Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Response #9: W. Travis McMaken

Response to “Balthasar’s Interpretation of the Resurrection of Christ in Mysterium Paschale
By W. Travis McMaken

By no stretch of the imagination could I be considered a von Balthasar scholar. Having read only snippets of his Theo-Drama and his Mysterium Paschale – the work from which Drury is working – my status must be located somewhere well beneath devotee and perhaps even beneath initiate. Since, then, I am hardly qualified to comment on the quality of Drury's exposition, I must content myself to a few more conceptual comments.

Drury first discusses HUvB's account of the relation between exegesis and dogmatics, characterizing it (following HUvB) as a relation of "reciprocal dependence," where exegesis depends on theology for certain prior orientations and theology depends on exegesis because historically (and one wonders if HUvB has primarily in mind the first five centuries of the Christian era) theology has been concerned with sorting out exegetical problems and theology needs the variety of "images and concepts" that Scripture has to offer. I certainly do not want to call the truth of this into question, but I also wonder if it goes far enough for there is no indication here (at least Drury presents us with none) that HUvB grants any priority of authority to Scripture. In other words, my Protestant dander is up because of what has not been said here. Certainly we must affirm mutuality between Scriptural exegesis and theology – this is merely an application of the hermeneutic circle – but is this relation perfectly symmetrical or asymmetrical, and if the latter, on which side does the accent fall? In all fairness, however, it should be noted that HUvB seems primarily concerned in this discussion with the relation of theology to historical critical exegetical method in particular, and not with Scriptural interpretation in general.

Having discussed this point, Drury goes on to recount three exegetical moves that Balthasar makes: first, affirmation of the resurrection is situated within a trinitarian grammar; second, contradictions and confusions among the various NT accounts of the resurrection are to be expected due to the nature of the subject matter; third, the accounts of Jesus eating and drinking after the resurrection are not superfluous but express the fundamental insight that Jesus transforms the old into the new. These are interesting, insightful, and promising avenues for further reflection. However, I'd like to go in a slightly different, "5th-grade theology" direction to close these comments.

HUvB's affirmation of Jesus' post-resurrection eating and drinking suggests that he gives proper attention to what TF Torrance has called the 'empirical correlate[s]' (Space, Time, Incarnation, 90) of the resurrection. In other words, Jesus' post-resurrection body – while transformed – is a real human body standing in continuity with our own, existing within space and time. So then, where is this body now?

The ancient geocentric cosmology, within which the ascension was perceived as literally ascending to a literally higher heavenly realm, has been rendered obsolete. It is now beyond our common sense to envision a corner of the expanding universe where Jesus is hanging out waiting for the eschaton, especially if we get the idea that because Jesus ate and drank his post-resurrection body needs to eat and drink just as we do. So, how do we solve this riddle?

My own tendency is not to focus on the spatial aspect, but on the temporal. Jesus is in the future. This does away with all the tricky spatial questions, especially if one envisions the eschaton as a 'new heaven and new earth' in significant continuity with our own. But, I am curious as to how Balthasar might handle – or did handle – this question.

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