A Dramatic Role to be Played? Hans Urs von Balthasar on the “Powers” of the New Testament -- By: Cyrus P. Olsen

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 43:0 (NA 2011)
Article: A Dramatic Role to be Played? Hans Urs von Balthasar on the “Powers” of the New Testament
Author: Cyrus P. Olsen

A Dramatic Role to be Played? Hans Urs von Balthasar on the “Powers” of the New Testament

Cyrus P. Olsen*

[1] AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;

[2] As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

[3] Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

[4] Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

[5] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

[6] Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

[7] Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

[8] Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

[9] Í say móre: the just man justices;

[10] Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;

[11] Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—

[12] Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

[13] Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

[14] To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

[15] Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, ‘As kingfishers catch fire’


Craig Hovey of Ashland University held a symposium titled “Responding to the Powers” in February of 2011. Participants were charged with the task of addressing the “Powers”, not in any incantatory fashion, mind you, but rather from the light provided by the New Testament. It was my distinct privilege to be asked to participate, and what follows is a slightly revised version of my contribution on the purported “personhood” of the “Powers” from a perspective provided by the Swiss Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar. Although I shall begin with reference to John Howard Yoder, his thought functions mainly as a foil for showing the possible points of disagreement between theologians on the topic of the “personality” of the Powers, rather than as the principle interlocutor of this essay. As we shall see, like Yoder, von Balthasar argues that the “Powers” have a “role” to play in witnessing to Christ in the New Testament, but this “role”, contra Yoder, is not in its fullest sense “theological”. Any truly “theological role” to be played by a creature, in what von Balthasar calls the Theo-Drama, requires that the creature in question responds freely to the mission offered by God. The “Powers” have rejected God’s mission, and thus cease to operate in a manner befitting the creature, namely, to allow Christ to play “in ten thousand places”, as Hopk...

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