Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics

A Model for Post-Critical Biblical Interpretation

W. T. Dickens

“This book fills a major gap in studies of Balthasar and also contributes significantly to the retrieval of premodern biblical interpretation. It strengthens Balthasar’s innovative efforts to recover aspects of classical scriptural reading without losing the lessons of modern scholarship, and it does this in ways consistent with his hermeneutical principles. The scope and rigor of the argument will appeal to biblical scholars and to theologians, but its ultimate effects may be widespread. I know of no book more likely to persuade both Protestants and Catholics that they have much to learn from premoderns about how to nourish in our day the biblical literacy and imagination which has at times infused Christian communities in the past but is now almost everywhere in disastrously short supply.” —George Lindbeck, Yale University

“[Dickens] treats, at one and the same time, a crucially important aspect of Balthasar’s theology that has essentially gone unexplored, and an important topic in contemporary theology. The text is integrated, well written, extraordinarily comprehensive in its treatment of issues, subtle in its exegesis of Balthasar, and intellectually sophisticated.” —Cyril O’Regan, University of Notre Dame

Although Hans Urs von Balthasar is one of the most important twentieth-century theologians, little attention has been paid to his views and uses of the Bible. W.T. Dickens critically assesses Balthasar’s interpretation of scripture in his seven-volume The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. Dickens demonstrates the extent to which Balthasar’s approach to scripture, while remaining conversant with historical criticism, abides by certain pre-modern interpretive conventions that helped to nourish the once widespread capacity of Christians to understand themselves and the world in terms of the images, stories, and conceptual patterns of the Bible. To the extent that the sensus fidelium was traditionally supported by such readings of the Bible, a contemporary version of this approach that retains the correctives provided by modernity’s hermeneutics of suspicion may help to counteract its current disintegration.  

In the course of analysis, Dickens summarizes the principal hermeneutical implications of the analogies Balthasar developed between God’s glory and earthly beauty and gauges the consistency with which Balthasar followed them in his exegesis. Dickens describes Balthasar’s view of the proper roles and limitations of historical criticism and analyzes his actual uses of it when exegeting the Bible. In addition, Dickens evaluates Balthasar’s reading of the Old Testament when defending a trinitarian view of the Bible’s unity and identifies the principal ways in which the Bible functions authoritatively in the Theological Aesthetics.

Innovative in both subject and approach, Dickens’s work will be welcomed by theologians and biblical scholars.

W.T. DICKENS is visiting assistant professor at Cornell University.

Reviews

”. . . An interesting volume . . . which exemplifies one particular style of biblical interpretation in which the focus is on Christian thought and its underpinnings.” — Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

”. . . extraordinary careful and balanced book. . . . Dickens has given us . . . a brilliant and careful study of a central theme in Balthasar’s theology. . . .He has given us a work that could help give new power to the Bible in the preaching ministry of the church.” — Pro Ecclesia

“W.T. Dickens has provided a much-needed and extremely helpful contribution to Balthasar scholarship. Dickens has done a masterly job of expounding the richness and complexity of Balthasar’s approach to Scripture, offering an important contribution to the question of how Christian theology should relate itself to the teachings of Scripture.” — Theology Today

“W. T. Dickens’ ambitious study of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s biblical hermeneutics not only seeks to fill a lacuna in Balthasar scholarship, but also to forge a theological alliance between Catholic Balthasarians and the Protestant ‘post-liberal’ Yale school of biblical hermeneutics associated with George Lindbeck, David Kelsey, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and, most importantly, the late Hans Frei. . . .It is difficult to find a more compellingly sophisticated analysis and intellectually responsible critique of Balthasar’s biblical hermeneutics. The many things Dickens does well in this text will be nearly impossible to surpass.” — International Journal of Systematic Theology

“. . . What Dickens has given us, taken as a whole, is a brilliant and careful study of a central theme in Balthasar’s theology. But even more than that, he has given us a work that could help give new power to the Bible in the preaching ministry of the church.” — Pro Ecclesia