The Trinitarian theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar and theodicy

2009 2009

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Abstract (summary)

The purpose of this dissertation is to offer a theodicy or response to the problem of evil that takes as its point of departure the trinitarian theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. The problem of evil, in essence, asks, Why is evil present in the creation of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God?

Chapter 1 defines basic terms, such as ‘problem of evil’ and ‘theodicy,’ and frames the debate on evil and theism using recent work in analytic philosophy. I begin with David Hume’s attack on ‘natural religion’ based on the reality of evil. The work of Hume sets the stage for later debates on evil in the analytic philosophy of religion. After Hume, I move to J. L. Mackie’s presentation of the atheistic argument from evil, with a focus on Mackie’s attack on the free-will defense. I then examine Alvin Plantinga’s response to Mackie and Plantinga’s endorsement of the free-will defense against Mackie’s attack. My discussion of the pivotal Mackie-Plantinga debate on the problem of evil is followed by an examination of three contemporary figures within analytic philosophy who have offered Christian responses to the problem of evil—John Hick, Eleonore Stump, and Marilyn McCord Adams. In the midst of this discussion, I pause to compare the proposals of Plantinga, Hick, Richard Swinburne, and Peter van Inwagen on natural evil.

Chapter 2 examines the trinitarian theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar in the context of recent and contemporary trinitarian theology, because I will argue that the doctrine of the Trinity is the essential Christian resource needed to answer the problem of evil. After rehearsing and critiquing the popular story of the rise and fall of trinitarian theology, as told by Karl Rahner, Catherine LaCugna, and others, I examine the tentative place of the Trinity in the doctrinal theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Paul Tillich and then the renewed emphasis on the Trinity found in Karl Barth and Rahner. The work of Barth and Rahner provides the framework in which to consider the thought of several major contemporary theologians on the Trinity—Jürgen Moltmann, Walter Kasper, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and John Zizioulas. Once the context has been set, I turn fully to the theology of the Trinity of Hans Urs von Balthasar. I argue that Balthasar’s primary account of the immanent Trinity is one of reciprocal, self-giving, interpersonal love dynamically exchanged among distinct divine persons, who share fully and equally in the one divine essence of kenotic love, and that the economic Trinity, particularly in the Cross of Christ, makes trinitarian love present to human persons.

In Chapter 3 I develop a theodicy based on Balthasar’s theology of the Trinity. I begin by discussing the nature and purpose of theodicy and various recent attacks on the validity of the theological enterprise of theodicy. After clarifying the theological aims of a Christian theodicy, and setting to the side common but inadequate responses to the problem of evil, I turn to my own understanding of a successful Christian theodicy. I begin with Scripture (Genesis, Job, and the Gospels) and then use Pope John Paul II’s Salvifici Doloris as a bridge from the Gospel account of the life of Christ to Balthasar’s theology of the Trinity and its application to theodicy. I argue that Balthasar’s interpersonal model of the Trinity as a life of communal self-giving love and Balthasar’s grounding of the economy of salvation in the immanent Trinity provide the proper framework for answering the problem of evil from a Christian theological perspective. I conclude that human suffering, united to the Cross of Christ, becomes a participation in the life of the Triune God in a way that renders such suffering of great salvific value to the one who suffers and that thus justifies God’s permission of innocent suffering. Finally, as a connection between Balthasar’s work and American popular culture, I observe the trinitarian features of the response to the problem of evil found in William P. Young’s recent best-selling novel The Shack and discover claims concerning the Trinity and theodicy that resonate deeply with the theology of Balthasar. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Indexing (details)

0318: Religion
0322: Religion
0322: Philosophy
0469: Theology
Identifier / keyword
Philosophy, religion and theology; Balthasar, Hans Urs von; Catholic theology; Catholicism; Evil; Problem of evil; Theodicy; Trinitarian; Trinitarian theology
The Trinitarian theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar and theodicy
Friesenhahn, Jacob H.
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 70/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Marshall, Bruce D.
Committee member
Abraham, William J.; Casarella, Peter J.; Wood, Charles M.
Southern Methodist University
Religious Studies
University location
United States -- Texas
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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