The fourth volume in Balthasar’s Explorations in Theology essays is built around the theme of spirit and institution, the two central features of the Church which Balthasar approaches from different angles. The first part of Spirit and Institution looks at who man is, and then examines the distinctively Christian experience of God. Part 2 is a whole section on the Church which includes topics like celibacy and the priesthood today, how we should love the Church, and understanding Christian mysticism. The third and final part is an eschatology in which Balthasar gives a brilliant summary of heaven, hell, and purgatory.
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This concept of theology led von Balthasar to a profound existential reading. Accordingly, one of the central themes that he liked to dwell on was demonstrating the necessity of conversion. The change of heart was a central point for him; indeed, only in this way does the mind free itself from the limits that prevent it from drawing near to the mystery, enabling the eyes to fix their gaze upon the face of Christ. In a word, he had grasped profoundly the fact that theology can develop only with prayer that recollects the presence of God and relies upon him in obedience.
Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–1988) was a Swiss theologian, considered to be one of the most important Catholic intellectuals and writers of the twentieth century. He studied in Vienna, Berlin, and Zurich, and completed his doctorate in German literature in 1928. Incredibly prolific and diverse, he wrote over one hundred books and hundreds of articles. Although the Balthasar’s studies are diverse and scattered, his theology and philosophies are stirring, practical, and profound. He was drawn towards the spiritual and mystical theology of the Church Fathers, deferring to Scripture and patristic writers to answer modernist and neo-scholastic questions. During his life, he was both a diocesan priest and a Jesuit instructor. He was nominated to be a cardinal of the Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II himself, but Balthasar died two days before his ceremony.