Balthasar's trinitarian drama - at the economic level - makes two key assumptions. Following the Johannine testimony, Balthasar argues that the Father is known only through the Son. This is the witness of most of the New Testament. Furthermore, for Balthasar, the Son as male is key in properly representing the supramasculine originless begetting Father. A woman could not represent this aspect of the Father. This is why, so to speak, God became incarnate in a man. Balthasar never tells us how the suprafeminine aspect of the Father is represented and one suspects he is unable to, for that aspect of the first person is strangely silenced in the symbolic order. Second, the drama unfolds only because of a woman, Mary. Her role is central to redemption. In fact, without her, redemption is not possible at all. This high place for Mary is one of the most exciting aspects of Balthasar's theology, even if traditionally Mary's role in the Roman Catholic tradition is not without misogynistic elements.11 However, let us look at the way in which Balthasar unfolds this complex economic drama.
Balthasar begins with the story of creation and pre-Christian cosmological accounts of the polarities and tensions between three foci that generate the construction of self and society. These are the tensions between conceptions of spirit and matter, man and woman, the individual and society. Balthasar, with immense learning, shows how these three foci are never properly harmonized in Greek thought, and it is only in the biblical account of Adam and Eve that these three begin to be resolved into a coherent telos. However, it is only in Christ that the Genesis account is properly understood and completed, for in Christ all three poles are taken up, reconciled, and transformed into a new creation. This new creation - in which spirit and matter, male and female, individual and society begin to be resolved into a divine harmony, analogically reflecting God's life - is the church. Balthasar's supramasculine/feminine within the Godhead comes into play in a remarkable fashion. I will plot one trajectory only within this unfolding drama - the one which leads to the exclusion of women from the ministerial priesthood.
Adam, the first man, and Eve, the first woman, are recapitulated within the second Adam (Christ) and the second Eve (Mary). Balthasar takes up important themes from the fathers that have too often been neglected in modern theologies. He traces many illuminating parallels: from Adam's side comes his bride Eve and out of Christ's side comes his bride, the church; from Eve's disobedience sin enters the world (and Balthasar will have no truck with blaming Eve alone), and out of Mary's obedience salvation enters the world; from Eve's motherhood springs the entire human race, and from Mary's motherhood springs the new creation in a double sense: as Christ the man, and as Mary, the true church. Incest themes are profoundly embedded within Christianity - as Christ is groom to his bride, who is his mother, who is the church. But amidst Balthasar's immensely subtle and fertile exposition, reflecting his breakthrough on the level of the immanent Trinity, we find the return of the Father's regressive primacy. And not surprisingly, this primacy is related to the "priority of the man."
The reciprocal fruitfulness of man and woman is surpassed by the ultimate priority of the "Second Adam", who, in suprasexual fruitfulness, brings a "companion", the
Church, into being. Now the "deep sleep" of death on the Cross, the "taking of the rib" in the wound that opens the heart of Jesus, no longer take place in unconsciousness and passivity, as in the case of the First Adam, but in the consciously affirmed love-death of the Agape, from which the Eucharist's fruitfulness also springs. The relative priority of the man over the woman here becomes absolute, insofar as the Church is a creation of Christ himself, drawn from his own substance. (Balthasar 1988-98: II, 413; emphasis added)
Balthasar plumbs profound themes in this passage. However, in relation to our question, one should note that Christ is the "origin" of the church (which is "drawn from his own substance"), as analogously, the Father is the "origin" of Christ (who is drawn from the Father's own substance). This over-masculinizing of the Father and now of Christ (and therefore of Adam) means that the church is primarily feminine receptivity, embodied in Mary, the "first" of all creatures. Admittedly she is analogous to the way that the Son is suprafeminine in his begottenness from the Father, the first before all creation. But note here the same slippage as appeared in the immanent Trinity, and how the mirroring of that "frozen frame" in which the Father's supramasculine primacy was asserted, now re-emerges in the Son and has to assert itself in the economic order. Hence, a "reciprocal fruitfulness" is surpassed by the Son's "suprasexual fruitfulness" - causing a rather disturbing relapse into the Aristotelian heritage which earlier seemed to have been so richly transformed. Hence, the inevitable result: "the relative priority of the man over the woman becomes absolute." Once more, woman becomes the place for man's fulfillment: he complements her material formlessness, bringing her to birth by his form, by his sexual act, even if it is suprasexual. Mary's (woman's) co-redemptive status is suddenly relegated, as it has been in much modern Christianity. It is ironic that Balthasar is one of the main forces behind reinstating this Marian doctrine into productive ecclesiology. This absolutizing of male priority is a regress, forgetting the doctrine of analogy so relentlessly employed by Balthasar. This idolizing of a complementary but subordinate sexual symbolics (superior male to receptive and dependent female) at the economic level (where Christ must be groom to his bridal church, just as Adam was to Eve) is linked to the misogynist homoerotics in Balthasar's immanent Trinity, where woman is excluded or subordinated and cannot be represented. Balthasar's trinitarian logic should properly allow that women can symbolically represent Christ just as men can, and likewise, the church can be properly female in a Marian sense and also male in a Christic sense, precisely because Mary also properly represents Christ (in his suprafemininity). Balthasar seems to have forgotten that Christ is himself represented as female and as mother in certain medieval traditions (see Bynum 1982 and Ward 1999).
Admittedly, Balthasar's statement on the "absolute priority" of the male is almost immediately followed by an attempt to draw back, even though such a drawing back undermines the very point Balthasar is wanting to drive home about the centrality of Christ. "All the same, the first account of creation is over-fulfilled here, for in the mind of God the incarnate Word has never existed without his Church (Ephesians 1.4-6)" (Balthasar 1988-98: II, 413). But this qualification fails to work because of the explicit way in which the "relative" priority of the man over the woman must become "absolute," for without it the church cannot happen, and the ontological argument for all male priesthood collapses.
One further example of how Balthasar absolutizes the male, amidst so much rich reciprocity, will suffice to indicate the relentless fall from analogy that operates throughout Balthasar's trinitarian taxonomy. Balthasar envisages the Eucharist as the outpouring of seed from the loins of Jesus. He writes:
[T]he Son of God who has become man and flesh, knowing his Father's work from inside and perfecting it in the total self-giving of himself, not only of his spiritual but precisely also of his physical powers, giving not only to one individual but to all. What else is his Eucharist but, at a higher level, an endless act of fruitful outpouring of his whole flesh, such as a man can achieve only for a moment with a limited organ of his body? (Balthasar 1998: 226)
In many respects this is a rich image and well worth developing, for the Eucharist is generative of new community, and a community which calls itself the body of Christ. But given the earlier problems we have noted this "out-pouring" becomes a troubling image of love and self-giving for it excludes any female imagery, and once more identifies "love" as purely male sexual "self-giving." All mutual reciprocity is surpassed, for this suprasexual fruitful-ness is a "giving" without receiving. It excludes the symbolic dimensions of any female imagery other than the imagined passivity of woman, the church, on her knees, awaiting a Eucharist which is nourishment from the male's body, and, tellingly, a Eucharist presided over by men who are the first to drink from the loins of the male Jesus. And it is here that the trinitarian cascade reaches the bottom of a long chain: the exclusive male ministerial priesthood.
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