von bal

In The Glory of the Lord, Vol. 1, von Balthasar gives a notable nod to the German Idealists and to Hegel in particular.

In order to read even a form within the world, we must see something invisible as well, and we do in fact see it. In a flower, a certain interior reality opens its eye and reveals something beyond and more profound than a form which delights us by its proportion and color. In the rhythm of the form of plants – from seed to full growth, from bud to fruit – there is manifested an essence, and to reduce the laws of this essence to mere utilitarian principles would be blasphemous. And in the totality of beings, as they ascend and maintain their equilibrium, there is revealed a mystery of Being, which it would be even more blasphemous and blind to interpret by reducing it to a neutral ‘existence’. As especially the Romantics and many German Idealists deeply knew, we are initiated into these mysteries because we ourselves are spirit in nature and because all the expressive laws of the macrocosm are at work in ourselves (444).


About the “mystery of Being,” a mystery that requires “initiation” as Hegel rightly noted in The Phenomenology of Spirit, von Balthasar continues,

At the level of total humanity, we can speak of a knowledge worthy of man only where we do not preliminary bracket out ‘the substratum of unknowing’ (as the so-called ‘exact sciences’ attempt to do), but, rather, very expressly include this dimension of mystery. For it is only in this way that the figure which lies at the heart of the matter becomes legible as a figure of reality. This is a fact which in Hegel is attested to in a hundred different ways and variations, his final dissolution of it into a divine omniscience notwithstanding (446).

So why is this important for von Balthasar? And why begin with the mystery of Being rather than the Christ event or at the very least creation?

Because for von Balthsar, the revelation of Christ is both a manifestation and concealment that takes place within Being. “The Incarnation of Word means the most extreme manifestness within the deepest concealment,” writes von Balthasar (456). What’s more, “this unique relationship of revelation and concealment is inscribed” in humanity’s Being (449). And as von Balthasar continues, “the revelation of grace is not the establishment of a new form within the created world; it is but a new manner of God’s presence in the form of the world” (451-452). What protects God from being subsumed into the order of nature, Being, or humanity is this dual nature of revelation. Si comprehendis non est Des (450).

As such, revelation,

does not have its place alongside the revelation in the creation, as if it competed with it, but within it. In the same way, the revelation in the Incarnation has its place within the revelation of God’s Being in man, who, as God’s image and likeness, conceals God even as he reveals him. In this instance this mean that, in Christ, man is disclosed along with God. This is so because God does not use human nature like an external instrument in order to articulate, from the outside and from above, the Wholly Other which God is; rather, God takes on man’s nature as his own and expresses himself from within it through the expressive structures of that nature’s essence. Thus the interiority in his expressive relationship derives from the fact that it is the Creator who is at work, and that he does not misuse his own creation for a purpose alien to it, but rather, by his becoming man, he could only honor it and crown it and bring it to its own intimate perfection (458-459).

And here is the kicker, the connection to what this all has to do with Being:

In abstract language we could say that it is Being itself (and not an existent among others) which, in this existent that is man, has found for itself definitive expression (459).

The mystery of Being protects God as the Wholly Other, yet reveals God as that which is most intimate, as the “Not-Other.”