing them down philosophy of existence, in Japsers and Heidegger, in order to
with the ballast of dogmatic formulae. Indeed, according to the see the newest forms of secularization. Both are unthinkable
fundamental law of the philosophy of life, these formulae without the great Christian tradition from Augustine via the
could be shown to be subsequent rigid formalizations in the nominalism of late Scholasticism to Pascal, Kierkegaard and
ratio of originally alive intuitions of love, just as Thomas Aqui- Dostoyevski. It may be true that Jaspers has preserved more
nas is judged by Scheler to be a decline from Augustine's doc- clearly religious, indeed Christian-Protestant, traits for his
170 Hans Urs von Balthasar Catholic philosophy 171

metaphysics of the cipher, of the opening out into the inexpli- to resist, because those who plunder refuse the act of super-
cable puzzles of transcendence, than the nihilistic openness of natural faith and lay claim for themselves, as unbelievers, to
Heidegger (something which cannot be altered at all by his later everything that has been given form by this faith. This situation
mystical camouflage in his interpretations of Holderlin). And it is decidedly more desperate than the first; for while Christian-
may be true that the humanistic breadth of the interpretation of ity in its first period of blossoming met a philosophy which was
existence in Jaspers has space for the most subtle analyses of unbelieving in the Christian sense and understood how to
the human encounter with the "Thou" and with the unknown break it open and widen it out from within in order to make it
God. Yet all of these descriptions of the most tender and most a vessel for the truth of revelation, Christianity is confronted
inestimable particularities and situations of existence in the today with a post-Christian philosophy which has already put
world do nothing more than reflect the secularized soul of the the Christian experience behind itself and holds that it can turn
modern human person. Much in them would have been just as from this experience as apparently informed and mature.
unfathomable to earlier ages as a Picasso to Raphael or a Hin- Nevertheless, the task continues to exist, and it is
demith to Palestrina. This permits us to gauge what the human impossible for the Christian thinker to withdraw from it. Here
being of today has lost, and to see that the best in him is the he will bear in mind that late antiquity too was a decadent
distant echo of what was once the glorious possession of the period, that Philo, the source of the Alexandrines, was to a
people of earlier times. Perhaps the path of the secularization of large extent a secularized theology of revelation; that the Gno-
Christian values in thought which we have indicated here has sis which was the great stimulant of Catholic theology was the
not yet been taken to the full. Perhaps, after the phases which supratemporal classical example of secularized Christianity,
we have described, we must still await one final phase, in which the Church's theology ultimately overcame; and that the
which the Christian element no longer remains alive even as paganism of Julian and of Porphyry was nourished no less than
historical material and as reminiscence, but as something that modern paganism by resentment against Christianity. Thus the
has become totally alien to humanity, something to which no situation is broadly the same: as soon as Christianity appears
relationship exists any more. Considered from the standpoint on the scene, the opponent is no longer naive; he negates; and
of Christianity, there is little inherent probability in this phase, the more heated the struggle becomes, all the more knowingly
for Christianity has received from on high so much power to does he negate.
endure and to be renewed constantly that it cannot cease to Thus it is essential above all to free modern philos-
remain a continuous thorn in the flesh even of a humanity that ophy, too, from its negations and to direct it to its proper place
has sunk totally into what is earthly. within Christian knowledge. For the Christian thinker as such,
The encounter which is required between Catholic the task today ought not to be more difficult or easier than it
thought and modern thought takes on, naturally, a double was for the Church Fathers or for Thomas. If he knows his own
difficulty today in the presence of this development of thought. tradition thoroughly enough, he will not succumb to the dan-
Not only does the Christian thinker in each case encounter his ger of speaking of modern achievements where fundamentally
own material in his partner, material which the other has made only the adoption (perhaps disguised) of traditional material
his own without needing to drdw the Christian consequences exists. He will demonstrate soberly that what the masses who
of it; besides this, he encounters it in such a changed and read the newspapers admire as the newest discovery is some-
corrupt form that he scarcely dares any longer to think of a thing exceedingly ancient with which he has long been familiar
reversal of the development which would bring it back into its in its original form. Basically, he does not need in the least to
former Christian form. Once, the Christian Alexandrines pro- bring home what has been at home for a very long time al-
mulgated the slogan of the intellectual syoliatio Aepjytiorum: the ready. But his feeling of certainty in possession will go along
plundering of the pagan and Jewish authors in order to lead the with the keenest vigilance, so that he may not miss anything
contents of what they had written back to their original true essential that is new and original in modern thought, despite
possessor, Christ. Now the Christian thinkers must experience all the secularization. Like every age, today's age too has an
the opposite, a syoliatio Chris tinnonrnr which they are powerless "immediacy to God." Just as every artistic style has a character
174 Hans Urs von Balthasar Catholic philosophy 175

dication of the true "tracklessness" which is the background inner resistance in his thought to systematization, and he fre-
against which it is possible to think of perhaps finding a path quently sees a greater success in leaving the questions open
beyond the ayoria, this art of the interiorization of thought than in closing them prematurely. On a lower stage, something
through the destruction of premature syntheses and ready- similar would have to be said of Hermann Bahr, but also of
made solutions. The permissible measure is embodied by the Chesterton and Guardini.
