Balthasar, his Christology, and the Mystery of Easter | Aidan Nichols OP | Introduction to Hans Urs von Balthasar's Mysterium Paschale
Balthasar was born in Lucerne in 1905.  It is probably significant that he was born in that particular Swiss city, whose name is virtually synonymous with Catholicism in Swiss history. The centre of resistance to the Reformation in the sixteenth century, in the nineteenth it led the Catholic cantons in what was virtually a civil war of religion, the War of the Sonderbund (which they lost). Even today it is very much a city of churches, of religious frescoes, of bells. Balthasar is a very self-consciously Catholic author. He was educated by both Benedictines and Jesuits, and then in 1923 began a university education divided between four Universities: Munich, Vienna, Berlin — where he heard Romano Guardini, for whom a Chair of Catholic Philosophy had been created in the heartland of Prussian Protestantism  - and finally Zurich.
In 1929 he presented his doctoral thesis, which had as a subject the idea of the end of the world in modern German literature, from Lessing to Ernst Bloch. Judging by his citations, Balthasar continued to regard playwrights, poets and novelists as theological sources as important as the Fathers of the Schoolmen.  He was prodigiously well-read in the literature of half a dozen languages and has been called the most cultivated man of his age.  In the year he got his doctorate, he entered the Society of Jesus. His studies with the German Jesuits he described later as a time spent languishing in a desert, even though one of his teachers was the outstanding Neo-Scholastic Erich Przywara, to whom he remained devoted.  From the Ignatian Exercises he took the personal ideal of uncompromising faithfulness to Christ the Word in the midst of a secular world.  His real theological awakening, however, only happened when he was sent to the French Jesuit study house at Lyons, where he found awaiting him Henri de Lubac and Jean Daniélou, both later to be cardinals of the Roman church. These were the men most closely associated with the 'Nouvelle Théologie', later to be excoriated by Pope Pius XII for its patristic absorption.  Pius XII saw in the return to the Fathers two undesirable hidden motives. These were, firstly, the search for a lost common ground with Orthodoxy and the Reformation, and secondly, the desire for a relatively undeveloped theology which could then be presented in a myriad new masks to modern man.  The orientation to the Fathers, especially the Greek Fathers, which de Lubac in particular gave Balthasar did not, in fact, diminish his respect for historic Scholasticism at the level of philosophical theology.  His own metaphysics consist of a repristinated Scholasticism, but he combined this with an enthusiasm for the more speculative of the Fathers, admired for the depths of their theological thought as well as for their ability to re-express an inherited faith in ways their contemporaries found immediately attractive and compelling. 
Balthasar did not stay with the Jesuits. In 1940 they had sent him to Basle as a chaplain to the University. From across the Swiss border, Balthasar could observe the unfolding of the Third Reich, whose ideology he believed to be a distorted form of Christian apocalyptic and the fulfilment of his own youthful ideas about the rôle of the eschatology theme in the German imagination. While in Basle Balthasar also observed Adrienne von Speyr, a convert to Catholicism and a visionary who was to write an ecstatic commentary on the Fourth Gospel, and some briefer commentaries on other New Testament books, as well as theological essays of a more sober kind.  In 1947, the motu proprio Provida Mater Ecciesia created the possibility of 'secular institutes' within the Roman Catholic Church, and, believing that these Weltgemeinschaften of laity in vows represented the Ignatian vision in the modern world, Balthasar proposed to his superiors that he and Adrienne von Speyr together might found such an institute within the Society of Jesus. When they declined, he left the Society and in 1950 became a diocesan priest under the bishop of Chur, in eastern Switzerland. Soon Balthasar had published so much that he was able to survive on his earnings alone, and moved to Einsiedeln, not far from Lucerne, where, in the shadow of the venerable Benedictine abbey, he built up his publishing house, the Johannes Verlag, named after Adrienne von Speyr's preferred evangelist. She died in 1967, but he continued to regard her as the great inspiration of his life, humanly speaking.