Balthasars Kenotic Economy

Kenosis is not simply at the centre of Balthasar's theology. Its economy is both the condition for the possibility of theo-logic itself and its very form (Gestalt): 'there is only one way to approach the Trinitarian life in God: on the basis of what is manifest in God's kenosis in the theology of the covenant — and thence in the theology of the Cross — we must feel our way back into the mystery of the absolute'.51 'This primal kenosis [Ur-Kenose] makes possible all other kenotic movements of God into the world; they are simply its


As with the early Fathers he quotes (Cyril, Gregory of Nyssa, Hilary, Chrysostom) kenosis is a Trinitarian event. Laconically, Balthasar writes: 'the Son's missio is his processio extended [through desire, verlängert] in "economic" mode; but whereas in his processio he moves towards the Father in receptivity and gratitude, in his missio ... he moves away from Him and towards the world'.53 We can elucidate this account of Trinitarian processions with reference to a prayer Balthasar composed which describes the self-emptying love within the Trinity from which creation and incarnation proceed. 'You, Father, give your entire being as God to the Son; you are Father only inasmuch as you give yourself; you, Son, receive everything from the Father and before Him you want nothing other than one receiving and giving back, the one representing, glorifying the Father in loving obedience; you, Spirit, are the unity of these two mutually meeting, self-givings, their We as a new I that royally, divinely rules them both.'54 Kenosis, then, is not the act of the Son (as with Luther and the Lutheran kenoticists of the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries). Such a Christology Balthasar would view as Christomonistic. Kenosis is the disposition of love within the Trinitarian community. It is a community constituted by differences that desire the other. For the Father surrenders himself utterly to the Son who is 'the infinitely Other of the Father',55 making all subsequent separation (and suffering) possible. I will develop this notion of suffering in the final essay, 'Suffering and Incarnation'. For the moment what is important in the Son's response to this paternal surrender is an eternal thanksgiving (eucharistia)

51 Theodramatik, Bd. III (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1980), p. 301; Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory: IV: The Action, tr. G. Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), p. 324.

52 Theodramatik, Bd. III, p. 308; Theo-Drama, vol. IV p. 331.

54 The Von Balthasar Reader, pp. 428—9. eds. Medard Kehl and Werner Löser, trs. Robert J. Daly and Fred Lawrence (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1982).

55 Theodramatik, Bd. III, p. 302; Theo-Drama, vol. IV, p. 325.

that enacts, albeit differently, its own surrender. The Spirit maintains and embraces the infinite distance between Father and Son, opening the love that fills that distance to creation. 'Here we see both God's infinite power and powerlessness; he cannot be God in any other way but in this "kenosis" within the Godhead itself.'56 The 'generation' of the Son makes possible the creation of the world. The circulation of divine desire is the processio. Obedience to that desire to abandon oneself is the nature of one's calling or missio — for the going out or the missio is always the act of love towards the other. Both processio and missio exemplify kenosis, and this kenosis is the operation that enjoins the immanent Trinity to the incarnation. Thus there arises an analogy of natures between the form of God and the form of a servant. All incarnation is kenotic; all Word becoming flesh, all acts of representation, are kenotic. This will have significant consequences for our understanding of homo symbolicus. For the moment it is important to grasp that kenosis always made possible the sacrifice ofJesus Christ on the cross; for Christ was sacrificed before the foundations of the world in his utter givenness to the Father. The cross is not, then, an event that can be isolated and made the fulcrum for all theological understanding. Not only is the event of crucifixion, the death of God, part of a trajectory moving from incarnation to resurrection (and Pentecost). It is the outworking of a soteriological economy inaugurated with creation: 'all the world's darkness is only permitted because of the antecedent idea, offer and mission of the Lamb, which undergird it and make it possible'.57 Creation is made possible by intra-Trinitarian difference. Creation is completed in the incarnation just as the incarnation is completed in the eucharist. God becomes Form and he, the Son, becomes the transcendental signifier, the name above all names.

For we who are made 'in the image of', kenosis is a mode of living the eternal life of God which sin destroys. Our kenotic action is not identical to Christ's kenotic action with reference to the Father. Ours is a secondary Yes of consent (summed up in Mary's acquiescence to receive God into herself) made possible on the basis of Christ's primary self-offering. We live analogously, and kenosis is both the condition of this living and our understanding of it: this is the mode of all Christian action and ethics. With this notion of difference, of an unassimilable alterity, the teaching of kenosis moves beyond modernity's concern with epistemology (Kant), metaphysics (Hegel) and phenomenological existentialism (Heidegger). Kenosis is the form, character and praxis of a theo-logic that lies outside of, and illuminates, all human logics.

