The central panel in the triptych, which is Von Balthasar's theological masterpiece, is goodness. The first panel is The Glory of the Lord and expounds beauty as reflected in creation from the beauty of God the Creator. The second and central panel is Theo-drama, a careful impassioned telling of the drama of redemption in terms of goodness, the goodness of God which is selflessly poured out in Christ, by sheer benevolence and personal expense of suffering.
It is in the chapter dealing with Von Balthasar's Theo-Drama, and Karl Barth's response to it, that Wigley's book provides valuable and important perspectives on these two theological allies who differed, and despite the mutual respect and courtesy, never agreed to differ. The fundamental differences and even incompatibilities between Barth's reconstructed Reformed perspective and Von Balthasar's traditional Catholicism revived and revised, are brought out in Wigley's careful detective work. In the Theo-Drama there are few explicit references to Barth, but as Von Balthasar wrestles with the immensity and infinite goodness of God as revealed in Christ, he is determined to hold the balance between the infinite and the finite, the divine and the human in Christ, and between divine freedom which is infinite and human freedom which is finite.
[God in Christ] simultaneously opens up the greatest possible intimacy and the greatest possible distance (in Christ's dereliction on the cross) between God and man; thus he does not decide the course of the play in advance but gives man an otherwise unheard-of freedom to decide for or against the God who has so committed himself. (Theo-Drama, Vol. 3, page 21)
Thus Von Balthasar in redressing the balance, expounds the importance of finite freedom as human response to the infinite freedom of God. The response in the drama of redemption of such central figures as Mary, the paradigmatic saints and the Church as the Body of Christ embodied on earth, is not so much a compromise of the 'all of grace' truth at the heart of the great Theo-Drama of God's saving action. Human response is already written in to a creation which exists by the infinite freedom of God, that infinite freedom constricted by the free goodness of God, to invite the participation of creation, and humanity in the redemptive purposes of God in Christ. This is Von Balthasar's response to Barth making the Revelation of the Word of God, and thus Christology, the sum of theology to the exclusion of other essential balancing truths.
Wigley is a persuasive guide, and fair-minded in allowing both voices to be heard in the conversation. So here is Barth's response to Von Balthasar's criticism that Barth made too much of Christology and not enough of the Church.
I now have an inkling of something which at first I could not understand: what is meant by the 'christological constriction' which my expositor and critic urged against me in mild rebuke. But we must now bring against him the counter question, whether in all the splendour of the saints who are supposed to represent and repeat Him, Jesus Christ has not ceased - not in theory but in practice - to be the origin and object of Christian faith. (Church Dogmatics Vol. IV.1, page 768)
And so the debate continued - and continues, as a high wire theological balancing act that's been going on since the early days of the church. The arguments about the role of human response in the story of salvation, and whether the sole sufficiency of Christ as origin and object of faith, is compatible with making human response decisive in the drama - to which Barth's answer is No! - and Von Balthasar's answer is yes, if, out of the goodness of God's heart, as Von Balthasar maintains, that human response of freedom is itself God's intentional free gift of co-operating with God in the performance of the greatest, costliest drama in universal history.