A Theological Aesthetic

by (Father) Hans Urs von Balthasar

This is an unusual work for at least a pair of reasons. First, theology in general is not known for its aesthetic treatises, and second, Father Hans' version of the aesthetic stands out as being less than Vatican II Roman in its tone -- indeed, it is not at all the sort of work one expects from an ex Jesuit. The first exception flies into the face of the works of the [pre-Catholic] Church Fathers for they were suspicious of anything amounting to a study of beauty; and the second exception stands out from typical Roman thinking because Father Hans was more a student of those same Orthodox Church Fathers than is typical of most Catholic theologians.

The first volume is part of a trilogy on philosophic-aesthetic studies concerning Roman Catholic theology. It is openly critical of German Protestant theology, but it also seems to cast sidelong glances at certain post Vatican II reforms. However, its primary focus is, as the title states, The Glory of the Lord. The trilogy comes from a seven volume set to which Father Hans very "precisely" refers as, "A Theological Aesthetics". The trilogy is completed by volumes on ethics and then on truth.

The Aesthetic Septet:

Vol. I: "Seeing The Form"

Vol. 2: "Studies in Theological Style: Clerical Styles"

Vol. 3: "Studies in Theological Style: Lay Styles"

Vol. 4: "The Realm of Metaphysics in Antiquity"

Vol. 5: "The Realm of Metaphysics in the Modern Age"

Vol. 6: "Theology: The Old Covenant"

Vol. 7: "Theology: The New Covenant"


is, the title of the septet. If it were translated into German (rather than the other way around) it might well read, "die Herrlichkeit Gottes", but then, that would be in some contrast to the actual German title below.

Tr. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis

Ed. John Riches

T & T Clark; Edinburgh; Publishers

1982; 1998 impression

Published in Germany in 1961 as:

Herrlichkeit: Eine theologische Asthetik

[Splendor/Great Beauty: A Theological Aesthetic]

Vol. 1: Schau der Gestalt

[Display of Form]

Herrlichkeit: magnificence; splendor; great beauty;

Schau: show; display; exhibit;

Gestalt: form;

These issues of interpretation must seem trivial, yet silly as it is (to second guess translated meanings), these particular terms take on special significance over the course of Father Hans' project.


Hans Urs von Balthasar 1905-1988

Hans Urs von Balthasar was born in Lucerne, Switzerland, 12 August, 1905. He attended Benedictine and Jesuit secondary schools locally, and went on to study in Vienna, Berlin and Zürich. He completed his doctoral dissertation 27 October, 1928, at the Liberal Protestant University of Zürich. Its subject was the "History of the Eschatological Problem in Modern German Literature".

In the Summer of 1927 he "received the call" to the priesthood, and on 18 November 1928, he joined the Jesuit novitiates for two years. After that he studied Scholastic philosophy under a Jesuit faculty near Munich for two years; then he undertook four more years of Scholastic theology near Lyon.

On 26 July, 1936, he was ordained into the Society of Jesus. With impending war hovering over Europe, Father Hans moved to Lucerne and stayed there for the duration. In Lucerne he established a teaching clinic for laymen, which grew into conflict with certain perceptions held by the Society of Jesus. So, on 11 February 1950, he resigned from the SJ.

He was not invited to participate in the Second round of Vatican Councils (1962-1967), but later, during the first decade of Pope John Paul II's reign, he was warmly received at the Vatican. Contrary to Pope John XXIII's feelings, JP II was impressed with Father Hans' theology and was preparing to elevate him to the Cardinaliate, when Father Hans died while preparing for Mass on 26 June, 1988 -- two days prior to his scheduled elevation.



Certain Issues & Primary Ideas to be Found in the Critique


1-01 Prolepsis with Biography & Contents

1-10 Introduction

MODERNIST SETTING of Balthasar's Studies

1-20 Creeping Modernism


1-30 Metaphysic

1-32 Being,


1-33 Ontology


1-34 Epistemology


1-40 Balthasar's Beauty

1-42 Psychology of Form / Gestalt / Perception

1-43 Nature of Images


10-44 Mimesis


Greek Chorus Aesthetics

Comprehensive Theories of AESTHETIC

10-50 Balthasar's Aesthetic

Other Categories of Critical Interest



The Other

Primal Being



Semantic Controversy