We need to consider the positive expression of feeling that we find in our experience. We will see that they reveal the tension in identity and nonidentity. They reveal the temporal dimension of the growth of identity.
One positive dimension of the affective life is the aesthetic experience. What people describe as an aesthetic experience is simply a dimension of common human experience available to us all. Aesthetic experience typically relieves tension and quiets destructive impulses. It resolves lesser conflicts in the self and assists toward interpretation. It refines perception and discrimination. It develops the imagination and the ability to put oneself in the place of others. It is an aid to mental health. It fosters mutual sympathy and understanding. It offers an ideal for human life. Aesthetic experience is momentary. The original emotion disrupts normal consciousness, experience, and behavior. What occupied our attention before is not as interesting. We abandon occupations. It disorients our situation. It checks our daily experience. Eventually, we must resume daily experience, we must return. It satisfies our desire to see the object of reflection. We satisfy the hunger with this experience. Yet, it contains within it the beginning of a new longing or desire. In an aesthetic experience or love experience, the self does not disappear, even though one may direct one's attention so fully outside the self that it feels as if the self disappears. Such peak experiences have their own intrinsic value. Truth, goodness, and beauty form into a unity in such moments. Peak experiences bring momentary loss of fear, anxiety, inhibition, defense and control, a giving up of renunciation, delay and restraint. As a peak experience, one feels more integrated than at other times. The greatest attainment of identity is a transcending of self, a going beyond and above selfhood. We feel ourselves to be at the peak of our powers, using all our capacities at the best and fullest. People feel lucky, fortunate, and graced. Joy surprises us. Aesthetic contemplation is for the sake of enjoyment. We would not continue to attend to the object of contemplation if doing so were not enjoyable. We savor the experience, rather than classify and identify it. Although analysis may enhance such savoring of experience, it often stifles it. The object of contemplation goes beyond practical use as well. We often quickly determine the utility of an object. When something in our world overwhelms us, forces itself upon us, disrupts us, we have gone beyond utility. Aesthetic experience brings us to see the surplus of human experience.
A second positive dimension of the affective life is beauty. It involves the individual in an inward mental self-transfiguration, even if only for the moment when the beautiful captures the eye. The unity that explorations in truth and goodness seek is already present in the aesthetic experience. As such, the experience hints at and anticipates a unity or harmony human beings seek. The beautiful simply strikes as such, and we contemplate it. Our intuition that something is beautiful becomes the basis for the aesthetic moment. We might think of the moment as more like a form of intoxication or dream, as over against the Idealist notion that one encountered it in the imagination.
An occasion of beauty incites and requires an act of replication. An occasion of beauty prompts the begetting of children; it prompts a copy of itself. We are willing to revise our own location in order to place ourselves in the path of beauty is the basic impulse underlying education. We cannot conceive of a beautiful thing that does not have the quality of replication as an impulse toward creation that results in both the famous painting and in the mundane act of staring.
Beauty takes place in particulars - a painting, a symphony, a poem, a novel, etc. Beauty has a sacred and unprecedented character. Beauty saves lives and confers the gift of life; it quickens adrenalin, making the heartbeat faster. It makes life increasingly vivid, animated, living, and worth living. The beauty of a phenomenon captures our attention, puts us out of gear with practical life, and forces us to view it on the level of aesthetic consciousness. The object focuses our attention outside self. Beauty also incites deliberation; it fills the mind and invites the search for something beyond itself, something larger with which we need to bring it into relation. Beauty causes us to gape and suspend thought, while also causing us to reflect upon precedents and parallels and move forward toward new acts of creation. It causes us to bring things into relation with a kind of urgency as though one's life depended upon it. Beautiful things have a forward momentum, inciting the desire to bring new things into the world. Beautiful things also incite us to move backward, to the ground out of which we may rediscover and whatever makes a new thing.
