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Theology Notebook: Concluding my reading of Von Balthasar's "Love Alone"

VI. Love is necessarily revelatory, because it necessarily conveys itself. This is seen positively in the unity of Christ's teaching and his life, particularly in the Passion. The love of Christ--Jesus in his whole life--becomes an icon of the Trinity itself, of the Love which is God. The kenosis of this love in our lives propels us forward in history in hope. Love's revelatory nature can be seen negatively in the revelation of eternal judgment in the revelation of God/Being as Love. A real knowledge and encounter with God allows both reflective atheism and the Cross itself. The Christian response to this understanding is hope; a hope distinct from mere human hope or optimism in its tie to this love striving for eternity.

VII. Christ is only intelligible as love. The suffering of this man is only intelligible as love, and the vicarious suffering of Christ is only intelligible if Love is the center of reality. All gnosticisms grow from the inability to accept this. All the details of Christian theology or dogma will only be intelligible if love is truly understood to be at the center.

VIII. Love desires love in turn. God--who is Love--desires our love in turn. Not service; not "good deeds;" but Love, "personal and absolute." Any lesser idea turns love into function, making love something you do, and not the kind of Love who is God, where love is what you are. To functionalize love is to make it an idol. Our love for Love (God) is expressed in worship and prayer, not primarily to "get something" from these activities (although this often happens as an effect) but simply to love fully and absolutely He who is absolute Love. Our encounter with our neighbour actualizes (or fails to) the whole of the gospel, including dogmatics/theology. All belief--both in the cognitive and active senses--are revealed, measured and judged in this encounter. A true (not an idealized) vision of our neighbour, as well as of ourself, is required. When we then love, we enter into God's love for the neighbour. The Church is here revealed as intrinsic to the gospel because love is only real in the midst of a group ("church") of people. The "categorical imperative" of love transcends the individual, bring each to community and then orienting them to absolute love. We see this most clearly in the lives of the saints, where Christian love becomes credible. The saints were and are wanting "only one thing, the greater glory of the love of God." The more they love God, the greater they grow in freedom (and distinction). With this understanding of love as deed, the mystery of the church as one body begins to truly be comprehensible.

IX. Love can only be measured by love, but this love appears foreign and formless to the world. We see love in its consent to God's will: in the Son to the Father, in Mary to the Angel, in the Church to Christ. God's love enters us and shapes our consent to that love, giving it its form. Everything less than that love, even all the goods of natural virtue, social justice, and the Law, must be re-oriented and centered to that love or they become dangerous and distorting. In nature, love is self-maintaining. In God, it is self-emptying, which, paradoxically, will be the only true "self-maintaining" love, even though it may call you to die. Love claims its place--as the absolute Love that is God--at the center of our lives and gives us form by putting us somewhere (and there is an endless variety of ways possible) not at the center or our own lives. The one true counsel and vow of the Christian life, then, is "to vow oneself to the crucified form of love," and only in light of this love could the world believe.

X. Christian love is not a concept from humanity and "about" God: it is God's "concept," if you will, about God and about us. We would prefer something less absolute, more easily tamed or demonstrated, because to prove its absoluteness this love must go up against every other supposed absolute, including death. The Cross is this confrontation with death and is unavoidable, but still is merely an aspect of this love, unlike moderns (Heidegger, Sartre) who want to make death the "limit" or absolute, of life. Yet the limits of human conception and knowledge here do not mean that "knowledge" is surrendered and set up against "faith." Rather, knowledge only becomes possible after faith, and without faith science and art become dehumanized, oppressive "technique" because they lack faith's freedom and love. The Creator God who is Love makes knowledge of the universe possible and meaningful, instead of a void of data, and in this knowledge we contemplate in love the One who is Love.
Tags: ecclesiology, gnosticism, mysticism/spirituality, systematic theology, theological notebook, trinity, von balthasar
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