We return to the doctrine of kenosis as it was expounded in premoder-nity, by the early Church, in the work of Origen, Athanasius and Cyril among the Alexandrians, Gregory of Nyssa among the Cappadocians, and Hilary of Poitiers. Beset as it was by the dangers of subordinationism, modalism and deipassionism, the kenosis of Christ was depicted then in terms of a Trinitarian operation,58 what Maximus the Confessor called 'an eternal movement of love'.59 With Palamas a distinction was drawn between God in himself — who was unknowable and inaccessibly concealed in mystery — and those divine energies or operations whereby he is manifested and gives himself to us. Thus Palamas wishes to speak of a 'divine power and energy common to the nature in three'.60 This force or energy whereby there is communication and the gift of God was understood as the operation of love within the Trinity, the abandoning of one to the other; and salvation issued from a participation within this intra-Trinitarian procession. It is a participation made possible through the incarnation of Christ, the revelation of the true image of God possessed by all. We are redeemed and deified through the economy of love. The distinctive nature of love is to give — a continual act of self-abandonment. It is this abandonment in love which characterises kenosis. To paraphrase Karl Barth's understanding of kenosis, God's freedom to love is a self-giving not a giving up.61 The doctrine of kenosis outlines, then, the giving of the gift of life — a giving that cannot be given if the giving is not part of an economy that includes reception; an

58 See Origen, De Princip., 1.II.8 and Nestorius, Liber Heraclides, 1.I.61.

59 Quoted by Vladimir Lossky, Mystical Theology in the Eastern Church (London: James Clarke, 1957), p. 60. P.T. Forsyth's analysis of kenosis (which he understands as part of a dialectic that embraces the plerosis of self-fulfilment of Christ) draws upon the notion that divine love is the dynamic of action: 'Love alone has any key to those renunciations which do not mean suicide but the finding of the Soul' (p. 320). This analysis, in the first decade of the twentieth century, did not fully articulate a Trinitarian basis for the operation of this love while observing that the kenotic act 'was the most condensed expression of holy love' (p. 316). Nevertheless, Forsyth's main focus remains a psychological account of the reduction in divine qualities — the effects, that is, of Christ's eternal knowledge becoming 'discursive, successive, and progressive' (pp. 310—11), The Person and Place ofJesus Christ (London: Independent Press, 1930). For an earlier theological development of the doctrine of kenosis in British theology that also was locked into modernity's metaphysics of selfhood, see Hugh Ross Mackintosh, The Doctrine of the Person ofJesus Christ (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912). For a very lucid overview of the doctrine of kenosis and its theological importance see Sarah Coakley, 'Kenosis and Subversion: On the Repression of "Vulnerability" in Christian Feminist Writing' in Swallowing a Fishbone: Feminist Theologians Debate Christianity, ed. Daphne Hampson (London: SPCK, 1996), pp. 82-111.

60 Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 70. For an extensive analysis of Palamas's distinctive contribution to Trinitarian thought see Rowan Williams, The Philosophical Structures of Palamism', Eastern Churches Review 9 (1-2), (1977), pp. 27-44.

61 Church Dogmatics, IV1, p. 184.

economy of response. It is this giving-in-through-and-beyond-reception that is the kenotic economy: grace. It is a pneumatic economy, for the new dimension Christ has opened up the Spirit maintains and presents 'at our disposal as a new, open space'.62

This kenotic presentation of the Trinity — missio issuing from processio — is the basis for Balthasar's theological aesthetics concerned as it is with 'seeing the form': the form of God, the form of revelation, the form of faith and the mediation of those forms. Kenosis is a theological economy of representation — where representation covers both the vicarious representation of Christ dying pro nobis63 and the creative mimesis. Christ the Word descends into all the eloquence, rhetoric, mimesis and endless deferral of meaning in human signs. He is erased by them and through them on Good Friday before sinking down into the silence and the absence of Holy Saturday. But for Balthasar it is in this descent into Hell, 'the dying away into silence ... that we have to understand precisely his non-speaking as his final revelation, his utmost word'.64 Through the cross, judgement falls on all eloquence, rhetoric, mimesis and the endless deferral of meaning in signs. Representation experiences its crisis. And a new word appears, 'his utmost word', on the far side of the death's profound passio. Only in and through the cross, the death of God, is there redemption and an ability to 'see the form'.

'Seeing the Form [Schau der Gestalt]' is the subtitle to volume one of The Glory of the Lord. In that volume Balthasar begins to describe the relationship that exists between pistis and gnosis, faith and knowledge, in a way that refigures Hegel on the basis of his Christological refocusing of analogia entis. Faith cannot operate without love (or hope) for Balthasar. Faith, understood as trustful self-abandonment in obedience, is intrinsic to the kenotic economy of desire in the Trinity. He writes: 'the Spirit is not so much a divine object of faith as the divine medium of the gift of faith made to the Father in the Son'.65 Our faith is the human response to God's faith, a response of obedience which enables our participation in God's triunal and kenotic love.66

62 Balthasar, Spiritus Creator, Skizzen zur Theologie III (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1967), p. 153; Explorations in Theology III: Creator Spirit, tr. B. McNeil (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 169.

