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Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–88)

Mark McIntosh

Subject Religion » Christianity

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics theology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405135078.2009.00052.x


Few such major theologians of the modern era have understood their tasks as broadly as Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–88). Theology in the more academic sense was for him always a collateral enterprise, something he developed in service to his work as a spiritual director, publisher, and leader of a religious community. Von Balthasar chose never to hold an academic teaching position in spite of numerous prestigious invitations over many years. From the time of his youth he had an enormous love for music and literature, and his doctoral training was in the field of German literary studies. In 1928 he completed his dissertation at the University of Zurich, examining the changing interpretation of human destiny in German literature and philosophy. The following year, after a profound sense of calling during an Ignatian retreat, von Balthasar entered the Jesuit novitiate. After the wide-ranging and interdisciplinary nature of his doctoral work, he found the academic neo-scholasticism of his Jesuit training to be fairly constricting. The theologian-in-making took refuge during this period in a massive revision and extension of his dissertation, later published in three volumes (1937–9) as The Apocalypse of the German Soul. This critique of German idealism and its more ominous tendencies was presciently aware of its times; the final volume bore the subtitle The Divinization of Death. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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