About Being etc. and about von Balthasar and WW II - Maureen Breen - 26 Jan 02

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Does Being mean Existence, Life? What is Essence?

Balthasar lived during the awful years of World War 11. He lived quite close to Germany - in fact, at the centre of Europe. As far as I can see his writings are untouched by the terrible atrocities of, say, Auschwitz. I would say he lived immune to all this evil. I find it hard to understand how one could be like this, especially a man of his stature.

Or is it because he was so affected by the War and its Evil that he emphasises, dwells deeply on, Jesus' going into hell in Mysterium Paschale? What do you think?

Thank you, Maureen.

-- Anonymous, January 26, 2002


Response to About Being etc. and about von B and WW II - Maureen Breen - 26 Jan 02

Maureen, Good that you have found the way here! Your first questions have to do with important themes in metaphysics. It would be useful if you could give references to the pages in von Balthasar where he mentions them. A couple of remarks: Being has to do with *that* a thing is, essence has to do with *what* a thing is. Thomas Aquinas (the classical form of a Metaphysics that is compatible with Christianity) would say things like: We know *that* God exists, we don't know *what* God is. Another example (my own): We can say *what* a dodo is (essence), even though we know they are extinct (they do not exist any more). Then life: for a living thing, to be is to live, but for a stone, to be is just to be... Lots could be said. But maybe you would like to ask about a particular passage in von Balthasar...? More later.

-- Anonymous, January 26, 2002

Response to About Being etc. and about von B and WW II - Maureen Breen - 26 Jan 02

On World War II and evil: In today's (27th Jan 02, p. 5) Sunday Independent there is an article on a BBC2 Drama (Friday last), called "Conspiracy--the Meeting at Wannsee", with Kenneth Branagh playing the part of Reinhard Heydrich: "The drama was based on fact: the survival and discovery of one copy of the minutes of the meeting of leading Naze officers and lawers to prepare the detailed plans for the implementation of Hitler's Final Solution. But there was no sense of the enormity or moral dimensions of the subject. This was just another high-level committee meeting..." The reviewer ends with a reflection on "... Kenneth Branagh's stunning portrayal of the smiling banality of evil". I mention this because Balthasar's treatment of evil (I will give the reference later) puts a big emphasis on lying: Evil presents itself as normal, as boringly banal, as what everybody does. It is only in the presence of real good that it begins to show its teeth (hence the importance of martyrdom... and I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Evangelical theologian imprisoned by the Nazis, being excecuted by special order of Himmler on April 9th 1945, just a few days before the concentration camp at Flossenburg was liberated by the Allies. I also think of the murder of Archbishop Romero in 1980). And, in Balthasar's reading, it is only in the presence of absolute good, namely in the presence of the Son of God, that evil is fully unmasked: this is calvery. Evil shows itself as it tries to exterminate the greatest good. This is the background for Balthasar's reflections on Apocalyptic themes. I suspect some of this comes from his experience of World War II. It is noteworthy here that he had a real friendship with Karl Barth, one of the other great theologians of the 20th century and a man who (along with Bonhoeffer) very quickly saw the awfulness of the Nazi project. On apocalyptical themes, Balthasar already wrote his doctoral dissertation on "The Apocalyptic of the German Soul". Now that is a highly difficult and untranslated work about which I know little--I just mention it because the title suggests Balthasars early interest in these themes.

I should also mention that I think you are right about Balthasar's theology of the descent into Hell. He is trying to hold at once (without loosing the real character of each) the evil that is really done and the understanding that God wills that all should be saved.

-- Anonymous, January 27, 2002

Philip, thank you for your answer to my questions some weeks ago. My reply got lost somehow ! Your answer to the question on von Balthasar and World War 2 and its Evil was very interesting and helpful. I read the Sunday Independent article about the BBC Drama on the 'Wannsee Meeting'. It made the whole situation very real. "The smiling banality of evil" - the Lying - makes me shiver. It is always Dietrich Bonhoeffer who comes to mind when I think of the Nazi Evil. I expect von Balthasar to be of similar mind as D.Bonhoeffer.[who am I] Now you say he has written on Apocalyptic themes which you suspect comes from his experience of the War. That makes me feel better!

-- Anonymous, February 17, 2002

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