Saturday, July 08, 2006

World Cup Final: Moltmann vs. von Balthasar

Ladies and Gentlemen, the moment have arrived to officially start the final in the World Cup of Modern Systematic Theologians! After 39 one-on-one games we now have only one left, the ultimate battle between Jürgen Moltmann and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

For this final game we will use both comments and polls. You can vote in all the polls below, and then finally leave a comment where you give your overall opinion of the contestants, i.e. which theologian you feel is more important or worthy of the Title. However, you can chose not to vote in all the polls, and not to leave and overall opinion in the comment. All the polls and the comment-vote a weighed in when the winner is decided.

Note: I will leave this game open for about 48 hours, so everybody will have a chance to participate.


Patrik said...


As I wrote in a other game, I feel Moltmann's combining theology with politics is of utmost importance. I do not necassarily agree with the way he works this out at all times, but I feel this is something theology must do, and Moltmann has lead the way in this regard.

Gaunilo said...

Von Balthasar.

I actually felt compelled to give more votes to Moltman - the first, second, and last - but the third and fourth are decisive for me; particularly the third. Why HUvB finally wins out over Moltmann is precisely demonstrated in the tension between the questions on innovation and timeliness vs. enduring impact (what you called 'timeliness'). Moltmann has been phenomenal in taking up political and ecological questions into his theological project; but, as I've been arguing, he lacks the systematic coherency and theological foundation to really make these projects enduring and sustainable (this is seen alone in that the program of Theology of Hope falls increasingly into the background as he produced 'systematic' works). Von Balthasar has given a massive and still highly creative (7 volumes on theological aesthetics!) synthesis of the Christian tradition and modern thought, and has done important work in revivifying neglected figures - Origen & pDionysius to start with. Where Moltmann is content to say that the death of the crucified God somehow redeems us from death (and honestly very little on what this means or how it actually occurs), von Balthasar writes a book on the Passion focused on Holy Saturday and gives a detailed argument on the significance of the descent into the dead and the resurrection in brilliant conversation with the tradition. Moltmann is hard pressed to even know where to turn in the Fathers to support his arguments.

Theology will only benefit the church enduringly when it is deeply thought through, conversant with the theological tradition, and cogent in bringing both to bear on the contemporary context. Balthasar gives us this; Moltmann's influence is already fading in theology.

Of course, we need to remember that all of this is slightly artificial: we all know Barth is actually the greatest C20 theologian! :-)

Pontificator said...

Von Balthasar. He was a theologian and intellect of the first-rank. Few theologians of the past two hundred years had as wide and deep a grasp of the patristic and mystical traditions, and he was a top-notch Barth scholar to boot. His theological production was simply phenomenal. Perhaps most importantly, his theological works flow from a deep spiritual life and can only be understood through prayer.

May I also respectfully suggest that the questions are phrased to favor Moltmann.

Patrik said...

In what way? I have tried to make the questions reflect different "tastes" in theology (relevance for contemorary culture AND timelessness, University AND Church impact). Surely the notion of a "new perspective" is fairly neutral, and soemthing one should be able to aspect from a great theologian?

Joshua said...

While I am more sympathetic to Moltmann than gaunilo, I have to give the final vote to von Balthasar (if it cannot be Barth). HuvB's influence is only begining to be realized and his impact will surely increase as the Glory of the Lord and Theo-Drama are digested. (Even if it is strangely strong and romantic in English speaking Protestant circles. Protestants must read his book on the Office of Peter). That being said, his seeming lack of interest in politics, the poor, ecology, and other pressing contemporary issues is lamentable. At times his theology seems almost too cultured, too Swiss, too high-browed to really address these problems in light of the Gospel and the Chuch. However, I feel his ideas, framework, and ethos could be connected to these issues by later theologians working with HUVB's legacy.

Moltmann on the other hand leaves far too many questions unanswered, is not a good enough reader of other theologians, and pushes metaphors too far. In the end, his work is important to understanding 20th Century Theology, but I wager it will have very little lasting impact for 21st century theology (let alone 25th unless of course his eschatological promise comes true).

One of Freedom said...

How could it be anyone but Moltmann!


