Von Balthasar on Political Theology and the Church’s Role in God’s Drama

When Jesus is tried, he is asked about his disciples and his teaching.  His answer is: “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together; I have said nothing secretly” (Jn 18:20).  The scenes of the Acts of the Apostles take place in the same public arenas, which is why both the trial of Jesus and the testimony of the Apostles become political issues.  By opening up an horizon beyond the immediate horizon of the state, they indirectly limit the latter and subject it to an eschatological critique.  A king who is not of this world but acts in utter seriously on the public world stage is bound to be involved in the political drama.  The only question is, in what sense?  Does not Buddha too subject the whole theatre of the world and the state to a similar criticism, but in his case by projecting into onto an apolitical horizon?  And as for Judaism and Islam, do they not push the political dimension beyond itself and dramatize it by infusing it with a messianic and eschatological motive power?  Christianity stands strangely elusive between these two approaches, or beyond them both; this gives it a highly distinctive dramatic tension which is only inadequately expressed by the word “political”.  The Kingdom Christ announces as the fulfillment of history stands at the door; both individual and community have to live with all their attention fixed on it, bending all their spiritual powers toward it, but it is from God that it comes; it does not emerge from within history as the result of human effort…

The life of Jesus — contrary to [some] Jewish hopes, contrary to the messianic models of his time and contrary to the accusation which led to his death sentence — was devoid of any political claim to power, nor did it prematurely institutionalize features belonging  to the eschaton. The Christian as such may be utterly deprivatized, commissioned to act publicly as an assessor on the world stage (1 Cor 4:9; Heb 10:33) — and in this sense [she] maybe political: all the same, [her] existence cannot be classified in secular terms, and [she herself] cannot grasp it in its totality, and so the Christian cannot be simply put int o the “political” pigeonhole.

Politics concerns [the Christian]: as a “member” under Christ, the Head, [she] is in profound solidarity with each of the Lord’s least brothers [and sisters] and must realize that [she] has an inescapable responsibility for the conditions under which they live.  In this more-than-human, specifically Christian responsibility, which is rooted in Christ’s solidarity with every last sinner and poor [person], there can be no self-complacent community of Christians, no closed Church.  The Church is essentially planted in the field of the world to bear her special fruit in it and from it; she is mixed in with the world’s dough to leaven all of it; but just as the Church can only be herself in going beyond herself to the world, so, on the other hand, the world is designed, retrospectively, from the eschaton, to transcend itself in the direction of the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:25ff.).  At this very point the Church becomes the world’s substantial pledge of hope that bursts all bounds, although her leaven, which continues to ferment in society and presses for worldly power to be used in the service of justice and peace, is powerless in itself.  Or, in Paul’s paradox, it is only strong when it is weak (2 Cor 12:10).

The impotence of the Crucified in death, which remains the inner shape of even the most vigorous Christian life, can never be manipulated to “amorize” humankind.  The dramatic situation in which the Christian is consciously, and the world and its history are unconsciously, involved goes far beyond the category of politics. It complements the latter with a dimension which, depending on how one looks at it, can be described as ineluctably tragic or utopian (whether in a meaningless or meaningful sense) or as ultimately bringing reconciliation.  If the “political” is to claim relevance to the issue of ultimate meaning — and it cannot do so unless it is prepared to give up applying valid norms even within the temporal sphere — it must consent to being taken beyond itself and set in relation to this dramatic dimension of human existence, which attains its highest tension only in the Christian reality.

TheoDrama: Theological Dramatic Theory, V. 1, pp. 37-40

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