Symposium Introduction


Paul Valliere
Katherine Sonderegger
Cyril O’Regan
Nathaniel Wood
David Bentley Hart


Overview of “Freedom and Necessity in Modern Trinitarian Thought”  

Freedom and Necessity in Modern Trinitarian Theology examines the tension between God and the world through a constructive reading of the Trinitarian theologies and Christologies of Sergii Bulgakov (1871-1944), Karl Barth (1886-1968), and Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988). It focuses on what is called “the problematic of divine freedom and necessity” and the response of the writers. “Problematic” refers to God being simultaneously radically free and utterly bound to creation. God did not need to create and redeem the world in Christ. It is a contingent free gift. Yet, on the other side of a dialectic, he also has eternally determined himself to be God as Jesus Christ. He must create and redeem the world to be God as he has so determined. In this way the world is given a certain “free necessity” by him because if there were no world then there would be no Christ. A spectrum of different concepts of freedom and necessity and a theological ideal of a balance between the same are outlined and then used to illumine the writers and to articulate a constructive response to the problematic. Brandon Gallaher shows that the classical Christian understanding of God having a non-necessary relationship to the world and divine freedom being a sheer assertion of God’s will must be completely rethought. Gallaher proposes a Trinitarian, Christocentric, and cruciform vision of divine freedom. God is free as eternally self-giving, self-emptying and self-receiving love. The work concludes with a contemporary theology of divine freedom founded on divine election.

Reviews and Endorsements for “Freedom and Necessity in Modern Trinitarian Thought”

“In his foreword, Rowan Williams remarks that wrestling with the questions at issue in this book is a sine qua non of methodologically rigorous Christian theology. By exposing us afresh to these fundamental questions, Gallaher’s instructive and erudite study invites us to renewed seriousness in our thinking about the ratio of divine love, grace and freedom at the heart of the Christian gospel of salvation.” — Philip G. Ziegler, University of Aberdeen, Theology

“[T]he book is impressive in breadth as it is adept and highly commendable, if only for any of Gallaher’s painstaking treatments of Bulgakov, Barth and von Balthasar’s thought on so difficult and focal a subject.”–Reading Religion

Overview of “Hans Urs Von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought”

In Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought, Jennifer Newsome Martin offers the first systematic treatment and evaluation of the Swiss Catholic theologian’s complex relation to modern speculative Russian religious philosophy. Her constructive analysis proceeds through Balthasar’s critical reception of Vladimir Soloviev, Nicholai Berdyaev, and Sergei Bulgakov with respect to theological aesthetics, myth, eschatology, and Trinitarian discourse and examines how Balthasar adjudicates both the possibilities and the limits of theological appropriation, especially considering the degree to which these Russian thinkers have been influenced by German Idealism and Romanticism.

Martin argues that Balthasar’s creative reception and modulation of the thought of these Russian philosophers is indicative of a broad speculative tendency in his work that deserves further attention. In this respect, Martin consciously challenges the prevailing view of Balthasar as a fundamentally conservative or nostalgic thinker. In her discussion of the relation between tradition and theological speculation, Martin also draws upon the understudied relation between Balthasar and F. W. J. Schelling, especially as Schelling’s form of Idealism was passed down through the Russian thinkers. In doing so, she persuasively recasts Balthasar as an ecumenical, creatively anti-nostalgic theologian hospitable to the richness of contributions from extra-magisterial and non-Catholic sources.

