11 June, 2010

"An Ecclesial Existence"

I was delighted to find that Hans Urs Von Balthasar had written on Bernanos when I was searching Amazon for books related to my thesis topic.It was one of those innocuous-looking Ignatius Press "Communio"-line books. Usually you order them and they're tiny things, practically pamphlets (I admit, most of my experience in this line is Pieper, so my word is hardly authoritative). Given my associations with this publishing line, and the fact that I hardly expected a renowned theologian to be devoting a tome to my author-of-choice (who is so greatly undervalued in a world that often associates angst and angst alone with great literature), I was surprised to receive a 600+ pager in the mail a few days after ordering it.

Needless to say, I have not finished this book yet. Within the first hundred pages, however, it is (as one might hope) pretty clear the sort of approach Balthasar is taking. He's far too interested in--one might even say, enchanted by--Bernanos the man to veer off into abstractions about him as some archetype of the Christian writer. Yet somehow he does manage to consider him primarily as an archetype of the Christian writer while avoiding all sense that he's merely abstracting from the man. Sounds a bit paradoxical, but there it is. Balthasar takes Bernanos' life and his ideas, and uses them to present a picture of what the ideal of the Christian author is both in Bernanos' eyes and in Balthasar's own, and then in showing this slips in a hint or two that Bernanos' life, not merely his ideas, supports this ideal.

That's not to say that the book is a hagiography. Part of the respect Balthasar pays this writer is that of recognizing his faults, of pointing them out rather keenly--he never takes him as something superhuman, preferring to show openly Bernanos' failures, but always presenting them as they may be most charitably understood. And in this charitable understanding, one realizes that even these failures often contribute to Bernanos' overall mission. The sensitivity and vehemence of his personality, though his struggles against these never actually overcame them, manage to inform and give vitality to his desire to communicate the drama of God's relationship with man to a world he saw as almost bereft of the proper disposition towards its Creator. A world that is far from God, but never without hope, because the power of grace--Bernanos' most firm conviction, in Balthasar's mind--can do with it precisely what it can do with Bernanos' own failures: redeem them by making them a part of the work which it is only half consciously yearning to join.

The writer's job is not, then, some hallowed vocation above all other vocations, but rather a hallowed vocation like all other lay vocations: the writer's goal is to bring the world to the consciousness of its desires. And if he succeeds in so doing--as Aristotle, Aquinas, Bernanos and Balthasar would all agree--he will simply be bringing it to an awareness of its final end; as a Catholic would say, to an awareness that all its desires can be satisfied only in responding to God and His plan of grace for the world.

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