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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hans Urs von Balthasar and Holy Saturday

So, What Did Jesus Do On Holy Saturday? ....

[...] That question has spurred centuries of debate, perplexed theologians as learned as St. Augustine and prodded some Protestants to advocate editing the Apostles' Creed, one of Christianity's oldest confessions of faith. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and most mainline Protestant churches teach that Jesus descended to the realm of the dead on Holy Saturday to save righteous souls, such as the Hebrew patriarchs, who died before his crucifixion .....

But some Protestants say there is scant scriptural evidence for the hellish detour, and that Jesus' own words contradict it. On Good Friday, Jesus told the Good Thief crucified alongside him that "today you will be with me in paradise," according to Luke's Gospel. "That's the only clue we have as to what Jesus was doing between death and resurrection," John Piper, a prominent evangelical author and pastor from Minnesota, has said. "I don't think the thief went to hell and that hell is called paradise." ...

I agree with Piper that Jesus went to paradise, not hell, but still, Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote some compelling stuff about Jesus' descent and there was a past discussion at First Things about his Holy Saturday theology (Balthasar, Hell, and Heresy: An Exchange ... More on Balthasar, Hell, and Heresy ... Responses to Balthasar, Hell, and Heresy). I do remember that discussion, and there was another article on the subject they failed to mention, perhaps because it's by a different person - Was Balthasar a Heretic?.

The discussion was about whether Jesus descended into hell suffering and abandoned by God (Balthasar), or instead triumphant, harrowing hell .... the "heretical" stuff comes in maybe because Luther and Calvin took a similar pov as Balthasar. I want to mention another article, one I posted bits of before - The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail by Baylor University Professor of Theology and Literature, Ralph Wood .....


No serious consideration of hell should omit one of the church's most ancient claims in the Apostles Creed—that Christ was not only "crucified, dead, and buried," but also that he "descended into hell" ... The single slender thread of "evidence" is found in 1 Peter 3:19-20 and 4:6, where we learn that the crucified Christ "went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the day of Noah," so that "the gospel was preached even to the dead" .....

Hell is not a temporal but an eternal realm, the horrible spiritual state of God's utter absence. Since Christ plunges into hell and preaches to the spirits of the dead, winnowing some of them from hell, it follows that others who have never been given the Good News can still be released from the post-earthly prison of death and damnation. For Christ's victory is not confined to this present life alone. He is also the Judge and Lord over hell. Thus does the doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell enable us to affirm, with Paul in Romans 8:38-39, that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus—neither death nor demonic powers nor even the abyss of hell.

No one has stated this Pauline hope more clearly than the great Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar. Exactly in his descent into hell, writes von Balthasar, Christ "disturbs the absolute loneliness striven for by the sinner: the sinner, who wants to be 'damned' apart from God, finds God again in his loneliness, but God in the absolute weakness of love … enters into solidarity with those damning themselves."

A radically different interpretation of Christ's descent into hell has been offered recently by the Presbyterian theologian Alan E. Lewis in a remarkable book, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday. He maintains that, if we take seriously the doctrine that Christ assumed our full humanity, then we must retrieve Luther and Calvin's insistence that Christ endured the unfathomable suffering that comes from total abandonment by God in death. Lewis rightly fears that we cheapen Easter if we do not attend to the hellish Sabbath in which God himself lay in the godforsakenness of the grave .....

Whether we read Christ's descent into hell as a triumph or a defeat, it remains a crucial concern for all Christians. With his usual crispness and clarity, G. K. Chesterton sums up the enormous significance of the doctrine: "Christ descended into hell; Satan fell into it. One wanted to go up and went down; the other wanted to go down and went up. A god can be humble, a devil can only be humbled."


A related topic is the opinion Hans Urs von Balthasar had that there may actually be no one in hell (Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved"?: With a Short Discourse on Hell). There were a number of articles on him and this idea .....

I think the first one was at First Things by Avery Dulles - The Population of Hell which defended Balthasar.

There was Fr. Regis Scanlon's article, originally in the New Oxford Review, blasting Balthasar's view on hell - The Inflated Reputation of Hans Urs von Balthasar

Richard John Neuhaus' article in First Things, defending Balthasar against Scanlon - Will All Be Saved?

Dale Vree's article in the New Oxford Review, answering Neuhaus - If Everyone is Saved ...

There's more of the guys above :-) but perhaps the next one to read would be found in the New Oxford Review by Janet Holl Madigan - In Defense of Richard John Neuhaus

And let's not forget David Watt's article, originally in the New Oxford Review, against Balthasar's view - Is Hell Closed Up & Boarded Over?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Acts 26:24 is probably a good thing for all of us to remember.

8:30 AM  

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