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Pro Ecclesia Vol 24-N4: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology

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Pro Ecclesia is a quarterly journal of theology published by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. It seeks to give contemporary expression to the one apostolic faith and its classic traditions, working for and manifesting the church's unity by research, theological construction, and free exchange of opinion. Members of its advisory council represent communities committed to the authority of Holy Scripture, ecumenical dogmatic teaching and the structural continuity of the church, and are themselves dedicated to maintaining and invigorating these commitments. The journal publishes biblical, liturgical, historical and doctrinal articles that promote or illumine its purposes.

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10 Articles

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A View from Above? Balthasar and the Boundaries of Theology

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A View from Above? Balthasar and the Boundaries of Theology

Brendan McInerny

Among the recent publications on the thought of the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karen Kilby’s Balthasar: A (Very) Critical Introduction stands to reach the broadest audience and likely cause the biggest stir. The purpose of Kilby’s book is to introduce her audience to the major contours of Balthasar’s theology in a balanced manner that identifies both its positive and negative elements (2). As the subtitle indicates, however, she wishes to do so while advancing a critique of his work, one that strikes at its very center. Kilby’s critical thesis is that the central problem of Balthasar’s theology is his characteristic voice, the way in which he “writes as though from a position above his materials—above tradition, above Scripture, above history—and also, indeed, above his readers,” as if from “a God’s eye view” (13). And, because “the content of [his own] theology rules out” this position, Balthasar is caught in a “significant performative contradiction” (14). Much of the evidence Kilby musters suggests there may be such a problem in Balthasar’s thought. However, Kilby neglects to substantiate a crucial component of her argument; and, therefore, despite her own confident claims, she is ultimately unsuccessful in demonstrating her thesis.

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Kilby versus Balthasar: A Cultural Divide?

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Kilby versus Balthasar: A Cultural Divide?

Étienne Vetö

Reading Karen Kilby’s Balthasar: A (Very) Critical Introduction is a must. It is one of the clearest and most instructive introductions to Balthasar. The two chapters on the “central images” of his theology are uniquely illuminating in the realm of balthasariana.1 Its criticism is exemplary as it leads us to think outside the box and helps us understand the nagging feeling we’ve all had reading Balthasar and sensing something wasn’t quite on track, without being able to pinpoint exactly what. At the same time she always tries to offer counterarguments to defend Balthasar—though these acts of mercy, because in the end they do not save him, effectively buttress the criticism. I agree with too many of the shortcomings Kilby points out—Balthasar’s difficulty in determining the Holy Spirit’s place, the way he tends to “distort” what he reads and the great epistemological promises he does not live up to, his exaggerated insistence on suffering and pain, for instance—to name them all.

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Receiving the Fragments of Balthasar: Critique and Community in Christian Theology

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Receiving the Fragments of Balthasar: Critique and Community in Christian Theology

Natalie Carnes

Karen Kilby’s A (Very) Critical Introduction to Balthasar could only have been written by a scholar who has devoted decades to reading the eponymous theologian. It is distilled, lucid, even masterful in its facility with Balthasar’s unwieldy corpus. The book is luminously clear and a pleasure to read. It is also unsettling, for Kilby levels a devastating charge against this very popular theologian: that he takes a God’s eye view in his theologizing—and not just occasionally but persistently—as an abiding feature of his theology.

For any theologian, the accusation of imitating divine sight is severe, and it is especially so for Balthasar, whose expressed theological commitments forbid such a view. Yet how Balthasar writes theology, according to Kilby, does in fact betray what he writes. This immanent critique energizes her charge against Balthasar, but its significance redounds far beyond his theological world. In rehearsing Balthasar’s “performative contradiction” (14), Kilby stages a broader argument about how to do theology.

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On True and False Humility: A Reading of Karen Kilby’s Balthasar: A (Very) Critical Introduction

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On True and False Humility: A Reading of Karen Kilby’s Balthasar: A (Very) Critical Introduction

Rodney Howsare

Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert-himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason.

