Light in Darkness: Hans Urs Von Balthasar and the Catholic Doctrine of Christ's Descent Into Hell

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Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Feb 12, 2007 - Religion - 458 pages
He descended into hell.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century, placed this affirmation of the Nicene Creed at the heart of his reflection on the world-altering events of Holy Week, asserting that this identification of God with the human experience is at the "absolute center" of the Christian faith. Yet is such a descent to suffering really the essence of Catholic belief about the mystery of Holy Saturday?

Alyssa Lyra Pitstick's Light in Darkness -- the first comprehensive treatment of Balthasar's theology of Holy Saturday -- draws on the multiple yet unified resources of authoritative Catholic teaching on Christ's descent to challenge Balthasar's conclusions. Pitstick conducts a thorough investigation of Balthasar's position that Christ suffered in his descent into hell and asks whether that is compatible with traditional teaching about Christ.

Light in Darkness is a thorough argument for the existence and authority of a traditional Catholic doctrine of Christ's descent as manifested in creeds, statements of popes and councils, Scripture, and art from Eastern and Western traditions. Pitstick's carefully argued, contrarian work is sure to spur debate across the theological spectrum.

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As theological writings go, the works of Hans Urs von Balthasar are hard to summarize and criticize. Very often he puts forth his own opinions indirectly, by criticizing those of others and indicating, rather than clearly stating, what he takes to be the truth of a matter. Some of his most questionable views are hedged about with affirmations of traditional views which his nevertheless tend to undercut.
Alyssa Lyra Pitstick's dissertation is an outstanding piece of work. Very few doctoral candidates in theology do work comparable to hers. Unquestioning and seemingly unthinking supporters of von Balthasar's views on hell are legion; scholarly critics of it are almost entirely absent. Pitstick does two very necessary things well: (1) she raises major questions about the acceptability, for believing Catholics, of some of von Balthasar's central and most characteristic views; (2) she provides many, many references to passages in von Balthasar's writings bearing on those issues.
Is her work definitive? Certainly not. But then no work in theology is definitive. Are there defects in her work? Of course. However supporters of von Balthasar are dishonest if they deny that this book is an extremely important and valuable study, one they cannot brush aside but must deal with at least as fully as she has dealt with von Balthasar's work.
 

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Alyssa Lyra Pitstick does an excellent job in objectively portraying Von Balthasar's theological views on Christ's descent into sheol. She demonstrates very clearly and interestingly how thoroughly Balthasar departed from ancient tradition. So much of what Balthasar said influenced theological thought; consequently, this book is very important both for understanding what the Tradition has passed down on the subject and how modern theological thinking in certain areas should be critically assessed.  

Contents

Conclusion
140
Christs Descent in Light of the Trinity The Son Mission as Expression of Procession
142
From Procession to Mission and Back Again
143
Procession into the Form of a Slave through Depositing
148
The Divine Wisdoms Depositing of the Divine Wisdom
158
The Depositing of the Words Humanity
190
Death and SuperDeath
203
Conclusion
210

The Incarnation Typology and Christs Descent
33
Prefigurations of the Descent in Christs Life and Their Fulfillment
38
Christian Baptism as Participation in Christs Descent
42
The Scriptural Basis for the Summary of the Churchs Doctrine
46
1846
49
Scriptural Passages of Interest concerning the Descent
56
Conclusion
59
Magisterium and Sensus fidelium Liturgy and Art
61
Christs Descent into Hell according to Liturgical Texts
62
Icons and Tradition
74
The Icon of the Anastasis and Christs Descent into Hell
77
NonIconic Representations of the Descent
79
Conclusion
84
Hans Urs von Balthasars Theology of Christs Descent into Hell
87
The Descent Event
89
The Descent as Continuation of the Cross
90
The Expiatory Suffering of the Descent Surpasses That of the Cross
98
Christ Made Sin for Mans Redemption
105
Conclusion
112
Christs Descent in Light of the Trinity The Father Active Inflictor of the Visio Mortis
115
The Father Actively Loads Sin on the Son
117
The Father Crushes the Son in His Wrath
129
The Father Actively Inflicts the Visio Mortis on the Son
139
Christs Descent in Light of the Trinity The Spirit Bond of Love Bridge of Separation
217
Bridge between God and Man ie between the Father and Christ
221
ie between the Father and Christ in Sheol
235
Conclusion
240
The Centrality of the Descent in the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar
244
The Descent and Creation
245
The Descent as the Foundation of the Sacraments
249
The Descent in the Life of the Church
251
The Descent in Relation to the EndTimes
257
The Descent and Mariology
274
Conclusion
277
General Comparison and Conclusion
279
Global Questions about the Theological Opinion of Hans Urs von Balthasar
281
Matters concerning the Two Natures of the Son
293
Methodological Concerns regarding the Use of Tradition
314
Conclusion
337
General Conclusion
341
Bibliography
349
Works by Other Authors
354
Other Relevant Works
368
Endnotes
370
Index
450
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