Balthasar: “The Beatitudes and Human Rights”
I haven’t posted recently since I have been trying to finish the second chapter of my dissertation and a couple of side papers. I recently presented one of these papers at the College Theology Society conference in Portland, exploring Hans Urs von Balthasar’s understanding of the preferential option for the poor by focusing on his essay “Die ‘Seligpreisungen’ und die Menschenrechte” [The Beatitudes and Human Rights] (found in the fifth and untranslated volume of Explorations in Theology, pp.354-367).
While he raises his typical concerns regarding any focus on worldly progress and development, in this post I simply want to highlight five important moments in Balthasar’s essay:
- Balthasar explores more deeply than he usually does the unity of love of God and love of neighbor, particularly with respect to the poor: “Where the poor person is oppressed, no true relationship to God can endure” (356). Balthasar argues that this is essential within God’s covenant with Israel and is deepened to its furthest extent in Christ (Mt. 25).
- Balthasar’s general tendency in his discussion of the poverty of Jesus is to emphasize Jesus’ dependence on and obedience to the Father. In this essay, however, Balthasar also brings out Jesus’ “identification with the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the persecuted” (357) and says that Jesus’ ministry is characterized by an attitude of “drawing near” to the least among us (360).
- This essay has Balthasar’s most in-depth discussion of human rights and their grounding in a Christian affirmation of human dignity.
- For those who enjoy etymology, Balthasar illustrates his understanding of mercy and the Good Samaritan with an etymological reading of Barmherzig: to have a heart [Herz] for the poor [Armen] (365). This is essential to a full understanding of mercy and love of neighbor.
- Balthasar’s clearest affirmation of the preferential option for the poor: at a key moment in his discussion of human rights, Balthasar argues that human rights must be accompanied by a preferential option for the poor in order to ensure that human-rights language does not function ideologically (358). In addition to this ethical/political statement, we also have in this essay Balthasar’s affirmation of the preferential option as part of our understanding of who God is: God’s preference [Vorliebe] for the poor, hungry, and the persecuted as well as the merciful, the meek, and the peacemakers (363).