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Balthasar: A (Very) Critical Introduction (Interventions) by Karen Kilby

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The enormously prolific Swiss Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) was marginalized during much of his life, but his reputation over time has only continued to grow. He was said to be the favorite theologian of John Paul II and is held in high esteem by Benedict XVI. It is not uncommon to hear him referred to as the great Catholic theologian of the twentieth century.In Balthasar: A (Very) Critical Introduction Karen Kilby argues that although the low regard in which Balthasar was held from the 1950s to 1960s was not justified, neither is the current tendency to lionize him. Instead, she advocates a more balanced approach, particularly in light of a fundamental problem in his writing, namely, his characteristic authorial voice -- an over-reaching "God's eye" point of view that contradicts the content of his theology.

Reviews (7)
Karen Kilby presents in this slim volume a brief overview and critique of the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the 20th Century's most prominent Roman Catholic theologians. The initial contextual set up, that is a glance at the context from which von Balthasar arises, is very helpful. Understanding how various influences including de Lubac, and even Karl Barth (although von Balthasar seems to be more reacting to Barth's theological enterprise at times), is very helpful to getting some idea of what he is trying to say.

My only complaint about the book is that the author seems at times to engage in the same "flattening" or generalization that she critiques von Balthasar for, and sometimes seems over-critical of Balthasar's work. Although she advocates for a middle ground between von Balthasar's denigration in the 50s/60s and his lionization in the post Vatican-II theological milieu, she has not done a very good job of articulating where that middle ground is. As a non-Catholic reader of Rahner, I would like to see the middle ground between "heretic" and "Post Vatican-II Saint" of the church, and unfortunately, that middle ground was not discovered in this book. Unlike the author's own book introducing Karl Rahner (published by SPCK), the author rarely stands up to explain or cast something that might be perceived as an inconsistency or error in a more charitable light (which perhaps indicates the author's preference to Rahner's theological approach).
The writings of Von Balthasar are vast. Kilby offers a solid way of appreciating him and critically engaging him.
An astonishingly bad book. I'd thought from some other reviews that she might be offering some insightful but critical reflection on Balthasar's work, but what I got was something else: a misreading. It's not just that she's unfair or harsh, she simply hasn't mastered the subject matter. She hasn't taken seriously enough the implications of the structure of the Trilogy around the transcendental properties of Being: the good, the true, and the beautiful. She reads them as though they're different subjects, rather than intrinsically related, convertible and inseparable.

I've seen several reviews that suggest that Kilby has given welcome clarity to the vast and unruly work of Balthasar. But after reading her book I now understand that clarity comes at the price of understanding Balthasar's project, which is to (help) overcome not just the centrality of beauty as a category but, more importantly, the beauty of the Gospel. Grappling with Balthasar took me from an initial sense that he was confusing to, after a few years, the recognition that he was leading me out of my state of confusion.

I think anyone who wants help in understanding him should stick to the intros from Rodney Howsare, Kevin Mongrain, Aiden Nichols, Stephen Wigley, or The Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar. As to the transcendentals, read Aiden Nichols's A Key to Balthasar and pretty much anything written by David C. Shindler, especially Hans Urs von Balthasar the Dramatic Structure of Truth.

Kilby's book will leave you knowing less than when you started it.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss-German catholic theologian of contemporary stature, has gained popularity in some circles. He is erudite; a prolific writer but appears to lack a specific methodology in his approach to theological questions to the point of over-reaching in his conclusions. Professor Kilby points out that he can be read to attain insight but one needs to approach his writings with caution. His dramatic approach tends to muddy doctrinal orthodoxy because he is trying to extend his theological horizons beyond traditional boundaries. Nonetheless, Kilby’s book is good to have on hand when wandering in the great dramatic theological landscape of Balthasar.
Error parents
There are countless books and articles expounding and praising Balthasar, but very few that take a serious critical look at what may be wrong or questionable in his methodology, motives, and conclusions. If you are looking for a more realistic assessment of this influential theologian, Kilby's book is essential.

ISBN: 0802827381

Rating: 4.7/5

Votes: 998

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ISBN13: 978-0802827388

Publisher: Eerdmans (November 30, 2012)

Language: English

Subcategory: Catholicism

Pages: 188

Balthasar: A (Very) Critical Introduction (Interventions)
Christian Books & Bibles
Author: Karen Kilby
Title: Balthasar: A (Very) Critical Introduction (Interventions)