Hans Urs von Balthasar - Sponsa Verbi - Skizzen zur Theologie II
Book

Sponsa Verbi. Skizzen zur Theologie II Spouse of the Word. Explorations in Theology II

“The second volume of my collected essays, Sponsa Verbi, asks explicitly: ‘Who is the Church?’ According to the answer given, the Church in her deepest reality is the unity of those who, gathered and formed by the immaculate and therefore limitless assent of Mary, which through grace has the form of Christ, are prepared to let the saving will of God take place in themselves and for all their brothers. Wherever and to whatever extent this fundamental act of hearing the word takes place (as faith, love, obedience, bridal fidelity), there is the spiritual Church. Wherever this is lacking, the Church becomes herself the ‘whore Jerusalem’, as discussed in the lengthy article ‘Casta Meretrix’. Reception of the word by the whole man, body and soul, requires a unity of word and sacrament, as described in ‘Seeing, Believing, Eating’. The institutional aspects of the Church exist for the sake of this act and receive their intelligible form from it.”

Hans Urs von Balthasar, in My Work in Retrospect, 1965

The formal object of theology—the mystery of God in his divine depth as this discloses itself in Jesus Christ—is configured to the Christian simple heart; these two seek to be alone together and must be alone together. This is the gospel of the one thing necessary. It is not simply “faith” that is characterized thus, not simply the “hearing of the word of God”, and not simply “love” that perseveres beside Christ while the sister Martha is occupied with the many things she has to get done; rather, made possible by all of this, but going beyond all this, it is the pure mutual relationship of God and man, existing for one another, reflecting oneself in each other. This is also quite certainly more than what is usually called “prayer” in the gospel, viz., man’s speaking with God when he exposes his distress, his need, his veneration of God to him. Beyond this, it is a being for the being of God. Worldly philosophy can be inclined to describe this being above all the individual acts (which is configured to that which exists) as an inactivity or a pure passivity, and even in the Christian realm many have repeatedly misunderstood contemplation in this way. But Mary of Bethany is not “empty”: she hangs with every fiber of her heart on the mouth of the Word, she listens attentively and takes it in with her whole being; in faith and love, she is the fullness that receives the fullness of God as this pours itself out.

Because the God who reveals himself to her is the eternal love itself, the readiness of her heart, beyond acts of love, is likewise substantial love that she has poured out from the finitude of individual acts into her whole substance. This is why Christian contemplation is more than natural contemplation—amazement and ecstasy at the miracle of being. Christian contemplation is truly itself prayer, the primal act of prayer: all the individual acts can be nothing more than rays sent forth from this.

From “Philosophy, Christianity, Monasticism”