—G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

There are a number of good reasons to read Karen Kilby’s addition to the growing list of introductions to the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar. First, it is unique in its approach inasmuch as it focuses on recurring themes in Balthasar’s thought, rather than offering an overview of the trilogy or trying to give a systematic account. This allows her to raise questions that likely would not have arisen in one of these other approaches. Furthermore, Kilby’s “very critical” introduction brings into one text critical voices that would otherwise be difficult to find. It is not just the number, but also the range of critical voices—from resurgent neo-scholastics to gender deconstructionists—that makes the work so valuable for the future of Balthasar scholarship. Finally, the thesis of the book not only helps us to get to the heart of the question of Balthasar’s theological contribution, but it also opens up what is perhaps the central question facing theological method in our day: the problem and nature of theological truth.

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Responses to the Reviewers

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Responses to the Reviewers

Karen Kilby

This is, it seems to me, an exciting collection of reviews, not least because the reviewers are so sharply at odds with one another: I am a little tempted not to reply at all, in the hope that the conflicting accounts would be sufficiently puzzling to force readers of the journal to consult the book itself. Is my weak spot as an interpreter of Balthasar that I am excessively in thrall to Kant, or is it that I am insufficiently inculturated in Kantian and post-Kantian German thought? And more fundamentally, does the book read as a model of intellectual hospitality and generosity, or as a sustained exercise of resentment?

Appealing as it might be to remain silent, let me instead respond individually to the individual reviews, and allow certain common themes to emerge as I proceed.

McInerny

Brendan McInerny is fundamentally unpersuaded by the book. He raises a number of objections, one of which in particular he regards as decisive. His criticisms are all serious and worthy of reply, and his final objection—the one he sees as decisive—raises I think a particularly helpful question.

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Luther and Theosis: A Response to the Critics of Finnish Luther Research

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Luther and Theosis: A Response to the Critics of Finnish Luther Research

Olli-Pekka Vainio

Nowadays it is common to come across with accounts of the Finnish Luther research, which presuppose that everyone already knows what the “Finnish Luther” says about theosis or participation.1 I suppose this is a sign of a certain kind of success, although I am unsure whether the Finns ought to congratulate themselves. Even if the concepts and somewhat vague themes are widely known, several issues pertaining to our claim that Luther’s doctrine of justification has some similarities with patristic/Eastern doctrine of theosis are often dealt with in an imprecise manner. This is apparent in popular critiques that are repeated in academic publications and other academic and ecclesial forums. In this article, I will examine and respond to some of the most often-heard critiques of Luther’s view of theosis, as well as fears and misunderstandings associated with his position.2

It is curious that our work has been marketed and even defended in the Anglophone world by scholars who are not Luther researchers themselves.3 This is not to say that their work has been poor (it has not), but that Finnish Luther scholars have been mostly absent from the Anglophone discussion concerning their own work. There are, however, some exceptions.4 In this article, I will be speaking about the Finns or the Finnish School for the sake of convenience. In reality, there is no group that unanimously shares similar views about everything related to Luther. During the last thirty years, some twenty people have studied Luther under the auspices of the Finnish School and they hold diverse views on various minutiae, even if they are united by relatively vague common principles, such as the view that Luther is best understood in the light of medieval and patristic theology, and that the robust idea of Christ’s presence is central for Luther.5

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Can Luther’s Doctrine of God as the Giver and God as the Highest Good be Reconciled? A Critique of Tuomo Mannermaa’s Two Kinds of Love

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Can Luther’s Doctrine of God as the Giver and God as the Highest Good be Reconciled? A Critique of Tuomo Mannermaa’s Two Kinds of Love

Ilmari Karimies

As commonly known, in Luther’s theology there exists a fundamental distinction between self-giving divine love and self-seeking human love. According to this distinction, for human love it is characteristic to always seek an object which is good and lovable. Divine love, on the other hand, is characterized by that it creates its own object out of that which is empty and nothing, bestowing on it existence and goodness. The emeritus professor of Ecumenics and one of the grand old men of Finnish Luther research, Tuomo Mannermaa, makes in his book Two Kinds of Love, published in English in 2010, the claim that the basis for this distinction for Luther is in God’s nature itself: It is God’s essence, or being, to always create something out of nothing.1 This distinction is then utilized by Mannermaa as the key to understand Luther’s theology.

