Response #3: Brian M. Niece

Response to “Beauty and Revelation: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Creational Aesthetics”
By Brian M. Niece

McClain does well to emphasize the intimate link between von Balthasar’s aesthetics and his understanding of Revelation. Von Balthasar’s theology of nature and grace surely feeds his aesthetics, as does his reliance on and reinterpretation of de Lubac.

If the very matter of theological aesthetics is understood as God’s glory, one wonders how much von Balthasar’s theology of nature and grace derives from Aquinas’ theology of glory? Consider Aquinas’ posited question: What are we going to do with this world in light of the world to come? This is Aquinas’ prevailing concern. The manifesting Kingdom of Beauty is revealed in the present through the glory of God; a glory in which we share. For Aquinas, God is absolutely simple in that God is actus purus in whom essence and existence are one. In this, von Balthasar’s bifurcation and eventual transformation of Beauty and Revelation is owing.

If we are to accept this influence from Aquinas, we see the self-differentiation of God is the origin and ratio of divine emanation ad extra creation. Then for von Balthasar, creation becomes continual redemption. Thus creation is on-going and this is beautiful.

Von Balthasar’s aesthetics then begin in God’s existence. This is a beginning that comes only as gift. The gift is to be brought into the divine dance of the Triune God so that we live his glory. A theology of aesthetics which might be a movement toward nothingness becomes, instead, a movement toward possibility.

One also wonders if we might further explore the Trinitarian possibilities that breathe into von Balthasar’s aesthetics (McClain intends this way). Oneness and difference can be equally and simultaneously emphasized in a portrait of the Trinity through von Balthasar’s analogy of the symphony within the created order. God is the conductor, and though we the created beings are the musicians, it is God who is performing the symphony. This is an act of Revelation, most expressly displayed in the narrative description of the person and mission of Jesus Christ. The unity of the composition of all creation is contained within God and is imparted by God. Many ‘notes’ can be played and sustained without discord, but rather in agreement with a fixed consensus refusing indifference in a communal unification that mirrors the polyphonal nature of the Trinity.

The difficulty with von Balthasar’s analogy is, of course, that of the instruments within the symphony themselves. Possible over-analysis would construe a parallel with difficulties of God as substance—or even a misconstrual of the divine substantia—thus rendering the profitable aspects of the analogy ineffective. Yet, von Balthasar’s musical analogy presents a stronger case for epistemic primacy of the Trinity than other proposals that rely in some way on analytic philosophy and truth tests to attempt to re-invent correspondence in such a way to validate truth claims.

To view eternal truth as symphonic is to understand the inherent divine intention of plurality as diversity without dissonance. This becomes a precursor of Milbank’s poesis, which is surely owing to von Balthasar’s aesthetics.

Brian M. Niece
Fifth week of Lent


Anonymous said…
Brian, thanks for your comments, and for incorporating reflections from Balthasar's "Truth is Symphonic", which is where I assume you're working from. You're right to point to the ongoingness of creation; this was a helpful reminder to me. I'd be interested to hear more about the Milbank thesis: if I'm right, that von Balthasar is operating from de Lubac's theology of nature and grace - the natural is made for the supernatural - then this poses problems for Milbank, who is critical both of Balthasar and the later de Lubac.
Brian Niece said…

You are right that there is significant tension between Milbank and Balthasar. But -- as we theologians so often do -- though Milbank is critical there is a definite thread tying his poesis to Balthasar's trinitarian understanding of revelation.
Brian Niece said…
"as we theologians so often do ..."

What I mean by this is we are critical of another's body of work and yet we are influenced by it none the less, whether we recognize that influence or not.

So too with Milbank in regards to Balthasar.