In the second section of his essay, “Surprised by Truth: The Drama of Fundamental Theology” Schindler begins to map out Balthasar’s dramatic notion of truth by considering two governing principles: (1) the mother’s smile and (2) the identity of freedom and form in the Gestalt. [Gestalt in German literally means “shape” or “form.” However, I take it that Schindler and Balthasar are using the word to describe a kind of holism or something like a organic paradigm—something the opposite of anything reductionistic. In fact, later in the essay, Gestalt is said to include, “the concrete shape of a life or the intelligible wholeness of an action or an event” (p. 602)].
First, Schindler says that a common response to the “Cartesian problem,” i.e., the difficulty of explaining how the mind is able to connect with the world (its “other”) is to simply to say that “the self is always already in contact with the world, and develops its own immanent structures from […] within this contact” (p. 597). In Balthasar’s conception of the dramatic structure of truth, part of his aim is to give an account that upholds (instead of doing away with) the “otherness” of that which is outside the soul. For Balthasar, the soul’s connection with the world is rooted in more basic “contact,” viz., the “mother’s smile.” In his essay, “Movement Toward God,” Balthasar writes, “[t]he little child awakens to self-consciousness through being addressed by the love of his mother.” The mother’s smile is of course a very personal gesture addressed to and inviting the child (the “other) to respond, and is that which gives rise to the child’s response. In differentiation from Kant’s account of consciousness, “the soul’s conditions of possibility are not fixed prior to and thus independent of the (receptive) encounter with what is other than consciousness, but instead occurs in the encounter. The conditions of possibility arise, as it were, not wholly from below, but as a gift from above, which, precisely because of its generosity, creates the space for the ‘from below’ capacity to receive it” (p. 598). In footnote 24, Schindler adds an important clarification, viz., there is, however, a prior capacity involved. This prior capacity is “by its nature a capacity to be surprised, which is to say that the prior capacity cannot suffice on its own to account for the possibility of encounter (as it necessarily does in Kant). It is […] a capacity that is originally and ontologically receptive: it is received from God, and also from the parents, and the former reception is mediated through the latter” (p. 598). The following passage from Balthasar helps to elucidate the differences between his conception and Kant’s, “it is not thanks to the gracious favor of the ‘I’ that space and the world exist, but thanks to the gracious favor of the ‘Thou.’ And if the ‘I’ is permitted to walk upon the ground of reality and to cross the distances to reach the other, this is due to an original favor bestowed on him, something for which, a priori, the ‘I’ will never find the sufficient reason in himself” (p. 599).
Returning to the “mother’s smile” in connection with providing an alternate response to the Cartesian problem, Schindler notes that in the mother’s gesture of love, the child’s first experience of both himself and the world is at the same time personal and ontological (p. 599). This simultaneity of the event being both personal and ontological is crucial. As Schindler explains, “the true identity that occurs between the soul and being does so at the very same time within the irreducible and generous opposition of freedoms. Indeed, the difference of the opposition makes the unity possible and vice versa; the unity and difference are inseparable and irreducible aspects of the very same event. Moreover, from the beginning […] being has a personal face, and the personal always has an ontological depth” (p. 600).
Secondly, and in a sense, following from what we have just described is Balthasar’s identification of form and freedom in the Gestalt. For Balthasar, form is not an abstract, universal essence, but is rather a concrete Gestalt, “a visible manifestation of non-appearing depths, in which the particular and the universal, the sensible and the supersensible, the outward and the inward, the historical and the transcendent, are all bound together at once” (p. 601). The intelligibility of this Gestalt is found in its irreducible unity—a unity that though composed of parts is not reducible to its parts, and is a unity that “gathers” up the parts into a meaningful (concrete) whole (p. 601). In this account, the soul does not abstract the meaning of concepts according to our mode of knowing. Rather, being a “manifestation of meaning” and external to the soul, it “calls upon the soul to conform itself to it, the concrete Gestalt. That the manifestation of meaning transcends the soul in no way bars its access. Rather, what is required in the act of understanding is the soul’s self-transcendence, “and in this act the difference between spontaneity and receptivity effectively falls away: the soul receives the meaning of the Gestalt by indwelling it, which means by moving ‘spontaneously’ beyond its prior state—or, if you will, its preconceived expectations” (p. 601). Balthasar’s concrete Gestalt is neither Plato’s static Form/Idea, nor the forma of scholasticism, but includes “the concrete shape of a life or the intelligible wholeness of an action or an event” (p. 602).
Having described in more detail Balthasar’s concrete Gestalt, Schindler then returns to the mother’s smile and the child’s awakening of consciousness example. In smiling at her child, the mother presents him “with a Gestalt in which she makes her person accessible to him as a loving gift.” In this gesture, “the whole has a meaning because of ‘something’ that is both not any particular part of what she shows him and at the same time transparently present everywhere within it, namely, herself, i.e., her freedom. […] The intelligibility of this event is thus grounded in this center that is both above and within the sensible phenomena” (p. 602). Here we should note that the smile is an action—a personal invitation that is received only when reciprocated. In fact, the child only receives the “intelligible form” of the smile when he or she smiles—i.e., in the act of smiling him/herself. Here we see the identification of form and freedom—the child’s smile being the reception of the mother’s smile, and the child’s giving back of freedom in receiving the mother’s gift. This then implies that the moment of action comes neither before nor after understanding, but is “an intrinsic part of the understanding itself” (p. 602). Thus, we see in Balthasar’s concrete Gestalt a union in beauty of the two moments of the true and the good as explicated in the Aristotelo-Aquinas tradition—the former being “the soul’s taking the object into itself while the good is the soul’s movement beyond itself toward its object” (pp. 602-3).
 By “Fundamental Theology,” Schindler has in mind that which has as its two central themes revelation and the credibility of revelation (see footnote 2, p. 588).
 As cited in Schindler, p. 598, Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Movement Toward God,” in Explorations in Theology, vol. 3, Creator Spirit (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 15-55.
 As cited in Schindler, p. 599, Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Movement Toward God,” p. 16.
 Here “opposition” simply indicates that the two freedoms “face” each other.