Theology and Holiness

I recently received, rather out of the blue, an email from a student I had taught a few years ago. She told me she had been re-reading some of the papers she had written in two theology course taken with me. She was surprised to discover how much she found in the papers – insights she had forgotten and was now pleased to be rediscovering.

I think we've all had such experiences, coming upon things we had written years ago and had forgotten we once knew and perhaps expressed better at that time than we could now.

Thirty years ago I reviewed for Commonweal the first volume of von Balthasar's The Glory of the Lord, newly translated into English (though the German had appeared more than twenty years prior to that). Since then, of course, the entire monumental Trilogy has become available in English, along with numerous other writings of this Twentieth Century Father of the Church.

I wrote in that review that for von Balthasar "theology is contemplation brought to conceptualization, issuing from prayer and leading to prayer." And that, for him, "the only truly convincing verification of Christianity and its theological vision is the saint."

For those who have not yet ventured far into the Balthasarian forest and would like to begin an exploration, perhaps a place to start would be the essay, "Theology and Sanctity" in volume one of his collected essays: Explorations in Theology.

Hans Urs von Balthasar died twenty five years ago today, two days short of being inducted into the College of Cardinals to which he had been appointed by John Paul II. May he now enjoy the Glory of the Lord in whose service he spent himself so generously.

Robert P. Imbelli, a long-time Commonweal contributor, is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. A book of essays in his honor, The Center Is Jesus Christ Himself, edited by Andrew Meszaros, was published this year by The Catholic University of America Press.

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