63 See Balthasar's essay 'On Vicarious Representation', in Pneuma und Institution, Skizzen zur Theologie IV (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1974), p. 401; Explorations in Theology IV: Spirit and Institution, tr. B. McNeil (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), pp. 415-22.

64 Mysterium Paschale, p. 79.

65 Spiritus Creator, Skizzen zur Theologie III, p. 107; Explorations in Theology III, p. 118.

66 See Kristeva's definition of faith in In the Beginning Was Love: Psychoanalysis and Faith, tr. Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), p. 24: 'faith could be described, perhaps rather simplistically, as what can only be called a primary identification with a loving and protective agency'.

Through and with and in this faith the 'light of grace comes to the aid of natural ability: it strengthens and deepens the power of sight'.67 We see and know differently because the realm of signs surrounding us is read through the hermeneutic of God's poured-out love: 'a synthesizing power to penetrate phenomena, a power that derives from God and is capable of interpreting phenomena so that they disclose what God wishes to reveal of his own depths in them'.68 In this epistemology of faith, opinion or view [Ansicht] is transformed into true sight [Sicht]; the images [Abbilder] of the world become true pictures [Urbilder] of God. Balthasar's analogia entis draws close to Barth's analogiafidei at this point. In the Introduction we saw the tensions in Barth's understanding of analogy; Balthasar's construal does not have these tensions because, for him, analogia fidei cannot dispense with a relationship between creator and creature; a creator who gives and maintains the existence of creation, who is, in his ontological difference, absolute Being. The transfiguration of images of the world [Abbilder] into true pictures of God [Urbilder] parallels the transfiguration of the human form of Christ into the glory of God and human autarkia into human theosis: 'For now the "prototype" [Urbild] (the eternal Son, enjoying Sonship with the Father) has indwelt [eingebildet] the copy [Abbild] and stamped his divine form [Form] upon it once and for all.'69

This relationship between Christology and mimesis has further corollaries. One can see the form of God not only in the works of human beings — the music of Mozart, the paintings of Christ-clowns by Rouault — but in the style of the lives of those who have given themselves over to imitating him. The life of Elizabeth of Dijon 'became a sacrament'.70 She fulfilled an office and a charism. The track of her becoming, her vocation, announces a doctrine, a teaching, carved out in, through and upon her body. 'Her mission was to approach, by way of contemplation, the source of all grace, and so to be a conduit of its flow to the Church.'71 With Theresa of Lisieux 'it is not so much her writings as her life itself which is her doctrine'.72 '[S]he stands in exactly the same relationship towards her own being as a writer does towards his novel or a sculptor to his statue.'73 The form again reveals the

67 Herrlichkeit, Bd. I, p. 169; Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, vol. I, p. 175.

68 Spiritus Creator, Skizzen zur Theologie III, p. 38; Explorations in Theology III, p. 42.

69 Theodramatik, III, p. 355; Theo-Drama, vol. IV p. 381.

70 Balthasar, Elizabeth of Dijon, tr. A.V Littledale (London: Harvill Press, 1956), p. 63.

72 Balthasar, Therese von Lisieux (Cologne: Jakob Hegner Verlag, 1950), p. 24; Therese of Lisieux, tr. Donald Nicholl (London: Sheed & Ward, 1953), p. xxi.

glory of God for those who can read it. By extension, the style of a theological discourse betrays the extent to which the theologian is obedient to the call upon his life. For the theologian's task is not only to expound the Form of God, it is to be abandoned unto God so that the Form of God may be impressed upon the discourse itself, the doing of theology itself. Kenosis operates here as the condition for the possibility of theological method. The Passion of Christ has therefore effected an ontological shift, but this 'primal form can never be adequately and exhaustively reproduced by any rational construction [Gebilde]'.74

