Sobrino & von Balthasar

Grant Gallicho posts a letter written by Nicholas Lash to The Tablet regarding the Sobrino affair. Lash quotes some statements from Hans Urs von Balthasar that appear to advocate the same ideas for which Sobrino was reprimanded (Christ being a man “assumed” into God and having “faith”). Lash accuses the CDF of sloppiness in its methodology and wonders, “Is he being accused of heresy or merely holding opinions unpopular in Rome?”

In the comments, Robert Imbelli expands the von Balthasar quote, with the intention of keeping readers from misunderstanding. But I think he just raises more questions. Here’s the quote:

“But, as a man assumed into God, Christ necessarily participates in the self-consciousness of the eternal Son in his eternal procession from the Father and his return to him, and this becomes reflected in the human self-consciousness of Christ to the extent that he experiences this self-consciousness of the Son interius intimo suo and that he possesses it by opening himself to it.”

Moreover, “because he is genuinely man only as assumed man, he understands even his genuinely human experience of God as an expression and function of his divine person.

Here’s the passage about Sobrino in the CDF notification:

5. Father Sobrino writes: “From a dogmatic point of view, we have to say, without any reservation, that the Son (the second person of the Trinity) took on the whole reality of Jesus and, although the dogmatic formula never explains the manner of this being affected by the human dimension, the thesis is radical. The Son experienced Jesus’ humanity, existence in history, life, destiny, and death” (Jesus the Liberator, 242).

In this passage, the Author introduces a distinction between the Son and Jesus which suggests to the reader the presence of two subjects in Christ: the Son assumes the reality of Jesus; the Son experiences the humanity, the life, the destiny, and the death of Jesus. It is not clear that the Son is Jesus and that Jesus is the Son. In a literal reading of these passages, Father Sobrino reflects the so-called theology of the homo assumptus, which is incompatible with the Catholic faith which affirms the unity of the person of Jesus Christ in two natures, divine and human, according to the formulations of the Council of Ephesus,[7] and above all of the Council of Chalcedon which said: “…we unanimously teach and confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man composed of rational soul and body, the same one in being with the Father as to the divinity and one in being with us as to the humanity, like us in all things but sin (cf. Heb 4:15). The same was begotten from the Father before the ages as to the divinity and in the latter days for us and our salvation was born as to His humanity from Mary the Virgin Mother of God; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation”.[8] Similarly, Pope Pius XII declared in his encyclical Sempiternus Rex: “… the council of Chalcedon in full accord with that of Ephesus, clearly asserts that both natures are united in ‘One Person and subsistence’, and rules out the placing of two individuals in Christ, as if some one man, completely autonomous in himself, had been taken up and placed by the side of the Word”.[9]

It does appear that there is equal basis for making the same charge of assumptionism of both von Balthasar and Sobrino. So why the focus on Sobrino? Is he being unduly harassed–or is von Balthasar being unduly shielded? Theologians are tasked with writing lucidly, and do not have the luxury of saying things that sound like ancient heresy and then saying, “I didn’t really mean it,” or “It’s a mystery.” If you know the ancient heresy, you should be competent enough to write with sufficient lucidity so that your views are not confused with that ancient heresy.

6 thoughts on “Sobrino & von Balthasar

  1. Of course the CDF didn’t just look at the statements it quoted. These were seen in relation to the work in which they appeared and in relation to the response and clarifications (if any) which Sobrino gave to the CDF. Merely taking a quote from von Balthasar and saying it equals the intemt and meaning of Sobrino strikes me as rather dubious argumentation. Surely Balthasar must be judged first in light of his broader teaching on Christ and not by merely paralleling him with Sobrino.

  2. “So why the focus on Sobrino?”

    I may be wrong, but hasn’t it been about two-decades since HUvB was remotely capable of formulating a response to the CDF about anything?

  3. Dim Bulb–your comment was caught as spam. Well, you’re saying of von Balthasar what Sobrino and his supporters say.

    The statements of both are suggestive of heresy, a heresy that you usually first learn about in undergraduate church history courses.

    Both were theologians who should have know that.

    Both were theologians who should have taken care not to come across that way.

  4. The problem with the CDF sometimes is that it evaluates works of an author in isolation from each other. If Sobrino is to be evaluated and judged, then it must be on the basis of his whole corpus. Note however that Sobrino has NOT been condemned; in a way similar to Dupuis, the particular work in question is judged needing clarification, not condermnation.

    There is no question at all that, despite Balthasar’s reservations about the Theology of Liberation, his concerns parallel those of Sobrino et alii. Being Swiss and not Latin American (well, Sobrino IS Spanish, but he has lived most of his life in Central America), he certainly could not have written what Sobrino and Guitierrez had written. Still, his own Theodramatics of Liberation (not “Theology” but “Theodramatics”) has a lot in common with these theologians of liberation. Mongrain, in his book on the “Systematic Thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar”, has, I think, said the most lucid things about Balthasar’s thinking on the Theology of Liberation.

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