In the following essay I plan to discuss what, in my view, is the most relevant aspect of my study of Christian and non-Christian spiritualities and its relation to the mission of the Church today.
In the book by Fr. Raymond Gawronski, S.J., that is the foundation of our study, he presents the history of systems of thought described in the works of Hans Urs von Balthasar in relation to the spiritualities of the East and West. Fr. Gawronski shows the development of and understanding of the nature of the Absolute, and how it conflicts with the Christian understanding of the relation between God and man. The most relevant aspect of this study is the revelation of how the Christian should comprehend his relation to God, his purpose as a created human being (specifically an “embodied soul”) in the world, and his relation to other human beings. Without an understanding of man’s relation to God and his purpose, man is sure to succumb to the destruction of being, that pervades much of the eastern spiritualities today. Much of the confusion, chaos and destruction that plagues the world in our time, as well as in times past, are related to man’s misunderstanding of the human person, created in God’s image and likeness, and the loss of relation to his Creator. Man is to achieve, in the end, the “eternal fixation in his finite corporality” (p. 163) in union with God, which is in direct conflict with the notion of the body being inconsequential or utilitarian, which is prevalent today. “The Resurrection further reveals the eternity of form, for it shows that the formed Son is not overcome by the formless Father.” This is relevant to mans understanding of the beauty and dignity of the human person (hypostasis), as embodied soul. The individual according to Balthasar, is seen as an “imago Trinitatis” and every hypostasis (person) constitutes and understands itself in relation to the others. The depth and beauty of this truth is transformational for those who are open to see it.
From the beginning God communicated Himself to man via both creation and revelation. The gradual revelation of the nature of God was necessary for man to comprehend God, because the divine mysteries are so incomprehensible to natural man. Natural man can only attain a limited understanding of the true nature of God without God’s revelation to him. Historically man has had a skewed understanding of God stemming from both distance and sin. God revealed Himself with creation in what Balthasar describes as “partial utterances” and He gradually revealed more of His nature, throughout history, by communicating with man via the prophets of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, God communicates Himself, through Christ (His Incarnate Word), as Trinitarian self-donating Love, described by Balthazar as the “Full Utterances” of God. The relation of man to man reflects the Trinitarian nature of God. God “empties Himself in a self-communicating self-donation” (p.166) and invites humanity to respond. Man responds to this gift of grace and mercy, by self-donation, in his entire corporality, in serving his neighbor for the Love of God, both metaphorically and/or literally laying down his life for others, as Christ laid down His life for man. This profound revelation is directly related to the mission of the Church in every generation and is surely and profoundly relevant to the mission of the Church in our time. It is the Churchs mission given by Christ, to safeguard these truths and teach the world what was revealed about God by Christ. Within this mission it is not simply enough to repeat the words of scripture and give out directives to follow, but to convey the “Word” made flesh, “as the deed of begetting of the Father, become man through the Holy Spirit” (p. 169) and in becoming man, becomes the mission of God for the salvation of the world, via the Cross. According to Balthasar, “the mission is Christ and His deed is the cross.” In Christ, man attains a deeper understanding of his relation to his Creator and the mission set forth for him. In knowing who God is, man better knows himself. Therefore, the Church today must take seriously this mission to teach all Christ taught them, and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The revelation of the nature of God, being that of Trinitarian self-donating Love, is the most profoundly relevant revelation given to man. The true image of God is “restored in the heart of man, by the appearance of the Triune God in the form of Christ” (p. 177). Christ obediently accepted His mission for love of God and laid down His life for man’s salvation. “The missioned disciples have the power not only to spread the words of Jesus but also His deeds” (p. 169). Therefore, the mission of the Church in every generation, is to assure that man knows his purpose and call to imitate Christ, by communicating this radical self-donating love of God, in both word and deed.
In the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts,
Word and Silence: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter Between East and West (3rd edition) 3rd Edition; Raymond Gawronski.