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Quote of the Week: Hans Urs von Balthasar

May 13, 2008

The truth of Christian life is like manna: it is not possible to hoard it for it is fresh today and spoiled tomorrow. A truth that is merely handed on, without being thought anew from its very foundations, has lost its vital power. The vessel that holds it — for example, the language, the world of images and concepts –becomes dusty, rusts, crumbles away; that which is old remains young only when it is drawn, with all the strength of youth, into relation with that which is still older, with that in time which is perpetual: the present-day revelation of God. No Holy Communion is like another, although it is the same Christ who gives himself. In the same way, no sermon and no word of doctrine, indeed no Christian word at all and no Christian thought can be the same as any other, although each is a vessel and a form of the one, eternal Word among us. To honor the tradition does not excuse one from the beginning each time, not with Augustine or Thomas or Newman, but with Christ. And the greatest figures of Christian salvation history are honored only by the one who does today what they did then, or what they would have done if they had lived today. The cross-check is quickly done, and it is shows the tremendous impoverishment, not only in spirit and life, but also quite existentially: in thoughts and points of view, themes and ideas, where people are content to understand tradition as the handing-on of ready-made results. Boredom manifests itself at once, and the neatest systematics fails to convince, remains of little consequence. The little groups of those who have come to an understanding with one another and cultivate what they take to be the tradition become more and more esoteric, foreign to the world, and more and more misunderstood, although they do not condescend  to take notice of their alienation. And one day the storm that blows the dried-up branch away can no longer be delayed, and this collapse will not be great, because what collapses had been a hollow shell for a very long time.

–Hans Urs von Balthasar, Razing the Bastions. trans. Brian McNeil (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 33 – 35.

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4 Comments
  1. May 13, 2008 1:12 pm

    bravo! a worthy quote of the “week”

  2. Mark DeFrancisis permalink*
    May 13, 2008 5:54 pm

    “To honor the tradition does not excuse one from the beginning each time, not with Augustine or Thomas or Newman, but with Christ.’

    And how often we use tradition to ‘protect ourselves’ from the ever fresh and ever summoning encounter with Christ; or, to build ‘walls of security’ , in the foolish attempt to preclude any real encounters with our ”worldly’ neighbors–who await Christ, in their unknowing anticipation of our personal witness to self-emptying Love.

  3. May 14, 2008 3:24 am

    Sam: Thanks. I know some people thought Balthasar turned away from what he wrote in this small little work, but all I have seen in what he wrote afterwards, to me, does not show it at all. I think it is also why he found himself, in the end, in a bitter fight with the theological “left” and the “right.”

  4. May 14, 2008 3:25 am

    Mark

    All we need to do to see what you say is true is to look online and read from the Catholic blogosphere…

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