form of scholasticism's quaestiones, which certainly allows there From this point there would emerge, as the pre-
to be a dialogue of question and answer, but still only a ques- supposition of every fruitful encounter of modern philosophy
tion put by the pupil which awaits the superior answer of the and Catholic philosophy, the demand that philosophical pro-
master in which the outward semblance of the question- paedeutics be largely separated from genuine philosophical in-
which is sensed to be only a semblance, but is not yet under- vestigation. The former will always remain necessary, espe-
stood completely (primrim videtrir)-must be dissolved. It is not cially in the service of the Catholic secondary and tertiary,
possible in the school for the dialogical form of thought to win secular and religious centers of education. But every teacher in
any decisive position, the common questioning on the part of such institutions who has at least some experience knows that
several equals who endeavor in common to arrive at a solution a gifted pupil becomes mature enough to take the first steps in
which they do not know in advance, with the risk of many of genuinely philosophical questions only at best at the end of the
Plato's dialogues that the saving solution may perhaps not be course of study. If this separation is once carried out, so that
found at all, that it is postponed and must perhaps remain autonomous investigation is neither practically nor theoreti-
reserved to the investigation of a larger context. cally measured against the demands of pedagogics, then there
The Alexandrines, who were still familiar with this exists the prospect that Catholic philosophy can also become
form of genuine seeking, but who imprudently attempted to concerned about the encounter with more modern thought in
give it a place in the activity of the school, had to endure the a way that takes itself seriously and that must be taken seri-
bitter experience of the inadmissibility of such aporetics, when ously by others.
they were accused (not without justice) of an esotericism based This encounter will be possible to the extent that
on a double foundation. The young Augustine could afford to Catholic philosophers are so familiar with the intellectual ma-
engage in philosophical activity as an end in itself with some terials of the tradition, and especially of Scholasticism, that
friends on a country estate, far from the public activity of in- they are able to open it out of the systematized form into a
struction. And much of this is still alive in Anselm, who created living (if perhaps also only preliminary) aporetics. Here they
for himself an imagrnary opponent in his solitary projects of will discover with astonishment how much both the philoso-
thought, in order to spare himself and his opponent no cut or phy of the Patristic Age and Scholasticism are suited to such a
thrust in ultimate honesty. But then it is only Erasmus who will posing of the problem, and indeed themselves already possess
take up the dialogue again, naturally on the level of more this question in a hidden and an open manner. If Heidegger
harmless intellectual games, and Berkeley, Schelling and Fech- today, in the course of such aporetics, unrolls the program of a
ner will continue the form of the dialogue as a form of the "destruction of Western ontology" in which he wishes to dis-
common seeking of the truth. But here we do not have the solve the closed systemic forms as far back as Aristotle and
dialogue as a form of art, but only the inherent form of aporetic Plato, in order to open anew at all points the access to a gen-
thinking, which can never be dispensed with, and also is never uine phenomenological encounter with Being, such a claim
in fact dispensed with, in any universal intellectual project as . contains more than a mere will to destroy: it contains the jus-
an essential corrective to the human tendency to systematize. tified demand that no philosophical solution be allowed to rest
John Henry Newman, surely the most vital Catholic thinker of in itself, but rather that one must persist at the original point of
the modern period, is the evidence of this: the results at which posing the question, in order also to learn the answer there
he arrives are utterly ill-suited to furnish material for text- ever closer to the origin. Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Anselm,
books, not only because everything in Newman depends for- and Nicholas of Cusa are such thinkers, and in Thomas him-
mally on the English art of nuance, but also because there is an self-who was for the most part poured into the mold of sys-
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178 Hans Llrs von Balthasar Catholic philosophy 179

the centuries that it is scarcely possible any longer to find the with Aristotle and with Thomas's commentary on this! The
points of contact. One ought perhaps to begin by seeking the ancient concepts of essence and existence, essentiality and per-
intermediary links: to mention only two names, Leibnitz and son, possibility, reality and necessity would take on life, if they
Bolzano would have a mediating role to play, and this detour were considered in such a synoptic fashion! What an enrich-
would permit transpositions that otherwise seem impossible. It ment of the teaching about the analogy of being it would be, if
will be easier in biology, where philosophical investigation to- this teaching had struggled in close combat with dialecticism!