His works turn up not only in a broad range of theological settings, but in a broad range of ecclesial settings. Heck I know Pentecostals, normally suspicious of higher learning, who have been impacted by his work.

Moltmann has dug deep into the how and why of Church and will challenge many generations to come. Again I echo my original comment about von Balthasar: Balthatasar who?

Scott Paeth said...

It's Moltmann across the board for me, too. Important as HUvB is for Catholic theology, the ecumenical church is more influenced in every way by Moltmann's work. HUvB is of interest largely to a particular subset of theologians, and not even all Catholic theologians. Whether Moltmann's project and ideas win out over the next decades, he will nevertheless have made a major contribution to 20th Century theology (along with Rahner, who I would have given the silver to had he not been in the same heat as Moltmann). Von B., well, interesting, but not nearly as significant.

Chris Tilling said...

There can be only one, and Molty is going all the way.

kim fabricius said...

Von Balthasar describes his theology as a "kneeling theology"; Moltmann's theology is more a "theology on two feet". It's ora et labora. (Which, by the way, is why Karl Barth should be the cup-holder - he balances, spirals the two.)

But if theology begins in prayer, it ends in politics. That's why the preacher must have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other (and the theologian is the [critical] servant of the preacher). But in von Balthasar's other hand, I do not see the newspaper - perhaps this Renaissance man was too cultured to read the newspaper - I see a prayerbook. The phrase "too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly use" comes to mind. What would von Balthasar make of The Simpsons?

Von Balthasar writes that "Whoever does not come to know the face of God in contemplation will not recognise it in action, even when it reveals itself to him in the face of the oppressed." But is not this statement either true dialectically - or false? And where, in von Balthasar, are the the oppressed, the poor, the marginalised, and where is the creation, the ecology - where is the world?

There are criticisms that can sorely wound Moltmann's theology -but the criticisms I've suggested shoot von Balthsasr's theology in the head.

hewson said...

Balthasar weak on politics? This thought betrays a lack a familiarity with his project. I invite Kim to rethink his position AFTER he's read through:

Church and World
Explorations in Theology vols. 2-4
Essays from Elucidations and New Elucidations
Tragedy under Grace

Balthasar covers and converges prayer and politics by refusing to see (as Moltmann does) a dichotomy that must be bridged. Balthasar's "grace from above" places the entire human horizon (person, Church, society, world) within the theological panoramic. Without directly refuting Moltmann, Balthasar dashes the latter's artificial political theology in his In the Fullness of Faith.

My vote is for Balthasar who is read yesterday, today and tomorrow. Moltmann's shelf-life has already expired.

Shane Clifton said...

Theologian for the poor and oppressed - for women - for ecumenism (he's even done work with pentecostals , and few theologians can claim that). All that, and a delight to read.

byron said...


Nevertheless, this whole discussion has underscored a recent commitment to look at Bathasar again and at greater length. Perhaps it is our backward colonial ways, but he is yet to really make a splash in Australian circles. I've written elsewhere on Moltmann's influence and legacy (and weaknesses), and so will content myself with three: hope, bringing theologia crucis home to theology proper, and creative rediscovery and extension of social trinitarianism.

Ben Myers said...


Although I almost always voted for Moltmann in these polls! (I think the poll-questions were rather slanted in Moltmann's favour.)

Aaron G said...


Why? Because Kim convinced me.

dan said...

You know, chosing between von Balthasar and Moltmann is sort of like chosing which kid to save first when your house is on fire.

That said, I suspect that critics of von Balthasar haven't studied much his material -- and I defend von Balthasar even though Moltmann was my first love in my theological studies, and he continues to be one of the largest influences on my Christian life.

There are huge socio-political, implications in von Balthasar's writings. However, these implications are often implicit. Therefore, I wonder if critics here are actually reading von Balthasar or if people just lack the imagination to see the radical implications of von Balthasar's work. Of course, Moltmann is much more explicitly political, but if one studies (for example) The Crucified God and compares it with Mysterium Paschale, I think one will discover von Balthsar's book is just as radically political as Moltmann's -- if not more so!

