Response #6: Andrew Ryan Guffey

“Infidelity and the Form’s Unfolding: A Response to Halden Doerge”
By Andrew Ryan Guffey

Mr. Doerge’s essay confirms—with special attention to Balthasar’s use of the Old Testament and the relationship of Judaism and Christianity—the overwhelming but unspoken consensus of the conference thus far, namely, that Balthasar’s theological hermeneutic is primarily to be perceived in his theological aesthetics. While the space allotted for these essays does not permit us to follow all of our theses, certain questions need to be engaged more thoroughly. With Doerge’s fine essay I found myself wishing he had followed his theological question farther into Balthasar’s thought. The question to which I refer, of course, is that of Judaism. How can Christianity claim to fulfill Judaism without superceding it? It is a question Balthasar’s work invites.

It is true that for Balthasar “the Old Testament does not possess within itself its own eidos.” Christ is, of course, the antitype by which the types of the Old Testament are measured. Christ is the revelation of God, and the Old Testament is the revelation of God insofar as it finds its resolution in Christ. Doerge here asks the right question: “[D]oes not such a Christocentric figural reading of the Old Testament inevitably devalue and domesticate the distinctive nature of the Old Testament and Israel’s faith?” But Doerge is perhaps too quick to defend Balthasar against the charge of supercessionism without making a clean breast of the latter’s developed thoughts on the matter. Truly, for Balthasar, form and content belong together in aesthetics—the form cannot be left behind once one has perceived the content, for the content is to be perceived only in and not through the form. It is not clear, however, that this argument or its analogues can be transferred to the question of the place of the Old Testament in Christic revelation. Doerge draws on a similar argument to affirm the place of the Old Testament in Balthasar’s writings: “The Old Testament sets the historical and theological conventions within which Christ is who he is. While they are not necessary for Christ as he is for them, he assumes them and cannot be approached except through them.” But then, nothing that has come to pass can have happened without that which preceded it. Christ could not have been crucified by the Romans had the Romans not first conquered the Mediterranean. The Gospel could not have been preached throughout the Empire and so widely and effectively communicated had Alexander not conquered the known world three and a half centuries prior to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Does that mean that these events, too, participate in the revelation of God? If this is the true value of the Old Testament, does not Christ stick out as some sort of Hegelian Aufhebung in which neither thesis nor antithesis is lost, but rather both are sublated into the “synthesis”?

Doerge acknowledges that “much of what von Balthasar affirms about the fulfillment of the Old Testament and Israel in the form of Christ will be problematic, not only to adherents of Judaism, but to many Christian theologians who are rightly concerned with the crucial issue of Jewish-Christian relations.” But it is here that Doerge dodges the full force of the question he is asking. Doerge claims that the fulfillment of the Old Testament in Christ in Balthasar’s aesthetics in no way indicates Christian supercessionism, which he follows with the disclaimer that, in Balthasar’s work, “all forms of theological engagement with Israel and the Old Testament find their coherence only in Christ, in the faith that in Christ nothing is lost, nothing is violated, nothing is excluded.” Here he appeals to Balthasar’s “hopeful universalism,” which Doerge claims “prohibits any kind of anti-Semitic supercessionism.” Perhaps it does prohibit anti-Semitic supercessionism, but anti-Judaic supercessionism is yet another question.1

The question is all the more striking when one reads the sixth volume of Balthasar’s aesthetics (“Theology: Old Covenant”). This volume is among the most rich and fascinating of Balthasar’s writings. One aspect that makes the volume so intriguing is its unabashed proclamation of the broken covenant. Balthasar sketches the ideal of the covenant with Israel, for instance, in part I.C. But this is followed by a striking assertion that breaks with the mechanistic historicity of dialectical materialism. “Everything that has been said up to this point [regarding grace and covenant] has,” Balthasar writes, “an abstract validity, because it is seen in isolation from history. It is only history, which convicts man as a sinner and confronts God with the fact of the broken covenant, that permits us to see the concrete reality of God’s glory” (Balthasar, Glory of the Lord, vol. 6: 215). Balthasar continues later: “Existence in flight and in catastrophe, since the glory of God has changed to blazing wrath, is one of the fundamental themes of the old covenant. … Round about Israel too there are more and more descents into hell and ‘pursuits into darkness’ (Nahum 1.8): from the flood … to the final ruin of Babylon and the concluding lamentation of Rev 17-18. But in the midpoint stands the rejection which is the necessary reverse side of the privileged election: the rejection of Israel and of its holy mountain, Zion. God’s glory has withdrawn. … The Israel of the millennia represents the side of God’s salvific activity in which he rejects; this is the inexorable inner consequence and logic of the grace which had entered into history” (GL, 6: 218-19). In this history of disobedience, during the long twilight after the Babylonian exile, the three movements of messianism, apocalyptic, and wisdom theology sprang up. But “if one surveys the three developments of the theologia gloriae which have been sketched above … then it immediately becomes terrifyingly clear that such an urgent need for glory can derive only from a great deficiency” (GL 6: 365). Or even more clearly: “the twilight dominates everything, for the prophets have declared the old covenant to be broken and dissolved” (GL 6: 382). The covenant, according to Balthasar (according to the prophets), is broken. Could we not then conclude that Judaic religion is obsolete?