day re turns openly without embarrassmen t to the Aristotelian Naturally, it would not be possible to engage in this struggle in
tradition and simultaneously to the Christian tradition, in Dri- the form appropriate to a school; even if this would mean that
esch, Uexkiill, Dacquk, and Conrad-Martius-returns bear- the struggle would be visible for all specialists, and open to
ing such a wealth of new knowledge! How tempting it is to their investigation, it would have to renounce the idea of being
begin here and to attempt a philosophy of life and of the de- the training-ground of philosophical beginners.
velopment of life! Nor shall we speak here of the achievements But the period of Idealism is past; it was followed
of modern psychology. A special gift of discernment will be by the period of the philosophy of life. At first glance, one can
needed here in order to separate what is of abiding value from see in this period a striking impoverishment of speculative
what is time-conditioned in the bad sense of this word, and to power-something of which the philosophy of life is indeed
make the comparison with what earlier authors have discussed proud-and one can feel tempted to judge it a product of the
under quite different headings (for example, in the teaching decline of the Western spirit. We have ourselves given promi-
about the habitus, the virtues, asceticism, or sacramental con- nence to this aspect above. But one cannot overlook the fact
fession). that even the philosophy of life defends genuine Christian con-
Rather, we shall speak of the fundamental tenden- cerns over against the formalism which it overcomes in epis-
cies of modern philosophical speculation itself, and of the pos- temology and ontology. It has given them false names, and
sible points of contact for a successful encounter with this. We even worse, false concepts and forms of thought as their ex-
have already discussed Idealism; it is not from this that we can pression; it has presented its concerns in the form of irratio-
hope for the greatest stimulus precisely today. The favorable nalism and intuitionism and thereby provoked the protest of
moment for this confrontation is past, and was not in fact taken the Christian thinkers who were obliged to hold fast to the
advantage of when it came in the last century. The task of fundamental form of the discursive structure of knowledge.
working in a generous spirit through philosophy from Kant to And even if some of these Christian thinkers held that they
Hegel has not been carried out, and is still something lacking ought to enter a pact with this irrationalism, attempting to
today. At that time, it was not possible, because Scholasticism replace Thomas by Bergson, the healthy sober insight of the
was much too little known (although one must draw attention majority was correct to protest against this also. And yet: has
to the unique achievement of Franz von Baader, who discov- not the philosophy of life too its true concern? Not only in a
ered Thomas Aquinas in his struggle for Christian Idealism, general and vague sense of a regulative tendency that demands
and made use of him in his own way). This unfortunate burial that the thinker "remain alive," warning against the reduction
of the Christian tradition made it impossible to keep pace with to the bare bones of unfruitful speculation and aiming at a
the intellectual development, because in many cases Christian listening to the "life-rhythm" of Being itself in the sense of
thinkers lacked the equipment necessary to meet the almost Nietzsche and Bergson-but also in a much more precise, tech-
crushing weight of thought of a Fichte or a Hegel. Even today nically philosophical sense? The concern of the philosophy of
it would be desirable to take up this neglected task-unfortu- life is that thinking always contains an element that in every
nately, Markchal's history of philosophy omitted precisely the ' case lies beyond the concept, cannot be captured in the concept
ldealist period!-in order thereby to establish certain presup- and yet gives the concept its foundation and its justification.
