What can the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar contribute to a "queer theology," a critical and constructive rereading of established categories of sex and gender from a Christian theological perspective? The importance of sexual difference, and of gendered roles and subjects, in Balthasar's theological scheme is undeniable. Discussions of Balthasar's treatment of sexual difference have focused variously on his Mariology (Leahy 1996; Beattie 1998), his views on the position of women in the church (Strukelj 1993), his understanding of prayer (Gawronski 1995), and through all these on his trinitarian theology (Moss and Gardner 1998). His valorization of sexual difference, and in particular the significance he accords to femininity, has been used to justify a conservative response to the challenges of feminist theology and of the movement for women's ordination (Leahy 1996; Strukelj 1993; Schindler 1993). On the other hand, the very fact that sexual difference is of such importance in his "theo-drama" has led those with an interest in queer theology to seek to appropriate his work for a rethinking of sex and gender in Christian theology (Bullimore 1999; Loughlin 1999b).
After a brief overview of the opportunities and questions raised by Balthasar's theology of sexual difference in general, and in particular by the use of sexual difference as both theological analogate and ground of theological analogy, this chapter will focus on the relation of sexual difference to Balthasar's concept of personal mission. "Femininity" is for Balthasar a characteristic of the creature before God that enables the acceptance and fulfillment of a personal mission. The undifferentiated "feminine principle" to which the development of this idea gives rise can be traced in its consequences for Mariology and (indirectly) for Balthasar's attitude to politics. Significantly for queer theology, Balthasar's use of "femininity" makes erotic relations between women simply inconceivable. The familiar pattern -gay men are seen and feared, lesbian women are invisible/impossible - is apparent in Balthasar's few explicit discussions of homosexuality, but more importantly is reinforced by the function of sexual difference within his theological scheme. Despite all this, we can see in Balthasar's theology of personal mission, particularly within the perspective of his escha-tology, scope for the development of a theological anthropology that would be more conducive to the aims of a "queer theology."
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