Home > Uncategorized > Balthasar: “The Beatitudes and Human Rights”

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).
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  1. Tim Y.
    June 16, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    Do you happen to know if there are any plans to translate the 5th volume that this essay is out of?

    Does Balthasar talk about the idea of self-surrender at any point in relationship to the poor in this essay? It seems like his spirituality is heavily oriented toward obedience and self-surrender. It would be interesting to see how he would apply that type of spirituality to those who are oppressed or in poverty and how that type of spirituality might contradict or enhance human rights.

    Thanks for sharing this post!

    tim

    • Todd Walatka
      June 17, 2010 at 6:51 am

      Tim,

      I just heard that the fifth volume is being translated but is probably still a couple years from actually being published.

      Balthasar does not focus directly on the ways in which the poor are called to self-surrender. Nevertheless, one can assume that two general senses apply as they do for others: obedience and self-surrender to God (indeed, Balthasar often points to the “poor of Yahweh,” the anawim who are praised for turning to God in the midst of their poverty) and self-surrender to one another in love. The former is key to Balthasar’s construal of human dignity. In our self-surrender to God, we receive grace, grace which includes a call to act in and for the world. This call to mission/vocation is described by Balthasar as “personalizing” and “de-privatizing.” The latter, if understood without a call for justice, could ideologically ignore the place and needs of the poor (i.e. the poor need to surrender to the rich as much as the rich need to surrender to the poor). This is one of the reasons why I think this essay of Balthasar’s is so important. He brings out so clearly the idea of Christ’s solidarity with the poor and the call of the Christian to act likewise. Here is a quote from another work which illustrates the same idea: the Christian is called to be “in profound solidarity with each of the Lord’s least brothers and must realize that he has an inescapable responsibility for the conditions under which they live. In this more-than-human, specifically Christian responsibility, which is rooted in Christ’s solidarity with every last sinner and poor man, there can be no self-complacent community of Christians, no closed Church” (Theo-Drama 1.39).

  2. Tim Y.
    June 17, 2010 at 7:17 am

    Thanks Todd! My dissertation is on the kenotic motif in Balthasar’s writings placed under the lens of human flourishing (whatever that means) so it sounds like this essay will be important for me. I wish my German was better though. 🙂

    • Todd Walatka
      June 17, 2010 at 7:29 am

      You may want to look at pp. 358-359, where Balthasar connects Jesus’ solidarity with the poor to divine kenosis. Good luck on the dissertation (and the German)!

  3. maddalena
    December 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    Is there any translation in English just of the essay about the beatitudes and human rights? I can read it in Italian and in German but I was looking for an English translation.
    Is there any scholar in law who are working on human rights theory referring to Balthasar essay?

    • Todd Walatka
      December 17, 2013 at 8:25 am

      There is no English translation and I’ve never seen someone reference the essay (even in theology!).

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