positions for a dialogue that ought to be something taken for But this conceri~is also the concern of the entire Christian
granted, and yet are lacking. How necessary it would be on an tradition: in the Platonic form in Augustine, who attempts to
essential level, for example, to compare the pure logic of Hegel subsume conceptual knowledge under the schema of partici-
180 Haus Ursvon Balthasar Catholic philosophy 181

pation in an eternally transcendent, infinite light of truth, and ing of Being and of knowledge that contains-once again, we
in Thomas who traces conceptual knowledge back to the first leave open the question, how-both in Being and in thinking an
principles of knowledge and of Being which are supra-concep- element of fullness and of richness that can never be wholly
tual because they are possessed directly and intuitively (here captured by any ontological and logical form. A mysterious
Thomas is less helpful for the problem with which we are con- surplus, which prevents Being and thinking from becoming
cerned). But these first principles cannot be abstract proposi- exhaustible, keeps awake both the interest in the existing object
tions, since it is precisely not on the basis of abstraction that we and the movement of the thought that recognizes and investi-
arrive at them: they must necessarily be concrete and immedi- gates. And one would need only to link this supposition (ini-
ate encounters, not only with the laws of Being, but with Being tially very difficult to grasp) with the ancient Thomistic teaching
itself. This is why Descartes is correct to locate the fontal point on the real distinction between essence and existence, in order
of all evidential character in the intuition of thinking Being to understand that it is neither absurd nor without a foundation
(however this intuition is to be described more precisely), i.e., in the tradition: for the authentic Thomistic conception, the actus
in the identity of Being and consciousness in the act of think- essendi is unlimited in itself and signifies, over against the form
ing, where this identity is not itself disclosed through a dis- of the essentia which limits it, an element of fullness which no
course but is recognized directly to be the presupposition of all limits of essentiality can tie down in such a way that it would
subsequent discourses. Even if the discourse reaches those not always overflow this essentiality in a mysterious and yet
sources, so that the original intuition can be described and very real manner. No matter how one describes this actus essendi
investigated in logical discourse-which means that it is not at in the creaturemore as a principle distinct from the infinite act
all possible to speak of irrationalism-nevertheless, it remains of God, or more as the participation of the creaturely finite being
no less true that that immediate encounter with Being remains in the infinity of divine act-it will always remain the case that
the basis that supports all discursive activity of the understand- this act overflows the determinate essence in the manner in
ing. We may leave aside here the question whether this intu- which the principle of "life" overflows the principle of "form"
ition must be narrowed down to the mere existence of one's in the philosophy of life. If creatures were only "essences," they
own consciousness, or whether-without detriment to the dis- would be radical finitude, they would be circumscribable, open
course which is necessary for knowledge of the other things- to being known totally by one another, exhaustible, and they
the existence of God and the existence of the world as the could not be the object for one another of an infinite interest. But
destruction of the solitariness of the "I" is just as fundamental something in them is more than can be comprehended, some-
a given element in this first intuition as the existence of the "I" thing entices thought ever further on, although it is not possible
itself. Thus, the path of judging and of concluding that God to see any end ahead, something holds the movement of insight
and the external world exist would not be taken without a prior and of love in suspense and tension. This "something" is not
indication in the immediate evidential character of their neces- irrational, since thought moves within it, in a kind of infinite
sity. For otherwise, the concern of the critique of knowledge progression; it is the necessary condition for the possibility of
that one should arrive with a minimum of admissible presup- this movement itself. It belongs to the ratio as its basis and its
positions at that point which is immovable under all circum- empowering. But at the same time, it breaks open the compass
stances is one thing, while the concern of a phenomenology of of the ratio, by broadening out the merely theoretical under-
the foundations of knowledge, far removed from every readi- standing to a total reason.
