Tuesday, September 03, 2013

von Balthasar, von Speyr and Merton

FT's Maureen Mullarkey - Idolatry of Devout Ideas
The name of Hans Urs von Balthasar has become a kind of a code word among Catholics. Like the password to a speakeasy, it signals membership in a confidential circle on sequestered ground. Nonmembers have to tread carefully. Signs to “Keep Off the Grass” are everywhere. The lawn is beautifully kept.

At the risk of tripping over those staked warnings, I have to admit a high degree of nonplussment over the writings of Adrienne von Speyr and Balthasar’s drive to promote them. I spent the summer with Balthasar’s First Glance at Adrienne von Speyr, her Book of All Saints, her Confession, and The World of Prayer, each with an introduction by Balthasar. A curious phenomenon, von Speyr. Curiouser still is the aura of mimicry—Simone Weil speeds to mind—and nineteenth century spiritualism that accompanies her story. Equally nonplussing is the hagiographic obscurantism that marks Balthasar’s presentation of his protégée and alter ego.

What triggered interest in von Speyr was a passage from Balthasar’s own book on prayer which sets on a mantle shelf next to Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Prayer. Of the two, it is Merton I turn to with any frequency. Merton wrote for wayfarers on their knees; Balthasar, for the podium. Despite occasional passages of true loveliness (“All faith is resurrection faith.”), particularly welcome allusions to Martin Buber’s I and Thou, his Prayer is more lecture than companion. Merton’s lyrical acclamation—”Alleluia is the song of the desert”—finds faint echo in Balthasar’s prose...
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