An excerpt from a 1986 interview with Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, by Angelo Scola:
Hans Urs von Balthasar: Primarily, by confronting them uncompromisingly with the whole Gospel. With the whole Christ, rather than with a charism chosen at random. There is but one answer to the fundamental questions of humanity, and that is the Christian one. We are constantly returning to the same starting point: people need to recognize the incomparable, the unique character of the Gospel, not comparable to anything else in the rest of the world. In the universal history of humanity there does not exist—and never will exist—anything analogous to Christ, a man who, without resumption, speaks and acts with the authority of God. "You have heard it said . .. I, however, am telling you." This "I" has the 'weight of the voice of Yahweh. And it is not only a matter of speaking. The entire existence of Jesus, his working life, his preaching, his death and Resurrection; everything in him is an exegesis of God. If one attempts to carve out a "historical Jesus" apart from his totality, one loses all understanding, just as the disciples understood nothing when confronted with his Passion and Transfiguration.
Angelo Scola: You equate, then, Christ the man with the Word of God?
Hans Urs von Balthasar: There exists no Christ figure in the New Testament which could be isolated from the sacraments, from the magisterial or pastoral Office or from Tradition. There is a great danger nowadays: to dissent Christ into several small parts, single logoi as it were, and then to mediate or that singular aspect, only to lose the vision of the whole. There are certain theologians who close their eyes to the overwhelming apostolic authority of Saint Paul, claiming that he possessed no such authority in the Christian communities; and such folly commands a wide audience. They also claim that in his day their was no hierarchy, no episcopacy, as if that had been necessary, as long as Saint Paul himself was bishop of his communities, together with Titus, Timothy and others, whom one would call auxiliary bishops today. When he sends one of them to Corinth, he impresses on the congregation: "Receive him the way you receive me, with the same reverence." Saint Paul was highly aware of his authority. And for his part, he acknowledges the authority of Saint Peter.
Angelo Scola: In speaking of Christ, you have used two words which struck me: "unique phenomenon". How can we deal with this uniqueness nowadays? After all, this is no private event, for which it would be sufficient to read the Bible by oneself or even with the aid of an experienced exegete.
Hans Urs von Balthasar: You are right. Holy Scripture is not preeminently "a" book, but a witness to the word of God, which was sent forth to us in Christ. This word has been written down, so that we may have something solid to support us. It is, however, not Christ's will that we read him like a book; he himself has written nothing: "My words are spirit and life." During the lifetime of the apostles and immediately afterwards, there existed no "New Testament". The apostles proclaimed the life of Christ, and they did this with their own lives. Saint Paul is not presumptuous when he says: "Observe me, Christ lives in me; imitate Christ the way I imitate him." And further: "You have accepted the word for what it really is: not my word, but the word of Christ." The word of God cannot be simply recited, but requires the testimony of a living Christian, because the Word had become flesh; and hence one has to demonstrate with one's flesh what the word is.
Angelo Scola: But this living model should really be the Church?
Hans Urs von Balthasar: Of course. To the degree in which she realizes the fundamental intention of Jesus: to be a missionary Church.
The entire interview can be read in the book, Test Everything: Hold Fast to What Is Good (Ignatius Press, 1989).
OCTOBER 2005: Pope Benedict XVI Praises Hans Urs von Balthasar
Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88) was a Swiss theologian, considered to be one of the most important Catholic intellectuals and writers of the twentieth century. Incredibly prolific and diverse, he wrote over one hundred books and hundreds of articles.
• Click here for a complete list of his works available from Ignatius Press