ness to engage in resistance, is something else; the latter, as it It is in this direction that Joseph Marechal has
peacefully contemplates what is present before its gaze, may sketched his dynamic theory of knowledge, in explicit depen-
perhaps discover many more individual data that the purely dence on the old Scholastic ontology. What he has expressed in
critical science is willing to admit. a particular form of Thomism which keeps to the determined
It is possible that one would arrive, through such a presuppositions of the schools could be widened and modified
concretization of the first evidential character which is prior to in many ways, and could offer in this extension the precise
all discourses and remains superior to them, at an understand- response to all the positive concerns and questions of the phi-
182 Hans Urs von Balthasar Catholic philosophy 183

losophy of life. The widening would be possible inter alia as a cance, indeed he sees this fullness written so large that nothing
greater proximity to the experience of thinking and of the en- conceptual is ever able to meet it even at its margin. The er6s of
counter with Being itself, and the transcendence of Being thought, which burns in passion for the unfathomable riches of
would thereby become phenomenologically fathomable with- what exists, lives in him too, and lets him find glorious words
out the necessity of abandoning the strict framework of a philo- for the fullness of meaning of the world. So significant is ev-
sophical investigation in favor of a psychological analysis. In erything that it will be ever more significant, beyond all inter-
this activity, not only would the Thomistic real distinction supply pretation and all possibility of interpretation. But this surplus
the corrective for the philosophy of life, but (from the other of significance beyond what the concept grasps, this intensifi-
perspective) the philosophy of life, too, would lead to a revital- cation which led in the philosophy of life to a passionate affir-
ization of that doctrine of essence and existence which had mation of the eternal fullness of life, settles down like an all too
become rigid and abstract. Suddenly there would be phenom- heavy weight on the thinker that Jaspers is. He feels himself
enological points of access to the doctrine of real distinction, unable to cope with the onrushing surge of this sea of signifi-
something that has yet been very seldom the case in the history cance. He is too weary to hold out under the effort of the
of philosophy. (One finds significant first steps in this direction eternal openness and intensification in the finite thinking and
and indications in Nicolai Hartmann's Zrir Grritldlegiit~gder Ott- Being. He understands the comparative that dwells in what is
tologie, 1935.) This could be articulated in a multiplicity of as- creaturely, but he does not allow himself to be borne along by
pects which would all be the fruit of a genuine and living en- its movement. Thus he experiences the comparative only in the
counter with the fundamental phenomenon of finite Being and negative mode of failure. A discussion with Jaspers would most
which could be interpreted on the basis of this. And what is likely be fruitless. Not that all his books, which bear almost too
looked on today as a dusty instrument of medieval hair-split- heavy a cargo of insights, would fail to give us the richest gifts;
ting, something to which scarcely any modern thinker pays but there is no way of getting past the weariness in his Weltan-
any attention now, would at a single stroke enter the center of schauung which permeates everything. Jaspers can provide
the most relevant knot of problems today. But the doors would only the occasion for Christian thinking to reflect once more on
also open backwards into the Patristic Age. Not only along its own philosophy of the cipher: on the universal symbolism of
those paths drawn by Roland-Gosselin in his history of the real the Alexandrines, with effects that lasted far into the medieval
distinction, but apart from this, where the thing itself already image of the world, the symbolism that understands how to
exists although the concepts are not yet visible: thus, for exam- penetrate through all things and through their limitations to
ple, in the whole anti-Arian epistemology of the great Cappa- reach the archetypes and primal sounds latent in them. The
docians, who fought passionately for the transcendence both of Christian yearning cannot rest satisfied at the "enigmas seen in .
