Date of Award

Spring 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Long, Stephen

Second Advisor

Nussberger, Danielle

Third Advisor

Doran, Robert


Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) was a Swiss-Catholic theologian of great importance in the twentieth century. His formal education included a doctorate in literature, which resulted in a massive, three-volume work on the state of German literature and philosophy entitled Der Apokalypse der deutschen Seele (The Apocalypse of the German Soul) - and licentiates in both theology and philosophy. Throughout his life, von Balthasar continued to display a thoroughgoing interest in art and theology. With a background particularly attuned to this link, von Balthasar set out to "recover" the transcendental of beauty in theology, which he argued had been a consistent facet of Christian theology from the beginning, but which had been lost or obscured in modern theology. This project is his "theological aesthetics."

Still, the question remains unanswered: what relationship does literary, dramatic language have to metaphysics? In other words, in what way does it mean? Do the two ways of speaking conflict or, if related, how are they related? Given the current state of scholarship, it has become necessary to ask the above set of questions in a focused, careful project. To narrow its vast implications, it is also necessary to ask the questions with respect to specific aspects of Balthasar's theology in the hope to establish elements that can be applied more broadly. An attentive examination of Balthasar's use of poetry in his work, coupled with an account of his metaphysics, will help to clarify the relationship between his "poetic" language and his philosophical presuppositions.

Any confrontation with von Balthasar's work must therefore respond to his unique knowledge of both theological propositions and art. This is a difficult balance to keep, and scholarship has struggled to attend to both von Balthasar's theological claims and his poetic manner of claiming them. My task in this dissertation is twofold: a careful exploration of von Balthasar's use of poetry and poetic language, and a detailed analysis of his philosophical presuppositions. My thesis is that Hans Urs von Balthasar uses poets and poetic language to make theological arguments, because this poetic way of speaking expresses metaphysical truth without reducing one to the other.

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