Only in this context, only in the context of this very controversial and problematic position, can Balthasar write about the prophetical character of the whole history of Israel: “This is the covenant history of the chosen people with God, a history with greatness, a catastrophe and a self-transcendence that drives forward to a fulfillment that cannot be clearly seen or constructed. … It is essential today to insist as strongly as possible that Christianity cannot be understood without the old covenant; every attempt to interpret the form, message and subsequent impact of Christ in the world necessarily fails unless it is able to assess it all precisely in its closeness to and its distance from the old covenant” (GL 6: 402-3). Balthasar’s eloquent defense against supercessionism on p. 409 of GL 6 is impressive and calls the Church to repentance in participation with Israel’s psalms of lamentations. Indeed, “there are forms in the old covenant,” writes Balthasar, “which cannot be left behind in the new. … One of these elements which cannot be superseded is the knowledge of the absolute sovereignty and glory of God” (GL 6: 409). It is perhaps here that we hit on Balthasar’s best defense against supercessionism. More than anything it is the perception of God’s glory in the Old Testament that cannot be superceded. An even stronger answer, I suspect, would come from the place of Israel under the sign of Apocalypse. The incorporation of Israel in the action of Theo-Drama may prove a worthy locus for reflection on this question. The inclusion of the twelve patriarchs with the twelve apostles is important for Balthasar, and he takes pains to remind his readers that in the vertical history of God with the world, Israel and the Church are found together.

Doerge’s essay had to leave many of these concerns aside. Understandably, chasing this question in the current forum would have proven difficult, but the sophistication with which Balthasar approaches the question is compelling. What does it mean, after all, that the whole of Israel’s history should be prophetic if indeed Israel’s history is the covenant broken by infidelity? How should theology appropriate that Old Testament?


Fred said…
In answer to Guffey's final question (which is excellent!), I'll quote just a bit from "The Church and Israel" (I mistitled this in my comment on Doerge's post) in Explorations in Theology II:
«The Church, in other words, in spite of her character as light and fulfillment, still shares in the Judaic and messianic destiny of suffering in her role of representative and bears a promise that carries her beyond herself, which can only be fulfilled at the end of time. It must be realized that this does not mean that Israel's promise lives on elsewhere than in the Church of Christ. Nor is it said that Israel has, theologically speaking, a historical mission to fulfill in mankind, different from that of the Church, as is constantly alleged.
Yet, in spite of it all, Israel's promise is not dead. It lives on to the very end, to the moment when the holy root burst forth, blossoms and bears fruit, in the spiritual Israel of the greatest of the sons of Abraham. The two destinies, then, lie not alongside but within one another, corresponding to the one, sole promise and fulfillment.» (295)

Those interested in those side roads which explode all around the Herrlichkeit should take a look at the four volumes of Explorations in Theology, in particular The Spouse of the Word whose focus is ecclesiology.
From a Jewish point of view it is simply that the Jewish people have never been completely unfaithful - there are always some who are a faithful remnant. The rabbis teach that the act of children learning Torah is the only thing that sustains the existence of the universe. If the children stop learning Torah, the universe, God's creation will cease to exist. Even in the times of deepest chaos and crisis in the history of Israel and the Jews, there have been those who have been faithful. That hasn't been the best it could have been, but in the eyes of a fundamentally merciful and loving God, it has been enough.
Andy said…

Thanks for that. I saw your reference earlier and was hoping you'd quote a bit. But I'm not convinced the tension is thereby alleviated. For Balthasar, it is Israel's promise that lives on, and it lives on in the Church. That's at least dangerously close to being supercessionist. While both await the eschatological fullness of the promise, the promise still seems to reside primarily in the Church.


