Sojourners: Christians in the world in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar

Richard Alan Collins, Marquette University


The dissertation is a study of Hans Urs von Balthasar's theology of Church and world with special attention given to his view of the role of laity in the Church's worldly mission. Balthasar, a German-speaking theologian who died in 1988, has been highly critical of certain attitudes of openness to the world within post-Vatican II Catholic theology. He has increasingly emphasized the opposition between Church and world, highlighting the distinctiveness of Christian identity as compared to worldly forms of existence and calling for rigorous spiritual formation as the prerequisite for the Church's mission in the world. Balthasar has been a strong promoter of secular institutes because, for him, they give laity the kind of rigorous formation they need for their mission in transforming the world. My study explains and critiques the polarization between Church and world in Balthasar's theology. After an Introduction, the argument of the dissertation unfolds in 6 chapters. Chapters 1-4 explicate what I have called a polarization between Church and world in Balthasar's theology. For Balthasar, the salvation brought by Christ and his Church is an eschatological liberation, a "transcendent exodus" (chapter 2) which resolves the enigma of human existence as revealed in Balthasar's tragic anthropology (chapter 1). In his view of nature and grace (chapter 3) Balthasar's accents the extrinsicism between creation and redemption in order to protect the dramatic encounter between God and the world in Jesus Christ. Finally, the polarization between Church and world is evident in Balthasar's treatment of the Church's inner nature as a community radically conformed to Christ as presupposition for its worldly mission (chapter 4). In chapter 5, I examine some of the critiques which have been made of Balthasar's work by theologians who are concerned about developing social theologies. In the final chapter, I explain Balthasar's view of the secular institute, which he saw as embodying the ideal of a Church both radically following Christ and immersed in the everyday world. In my critical assessment of his view, I argue that his vision of a Church deeply formed by Christ as presupposition for her worldly mission can be accepted but that his interpretation of the secular institute does not accord to ordinary laity a unique and distinctive mission appropriate to their state of life within the Church.

Recommended Citation

Collins, Richard Alan, "Sojourners: Christians in the world in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar" (1996). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9719092.