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Love as a Virtue

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Love as a Virtue

Gilbert Meilaender

Christians are accustomed, rightly, to regard love as a virtue. Doing so brings with it certain puzzles about the place of love in the Christian life. Attending to a few of them will remind us just how deeply intertwined for Christians are the virtues of love and hope.

“Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true. ‘He will wipe the tears from all faces.’ It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.”1 Thus—in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead—writes the Rev. John Ames, an aging Congregationalist minister, to the young son whom he knows he will soon leave behind. These sentences from father to son capture an important truth about love as a Christian virtue: When our love is perfected, we will love with a fullness God gives. But it will be a long and tearful journey to such perfection.

The virtue of love has commonly been thought to be central in the Christian life, and Christian thinkers have sometimes even characterized it as the form of all the virtues. Thus, Jesus summarizes the law in terms of the twofold command to love God and the neighbor.2 Likewise, St. Augustine, says that “rightly ordered love” is “a brief and true definition of virtue.”3 Despite this centrality, there is no single conception of love that has been shared by Christian thinkers.4

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Clement of Alexandria’s Logos Protreptikos: The Protreptics of Love

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Clement of Alexandria’s Logos Protreptikos: The Protreptics of Love

Andrew Hofer, O.P.

Indeed, the heavenly and truly divine erōs comes to people in this way. . . . What am I exhorting you to do? I urge you to be saved. Christ wants this; in one word, he freely grants you life.1

This selection from Clement of Alexandria’s Protreptikos indicates the intent of this greatest protreptic work of second-century Christianity, a work still relevant for evangelization as witnessed by the first paragraph of the 2013 papal encyclical Lumen Fidei.2 Clement exhorts the nations to accept salvation, the freely given life of Christ, offered out of divine love. While scholars have had an increasing interest in Clement, especially in identifying his philosophical sources and his engagement with Gnosticism, his protreptic key of persuasion in love through Christ has not been sufficiently appreciated.3 The Protreptikos sings of true love in a world of false loves.4 Love is its nearly constant subject matter, as it uses the term philia at least seventy-nine times in various grammatical forms, erōs at least thirty-four times in various grammatical forms, and agapē at least seventeen times in various grammatical forms.5 Yet, Clement’s understanding of love has been obscured, such as by a polemic against the use of erōs as authentically Christian.6

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“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”: Barth on Ecclesial Agency

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“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”: Barth on Ecclesial Agency

Matt Jenson

At the end of his career, Karl Barth went on a lecture tour of America, giving a series of lectures on the nature of “evangelical theology.” He begins the lectures by describing “evangelical” theology as a modest, free, critical, thankful, and happy science.1 Evangelical theology takes its cues from the gospel, resolutely steering a course toward God as he revealed himself in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is what makes evangelical theology scientific—its consistent attention to its object. What makes this science theological is that its object is ever subject, Lord even in our investigation of him. Thus theology is a form of discipleship, a Nachdenken which is Nachfolge. Evangelical theology’s modesty, freedom, criticism, gratitude, and joy all follow from the breathtaking fulfillment of God’s covenant with humanity in Christ; given that Jesus has paid it all, we need and must only respond with our own echoing affirmation. Christ has set us free (Gal 5:1), and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). In what could easily pass for a summary of Barth’s theology, he explains: “The freedom of which we talk is God’s freedom to disclose himself to men, to make men accessible to himself, and so to make them on their part free for him. The one who does that is the Lord God, who is the Spirit.”2 The realm in which he does that is the church.

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