Thank you for your perspective. That is exactly the problem Balthasar faces here. It is not that Balthasar thinks the balance of power in humankind's encounter with God shifts from the Old Covenant to the New; it is that the Old Covenant is broken for Balthasar. This is a theological (and especially an inter-religious) problem. Indeed I think Balthasar's exposition of the three modes of theologia gloriae in the post/Exilic period is an attempt to affirm a certain remnant of Judaism. Even so, I'm not as certain as Halden that Balthasar reaches a position that is not given to supercessionist suppostions. It seems to me that Balthasar would more naturally see the early Church as the remnant of Israel. Which, in all fairness, is not far from what they seem to have thought of themselves.

Fred said…

Indeed, von Balthasar does not seek to lessen the tension, particularly insofar as that tension arises from obedience to God's word: «But this at once tears us apart, since what for us is God's word, the New Testament, and especially Romans 9-11, is not such for the Jews» (290). Tension is precisely what makes dialogue a word between two parties and an absence of tension would indicate the violent eliminations of one party or the other: either the violence of a supercessionism or the self- violence of well-intentioned Christians.

As von Balthasar is at pains to point out, the faithful and unfaithful grow up together in Christianity as in Judaism. And even though the early Christians likely considered themselves a remnant of Israel it is also true that the Fathers recognized the harlotry of the Church (an awareness that was diminished by the simplistic rhetoric of the Reformation).

Hasidic Jews claim that Israel continues because ten righteous men exist at any point in history. The Christian cannot even claim ten: for me, there is only one righteous Jew who preserves the whole world, and his name is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of Israel. The promise of God's mercy lives on for the whole people of God, which St. Paul claimed embraces both Jews and Christians.

If you would like to evaluate von Balthasar's position, you would do well to examine it where he presents it explicitly instead of merely trying to make suppositions based on Herrlichkeit.
Anonymous said…
My thanks to Andy for his excellent response to my post, which I think furthers the discussion nicely. To clarify a couple of points, I certainly don't intend to "let Balthasar off the hook" too easily. My point was not that Balthasar's theology is easily absovable from any kind of supercessionism, rather, as I stated that it merely does not lead to "the kind of supercessionism that many theologians rightly fear today". By that I had in mind the sort of supercessionism that simply sees the church as the "replacement" of Israel. For Balthasar it is not that the church replaces Israel, but rather that in Christ's fulfillment of Yahweh's promises to Israel, "the stage" (to use the term he employs in TD 3) is opened up in such a way that the Gentile nations as well as Israel are brought together in Christ to fulfil their roles in God's drama.

Balthasar is absolutely clear that the revelation of God in Christ renders impossible any attempt to narrate Israel's history apart from Christ (which is what thinkers like Soulen and Harink seem to want to be able to do in order to avoid the specter of "replacement theology"). So, I certainly was not trying to say that Balthasar's view of the Old Covenant lead to a view in which Israel qua Israel could theologically account for its identity apart from its consummation and coherence in Christ. If this is supercessionism then clearly Balthasar is a supercessionist, and I think all Christians must be supercessionists in this since.

The point for Balthasar is that the "acting area" (to again move from the aesthetics to the Theo-Drama, as Andy rightly suggests we do) which is opened up in Christ is wide enough for all theological persons to find thier right roles in relation to God. It is certainly true that it is only in Christ that Israel finds her identity, but this kind of "supercessionism" can only be problematic if we assume that the theological reality of Christ is somehow too provincial, too narrow, or too restrictive to allow Israel the kind of theological legitimacy and freedom that a properly non-supercessionist reading seeks.

The question of supercessionism, as I see it is a question not of the relationship of Israel and the church (which to my mind is a category mistake - the proper entity to pair with Israel is not the "the church" but "the nations"), but rather a question of whether or not there is an field of soteriological relation to God that is other or wider than Christ. For Balthasar, and I think for the Christian tradition as a whole, this answer must be a definitive "no". However, what I think Balthasar also shows is that this "no" is enfolded in a much wider "yes" within which Israel finds her true being in Christ. To be sure this is a challenge to Jewish self-understanding, and always has been, it is what Paul called "the stumbling block". I fear that this is a stumbling block we dare not remove, and Balthasar is helpful at showing how and why this is so.
Andy said…

It sounds like you think I have not read enough Balthasar. And yet you have not yet shown me how my reading of "Herrlichkeit" is incorrect or faulty. You merely state that I should read different parts of Balthasar, as if an examination of "Glory" might not highlight themes and assumptions that run throughout Balthasar's work.

You write, "The promise of God's mercy lives on for the whole people of God, which St. Paul claimed embraces both Jews and Christians." Perhaps Paul did so claim, though more accurately I think we could say this was St. Paul's hope. Even so, it is not necessarily what Balthasar is saying. I was responding to the salient quotation you pulled out of "The Church and Israel": "It must be realized that this does not mean that Israel's promise lives on elsewhere than in the Church of Christ." Did I misread that statement by picking at Herrlichkeit? Is he not preferencing the Church to Israel here?

