Von Balthasar–an “unorthodox theologian”?

Susan Beckworth writes for Spero News: Hans Urs von Balthasar: unorthodox theologian. It is, as others have said, a shoddy piece of work. Among other observations she makes is that he wrote the dedication for the book, Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism. I haven’t seen the edition she refers to; the only edition translated by Powell I could find has nothing by von Balthasar. She says Basil Pennington “contributed” to it–but all he did was make a couple of comments that are on the cover. Hardly a “contribution.” She quotes something from the webpage of the translator–but what does that have to do with von Balthasar? I will keep looking for this book, because I’m curious about what von Balthasar may say [I found this extract online–and I find it troubling].

She makes this additional charge:

In Hans Urs von Balthasar’s 1950’s published work, Castra Meretix [sic], he states the prostitute is the symbol of the Church, ”The figure of the prostitute is so appropriate for the Church…that it…defines the Church of the New Covenant in her most splendid mystery of salvation.”

Well, first, the author has a typo–the term is Casta meretrix (the “chaste whore”) and von Balthasar is hardly original in this. I found this today and it’s a fascinating read. He looks at the image of the Church as a harlot as used in many patristic and medieval sources. They follow the lead of Hosea, of course, who uses the image of a prostitute as a prophetic warning against Israel’s idolatry. And many folks before the Reformation saw the Church in the harlot of Revelation. But they also find types of the Church in Rahab and Tamar in the Old Testament and in Mary Magdalene in the New–the Church, especially the Gentile Church, is a forgiven harlot; once she followed idols, now she worships Christ. So Beckworth is speaking from ignorance.

Why the excitement about von Balthasar in the first place? It is because he is a theologian who influenced an important group of other theologians (e.g., Ratzinger, Wojtyla, Kasper, etc.).–banned at one time, he was to be elevated as a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, but died two days before the ceremony.

By the way … There’s something else interesting about this article. Robert Sungenis clipped it off the internet and published it on his own page, eliminating the name of the author, the source, and without giving a link.

7 thoughts on “Von Balthasar–an “unorthodox theologian”?

  1. This is a terrible, terrible article which maligns Balthasar’s theology in ways that would leave even Alyssa Pitstick fuming (see: Oakes vs. Pittstick over at FIRST THINGS). I’m in my first year of theological studies, and this is – quite honestly – the first time I’ve ever read a piece that so completely misunderstands and misrepresents so many things in one package.

    One might think the prostitute metaphor is a bad one (and I might be willing to agree), but it has nothing at all to do with THAT whore. Not exactly heresy to make a bad metaphor, since the theology is correct behind his intent, however.

    Wouldn’t we all agree – along with the Fatima prayer we attach to the rosary nowadays – that praying and hoping for the salvation of all men is a good, virtuous thing? Balthasar doesn’t suggest that hell is empty in “Dare we Hope?” which is the first book I read.

    His dedication to Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism isn’t at all what you’re led to think it is, by the way. As Henry Karlson says on another blog summing up what this is:

    “As for the Tarot, did you actually read the work in question? I would suggest you do before you act like it is about divination — it isn’t, it is about the symbols used for the trumps and how they can tell the Christian story. It is trying to go back to the original sources, while contending against the errors people have used the Tarot for! So once again, it is a guilt by association being employed here, a fallacy I find used time and time again when attacking someone without actually reading what they had to say.”

    Heck, even calling him a “Cardinal” is incorrect, as he was never actually made one.

    For great in-depth responses to this madness, check out:


  2. You didn’t give your opinion on the article… what is your opinion?

    I personally think the article is poorly written. She pulls together all sorts of wild clips as she attempts to discredit him. What is the context to the quotation about the prostitute? How about the explanation of the Tarot? So Robert Powell translated it, and some folks reviewed it — how does that prove von Balthasar’s to be a genuine heretic? My grade: D-, for bad Drivel.

  3. My apologies, Bill — I didn’t know you were polishing up on the post, and I only found the other blog in question through a Google search to see what other folks were saying about this.

    Thanks for your comments. Because Balthasar (and de Lubac) was so influential on Ratzinger and Wojtyla, who are two of our “main players” around here, we get a lot of Balthasar. Ed Oakes happens to be a professor here as well, so Balthasar is pretty hard to escape. Some of what the theologian says is certainly controversial, but none of the stuff quoted in this article is in the least bit problematic.

  4. My problem with Balthasar is the idea that hell is empty.

    I haven’t read a lot by him, but I have seen many times that he held that idea.

  5. Bret, von B argued that we should hope that all men (i.e. all of humanity) will be saved. He did not assert that all men *will* be saved (that’s universalism), nor that Hell is empty (the demons are certainly there, and forever, and von B doesn’t say otherwise).

    While it is certainly orthodox to argue that there *are* some human beings in hell, it is also orthodox to argue that there are not. In other words, the Church currently allows both positions. So one can certainly argue and disagree with von B’s position, but it cannot be said to be outside the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy, as some (like the author of the article Bill cites) have maintained.

  6. Hi all,
    First off, I’d just like to point out that the article in question is opinion – and as you know at Spero we try to post various angles, so if any of you would like to wrapup some thoughts regarding the article, I would more than willingly post it. OR even if you wanted to post this blog post I’d run it.


  7. that’s not even accurate at all, this is just a slam against theologian emerging as an authoritative voice for theology in the 21st century.

    the article has no basis in facts. end of story.

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