What can we hope to bring about in ourselves when we open ourselves to and actively pursue beauty? As those who behold beauty, we seek to bring new beauty into the world and may become successful in this endeavor. We become increasingly beautiful in our interior life. Further, beauty is life-saving and life-restoring. We receive the gift of life in our perception of beauty, as well as bestow life.The aesthetic moment and the experience of beauty is an analogy to the experience one may have of God. Such experiences focus upon the moment that captures us. It focuses our attention upon the event. To see God in revelation is to refuse to allow human history to be nothing other than the accidental truths of history. A moment that we come to see as divine revelation stands out, captures our attention and disrupts us. That moment is no longer like any other moment of history or like our daily life. We orient our lives around the center, from which the light of beauty shines. The Bible refers to this as the glory of the Lord that human beings experience as shining forth as light. Such light intends to enlighten our path. Theology itself can have its beauty. The theologian can see, hear, and behold that which captures her or him. It can capture us, rapture us, and even transform us. Revelation directs our attention to that which outside us, to its time and place. This gives us the appearance of pure objectivity. Yet, the “exterior” witness must unite with an “interior” witness, with the light of faith. It may well begin as a largely personal experience, but the fact that one has responded to a witness from history will quickly bring us to that which transcends the personal. If we understand aesthetic appreciation on analogy with the response of faith in revelation, then we are embarking upon a theological analysis of existence. This will require close attention to the understanding of Christian existence that we find in Paul and John. Faith is attentive to the divine voice. On analogy with the experience of beauty, human experience is an event. Within Christianity, faith is surrender to one who has surrendered himself for us. Therefore, as beauty moves us toward its object and away from self, so faith moves us away from self and toward the object of revelation. Since Christian existence is movement toward its goal, it is more like a flight toward a destination than a state or condition at which one arrives. The point of the response of faith is attunement or consonance with God. To state it philosophically, the soul learns to attune itself with Being. Such attunement is a response to grace and is the ontological elevation of human life. In the church, the reception of sacraments is a sign that grace comes toward us. The danger in focusing upon experience is that it will overwhelm the objectivity of the event of revelation. In the Christian tradition, the mystical and the ordinary must find their unity. We can best see these explorations in the writings of Irenaeus, the Philolakia, and the Middle Ages. If we were to explore these matters from psychology, we might consider the nature of archetypes. The archetype lifts one into the image enables participation in it. The perception of God through revelation, then, depends on God becoming world in the Incarnation. The total revelation of God is that to which eschatology points. Yet, that total revelation will be homogenous with its beginning and continuation in human history. The Bible shows revelation as sensory and objective (not simply inward and spiritual). Revelation always has a proleptic or anticipatory element. For example, the Old Testament has myth behind it and the Incarnation ahead of it. The Old Testament has a proleptic element in that sense. The unity of body and soul we find in Barth, Romano Guardini, and Paul Claudel is consistent with the Christian notion of Incarnation, as God confronts humanity in the act of kenosis or self-emptying. Experience needs the objectivity that the Body of Christ. In all our explorations of Christian existence, we need to remember that we must never close it off. It must always remain open to the freedom of revelation. Christ is the epiphany of God for the world. People receive Christ within the context of the church, where Christ shines. Christ reaches the generations through the Sacrament and the Word. Yet, Christ stands apart from the church, as the one who died for us. What we have seen thus far is that an objective form stimulates the subjective aesthetic experience. In that way, subjective experience is an anticipation of the fullness of the object that stimulates the experience. Applied to the discussion concerning divine revelation, this means that the Infinite and Eternal God is beyond human experience. The form of revelation must be a form of the world and must be the perfection of what God intended in creation in order for humanity to see, hear, and respond. The form of revelation is the specific focus of John 1:1-18, Hebrews 1:1-4, and II Corinthians 3:13-4:6. Yet, the revelation always contains a hidden quality. As an analogy, the work of art is an expression of the artist without fully disclosing the artist. The accompanying, sustaining, and life-giving activity of God represents the commitment of God to what God has created. For that reason, human beings can reasonably entrust themselves to God. This revelation occurs in the Word and in humanity, yet, concealment is an implication of revelation. Of course, in Christianity is the center of the form of revelation. In fact, the plausibility of Christianity presenting a true view of God rests upon the plausibility of this fact. Any Christian presentation of the New Testament will show both the inherent power of the form of divine revelation in Christ by focusing upon the work of the Spirit through Christ, presenting the uniqueness of the form. The form of Christ is inseparable from the work of God in Israel. The form of Christ also fulfills the religious hopes of humanity. Yet, Christ is also accessible through the historical moment he appeared. We do not read of his conversion or calling precisely because his life is identical to the form of revelation. As the bringer of salvation, he comes in an historical rather than mythological or eschatological figure he is the image of God. Yet, any Christian presentation of Christ must also show the hiddenness and misapprehension of Jesus. Along with the nature of divine revelation having hidden quality, human guilt and blindness contribute to such hiddenness. The Gospel presentation of Jesus presents both his inherent power in the Spirit and his hiddenness as divine revelation. The form of divine revelation in Christ comes to us through scripture and through the church. We receive the form of Christ in the sacraments and in proclamation of the kerygma. The attestation of the form comes to us through the witness of the Father. It comes to us through the testimony of history, especially in the discontinuity and continuity we find in Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament provides us with a basic anthropology, a basic eschatology, and a focus upon divine judgment that opens the door for us to hear the message of grace. We also have the testimony of the cosmos, which the Bible expresses in terms of the powers, the miraculous, and angels. Myth returns in the eschatological reduction of all things to the forming work of the divine potter over the clay of this world. It refers to divine judgment of all that opposes God. It also refers to the fulfillment of the work of God in salvation history. The Lord will make all things new because the old has passed away. What we have done is consider revelation from the standpoint of beauty. The fineness and beauty in the world is an analogy to the beauty, splendor, and glory of Christ. The gift of love is that God wills to be with us. Revelation perfects created nature. Beauty rises into relationship with God. The motivation of a great theology invites us to gaze upon divine splendor.
(von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 57-218.
(von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 219-301.
(von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 301-365.
(von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 365-428.
(von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 429-435.
(von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 435-463.
(von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 463-527.
(von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 527-604.
(von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 605-678.
(von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 679-683.
(von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume 2, 11-30,
where he will want to provide historical color to the first volume by considering
Irenaeus, Augustine, Denys or Dionysius the Areopogite, Anselm, and Bonaventure.