Several days ago Anna highlighted a contest that was going on over at a blog entitled “God in a Shrinking Universe” for best systematic theologian of the 20th Century. Well, the results are in and the winner is Lutheran theologian, Jurgen Moltmann who defeated Roman Catholic Hans Urs Von Balthasar in the final round with RC Karl Rahner coming in with the bronze. For reasons I’m not entirely familiar with, Karl Barth was not in the contest (though there is a “for fun” run off between Barth and Moltmann going on now.) It’s interesting that while Moltmann won the face off, Von Balthasar’s theology was thought to be more likely to stand the test of time and be more influential in the future. That could be because people have not quite begun to digest his work, whereas Moltmann has been at the fore much longer than Von Balthasar. In part, that could be due to the nature of their writing–There’s no doubt that Moltmann has done much for the study and appreciation of political theology and eschatology. Von Balthasar on the other hand, in his dramatics and focus on aesthetics is someone whose work is not as appreciable in part because I don’t believe we are ready to talk about Beauty and Truth again on a wide scale yet. David Hart seems to have forwarded that dialogue in his book “The Beauty Of The Infinite: The Aesthetics Of Christian Truth” Be that as it may, I thought it would be appropriate to include a selection from each man’s work:

First, from the runner-up, from his book “Heart of the World” :

A Wound Has Blossomed

Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Go away from me! I am a sinful man. But why am I still speaking with you? The breath from my mouth reaches you like a poison and defiles you. Go away and dissolve this impossible bond. There was a time when I was a sinner like other sinners, a time when I could still snatch up the gift of your grace, the gift of my remorse, as the beggar catches the copper penny thrown into his round hat. With it I could buy myself bread and soup: I could live because of you. I could taste the bliss of remorse. I could chew the bitter herb of contrition as a benefit of your grace. Grace-filled bitterness sweetened the bitterness of my guilt. But today–what to do? Into what hole can I crawl so that you will no longer see me, so that I will no longer importune you? I have sinned right to your face, and the mouth which touched your lips–your divine lips–a thousand times has kissed the lips of the world and said: “I do not know him.” I do not know this man. If I knew him I would not have been able to betray him thus–without hesitation, so naturally. And if I perhaps did know him, then i certainly did not love him. For love cannot betray in such a way; it cannot turn away like that, with the most innocent of faces. Love cannot forget love. That I was able to forsake you like that after all that had happened between us proves only one thing: that I was not worthy of your love and that I myself never really possessed love. It is neither arrogance nor humility, but quite simply the truth, that now makes me say to you: “I’ve had enough.” I do not want any further ray of your purity to stray into my hell. It is a beautiful thing when love condescends to what is base, but it is unbearable when love becomes base with the base. (p 145-146)

And from Moltmann’s “Coming of God: Christian Eschatology”:

What Christ accomplished in his dying and rising is proclaimed to all human beings through his gospel and will be revealed to everyone and everything at his appearance. What was suffered in the depths of the cross and overcome through suffering will be manifest through his parousia in glory. This inner connection between cross and parousia was already perceived by Johann Christoph Blumhardt when, in the Good Friday sermon he preached in Mottlingen in 1872, he proclaimed a ‘general pardon’: ‘What the Lord Jesus endured there [i.e., on Golgotha] will be revealed again. For just because of this the Savior has also acquired rights over this darkness, so that just here, here on this cross, the prospect is opened up for us that one day the point will be reached when every knee must bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father… Good Friday proclaims a general pardon to the whole world, and this general pardon is still to be revealed, for it was not for nothing that Jesus hung on the cross… We are moving towards a general pardon, and it will soon come! Anyone who is unable to think this greatest thing of all knows nothing about a Good Friday.’

To make Christ’s death on the cross the foundation for universal salvation and ‘the restoration of all things’ is to surmount the old dispute between the universal theology of grace and the particularist theology of faith. The all-reconciling power of love is not what Bonhoeffer called ‘cheap grace’. It is grace through and through, and grace is always and only free and for nothing. But it is born out of the profound suffering of God and it the costliest thing that God can give: himself in his Son, who has become our Brother, and who draws us through our hells. It is costliest grace. (p 254)

It’s hard to compare this selection of Von Balthasar with that of Moltmann. Both are beautiful for different reasons, yet I think they are getting at the same truth: the complete love and unmerrited Grace of Jesus Christ for us, even in our dirty and sinful state.

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