I once heard Professor Donald Macleod preach on the 'Glory of Christ'. He enunciated the English word 'Glory' with a particular Highland intensity and accent, a noticeable hushed sing-song tone, that left you in no doubt he was speaking of Reality of a different order. Von Balthasar wasn't a Highland, Gaelic speaking Calvinist preacher, he was a Swiss ex-Jesuit Catholic philosopher theologian - but his theological and biblical fascination with 'Glory' as that expression of the reality and splendour of God in Christ, which captivates, ignites and ultimately satisfies human longing, was just as passionately articulate as that of the Free Church Professor in Edinburgh.
The seven volumes of Von Balthasar's The Glory of the Lord are one long argument, meandering across and cutting deep into, a theological and philosphical landscape on the scale of the Alps. But meandering purposefully towards the conclusion that there is a divinely intended and divinely given connection, between the eternal and essential glory and beauty of the Lord, and the inherent grace given beauty of creation. And while there is a proper and necessary distinction between Creator and creature, between 'that unique existence which pertains to God alone, and that sharing in being which is common to the rest of creation', there is nevertheless a divinely intended connectedness between creation and Creator, which enables purposeful and redemptive relationship to take place in this cosmic theatre within which the Lord of Glory produces and directs the drama of redemption.
The Glory of the Lord, Wigley argues, takes its inspiration from Barth's Church Dogmatics Volume 2.1 and Barth's treatment of 'The Eternity and Glory of God'. I found this whole chapter, and indeed the argument of the whole book, to be convincing, but with a significant hesitation I'll mention at the end of this series of posts.
Convincing in that Wigley has traces key points of interaction demonstrating how Von Balthasar's theological work is constructively and self-consciously responding to what he sees as major weaknesses in Barth. Von Balthasar is offering a view of creation, createdness and creature, that allows for a God-given responsiveness in the contingent created order, answerable to the eternal transcendent beauty and glory of the Lord. For Von Balthasar, 'The whole earth will cry glory', is not only an eschatological statement, but expresses the purposeful generosity of the Creator anticipating the response of worship.
Barth is uncompromising in his position that theology begins and ends with the Revelation of the Word of God. Wigley has a fine section in which he shows Von Balthasar dissenting from this view, because it makes Revelation so dominant that other important theological truths are inevitably and disruptively eclipsed.
'In light of the form of God's revelation in Jesus Christ which unites creation and redemption through the Incarnation, there is more to theology than just revelation. There is a call to participate in the life of Christ which requires an understanding of being and the possibility of an ontological transformation of humanity....The biblical witness to God's revelation leads to a response and participation in Christ. This means in turn that epistemology is insufficient without ontology, both in terms of the transformation of the believer and ultimately of the whole created order, as the Incarnation makes knowledge of God an engagement with being itself.' (Wigley, page 83-4).
Wigley is a good theological intepreter, who like a well briefed interviewer, knows the relational history of those he interviews, understands the influences and the crises, knows how to interpret the important incidents that shape life and thought. And he is sympathetic to his subjects, representing them fairly and allowing them to not have to worry about the ambush question. This is a book that encourages you to like the two theologians whose friendship and differences gave us such a rich vein of Christian theology.