FIRST THINGS Moment of 2007

Or Is Balthasar a Heretic? This Crazy Lady Thinks So…

ft_2007-01Now that 2008 is winding down, I got to thinking about the year that was. In that I am eagerly awaiting the next issue of FIRST THINGS (should be arriving soon), I began to ponder the journal’s memorable moments of this past year and years past. It seems that every year there are at least a few exchanges or essays that stand out and tend to be talked about for quite some time. One such exchange occurred in 2007 between Alyssa Lyra Pitstick and Edward T. Oakes, S.J. For those who follow the journal you are well aware of what I speak. Here you had this upstart theologian – Pitstick – who in her doctoral dissertation decided to question the orthodoxy of the great Hans Urs von Balthasar. Oh, the nerve! I tell you…. kids these days!

The controversy in question surrounded Balthasar’s theology of Christ’s decent into Hell wherin he believed Christ’s passion was continued after his death on the cross, which thereby made his descent into Hell an instrument of our salvation, part of the propitiatory sacrifice. (I’ll let anyone more studied in the thought of Balthasar clarify my description of his theology if needed). Pitstick, I think fairly, questioned if this aspect of Balthasar’s thought squared with what has always been the orthodox Catholic understanding that Christ’s descent into hell was a victorious one, not a suffering and salvific one. As I say, I think the question is a fair one, but Oakes didn’t seem so sure. In fact, he was in some ways credulous that one of the Church’s greatest theologians and a Cardinal, mind you, was questioned in such a way. Now, you must understand, Oakes is a distinguished scholar in his own right, and widely considered to be an expert in the theology of Balthasar. That is precisely what made it so astonishing that he defended Balthasar so poorly, or so I (and many others) thought. The exchange is well worth reading, and is highly entertaining…. Well, entertaining if like theology a little too much :)

It actually all started in December of 2006 with an initial exchange between Pitstick and Oakes entitled Balthasar, Hell, and Heresy: An Exchange.

The exchange was continued in the next issue of FT, January 2007, with a follow up exchange: More On Balthasar, Hell, and Heresy.

Then in March 2007, a special correspondence section was dedicated entirely to the exchanges, with the first letter coming from the late Cardinal Dulles: Responses to Balthasar, Hell, and Heresy.

The exchange was then left off and we duly moved onto other topics in FT. But for those 4 months, “The Pitstickian Wars©”, as I like to call them (yes, I have copyright), were front and center. They caused quite a stir, and that is precisely why reading FT can be so darn enjoyable.

In the next post I’ll cover a few of the items that I thought were memorable from the pages of FT in 2008.

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