Hans Urs von Balthasar on Kierkegaard

The great Swiss Jesuit, or ex-Jesuit, or however he might be categorized, wrote a great response to Kierkegaard’s Concept of Anxiety. It’s called “The Christian and Anxiety”, and the whole work is as wonderfully straightforward as its title. He looks at most or even all of the most essential passages concerning anxiety in Scripture, and then pretty much comes to the conclusion, Don’t Be Anxious. The entire introduction may be found by following the link through the title of this post, and the book itself is available at Amazon for $7.40. Makes a great Christmas present! (Not for me, I already have it). Here is an excerpt from an excerpt:

One would not miss the mark if one were to describe Kierkegaard’s lucid and equally profound study of the “concept of anxiety” [1] as the first and last attempt to come to terms theologically with his subject. Prior to this in the history of theology can be found treatments that, at bottom, are no more than what Aristotle and the Stoics were able to say about this passio animæ [movement of the soul]. Since Thomas Aquinas did not develop this topic any further, not even the personal angst of the German Reformer [that is, a salutary fear related to Luther’s doctrine of “the bondage of the will”] was able to have a stimulating effect on systematic theology, which soon reverted to the schematic formulae of the Scholastic tradition.

It took the incipient cosmic anxiety of the modern, secular era, as it began to smolder beneath the materialism of the eighteenth century and with greater intensity in the postromanticism of the early nineteenth century (the first squalls presaging today’s decline-and-fall psychosis) to convince the great philosophers to let anxiety have a place in the heart of ontology and religion. Schelling, Hegel, and Baader, all three cited by Kierkegaard, were the immediate influences that prompted the Dane to treat this theme as a theologian…


  1. F.X. Martin says

    “And protect us from all anxiety, as we wait in joyful hope…”

  2. Quin Finnegan says

    … for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

    Indeed. These have at times (so many times!) been the most important words during Mass. And of course that second advent can be a cause of anxiety as well – von B touches upon this, actually, which is one of the things I like about the book.

    Kierkegaard wrote a great book, but in many ways left us with that mysterious leap so hard to imagine, let alone accomplish. Von B gives us chapter and verse, literally. The stuff on Jonah is particularly good, as I remember.

  3. Rufus McCain says

    Apart from the Eucharist, that line thrown into the middle of the Our Father is what I most hold onto in the Mass, too. Gonna have to read Von B.

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