Cosmic Liturgyby Hans Urs von Balthasar
Von Balthasar was an authority on the Church Fathers—Irenaeus,
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Maximus the Confessor, saint and martyr, is the theologian of synthesis: of Rome and Byzantium, of Eastern and Western theology, of antiquity and the Middle Ages, reexcavating the great treasures of Christian tradition, which at that time had been buried by imperial and ecclesial censure.
Von Balthasar was an authority on the Church Fathers—Irenaeus, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius Ponticus, Augustine, and above all, Maximus the Confessor. This masterpiece on Maximus broke new ground at that time. Subsequent editions included new material from decades of research. This is the first English translation of the latest edition of this acclaimed work.
This book presents a powerful, attractive, religiously compelling portrait of the thought of a major Christian theologian who might, for this book, have remained only an obscure name in the handbooks of patrology. It is based on an intelligent and careful reading of Maximus’s own writings. Here the history of theology has become itself a way of theological reflection.
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First off, the formatting for the Nook Book is superb. There is a helpful Table of Contents, and the (many) footnotes are hyperlinked, making it easy to switch between text and notes. The Introduction is superb and says far more than I myself can. I'll limit this to explaining the overall thesis of the work. Balthasar sees in St. Maximus the Confessor a kindred spirit, someone with an aesthetic metaphysic especially relevant to the postmodern world. This book exists in part to point thinkers to the wisdom of the past and how, despite our pretensions to progress, the Christological speculations of which Maximus was the apex contain an understanding of being and the world especially salutary to the metaphysical trends that 20th century Continental thought have advanced. Of personal interest to me was how much Maximus (or at least Maximus by way of Balthasar) relates to the fundamental ontology of early-Heidegger's thought. Which gets us to the other major thesis of the book, one that I find convincingly argued. It was the thought of Maximus that eventually paved the way for German idealism (and later phenomenology through it). Maximus' thought, Balthasar so helpfully emphasizes, is that of a "synthetic" theology: synthesizing West and East, Aristotle and Dionysius, analytics and mysticism, human and divine. And this synthesis isn't just a compilation of previous theological and metaphysical thought but represents a fundamentally new understanding of Christian ontology. Maximus' insight has depth enough for a wholly new vision of possibility for Christian thought. Or so at least Balthasar contends--the lines between the two theologians blur throughout the book, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.