Balthasar on How the Infinite Presence and Distance of the Intratrinitarian Relations Opens a “Space” for the World

In Balthasar’s retelling of the history of Western metaphysics, he discerns a dialectical relation between the dialogico-dualistic world of myth and the monological world of philosophical reason. It is only when a distinctively Christian metaphysic comes on the scene—a metaphysic in which a (Triune) God existing a se freely creates and allows his creatures to participate analogously in the (created) being which He gives—that the dialectic between a mythico-dualistic and a philosophico-monistic concept of being can be overcome (p. 17).

For Balthasar, the relationality of the Persons of the Trinity is given accent, and is reflected in his description of God’s nature “as a series of absolutely free reciprocal relations (perichoresis) where an infinite self-donation is perfectly coincident with an infinite self-possession.” Given that each member of the Trinity manifests a reciprocity of both infinite distance and infinite presence, the one divine nature subsists “in an utterly non-static, non-univocal manner: God is ‘One’ as a dynamic relationality where infinite ‘distance’ is coincident with an infinite communion” (p. 18). Here the intratrinitarian relations, displaying both infinite presence and distance, become the archetype for the infinite distance between God and creation. In other words, the intratrinitarian relations as it were open up a “space” for the world. This open space is not an area of non-being within the trintaritarian relations, but instead is the “strictly positive reality of the distance required for truly interpersonal communion. It is the mystery of the abyss of infinite love where there is never a ‘boundary’ or a ‘limit’, but an excessus and an ecstasy that can ground the reality of the world as ‘not God’ in direct proportion to the depth of the world’s incorporation into God” (p. 19).

As one would expect, Balthasar’s doctrine of God as articulated above informs his understanding of revelation. Rather than a static moment in an otherwise changing world of flux, “revelation is to be viewed as the dynamic transformation of the temporal structure of our existence through an incorporation of that existence into the very heart of the trinitarian relations” (p. 20). Against all models of revelation that ultimately manifest an ahistorical set of hermeneutical assumptions in their attempts to understand the relation between the temporal or historical and the eternal, Balthasar begins with the “assumption that the historical realm should not be viewed as an oppositional metaphysical principle to the realm of the atemporal. Rather, the realm of the historical opens up to the event-like, incarnated nature of all truth” (p. 21). Jesus, as the concrete universal, overcomes the temporal/eternal dialectic. It is in the drama of his concrete, historical life that the “temporal structures find their inner completion” (p. 20).

Larry Chapp’s essay, “Revelation,” is published in The Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Eds by Edward T. Oakes, SJ and David Moss. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004): 11-23.