Hans Urs von Balthasar - Pneuma und Institution - Skizzen zur Theologie IV
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Pneuma und Institution. Skizzen zur Theologie IV Spirit and Institution. Explorations in Theology IV

As with the previous volumes of Explorations in Theology, the general title of Spirit and Institution given to the essays in this volume should not be understood as one that intends to indicate a systematic treatment of its topic. “Spirit and Institution” indicates only a kind of leitmotif that echoes in a kind of “free variation” throughout most of the essays gathered here. Only one of them, the eponymous essay, explicitly develops the motif for its own sake; but even it makes no claim to have exhausted its inner possibilities. This is merely a sketchbook: all it tries to do is approach its main object from different angles. But perhaps in using this method we can catch sight of unexpected turns and shapes, seeing things afresh as if for the first time. There is a central Light that illuminates everything, but we can glimpse it only from its different rays. Perhaps some eager soul thirsty for systematics would like to make something out of these fragments, putting the stones in order and assembling them into a mosaic. The author, however, mistrusts such undertakings. Such constructions merely try to yank the mystery from its seclusion and cast it into the glare of our light. But God dwells in inaccessible light. Nevertheless, our theme is one that, if circled humbly and unpretentiously, directly affects Christians and the Church today. What most threatens Christianity today, and is the deepest source of its current anemia, is the splitting apart of these two features of the Church united in our title. And because it is very difficult to put back together again what has already been driven asunder, we prefer from the outset to contemplate them both at their point of origin: at the source where they both originate and mutually fructify each other. Reform never takes place by reassembling and gluing back together pieces that have broken apart. Rather, “a shoot will spring up from the stump of Jesse; from its roots a branch will bear fruit.”

From the author’s Introduction

Living forms in the ascending line of evolution can only be described using the language of escalating polarities: the more intensive the organizing center (which eventually results in a being-for-itself), the more extensively is the (environing) world open to that center and the more the self-reflecting being lives not only by means of other beings but also, as an active center, for them. And in order to be for others, the center must be organized as an expressive form. No natural being is an ungraspable Proteus: it has to be recognizable and knowable as something definite. This definiteness precedes the spontaneity of the natural individual but is also available to it as the field of spontaneous self-expression. And the freer the center becomes, the more the individual is able to take flight within itself and to hide its identity as the initial guarantee for the possibility of living in communication with the other. In the animal kingdom the activity of the individual does not push up as far as to encompass the total horizon of the world; the actions of the animal are not free, nor does it make provisions for its fellows in the species. The meaning of the “unique” individual for the surrounding world is still restricted to the conformity of the whole species to its nature. But in man this boundary is transcended: the individual with the human-species form deepens and becomes a true person, who can step out beyond himself freely and relatively uniquely and move outward to shape the world as a whole (a transformation of the world that is also known as “hominization”), using his bodily form as his instrument. His social environment, as a polis, a city, transcends its narrow confines (without thereby dismantling them) and begins to blend into the more fluid boundaries of the world as such, becoming a cosmic macropolis. But this Stoic and still naturalistic idea is still further purified by the biblical concepts of person and freedom and by the possibilities of modern technology (themselves derivations of the biblical world view).

From “The Christian Form”