Queering Hans Urs von Balthasars Trinity

The theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar has been immensely influential within the Roman Catholic Church (see Henricci 1991). Balthasar was deeply admired by Pope John Paul II, and by Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Balthasar was a key figure in the founding of the journal Communio, a "conservative" response to the more "liberal" journal Concilium.4 Paul McPartlan (1997: 51) notes Balthasar's profound influence on the shaping of twentieth-century papal teaching, to the extent of being cited in John Paul II's Mulieris Dignitatem (John Paul II 1988: 101, para. 27).

I want to look at Balthasar's depiction of the Trinity for three reasons. First, it is his Trinity, his "crown jewel" (Kristeva), which organizes all creation, right down to the smallest detail, whereby the "symbolic, the imaginary, and the real" are intertwined in complex and awesome patterns, presenting one of the richest and most nuanced discussions of the Trinity, in both its immanent (as it is in itself) and economic (as it is revealed in history) forms. We learn much from this dazzling construction, both in terms of the church's actual and potential symbolic life, and of its unconscious imaginary.

Secondly, it is from the Trinity that Balthasar outdoes the Vatican in instantiating an onto-logical mandate against women priests.51 want to call this move into question, as a single instance of Balthasar's more widespread failure to be queer/analogical enough in the symbolizing/staging of trinitarian life. But I do not want to argue that Balthasar's theology is redundant because of this. On the contrary, I want to suggest that his trinitarian symbolizing, however inadequate, actually opens up many important avenues whereby "gender" is recast in a number of ways. It is possible to see how the divine life is capable of being represented in multi-gender terms, even if in Balthasar these terms are rather thinly developed. It is possible to see how the divine life is capable of being represented in gay, lesbian and heterosexual self-giving, faithful and fruitful love, even if Balthasar's Trinity enacts a form of exclusive misogynist homosexual erotics that is predicated upon the exclusion of the feminine/woman.

And thirdly - and most germane to my argument - it is possible to see why women are onto-logically able to represent Christ and therefore be ordained to the ministerial priesthood, just as men are able to ontologically represent Mary (and be characterized as the feminine Marian "church"). I should make it clear that I see Balthasar's particular homoeroticism as the unconscious driving force that excludes women (except for the mother, Mary) from the symbolic order. This is not an argument against homosexuality per se, just as an argument against men raping women and "queer bashing" is not an argument against heterosexuality per se (even if both of the latter violent actions may be connected with misogyny). Balthasar's argument against women priests happens because his sense of analogy fails him at crucial trinitarian moments. This failure is particularly acute as Balthasar is profoundly sensitive to the danger of anthropocentricism in God-language.6 In this sense his is a queer theology, even if it fails to be queer enough.

Balthasar's Trinity is depicted most clearly in his five volume Theo-Drama (1988-98), although I shall be drawing from other works as well.7 It is only in the final two volumes of the Theo-Drama that Balthasar elaborates on the immanent life of God that both mirrors the economic revelation, and, more fundamentally, shapes it. It is this inner life that draws us into the mystery of salvation.

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