knowledge and of Being, in the sense that neither what exists a mirror": as far as is permitted already now, it wishes to feel
nor the act of thinking can ever be captured definitively and in presentiment and groping something of the original totality
laid to rest in the finitude of a form or a concept. There emerges of all partial words in the divine Word. The Alexandrine sym-
from the great treatises against Eunomius a spirit with which bolic thought explicitly calls on the aid of the mobile unity of
Bergson would at once have felt himself at home, and the Th- the transcendentals as organs of this premonitory knowledge,
omisticontology would have the possibility and thereby the task a knowledge that does not separate itself from the possibilities
of mediation between these two fires: it could only grow by of the good and the beautiful for reasons of methodological
doing this service. neatness, but specifically includes them to strengthen and in-
A final form of the philosophy of life, though al- tensify itself. It understands the mutual presupposition and
ready reflecting strongly over into the philosophy of existen- inclusion of these properties of Being. Where the agathon and
tialism, is Karl Jaspers's metaphysics of the cipher. Basically, the kalon are understood as immanent in the truth itself, and
this philosophy is nothing other than a weary descendent of where the circumincessio of the transcendentals is taken seri-
Platonism and of the Alexandrines' symbolic view of the world. ously, wholly new possibilities emerge for the encounter be-
Jaspers understands that everything in Being is full of signifi- tween Christian thought and modern thought, possibilities
184 Hans Urs uan Balthasar Catholic philosophy 185

that are already established (though little developed) behind are describing the same reality from two different sides. Scho-
Scholasticism in the thought-forms of the Fathers. Here too, in lasticism has without any doubt paid too little attention to this
a discussion with the metaphysics of "significance and inter- connection. But if the various aspects of the real distinction
pretation," Christian thinking does not fall out of the sphere established in the scholastic tradition are developed in such a
which is properly its home; it can bring the necessary clarifica- way that the ontological movement between essence and ex-
tion to this metaphysics, but through the new aspects it can istence emerges clearly, the genuine origin of temporality will
also develop for the very first time what is established as its be able to be made visible at this point of the break of continuity
own foundation. in finite Being. One will need to pay heed here not only to the
Jaspers throws the bridge across to the genuine relationship in the philosophy of life indicated above between
philosophy of existentialism. Its endeavor to describe existence the actus essendi as fullness of Being and the essentia as the
in its non-essential kernel is a direct challenge to the Thomists, boundary that gives form, but equally to the complementary
indeed to every Christian philosophy, to provide the answer. view of the essentia as the stable and supportive essentiality and
For the existentialist philosophy takes up its abode defncto in the the existentia as the Being which always in each case appears-
innermost kernel of the being of creatureliness, in its "thrown- Avicenna's esse accidens. This broadening of the scholastic foun-
ness," its non-absoluteness, its temporality and transience, in dations too will not lack its backing in the patristic age: for we
distress and guilt, sorrow and death. These realities, which had find in Augustine a teaching on time which in its kernel contains
been pushed out to the extreme margin of philosophical con- all the elements of what will be needed as the reply to the
sciousness for centuries and could find no place, or only a very philosophy of existentialism. It is these elements that Scholas-
small place, in an Idealist Weltanschauung or even in that of the ticism would need to recall in its reflections, if it wished to take
philosophy of life, suddenly stand in the focal point of philo- up the confrontation with the moderns supported by this tra-
sophical investigation. But this means that the problem of the dition and deepen its own presuppositions.
real distinction also stands in that focal point, to the extent that In this dialogue, Scholasticism's decisive advantage
the intention is to use these categories to speak of what belongs is that it possesses in the point of the real distinction a key
to existence in finite Being: and this problem stands in an un- position from which it is possible to see through the one-sid-
heard-of new illumination. Nor does Heidegger omit to draw edness of the philosophy of existentialism too, and to do this
attention at the end of his book on Kant to the close relationship very quickly. All that Scholasticism needs to do is to draw the
of the problems posed. A fruitful discussion between Christian consequences from the real distinction as the fundamental con-
philosophy and existentialism cannot be conducted on the basis stitutional structure that permeates finite Being for its transcen-
of general cultural-philosophical and moral considerations, but dental properties, in order to arrive at the insight that thereby
only on the basis of a clear and exact ontological investigation. these too, in the properties of truth, goodness, and beauty,
Thus, in the confrontation with Heidegger and his pupils, it cannot in the least remain untouched by the distinction between
would be necessary to set out anew the whole breadth of the essence and existence. On the contrary: the tension, the fracture
question of the relationship between essence and existence, and goes right through these transcendental properties. Thus, just
explicitly in such a way that this would include the problematic as one can grasp finite Being only in the tension between essence
of temporality. We would see in this that Heidegger has exe- and existence, and the two poles always explain, illuminate,
cuted a masterly stroke in his transposition of the question of support and point to one another, so the truth too-let us
time from the specialized realm of "cosmology" into the inner- mention only this h e r e w i l l always be held in a tension in
most center of universal ontology, no matter how perverse his which the essential and the existential truth are the poles that
subsequent evaluation of this new knowledge may be. When he demand one another and explain one another. The greatest
exaggerates and ultimately equates being and time, because the philosophical dispute of the nineteenth century, that between
relationships of the dimensions of time generate the existential Hegel and Kierkegaard, would take on a wholly new illumina-
of existence, one could justifiably ask the question whether time tion from this simple fact and would appear in a light that would
and the real distinction are concepts so closely related that they necessarily make it interesting for the scholastic, not only from
186 Hans Urs von Balthasar Catholic philosophy 187
a historical point of view, but certainly from a systematic point of what is individual as such by a ray of metaphysics. For this,
of view also. The consequences for this further development of one need not join Hegel by going as far as to absorb history in
the real distinction for the totality of Christian thought cannot the realm of necessity. It is already much if one recognizes both
be seen totally for the present. They do not call into question the historicity of Being as a fundamentally ontological category,
anything essential in what the tradition has elaborated, but they as well as the significance of history in terms of Being. The
enrich the tradition in the sense that Christian thought contains indications given above about the origin of temporality show
new possibilities for understanding and assimilating other that path on which this encounter can, and indeed must, take
forms of thought. It would be necessary to take up afresh, not place. But if the insight into the necessity of a philosophy of
only the question of the relationship between the a priori and the history has arisen universally, nevertheless there is still a long
n posteriori which has been much discussed by Kant and also by way to go before it is constructed and realized.
