Hans Urs Von Balthasar on the Third Way

A Theology of Revelation: Hans Urs Von Balthasar‘s Love Alone is Credible

The Third Way of Love:

In the mind of Von Balthasar, Love functions as a natural theology and a revelation simultaneously, they work together and interact with one another. While not a Thomist in the strict sense his work nonetheless shows us how to solve the problem in a different but similar fashion. It’s a theology that takes Barth’s alarms seriously, but does not betray the church’s teachings on natural theology.

The Third way stands outside the realm of human experience, but also within it. Love is something that when taken rightly does not descend into sensationalism, but stands as an objective truth outside the human experience and is judging the failure of humanity to love properly. In the revelation we see we have anticipated something like the divine love, but missed its object entirely. We had hoped for this, but we have not seen it prior to encounter. When we are met in the encounter with beauty, we are forced to see that what we valued as beautiful was not at all truly beautiful, and we are now in the presence of true beauty. It is a beauty that transcends us, judges us, and stands outside us.

Yet, it is also within reach, because it opens itself to us. We experience it, it is known to us. We know it when we see our children, when we embrace our spouses, when we have true Christian affection. We experience it when we experience the thrust of life and vitality in us, but nevvertheless these experiences are only shadows and we see that when we encounter the truly beautiful. The height of beauty is properly theological, the Christ-form itself is the truest and most ultimate beauty.

When we look upon the Crucified One, we are shown the reflection of the abyss of selfishness with which we approach this event. We see selfishness even in that which we have formerly known as and called love. In this event the scandal of calling this event love has the power to sway our hearts and bring about a transfiguration of that which we thought we understood. This event exposes the truth about ourselves, we are all ashamed, our masks are torn away from us, and we all fall silent in the face of so overwhelmingly pure a love. On some deep level we are aware of the frigidity of our own hearts, our own incapacity to meet any law of love. We simply do not have the courage.

When we see in the cross the pure gift of absolute love, offering itself to us, breaking for us, suffering to speak a word to us about the nature of the God that Christians claim to believe in, we re undone. Every word we had raised up, every proposition fails to do justice to the proper nature of this event as it speaks to us as event. It transcends into the immediate through our self-disclosure to it as such. It makes room for a new imagination, if this is the starting point of all love and beauty that is knowable to the human mind, how different might love and beauty look from what we believed them to be.

Love is our natural theology. Love is that which stands outside us, and demands our response, but also graces itself to us. Love unites the general human experience, while transcending reducibility into a natural religion. Love is properly theological, as well as natural.

It is only in love that we find the proper voice for a truly and properly Christian apologia. However, apologetics is not about happy arguments, or even very heated ones. It is about the beauty of the Christ-form shining in and through us. The only thing that makes the faith real is not an appeal to natural reason, since this is increasingly becoming antagonistic to faith, and the two are being ever more polarized by scientism’s fundamentalists.

The faith’s true proof lies in the Christ-form shining in believers, and also in leading others to recognize the transcendent power of self-emptying love. There are no irreducible logical proofs of the existence of God, only witnesses to the Divine Love.

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