This is actually something that causes me some grief -- how is it that the implications of Mysterium Paschale don't seem to have made their way into the Church or the Academy despite the fact that is is repeatedly acclaimed as a monumental work in theology? Of course, I have the same grief with the study of Moltmann. It seems that many people find him fun and provocative, but few people actually journey into suffering in the way that Moltmann suggests Christians should.

Michael Joseph said...

For those who may be interested, we've posted Ratzinger's 2005 address on the life and work of Hans Urs von Balthasar on our website, TheoPhenomenon. It may help to get a sense of the "timeless" quality of his work, as well as how Balthasar is viewed by a close associate and spokesperson of the Catholic Church.

Ratzinger's Address

D.W. Congdon said...

Von Balthasar

I agree with Gaunilo and Ben Myers. H. U. von Balthasar is intensely creative and provocative in a way that is faithful to the tradition and deeply appreciative of the diversity within the church -- giving substantial time to Moltmann and Luther, for example, among others.

BUT ... the questions were very much slanted in Moltmann's favor. I have to call Patrik out on this. I forgive you for making comments on each theologian that show your clear preferences, but these questions were very narrow indeed. If I wanted to slant it the other way, I would have written, "Which theologian shows a better grasp of tradition, philosophy, and culture?" Clearly, a question written for HUvB.

This is why you should have stuck to having only one poll: Which is the better theologian? That would eliminated the fuzziness of multiple questions. At the very least, you should have had a primary or final poll which posed the question, which is the best. I hope you will add that in light of the problems inherent in this final match-up.

Dwight said...

Moltmann -- because I've met him and I've never met von Balthasar. But seriously, given the questions you have raised, I have to opt for Moltmann. It may very well be that Von B more comprehensively reflects the history of our Tradition. (I honestly will admit that I have not read enough of him to either affirm or doubt that.)

But for me, the test is where the theology hits the world. Timeless, which has been evoked to support von B's writing, is not a satisfactory criterion for me -- it almost (and I apologize for this gross overstatement) smacks of gnosticism to me.

Moltmann's theology is durable, which is to say it stand the test of time for some time. But whether we will read him in 2100, I'm not sure. But that we read him now is critical; He models that Barthian injunction to write theology with the Bible in one hand the newspaper in the other. (I guess Barth had three or four hands!)

The relative impact of the two theologians' work favors Moltmann, I think, because it is so very steeped in the conditions out of which he writes. And he writes without giving in to the spirit of the times or surrendering the "agenda" to the world.

He's also easier to read and understand for this slogger.

Patrik said...

I'm very sorry if the questions are slanted in any way. I knew going in that the question about connection to the present age would probably go to Moltmann, and the one about timelessness would go to v.B. Indeed I voted like this myself. That leaves the other three. Is the question of a new perspective slanted? Only if someone's ideal of theology is to do nothing to but repeat what earlier writers have said. I find no such thinkers among the theologians that participate in the tournament. Basically, is H.U.v.B:s theological aestethich more improtant than Moltmanns eschatological perspective?

As for the questions regarding influence, I don't see how that could be slanted in any way, unless we assume that one of the competitors is a misuderstood genious. History may very well prove that the most important theologian of the 20th century was such a misunderstood genious, but we certainly do not have such a perspective yet.

Please, describe why you feel the questions are rigged, because I do not see it. Maybe it is my grasp of the English language that is insufficient.

Thom said...

Moltmann! His books are way more affordable. I mean, which of the two are you more likely to carry with you on the tram? Which are you more likely to highlight, underline, write it, spill spaghetti sauce or coffee (tea) on? My copies of Herrlichkeit are like reference books--bastions of hardbound expense sitting like monuments to the human intellect on the shelf there where I can see them. Moltmann gets thrown next to the bed, on a shelf in the loo, behind the seat in a car and in a stack in my cube at work. Let the spoils go to the one who is actually read, whose works are actually owned instead of checked out.

sure, it is a different tact than other, more theological posts. But book money is hard to come by.

Patrik said...

Moltmann wins vote 10-6

Ben Myers said...

Hi again, Patrik. Sorry, I certainly didn't mean to suggest that the questions were "rigged", only that they were a little "slanted" in Moltmann's favour. A little "slanting" is probably inevitable, so it's nothing to worry about!