Without faith as kenotic, self-abandoning love we are simply left in the strident darkness of clashing empty symbols; we are left stranded on Matthew Arnold's 'Dover Beach'. 'In this amorphous condition, sin forms what one can call the second "chaos" (generated by human liberty).'75 This is the Hell Christ descended into on Holy Saturday and from which the redemption of form and representation will issue on Easter Sunday. Christ descends into the hiatus, the aporia, the margins. It is precisely here that non-speaking becomes 'his final revelation'.76 Death is the autistic state where meaning dissolves into the seas of the chaotic as Christ descends into the depths of the abyss. But this God who can separate himself from himself, the basis of a Trinitarian distinction between the Father and the Son, brings into this abyss a boundary, a limit. 'God himself has proven to be Almighty who is able to safeguard his identity in nonidentity.'77 That new and paradoxical 'identity' rises to the world again, and so a new discourse announces itself which is theological: 'In the presence of the hiatus, the "logic" of theology can in no way rest on the (unbroken) continuity of human (and scientific) logic, but only on that theo"logic" established by God himself in the hiatus of the "death of God".'78 This is the death of the sign — its silencing, its judgement — which only faith in the transcendent meaning of a love which frames the text can read aright. Language too must experience its Passion — that is, the central intuition of the economy of representation, the movement towards naming, which the doctrine of kenosis expresses. In the words of Emmanuel Levinas, language 'expresses the gratuity of sacrifice'.79

74 Herrlichkeit, Bd. I, p. 205; Glory ofthe Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, vol. I,p.212.

75 Mysterium Paschale, p. 173.

77 Pneuma und Institution, Skizzen zur Theologie IV, p. 399; Explorations in Theology IV: Spirit and Institution, p. 413. This phrase sums up Balthasar's rejection of a Christology locked into the metaphysics of modern selfhood.

78 Mysterium Paschale, p. 79.

79 Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, tr. Alphonso Lingis (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981), p. 120.

In experiencing its Passion, it experiences its redemption, and this is because the Spirit recapitulates always the entire economy of salvation, expressing 'the pneumatic unity of Cross and Resurrection'.80 As a further corollary, 'Hell is a product of the Redemption'.81 Passion is understood here as ambivalent — the word ties together the twin themes of love and suffering, crucifixion and exaltation. We must always recall that what is poured out is love, a love that in giving itself suffers, and through that suffering is able to name. What persists when the continuity of human discourse and reasoning comes to its end or reaches its edge, is the economy of love: 'the continuity is the absolute love of God of man, manifesting itself actively on both sides of the hiatus (and so in the hiatus itself), and his triune Love in its own intrinsic reality as the condition of possibility for such a love for man'.82 Balthasar concludes: 'Everything turns on his inner-Trinitarian Love.'83

As we saw in the exegesis of the kenotic hymn in Philippians the linguisti-cality of God (in Christ) and human beings (in their response to that Word) — indeed the linguisticality of the Church — is prominent. It is precisely with linguisticality, the textuality of living, that post-structural accounts of kenosis have been concerned. It is with reference to these accounts that we can not only develop Balthasar's own position but also locate the theologian with respect to contemporary philosophical, anthropological and psychological concerns. The existential has always played an important part in Balthasar's theological account of what it is to be human, open to the transcendent, creative and artistic. This existentialism may be the liberal weak-point in Balthasar's conservative theology; it is he rather than Karl Rahner who is more indebted to Heidegger. 'A non-existential theology, therefore, remains unworthy of belief because it is not capable of making anything really visible.'84 Nevertheless, Balthasar's work breathes in a certain rarefied atmosphere, a post-resurrection perspective, as if the work was composed on the frosted heights of Thomas Mann's magic mountain. The social, the political and the physical orders of being proceed somewhere in the plains at the foot of the escarpment. This need not be. Balthasar's own gaze may be fixed on the transcendental categories of the good, the beautiful and the true, but his work endorses no gnosticism and warrants no docetic concentration upon the spiritual. His theology sacralises, through Christ, the historical and

80 Theodramatik, III, p. 360; Theo-Drama, vol. IV p. 386.

81 Mysterium Paschale, p. 79.

82 Ibid.

84 Herrlichkeit, Bd. III. I/2 Teil (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1967), p. 579; Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. V: The Realm of Metaphysics in the Modern Age, tr. O. Davies et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991), p. 602.

concrete, giving back soul to the historical and concrete. The concrete and historical take on a certain permeability while remaining quite emphatically material, corporeal. As he himself describes it, through Christ mundane reality is delivered from self-glorification85 — that is, empiricism, naive realism, positivism. In bringing Balthasar's work into an examination of poststructural concerns with textuality I am, then, simply extending and applying it. That is, I am reading, on the basis of faith, the watermark of God's glory in the experience of being 'made in the image of'. Theology precedes and makes possible an anthropology which emphasises the nature of the symbolic worlds we construct. This is how Augustine comes to relate the Trinity to his concept of personhood, theology to psychology, in De Trinitate. We are going to make a similar move, for what is at stake is the ineradicable correlation between what I called in chapter one Christology and mimesis. The notion of homo symbolicus (that cannot be separated from a homo hermeneuticus), kenosis and an anthropology grounded upon the mission of Christ can be seen more clearly by developing Balthasar's understanding of God's kenotic love through an examination of Kristeva's phenomenology of desire. Most particularly, we need to examine her work on the relationship of love to language, the order of the symbolic to the abject.

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