Christian thought through the dialogue with him, and to ex- We shall not speak further here about the special
amine this under this aspect once more, but also the world of fields of philosophy-cosmology and psychology, aesthetics
Husserl's phenomenology with its distinction between the sight and ethics-although it would be possible to bring about the
of the essence and factual-historical knowledge, and (from this most fruitful encounters with modern thought in these concrete
starting-point) the whole question of the knowledge of what is fields. Let us draw attention only to one final point, which
historical and of its laws. Further, the problematic of the mutual concludes our study by referring back to our beginning: viz., to
immanence of the transcendentals would occur anew under this the question of the place given in theology to a Catholic phi-
heading, too, since the agathon and the kalon would have to lead losophy that would be broadened and made relevant in this
the "essential" knowledge beyond itself into an "existential" way.
knowledge. All of this would have to be discussed, not in an The advantages this would have would be almost
uncertainly floating sphere cut off from the tradition, but quite impossible to overlook. For although theology thinks and de-
certainly in the primal tradition of Western-Christian thinking velops on the basis of its own presuppositions, it makes use of
from the time of Plato and Aristotle and of the tension estab- the human-philosophical forms of consideration and results of
lished there between the ideal and the real essence (eidos and investigation at every step on this path. But the broader that
morpht). These concepts, Mhich have perhaps lost their fresh- this basis is, the broader this available material, the more
ness of color, would take on new color and enrichment through means does theology possess to develop itself. It will be stim-
the modern points of view, both for us and in themselves. ulated, encouraged, enriched almost against its own will by
Finally, after the clarifying transposition of the phi- every progress of philosophy. The more nature develops in
losophy of life and the philosophy of existentialism in the mode fullness, the more material does supernature possess in nature
of the tradition, it would be necessary to carry through the to transform, elevate, and permeate like a yeast. Faced with
confrontation with the modern spirit of history. Here, of course, this richness, theologians ought to delight in making every-
much work has already been done; yet not so much that it would thing that the natural spirit can offer into the footstool for the
already be obvious what the position of history in a Christian Word of God, instead of being content with a few dried-up
theory of Being would be. If modern philosophy from the Re- concepts and theses which they are otherwise accustomed to
naissance onwards takes an ever stronger interest in individu- borrow from philosophy. The entire fullness-the gold, frank-
ality as such (instead of being interested, like Thomas, only in incense, and myrrh of human thought-is not too much to be
the species), in the unmistakably distinct personality, then this presented to the Word of God which has become nature. In this
clear shift of emphasis does not at all have to be interpreted sacrifice, modern thought too must not be lacking; Christian
merely as a sign of decadence, in the sense of turning from the philosophy will seek to bring it home, in order to let it share in
universal and the essential to the special and contingent, in the the transforming power of the fire that must catch hold of
sense of a lack of the power of abstraction and of synthesis. This everything that is to become eternal, including human
has its reverse side in an indisputably greater concreteness, a thought.-Translated by Brian McNeil, CRV
widening of the philosophical field too through the illumination