All posts tagged: Hans Urs von Balthasar

Church Life is the Heart of the Catholic Imagination

I struck up a conversation about the role of art in the Catholic imagination with a medievalist friend last week.[1] As we were having this conversation we stood next to a public religious artwork on the campus of Notre Dame, First Down Moses, just a day after I wrote the second installment of my Catholic imagination series, “The Dramatic Double Vision of the Catholic Imagination.” Most tourists who visit the Notre Dame campus take pictures of Touchdown Jesus don’t know that there is a statue of Moses pointing—one hand pointing toward the heavens, the other toward the 10 Commandments—standing on the other side of Hesburgh library. This statue is colloquially known as “First Down Moses” and is a popular meeting point for staff and students, a place of communion of sorts. That day we were looking at the feet of Moses crushing the Golden Calf as we were approached by a Jewish colleague. She expressed her concern about the horns on top of the statue’s head. My medievalist friend explained that the horns were a …

Beauty from the Brokenness

As the flickering candles and dim lights fought off the dark Texan night pouring in from outside, the chapel danced between silence and sound. The silence was palpable—as thick as the bonds of the seventy young men huddled attentively as they leaned forward to listen to their fellow senior standing behind the ambo. He began to break open his life, allowing others to listen to the symphony of his rugged voice: crescendos of moments we never expected, slurred words in between tears fought back, staccatos of the surprising levity, and pauses to gather his soul to spoken notes—his young life sung to the tune of the Paschal Mystery. I remember my astonished gaze ascending upwards from the student’s face, aglow with fire light in the dark, towards the gnarled figure of Christ on the suspended crucifix. . . Crucifixion—Why? I found myself in the chapel before the whirlwind events of yet another retreat, drawn to the silent gaze of that same crucifix. Memories flooded the silence and past retreat experiences reverberated into this crossroad in …

And the Nominees Are . . . Lion

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. This post contains no spoilers. So they were there even before I had learnt them, but were not in my memory. . . . They were already in the memory, but so remote and pushed into the background, as if in most secret caverns, that unless they were dug out by someone drawing attention to them, perhaps I could not have thought of them. (Confessions Book X, 17) In book ten of his Confessions, St. Augustine writes of memory as a re-learning, a re-discovering. Deep in our memory there are visions of truth that we re-learn as life prompts their recall. Garth Davis’ Lion dives into the intimate quest of a human severed from his origins. How do the memories of who he once was and those who loved him reach through the rupture between them? And how must he respond once those memories reach him? Based on a true story, …

Abstraction, Contemplation, and the Architectural Imagination

The Question: “The Story at the Heart of Faith: Can abstraction call the person into the fullness of humanity?” The Working Definitions: Contemplation/Contemplative Imagination: The total imagination involving all of our faculties: thinking, feeling, remembering, hoping, believing, perceiving, abstracting, conceiving and interpreting. It is the conditional ground for our reception of reality, and hence truth, thereby leading us into the fullness of our humanity. Analogical: Proceeding according to a proper proportion or measure. It is the principle of unity in difference between the part and the whole, the particular and the universal, essentia and esse, becoming and being, the finite and the infinite, where the contraries are so integrated and mutually dependent and informing that to preference one to the expense of the other is to distort the way we contemplate, create, and live in the world. The Response: The titular question as it relates to architecture, specifically sacred architecture, possesses a rather enigmatic character because architecture is an essentially “abstract” art, at least in any strict use or “icon”ic sense of the term. In …

The Universality and Idiosyncrasy of Sainthood

Every saint is idiosyncratic. On the face of it, this seems so self-evident that we might wonder why it even needs to be said. Of course, St. Ignatius of Antioch is different from St. Ignatius of Loyola. Obviously, St. Teresa of Ávila is not St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Even when saints bear the names of the holy men and women who preceded them, they are never carbon copies of their namesakes. Each saint’s radical particularity deserves special attention, because it tells us something vastly important about the personal character of every individual’s pathway to sanctity. It should not surprise us that God calls everyone to embrace the vocation of sainthood, because each person is destined for union with God—an everlasting intimacy that the Holy Spirit enacts in us through the process of sanctification. Sainthood’s universality entails its idiosyncrasy. If God wishes for all of us to be saints, there must be as many ways of being a saint as there are people whom God transforms into them. Thomas Merton, famed twentieth-century Trappist contemplative and social …

Beauty and Theology

Throughout its long history, theology has certainly seemed more comfortable understanding itself through its claim to truth or goodness than to beauty. It is not that the connection between theology and beauty has never been notarized. One simply has to recall the early Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, and the Dionysian tradition to realize that this is not true—even if beginning with Tertullian and proceeding through the iconoclasm controversy and on to the Reformation, faith in the Cross made it difficult to think of theology and beauty being anything other than bitter rivals, when it came to allure and existential pledge. Of course, throughout the long histories of Catholic, Orthodox, and even Protestant theologies, there have been internal corrections. The Catholic theologian Matthias Scheeben might  represent a correction within the late nineteenth-century form of Neo-Scholasticism, with its forged alliance between propositionalism and moralism. And, of course, in the Reform tradition no theologian showed a greater openness to beauty than Jonathan Edwards, without succumbing in the slightest to the emerging temptation to elevate beauty while essentially dethroning God. Pace …

The Healing Power of Beauty

A Triptych of Short Fiction, Sacred Art, and Modern Poetry This is an essay about vision and blindness, about seeing and the failure to see, about wholes and fragments, sickness and healing, light and darkness, about nativity and the rebirth to eternal youth, about a mode of beauty that does not and cannot exclude ugliness, the nocturnal, suffering, and death but rather fundamentally transfigures it. It is about forms of art, yes, but also—and far more importantly—about forms of life, and the vivifying, even healing shapes these can and ought take for Christian believers. Early on in T. S. Eliot’s pageant play The Rock, which narrates the rebuilding of a Church, the Chorus laments: “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”[1] Here the depth dimension of genuine wisdom and mystery has been traded for bits of data. Similarly, the modern person has in a certain sense become blind, unreceptive to theological and even philosophical language, …