In short, there is nothing in "The Church and Israel" to contradict my reading of Glory of the Lord.
In fact, there is much to confirm it. Your last remarks took something of a superior tone, but your arguments failed to support that tone. The main point of "The Church and Israel" is that Israel's promise lives on in the Church, even though the covenant is broken and the branches of Israel are cut away from that root. "For the Jews, first light, then darkness; for the Christians, first darkness, then light...." Without his hopeful universalism, this could very easily devolve into supercessionism.

It neither was nor is my intention, however, to demonstrate Balthasar was a supercessionist so much as to highlight the very stormy waters through which he seeks to navigate. I am not claiming Balthasar's theology is entirely supercessionist. As Halden's follow-up admits, the kind of supercessionism I have sketched in Balthasar is probably inherent to Christian theology (as indeed I think it is, and so, apparently, do you). What I am more concerned to highlight is how this problem seems never to be resolved in Balthasar. I think it remains a question that he speaks about but is ultimately unable to answer adequately. For instance, in "The Church and Israel" Balthasar repeats his quasi-condemnatory remarks on Judaism: "Nothing can alter the fact that Jesus left the Jews to themselves, that the apostles, after their initial attempt at a dialogue, systematically did likewise" (289). But, he continues by asking whether this contributed to "the frightful anti-Semitism running through the Church's history." To this question Balthasar's answer is one of indeterminacy: "We have no qualification, as Christians, to answer these questions; our oblication is to hear God's word and to try to think in obedience to it" (290).

Fred said…
Far be it for me to suggest that anybody else has not read enough Balthasar! I would also remind you that tone is notoriously difficult to detect on blog posts and in comboxes, so please forgive me if my style offends.

When I first ran up against the iceberg of Herrlichkeit about 20 years ago, I had a decision to make: and that decision was to read Seeing the Form and the Theological Styles and to leave the rest of the massive trilogy to the next hundred years or so of scholars. Instead, I followed Balthasar's lead and read literature including Peguy and Bernanos, some of the Fathers, Balthasar's devotional works and those on Christian formation, and some things by Adrienne. So, I am no Balthasar scholar by any means, but only an enthusiast, an amateur.

I'm glad that you've taken a look at "The Church and Israel." I have not read the relevant bits in the Trilogy, but saw the relevance of calling attention to this essay in which Balthasar addresses the issue head on and not merely in pursuit of his theological aesthetics.

At least we can agree that Balthasar does not present a simplistic supercessionism in which the Church replaces Israel, such that Israel may be eliminated without fear of God's wrath.

If Christians are honest, we will recognize the preference (election) shown to us by God in the person of Christ - who indeed came first to His own people. If you call this supercesionist, then very well, but it's quite simply Christian.

To dialogue with others, it's not necessary for us to deny what we have witnessed. Neither does Jacob Neusner shrink from telling the pope that Christ was wrong to put himself in the place of the Torah. I don't want to eliminate this tension, this disagreement. The purpose of dialogue is to cultivate a friendship not to mandate that everybody agrees.
Andy said…
freder1ck (and Halden),

Thanks for your final comment, freder1ck. That clarifies things a bit for me. You are right: I think we can both agree that Balthasar is not simplistic about this issue (or for that matter very many other issues).

I think, to answer both you and Halden (if he's still watching...), I have tried to hear Balthasar with Jewish ears (not being Jewish, that's not easy), and indeed Soulen and Harinck are right to be suspicious of the kind of thinking Balthasar affirms. On an intellectual level, Neusner and Benedict XVI are equals and can exchange different interpretations of the history of the Jewish faith. On a political level, the Pope has been and still is the more formidable figure. The question of the specter of supercessionism at this point is related to the visceral arguments of the liberation theologians.

I agree with Halden, that at some level all Christians must be supercessionist in some sense, though our ideological supercessionism (if I can call it that) should not give way to the political embodiment of the ideology. Since Halden seems to share Anabaptist sentiments toward the state, this basically precludes his theology from actualizing an actual project of replacement. Even so, political anti-Semitism is far from dead, and we must be careful how we use our speech about other faiths. A stumbling block to the Jews our theology may be, but let us be careful not to crush the Jewish faithful with the same stone.
Fred said…
The stumbling block is Christ, who is a person and a fact, not only an idea. If the promise of Israel is fulfilled in the Church, neither can the Church lay claim to that promise apart from God's preference for the Jewish people in history. If Christ has incorporated us into His body, then we Christians are Jews in Him.