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Surrendering Oneself to Beauty

In First Things (April 2006, pp. 67-68), Fr. Richard John Neuhaus wrote about “Challenging a Giant,” the title of his piece. The giant is Hans Urs von Balthasar. Alyssa Pitstick challenged this alleged giant. At the Angelicum in Rome, Pitstick wrote a doctoral dissertation on Balthasar, which focused on Christ’s descent into Hell on Holy Saturday.

Fr. Neuhaus said that by reading Balthasar one is “surrendering oneself to…beauty.” Balthasar is probably the pre-eminent theologian of beauty. Of course, Hell is not beautiful, and so Balthasar does his best to expunge Hell.

According to Neuhaus, “Pitstick contends this ‘theological opinion’ of Balthasar’s entails grave departures from orthodox teaching,” namely, that Christ suffered in Hell the fate of all unredeemed mankind, so they won’t have to go to Hell. According to Neuhaus, Pitstick notes that Balthasar “misrepresents scriptural, patristic, and magisterial texts and simply ignores aspects of the tradition inconvenient to his argument…. She finally convinced me that, on the descent into hell and some other signature themes of the great man, there are, at least implicitly, possible incompatibilities with the received structure of faith…. Like the third-century Origen, to whom Balthasar was deeply devoted, Balthasar may end up with a somewhat ambiguous reputation in the history of Christian thought.”

In First Things (June/July 2000, p. 99), Fr. Neuhaus expressed dismay that the NOR would contest Balthasar on the issue of Hell. Neuhaus said, “I don’t know what NOR is up to by attacking Balthasar.” Well, now he knows.

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