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4.0 out of 5 stars The Call to Martyrdom, April 18, 2001
This review is from: The Moment of Christian Witness (Communio Books) (Paperback)
Von Balthasar is one of those rare theologians who eskews specialization in favor of an inter-disciplinary approach which seamlessly combines Scripture, systematic theology, spirituality, aesthetics, and philosophy. Balthasar has been described (by de Lubac, himself a theological genius) as the most cultured man of the 20th century, and with good reason. But the distinguishing feature of his work, as this slim but powerful volume attests, is his unwavering focus on the heart of the Christian Faith: death to self and life to God through Jesus Christ.

While this work contains a very dense and difficult treatment of modern philosophy and how it has shaped our own era and culture, it was the reflections on martrydom and self-denial that really gripped me. It is in those sections that Balthasar the Poet emerges; at one point he writes that "Everything that I am (insofar as I am anything more on this earth than a fugitive figure without hope, all of whose illusions are rendered worthless by death), I am solely by virtue of Christ's death, which opens up to me the possibility of fulfillment in God. I blossom on the grave of God who died for me. I sink my roots deep into the nourishing soil of his flesh and blood. The love that I draw in faith from this soil can be of no other kind than the love of one who is buried." This is not, suffice to say, something one would read in the writings of a Kung, Curran, or Rahner.

Speaking of Rahner, Balthasar gives a rare glimpse into his dry and rather caustic sense of humor towards the end of the book, with Rahner's controversial notion of the "anonymous Christian" being the recipient of some sharp jabs. Using a fictional dialogue between a "well-disposed commissar" and "The Christian," Balthasar shows, in biting fashion, how desperately so many Christians have sought to become relevant and accepted by society at large, having lost sight of their true calling in Christ. At the end of the hilarious, but somewhat chilling dialogue, the Christian naively exclaims: "You are a decent fellow. You are an anonymous Christian," to which the commissar replies disdainfully: "Don't be stupid, my friend....You've liquidated yourselves and spared us the trouble of persecuting you. Dismissed!"

For those looking to be challenged both spiritually and intellectually by the call of Christ, and made more aware of the difficulties Christians face in a hostile world, this is a good place to start. While never easy and occasionally disturbing, Balthasar's holiness, rich knowledge, deep spirituality, and solid Biblical exegesis are unique and refreshing in an age of spiritual fads and self-centered feel-goodism.
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