Balthasar and Sexual Difference Introductory Notes

Why is sexual difference important for Balthasar? Diastasis - difference in relation - is of central importance for the structure of his theology Theologically, the diastasis between God and creation, within which the freedom of the creature becomes possible, is grounded in the diastasis of the persons of the Trinity. Anthropologically, the human person exists as inescapably ordered towards union with what is other than her, a union that brings about not self-contained completeness but continuing "fruitfulness." In the Theo-Drama, the central work of his threefold theological project, Balthasar introduces sexual difference initially as one of the central polarities that determine human existence, and which are observable (in his view) "prior" to the determination of anthropology by Christology (Balthasar 1988-98: II, 365-82). To be human is, for Balthasar, to be sexually differentiated. Sexual difference indicates both our incompleteness and our possibility of self-transcendence.

Following on from this, sexual difference becomes for Balthasar one of the key terms whereby an analogical understanding of the relationship between God and creation can be developed. The biblical imagery of Israel as bride of YHWH and church as bride of Christ is brought forward and developed in the light, both of a phenomenological analysis of sexual difference and eros and of the whole history of creation and redemption. A complex passage in the final volume of The Glory of the Lord uses the exegesis of Ephesians 5 to develop a vision of creaturely eros "sacramentalized" and drawn beyond the "closed circle" of human sexuality by its completion in the agape-love of Christ for the church, which in turn has its source in the "selfless self-love" of the persons of the Trinity (Balthasar 1982-91: VII, 480-4). Thus, in a further development of the theme of diastasis, sexual difference finds its ultimate ground and analogue in the life of the Trinity itself (see further Moss and Gardner 1998). Balthasar's discussions of the life of the immanent Trinity refer to "supra-masculinity" and "supra-femininity," in all three persons with reference to different "moments" in the self-differentiation of God (Balthasar 1968: 313).

Those seeking to develop a "queer theology" may well see in Balthasar's accounts of the importance of sexual difference a way beyond biological essentialism or the false androgyny of liberalism. If sexual difference is to be given such immense theological significance, existing ideas of what it means to be a sexed being, male or female, must surely become vulnerable to critique from their "higher analogues." Balthasar states at the end of the exegesis just cited, "The trinitarian love is the only ultimate form of all love - both the love between God and men, and that between human persons" (1982-91: VII, 484). The claim is that this theology of love breaks the "closed circle" (the supposed biological "givenness"? the apparent completeness of the male-female pair?) of human sexuality while not separating eros altogether from agape - which would seem to make it the ideal starting point for a queer theology. Everything will depend, however, on the development of the various analogies implied in Balthasar's use of sexual difference - and, as we shall see, it is here that the problems for "queer theology" begin to arise.

The tensions surrounding Balthasar's use of analogy with regard to sexual difference have been noted by several commentators in recent years. Two basic and interconnected problems present themselves (see Loughlin 1999b; Moss and Gardner 1998). The first is the extent to which the use of sexual difference to "describe" both the existence of human persons in relation to each other, and the relation of these persons to God, makes sexual difference both an analogue and the tertium quid whereby analogy becomes possible. Sexual difference - or, to be more precise, the "feminine principle" - is, as a recent article explains, in some respects the basis for the very possibility of the analogia entis. The consent of Mary to the bearing of the incarnate Word, which is the fulfillment of her feminine "mission," is the precondition for the entry of the personified analogia entis, Christ, into the world.

The second is Balthasar's tendency, implicitly or explicitly, to treat the analogies based on sexual difference as reversible, so that the "ordering" of the sexes on earth that provided an analogy for innertrinitarian relations or the ordering of Christ and the church is in turn valorized or reinforced on the basis of its heavenly analogates. Clearly this acts against any critical interrogation of our assumptions concerning sexual difference. Predetermined understandings of "masculinity" and "femininity" are mapped onto the immanent Trinity, and back onto earth, without being affected by the maior dissimilitudo supposedly present in every instance of analogy between the divine and the human. The designation of inner-trinitarian "masculinity" and "femininity" as supra-masculine or feminine does not always prevent this reversal of analogies.

Both of these problems, and their consequences for the theological understanding of sexual difference, can be illustrated from one of the few passages in which Balthasar mentions same-sex love.

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