Reviews and Endorsements for “Hans Urs Von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought”

“This sophisticated introduction to Hans Urs von Balthasar’s work shows readers who might be puzzled by some of his seemingly strange claims on infinite distance in the Trinity or the Urkenosis where these claims come from and why they get incorporated into his theology. Jennifer Newsome Martin situates Balthasar’s work so that some of the more superficial criticisms are revealed as superficial. She shows the origins of some of the revisionist theories in theology proper and why Balthasar opposed rather than affirmed them.” —D. Stephen Long, Cary M. Maguire University Professor in Ethics at Southern Methodist University

“In this book, Jennifer Newsome Martin explores a dimension of Balthasar’s work that has received little attention thus far, namely, his engagement with Schelling and the great Russian theologians of the modern era. In doing so, she casts a new light, not only on the content of Balthasar’s theology, but perhaps even more so on his ‘theological style,’ and offers a compelling response to the Swiss thinker’s critics, who accuse him of speculating too freely about the mysteries of the faith from a ‘God’s-eye’ perspective.” —D. C. Schindler, Pontifical John Paul II Institute

“With Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought, Jennifer Newsome Martin has produced an accomplished, literate, and original contribution that is much needed in Balthasar scholarship. To my knowledge, this is the only text on Balthasar and three important Russian Orthodox thinkers—Soloviev, Berdyaev, and Bulgakov—who engaged ancient Christianity with modern philosophical currents. Additionally, Martin brings to light aspects of Balthasar’s theological method that go beyond Balthasar’s own importance to broader issues in theology.” —Anthony C. Sciglitano, Seton Hall University

“By considering how Balthasar incorporates and rejects the fruits of a uniquely daring and speculative period within Russian theology . . . Martin is able to provide one of the more lucid introductions to the speculative yet ultimately disciplined character of Balthasar’s own theology . . . [Her] careful analysis of where Balthasar follows the lead of his Russian interlocutors . . . and where he demurs from their more radical conclusions in the name of Catholic doctrine and/or Christocentric theology serves a more subterranean yet compelling purpose: to demonstrate that Balthasar, whose capacious appreciation for intellectual sources outside of Roman Catholicism and indeed outside the orbit of Christian theology altogether, nonetheless was creatively orthodox in his interweaving of these disparate strands into a sustained theological vision of the fulfillment of all human endeavors—artistic, philosophical, and religious—in the resurrected life of Christ. . . . The result of this is a marvelously scholarly and non-polemical survey of some key themes in Balthasar’s theology, particularly in relation to eschatology, biblical hermeneutics, and the role of myth in theology.” —Per Caritatem

“This subtle and sophisticated book is primarily a study of the theological method of Hans Urs von Balthasar, conducted in an unusual way. It proceeds by investigating the use to which van Balthasar puts three Russian religious philosophers, Nicholas Berdyaev, Vladimir Soloviev, and Sergei Bulgakov in their use of elements from the metaphysical world-view of the German Idealist or, better, ‘Real-Idealist’ philosopher F. W. J. Schelling. . . . [Her book] contributes significantly to an historical understanding of the creative interplay between Eastern Orthodox thought and the renewal of Western Catholic theology in the mid-twentieth century.” —Journal of Jesuit Studies

“Jennifer Newsome Martin’s timely, ambitious and novel approach is fundamentally useful in understanding the nature of Balthasar’s speculative and expansive theological approach, as well as offering insights into the influence of both Romantic and modern Russian religious though upon his writings. Martin’s study makes us realize how prosaic that question [of whether Balthasar was conservative or liberal in approach] is, because she opens up entirely fresh avenues within Balthasar’s thought and even provokes new speculations too.” —Theology

“Jennifer Newsome Martin’s Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought is an incredible achievement. It serves both as an elegant scholarly study of controverted yet ill-explored areas of Balthasar’s work and as a crucial evaluation of the very foundations of Balthasar’s theological speculations. . . . It is also a remarkable work of scholarship, simultaneously unveiling Balthasar’s relationships to the Russian school and Schelling and unveiling Balthasar’s theological method. By integrating the two, Martin avoids the temptation to create method out of instinct or wishful thinking.” —Nova et Vetera

“Jennifer Newsome Martin’s book is certainly unique, most interesting, and informative in several areas that are rarely covered by the literature on von Balthasar.” —Cithara

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