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Quick Hits: Newman’s argument, Balthasar revisited, Lenten reading

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 12, 2021 | In Quick Hits

Well, perhaps these are not the three quickest hits imaginable, but I could easily have written ten times as much on each topic! So in that sense:

Vision Book Cover Prints

1. NEW LENTEN READING FROM SOPHIA

I’ve been slow to notice the fine crop of Lenten reading published this year by Sophia Institute Press. Depending on your interests and needs, one of the following brand new titles may well be right for you, and it is not too late to order. All are paperbacks priced between $14 and $18, or $9.99 as ebooks:

  • Praying with Jesus and Faustina during Lent and in Times of Suffering: Compiled by Susan Tassone, this little book offers readings for each day of Lent from St. Faustina Kowalska (who gave us the Divine Mercy Chaplet).
  • Meditations after Holy Communion: This is a series of guided meditations for every Sunday and other Holy Days, which you can certainly start with in Lent, by Fr. Edward Looney.
  • This Present Paradise: A Spiritual Journey with St. Elizabeth of the Trinity: Claire Dwyer brings her study of and devotion to St. Elizabeth of the Trinity to this account of progress in the interior life—relying on the insights of a great Carmelite mystic who died in 1906 at age 26.
  • Behold this Heart: Subtitled “St. Francis de Sales and Devotion to the Sacred Heart”, this helpful book by Fr. Thomas Dailey, OSFS introduces Salesian spirituality in a very practical and meditative manner, focusing deeply on the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
  • Aquinas on the Four Last Things: A popular author for Sophia Institute Press, psychologist Kevin Vost offers an extended review of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas on Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell—perfect for Lent.
  • Overcoming Sinful Thoughts: Subtitled “How to Realign Your Thinking and Defeat Harmful Ideas”, this useful book by an experienced priest, theologian and spiritual guide—Fr. T. G. Morrow—helps readers to learn how to do something we all must do to advance in holiness.

2. HANS URS VON BALTHASAR, REVISITED BY A THOMIST:

Theological disagreement has its own place in Lenten suffering. Some Catholics think Hans Urs von Balthasar was a “bad” theologian because he concluded that it is legitimate for Catholics to hope that all might be saved. He argued that the Father’s infinite and infinitely active Love must have a very high chance of prompting a genuine conversion, even at the last moment, from each person. We know, of course, that this hope is consistent with a loving God “who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).

I certainly have this hope, but at the same time I am not optimistic. I think it churlish not to hope that what God so ardently desires will come to pass. I pray that the most hardened sinners will all turn and cry out for God, so that the last may truly be first! Indeed, why would I struggle to join my own sufferings to those of Christ if I did not believe it would help others? But, again, little in my own experience or in my own reading of Scripture has led me to be particularly sanguine on the issue.

The majority position among faithful Catholic theologians through the ages is that an undefinable “many” will be cut off from God forever. Still, our guesses at the relative percentages may legitimately vary—and are inescapably founded on too little data. The great St. Augustine, among others, followed different arguments to different conclusions, finding no way to reconcile them, and I am not aware of any sound Catholic theologian who has claimed to settle the question once and for all.

Von Balthasar very helpfully conceived of God’s plan of salvation as a great drama, which led to many fruitful insights in his vast theological work. The main line of this work was developed in some fifteen volumes, five in his Theo-Drama series, three in his Theo-Logic series, and seven in his Theological Aesthetics series (The Glory of the Lord).

But who will read all this? Hardly anyone. This is why a new book by the brilliant Dominican Thomist theologian, Aidan Nichols, OP is so very helpful. Nichols explains Balthasar’s immense debt to St. Thomas, as well as the matters on which Balthasar’s approach to significant questions differed, and why, and how. I recommend this scholarly study for those who are deeply interested in the various schools of theology, and who would like an introduction to von Balthasar from a secure starting point: Balthasar for Thomists (243 pp. with an index and large bibliography; $16.11 paper; $12.32 ebook).

3. NEWMAN’S INCOMPARABLE ARGUMENT FOR CATHOLICISM

I find in myself a frequent desire to return to keen apologetical arguments for Catholicism, only to be deterred by the concern that, if I have written about something before, it must be unfair to readers to do it again. Or perhaps it just takes more humility than I can muster to imagine that any reader now has not gone back and read every commentary I have posted since the 1990s. In any case, it seems to me appropriate, as we prepare for Lent, for me to repeat St. John Henry Cardinal Newman’s great argument for accepting Christ and becoming a Catholic, which he made in part at various stages of his life, and in totality through his life’s work.

Let me put the argument in ten simple points:

  1. All men and women are conscious of the difference between good and evil and each of us has the sense of living under a judgment of how we will choose to act.
  2. This sense of reality implies the existence of a lawmaker and a judge, that is, of a God who actually cares about how we behave.
  3. Since we have this sense of a God who cares what we do, we must assume that He will reveal Himself and His will to us in some way.
  4. This prompts us to look throughout history, in every time and place, for a Revelation attended by signs and wonders of a type that betokens its Divine origin.
  5. In fact, we can identify such an attested Revelation only among the Jews, culminating in the coming of the Jewish Messiah, who is Jesus Christ. An urgent necessity, then, impels us to examine this Revelation closely.
  6. Assuming we find it credibly marked by Divine signs, we must further seek to understand the particular mission of this Jesus Christ, and what arrangements he made for the continuation of this mission after His bodily departure from the scene.
  7. Historically, what we find is that Christ’s mission was carried on by a Church founded by Christ Himself, and that only one institution claims to be this self-same Church, in continuance from that time until the present day.
  8. Moreover, we find, on reflection, that whatever Revelation Christ offered cannot be expected to be intact today unless He also provided a principle of authority which would protect that Revelation against human errors and cultural shifts through the centuries.
  9. And at length we find that only the Catholic Church claims to possess such an authority, and can be shown to have exercised it continuously from the first century until now.
  10. Finally, then, every person ought to reflect on the implications of his initial awareness of moral reality, and do his best to follow these implications through to their sole logical conclusion—that the full richness of God’s plan for us is preserved, expounded, experienced and lived in the Catholic Church.

It is particularly good to remind ourselves of the rational foundation of our Faith as Lent begins, lest a lack of conviction distract us from our goal or weaken our resolve. Or, as St. Paul put it:

Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. [Rom 13:11-14]

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Feb. 20, 2021 5:40 PM ET USA

    timmccmd3591: Thanks for your comment. As I said in my review of Ralph Martin's recent book, the only nit I could pick was with Martin's comments on Hans Urs von Balthasar. Martin explained to me that he did not regard von Balthasar as a bad theologian, but found his relationship with Adrienne von Speyr suspect and his reflections on the possibility that all might be saved as a key influence on the loss of our fear of hell. Both issues raise important questions, but the Church closely superintended von B's relationship with von Speyr, and he always submitted himself to the judgment of the Church in his published writings. He also worked hard to warn Catholics against the theological waywardness of the second half of the 20th century. He was named a Cardinal for his theological service by Pope St. John Paul II. I have enormous respect for Martin, but we disagree about the impact (not, I think, the substance) of von B's work. As for our young Jedi, Thomas, he is my son, not my brother, and has long since earned the right to hold opinions that may, in some small respects, differ from my own! Theological debate, I hope, will remain possible until the end of time; we cannot grasp every aspect of God at once with our finite minds.

  • Posted by: timmccmd3591 - Feb. 20, 2021 12:49 AM ET USA

    I think there's a disconnect between you and your brother re Balthasar. His podcast with Ralph Martin seems quite at odds with what you describe above. Or am I missing something?