Home > Uncategorized > “Jewishness” in Ellacuria and Balthasar

“Jewishness” in Ellacuria and Balthasar

Both Ellacuria and Balthasar develop their Christologies not primarily with respect to the nature of Christ but rather with attention to his identity as constituted through his living-out of a particular historical practice or mission.  And yet, whereas Ellacuria thinks of this mission in predominantly prophetic terms, for Balthasar it is fundamentally doxological and trinitarian.  Ellacuria’s Christ has a mission which challenges the socio-religious order of wealth and oppression which shapes first-century Palestine.  His practice is political–but not in a way that involves a zealot-style appropriation of the state-military apparatus but rather in a way that brings concrete healing  to those in need and a message of divine denunciation to the worldly power and greed which has victimized them.  For Balthasar, by contrast, Christ’s mission is characterized as a sending of the Son from the Father, in which his perfect filial obedience overcomes the depths of sin and reveals the glory of God.

Note where the Jews are in these accounts.  For Ellacuria, they represent religious leadership which is content with the status quo (of wealth and poverty), unmindful of the prophetic call, and thereby implicated in imperial violence.  For Balthasar, they symbolize a “horizontal” or this-worldly perspective which doesn’t grasp that Christ offers a mode of participation in a triune life, free from sin and guilt, which takes place in a transcendent, “vertical”, dimension.  In short, Ellacuria pictures Christ as speaking out against a “Balthasarian Judaism” (religious elitist indifference to poverty), and Balthasar thinks of the Son as surpassing an “Ellacurian Judaism” (horizontal, historical preoccupation).

Neither, however, seems particularly concerned with contemporary Jews or Judaism.  This seems much more problematic in Balthasar’s mid-twentieth century German context than it does for Ellacuria in El Salvador.  However, in reading them, I cannot help but think that we should be more careful about using Judaism as a polemical terrain for intra-Christian debates.  The question is: how to avoid this without abstracting Christology from its historical context?  If this context is relevant now (as both theologians contend), how is it possible to articulate this relevance without casting Jewishness as a figure for what must be combatted theologically?  This is a live issue, since the debate between Ellacuria and Balthasar–many decades later–is not over.

  1. Spencer
    January 27, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    It seems as if the error that both of them make is by casting “the Jews” in only one role – for Ellacuria they are simply equated with the elites and with Balthasar they are simply equated with the sacramentally dull. It sounds like, for both, Judaism was something happening around – or even to/against – Jesus rather than something in which he was participating.

    The problem with thinking of Judaism as something Christ was participating in, I guess, is that we then would be staking Christian interest on a certain interpretation of Judaism as normative. Which may be inevitable if we are to keep Jesus’ own ethnic/religious background in mind – he, after all, was presenting a particular interpretation of his own religious heritage – but I’m not sure it leads to a much better place for contemporary interreligious dialogue than E. or v.B.

  2. andrewlp
    February 1, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Yes, I agree. On the one hand, it seems that the problem with E and B could be corrected by identifying Jesus more strongly with his Jewish culture, and yet, on the other hand, doing so may not help us to have a positive view of *non-Christian* Judaism. But still, embracing the Jewishness of Jesus seems valuable regardless.

  3. June 5, 2010 at 11:51 am

    This is a topic of great contemporary theological concern, worthy of great admiration and deep reflection. Ellacuria’s concern for the poor is extraordinary. I must admit its most difficult to have to chose allegiance between either man. But Ellacuria’s politics, honorable, yet deeply disturbing in its context. He is a committed modernist, and a formidable one at that. I don’t think Balthasar would agree with much of what Ellacuria has done in the name of Christ. Peace, wjholland.wordpress.com

  1. July 28, 2010 at 10:48 am

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