Hans Urs Von Balthasar on The Cosmic and Anthropological Reductions

A Theology of Revelation: The Cosmological and Anthropological Reductions

Here’s a short summary of what Hans Urs Von Balthasar identified as the problems with natural theology of two types, and the primacy of Love as revelation. I’d like to lay out a summary of his three major positions in Love Alone is Credible, as well as a summary of what we might do with this information for creating a theology of revelation.

The Cosmological Reduction:

In the ancient world, the cosmological framework was seen as bearing an image of God. It was sacred, but lacked an overarching unifying principle, a center a logos. Thus, the early Christian thinkers and many in the ancient world view grasped upon the unity of the created order as a means of presenting the gospel.

The cosmological reduction consists of reducing the gospel into its most basic components in favor of human reason. Disgusted with confessional infighting and seeing the lack of credibility of creedal confessions during the 17th and 18th centuries, thinkers sought to break religion down into an essence. To reduce it to something universally applicable. The problem herein is the shifting historically away from revelation, further and further, and closer and closer to reason until in the 18th century there was created the religion of Reason. This would eventually not fulfill Christianity or provide adequate solution, but debase and absorb Christianity into itself eventually making the Christ-form disappear altogether behind the face of the unifying principle. In this conception revelation becomes the shell for an inner core of truth that can be found among all the religions.

The problem with this reduction is the gospel threatens to disappear behind a pre-formulated essence, a set of truths to be believed. The truths of the gospel are reduced and miracles become a static set of truths, shells for some displaced core truth. The events of revelation become addendum to the story rather than the chief interlocutors of the dialogic relationship between God and man. The world as a whole cannot provide to us the measure of what God wishes to say to humanity.

The Anthropological Reduction:

The Anthropological reduction is the other reduction. If the Cosmological reduction threatened to reduce revelation to historical fact, the anthropological reduction intends to make humans the judges of revelation instead of the world.

The reduction is this: that humans should be the measure and proff of revelation. Locke provides in his 1695 work The Reasonableness of Christianity the “anthropological proof for the existence of God.” According to Locke humans have been tasked with the obligation to measure and critique revelation according to their reason.

This created an essentially ethical religion wherein revelation is dismissed and the teachings of Jesus become the center, but without the narrative of his life or any of the miracles that the gospels say he performed. This religion attempted to do away with “mythic cultus” in order to make the gospel reasonable to modern thinkers. This can only create what Enlightenment thinkers called natural religion. They assumed they had found the core of religion, and attempted to live out the core of religion in general, apart from the Christian witness.

Reason, the very Reason Luther rejected became Cartesian, it changed into something essentially platonic, shifting from Aristotle back to Plato, and acquiring a scientific world-making edge. It acquired the power to change and transform the world not just describe it, but shape it. It had nothing to do with religion and thus became what Karl Barth rightly called an ‘idol factory.’

But where Barth falls short is in seeing the alternative to the idol factory the alternative to autonomous Reason that Thomism presents us with. Reason is correlative with Theology, for more on Thomism and the Thomistic revival see Thomism.


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