The Eucharistic Form of God
Hans Urs von Balthasar's Sacramental Theology
312 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: January 2024
- ISBN: 9780268202248
- Published: March 2022
- ISBN: 9780268202231
- Published: March 2022
- ISBN: 9780268202255
This study presents Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theology of the Eucharist and shows its significance for contemporary sacramental theology.
Anyone who seeks to offer a systematic account of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theology of the Eucharist and the liturgy is confronted with at least two obstacles. First, his reflections on the Eucharist are scattered throughout an immense and complex corpus of writings. Second, the most distinctive feature of his theology of the Eucharist is the inseparability of his sacramental theology from his speculative account of the central mysteries of the Christian faith. In The Eucharistic Form of God, the first book-length study to explore Balthasar’s eucharistic theology in English, Jonathan Martin Ciraulo brings together the fields of liturgical studies, sacramental theology, and systematic theology to examine both how the Eucharist functions in Balthasar’s theology in general and how it is in fact generative of his most unique and consequential theological positions. He demonstrates that Balthasar is a eucharistic theologian of the highest caliber, and that his contributions to sacramental theology, although little acknowledged today, have enormous potential to reshape many discussions in the field.
The chapters cover a range of themes not often included in sacramental theology, including the doctrine of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and soteriology. In addition to treating Balthasar’s own sources—Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Pascal, Catherine of Siena, and Bernanos—Ciraulo brings Balthasar into conversation with contemporary Catholic sacramental theology, including the work of Louis-Marie Chauvet and Jean-Yves Lacoste. The overall result is a demanding but satisfying presentation of Balthasar’s contribution to sacramental theology. The audience for this volume is students and scholars who are interested in Balthasar’s thought as well as theologians who are working in the area of sacramental and liturgical theology.
1. Balthasar’s Eucharistic Theology: Sacramental Foreground and Trinitarian Background
2. Pneumatic Flesh: The Holy Spirit and the Church’s Eucharist
3. “Truly You are a Hidden God”: Liturgical Manifestation and its Limits
4. Sub Velamento: The Eucharist Between this World and the Next
Conclusion: Balthasar’s Cosmic Liturgy
“The Eucharistic Form of God fills a large gap in Balthasar scholarship by attending so comprehensively to Balthasar’s eucharistic theology and showing how it has an integrative place within the whole of his theology. A masterful and valuable work!” —Matthew Levering, author of The Achievement of Hans Urs von Balthasar
“The Eucharistic Form of God represents a major contribution to scholarship on Hans Urs von Balthasar and Catholic sacramental theology.” —Nicholas J. Healy, author of The Eschatology of Hans Urs von Balthasar
"For Balthasar, the Eucharist is Christ's thanksgiving to the Father in heaven for having given Him the gift of giving Himself for all. Ciraulo shows in a convincing way that this eternal thanksgiving is given to us as God's most precious gift that moves us toward fulfillment in heaven." —Fr Jacques Servais, SJ, director of the Casa Balthasar
"This profoundly penetrating study on a pivotal aspect of Balthasar’s theology has been extensively footnoted and seems intended for well-grounded theologians. It could be appropriately employed in a graduate seminar, or an advanced class at a seminary, on modern theology." —American Academy of Religion
"This fine book, by a most promising young scholar, is not only intellectually rewarding, it is prayerfully pondered—from cover to cover." —America
Among the more puzzling and interminable questions regarding the sacrament of the Eucharist is the enigma of Christ’s choice of bread and wine as the “sacramental matter” that perpetuates his corporeal presence on earth. Though undoubtedly part of the answer lies in the Last Supper’s context either proximate to or precisely within the Jewish Passover meal, this or any other historical evidence that could be garnered must remain suggestive, partial, and largely circumstantial. Like any historical event, it remains utterly a part of the realm of the contingent, of the achingly determinate and settled past that now gives only fragmentary clues as to the conscious mental acts that performed them. Why, then, Christ would have chosen these elements has been subject not so much to debate but rather to various heuristic suggestions that range from exploiting the typological significance of these elements to noting the anthropological fittingness of having both a solid food to nourish the body as well as drink to enliven the soul, and everything in between. To appropriate this theologoumenon for our purposes here- that is, of finding the place of Hans Urs von Balthasar within the history of Eucharistic theology- we can note that this history can be schematically divided with regards to how various theologians have reflected one or another of the various properties of these two objects of dominical decision.
Without creating procrustean epochs of eucharistic reflection, there certainly have been times when sacramental theology has tended to reflect the solidity or even desiccation of bread: a theology aimed at precision, comprehensiveness (within a limited frame of reference), and perspicacity. At other times it has been protean, reproducing the unruliness of the liquid state, the inebriation and excesses induced by wine: a theology of praise, heedless of fine distinctions, equally aimed at comprehensiveness, but with a breadth lacking any limitations or strictures. The former is clearly found in the great scholastics, in which the particularity of the sacramental economy is analyzed in rigorous detail and distinguished from all else, and the latter is found, though differently, in both the patristic era and in the dominant sacramental theologians of the twentieth century, in which the realm of the “sacramental” has been so greatly expanded as to include all else within it.
The overall tenor of Balthasar’s own Eucharistic theology, to which this book is dedicated, must be understood by his attempts to navigate the great benefits as well as the dangers of the regnant eucharistic theologies represented by the two sacramental elements. In Balthasar’s mind, neither tendency is given exclusive rights to sacramental discourse, as each, without the balance of the other, tends towards pernicious excesses. Balthasar’s eucharistic theology is uniquely marked by its simultaneous commitment to both the bread of scholastic precision and order and the wine of mystical flights and the overflowing of sacramentality. He is, at least regarding the scope and intention of his eucharistic theology based on our concocted division (and certainly not with regards to denying concomitance or being liturgically insistent), a supremely utraquist theologian. One could say, at the risk of reducing our chosen metaphor into something overly precious, that Balthasar’s eucharistic theology is a theology of intinction: of the traditional soaked in the poetic, of the scholastic saturated by the monastic.