Conclusion Women at the Cross and in the Resurrection

Balthasar's portrayal of femininity as "indifferent" - from which arises, it has been suggested, his inability to establish Mary as a theo-dramatic character - perhaps makes it easy for him to ignore the other presences at the crucifixion. Even in the Fourth Gospel, two other Marys appear beside Jesus' mother; in the synoptics, groups of women watch "from a distance." It is these women, both in the synoptics and in the Fourth Gospel, whose actions and encounters mark the beginning of the proclamation of the resurrection.

Mary Magdalene's encounter with the risen Christ is one of Balthasar's favorite examples (the other being Simon/Peter) of the reconfiguration of personal identity through the resurrection. Her calling by name leads to her proclamation of the resurrection - a circumstance to which Balthasar occasionally refers, without consideration of its implications for the "femininity" of this other Mary (Balthasar 1961: 22).

The women who discover the empty tomb, on the other hand, are scarcely mentioned. Their actions, as far as Balthasar's theological scheme goes, are highly ambiguous. Their contemplation is only a contemplation of meaninglessness. Their response in the face of death and silence is not passive waiting, or even "active receptivity," but the observation of the commandments of the old covenant and a commitment - socially undertaken and (potentially) politically oriented - to a work of mourning that would itself almost certainly fail ("Who will roll away the stone for us?"). What they "receive" is unexpected, and their reception of it is undetermined in outcome. They are not subsequently assigned apostolic roles and do not form part of the continuing structure of the church.

Balthasar discusses their presence in Luke's Gospel, where they are assimilated to "the 'daughter of Sion' who has become flesh in woman"; Luke, we read, shows us "Jesus as a man, who from the outset takes up his fellow human beings with their feminine, handmaid's fiat into his own work." It is far from clear, however, that the actions of these women from Good Friday to Easter Sunday can so easily be summarized as a "handmaid'sfiat" (Balthasar: 1982-91: VII, 354).8

I suggest that the ability to see these women, their relation to each other and to the dead and risen Christ is in nuce what would be required for Balthasar's "theo-drama" to overcome the reification of sexual difference.9 Seeing these women would entail considering their performance of historically and culturally "female" actions - the anointing of the dead, specific female tasks in the keeping of Sabbath - and the way in which the ordinary significance of these actions is transcended. Seeing them as women would reinforce this by attending to the plurality of ways in which female embodiment is lived out. Their story is structured by absence and discontinuity, the breakdown of relationship and analogy, and its conclusion intensifies that discontinuity rather than healing it. That conclusion also marks, however, the beginning of a mission, the direction of which is specified but the final form of which remains unknown.

I referred earlier to Balthasar's distinctive understanding of the "beatific vision," as the participation of redeemed creation in the eternal movement-in-rest of God. It is essential to his understanding of mission, as having its source in the divine Idea through which all things are created in Christ, that the distinctive missions of creatures persist in eternity. Thérèse of Lisieux's desire to spend her eternity, not in rest but in the love of God and creatures, is for Balthasar a desire most appropriate to the nature of God revealed in Christ (Balthasar 1992: 201; Balthasar 1988-98: V 394, 413). Freedom as the continual enactment of the "always more" of one's eternal existence in God is more truly present in eternal than in temporal life. Furthermore, this participation in the divine life is inseparably linked to knowledge and enjoyment of one another in the communion of saints - "everyone is utterly open and available to each other, but this openness is not like the total perspicuity of states or situations; instead we have free persons freely available to each other on the basis of the unfathomable distinctness of each" (Balthasar 1988-98: V 485-6).

This latter statement, taken out of its context, could serve as a summary of Balthasar's earlier description of the significance of sexual difference. That description, as we saw, was subsequently in effect undermined by the need to define "femininity" for christological purposes. Here, however, in the vision of the redeemed state, we have a return to non-reified sexual difference - placed, significantly, after the discussion of the completion of the "nuptial" relationship of God and creation, so that no further tangling of analogies is possible. Perhaps those who seek to develop Balthasar's work can allow this vision of the communion of saints to cast its light back onto all the difficulties discussed earlier -so that the God-given missions of persons in Christ are seen as leading them, not towards the reaffirmation of gender roles as we know them, but towards the "always more" of life in God.

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