Describing the main strength of Cyril of Alexandria’s approach in addressing the Nestorian heresies, Balthasar writes,
“Cyril does not start out from the ‘open’ structure of man’s transcendence’, but from God’s self-abnegation, and the Love that stoops down. For God, the Incarnation is no ‘increase’, but only emptying. No doubt, to Cyril’s mind it changes nothing in the divine form (and so in the glory) of the eternal Logos. Yet in the perspective of pre-existence it is a fully voluntary action whereby the Logos accepts the limits (the word metron recurs frequently), and the adoxia, ‘ingloriousness’, of human nature –which means to say an ‘emptying out of fulness’ and a ‘lowering of what was exalted’. […] And in the same tradition, […] Hilary says of the Incarnation (and not expressly of the Cross): ‘His humiliation is our nobility; his weakness is our honour’. Hilary speaks too of the ‘abasement of his uncircumscribable power, right down to the docile assumption of a body’. […] It was with a stooping down, remarks Augustine, that the Incarnation began” (Mysterium Paschale p. 26).
Balthasar highlights Hilary’s extraordinary efforts to explicate these high Christological truths without “reducing the mystery of the Kenosis” (p. 26). Pointing us no doubt in the right direction, according to Hilary “the whole affair proceeds in the sovereign freedom (and so in the power and majesty) of the God who has the power to ‘empty himself, in obedience, for the (eventful) taking of the form of a servant, and from out of the divine form itself’. And so God, whilst abiding in himself (for everything happens in his sovereign power) can yet leave himself (in his form of glory). Were the two forms (morphai) simply compatible […], then nothing would really have happened in God himself. The Subject, doubtless, remains the same—‘non alius est in forma servi quam in forma Dei est’—but a change in the condition of the Subject is unavoidable” (pp. 26-27). In addition to the self-emptying, which in no way suggests “the loss of that power in its freedom and divinity,” (p. 27) Balthasar wants to add a Trinitarian dimension. In Philippians 2, we of course read that the Son of God, though being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped—or as Balthasar paraphrases,
“he did not believe it necessary to hold on to that condition as to some possession, precious, inalienable, all his own. Though no doubt the case, further theological reflection points us also to the Father who does not hold on to the Son and even delivers him over. Likewise, the Spirit is understood as the ‘Gift’ of them both (p. 28). Moreover, we see that this Triune God is not primarily a God of “’absolute power,’” but ‘absolute love’, and his sovereignty manifests itself not in holding on to what is its own but in its abandonment—all this in such a way that this sovereignty displays itself in transcending the opposition, known to us from the world, between power and impotence. The exteriorisation of God (in the Incarnation) has its ontic condition of possibility in the external exteriorisation of God—that is, in his tripersonal self-gift. With that departure point, the created person, too, should no longer be described chiefly as subsisting in itself, but more profoundly (supposing that person to be actually created in God’s image and likeness) as a ‘returning ( reflexio completa from exteriority to oneself’ and an ‘emergence from oneself as an interiority that gives itself in self-expression’. The concepts of ‘poverty’ and ‘riches’ become dialectical” (p. 28).