This dissertation examines, clarifies, critiques, and, in the end, enriches Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theological vision by exploring more adequately the place of historical oppression, suffering, and liberation within his theodramatic account of Jesus Christ, the Christian life, and history. Four questions are posed as a challenge to Balthasar: to what extent does he present the Christian life 1) as life-in-the-world, 2) with a challenge to the status quo of the world, 3) with a call to transform the world, 4) and as shaped by the preferential option for the poor?
After outlining these fundamental questions the dissertation begins with discussions of Ignatian spirituality and the idea of a theodramatics. The second chapter builds upon these foundations by exploring Balthasar’s Christology and anthropology of mission. Here the Christian life is conceived of as fully in-the-world as one responds to God’s call to act in and for the world in accordance with love. The third chapter responds more directly to the second and third questions as it develops Balthasar’s account of history, human action, and the Kingdom of God. This chapter concludes with a critical reading of Balthasar’s responses to liberation theology.
The culminating chapter focuses its attention directly upon the place of the preferential option within Balthasar’s theology. Balthasar affirms the preferential option as ethical/political and as part of our understanding of God. This affirmation is unambiguous and yet rather formal – it remains underdeveloped and at the periphery of his work. Through an engagement with the work of Jon Sobrino, Balthasar’s account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the Christian life today is reconfigured in two ways: in his aesthetics by focusing our gaze on the particularity of Jesus Christ and his merciful love of the poor; in his theodramatics by attending to the role of historical oppression within our relation to God and one another and to the place of the preferential option within a theodramatics attentive to the suffering of the poor and vulnerable. This widening of Balthasar’s vision concludes with an engagement with the figure of Oscar Romero within Balthasar’s theology of sanctity.