The Splendor of Theology

When the truth and the life of the Catholic Thing coexist, the result will constitute nothing less than the splendor of theology itself.  

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In the Scriptures we are repeatedly reminded that Christ came into the world to bring us truth and life—the truth about Himself and the Father that we might see ourselves in relation to Him; and life that we might actually come to share in the very mystery of His own divine and eternal life.

These two components of our common faith are constantly at play in the Revelation brought by Christ. If the first belongs to the realm of aesthetics, consisting of our seeing the form, the human figure assumed by the Second Person, the Incarnate Word of God, then the second belongs to the realm of ethics, providing the real possibility of conforming our lives to the perfect model set down by Christ in His relationship with us.

It is in Christ that we are privileged to see the Glory of God shining upon the human face of Jesus; while, at the same time, being empowered by His grace to make choices fully aligned with His own life, the meaning of which is sheer self-giving love.

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“Nothing is more beautiful than to begin,” the poet Pavese has rightly reminded us. And there could never be a beginning more beautiful than the one God himself began in the event of His Son’s Incarnation. In his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, aimed at preparing the world for the Great Jubilee of 2000, Pope St. John Paul II recalled that catalyzing event in which everything in the universe began afresh. “Here is the starting point,” he told us. “Here, it is not simply a case of man seeking God, but of God who comes in Person to speak to man of himself and to show him the path by which he may be reached.”  

Everything in the life of faith is designed, therefore, to draw us back to that beginning, back to the source upon which everything in the universe depends. It is the bedrock experience, no greater than which can possibly be imagined. Not even the angels could have foreseen an event as great, as surpassing, as the coming of Christ. 

And what that event conveys is an immediate and overwhelming sense of beauty, of sheer cascading radiance, combined with a necessary and urgent scheme of behavior. In short, the perfect coupling of vision and virtue, sight and sanctity. There will never be a need for a third way. And when the two come together in that way, when the truth and the life of the Catholic Thing coexist, the result will constitute nothing less than the splendor of theology itself.  

No one has written more eloquently, or learnedly, of this fact than Hans Urs von Balthasar, who has described it as “that fierce fire burning in the dark night of adoration and obedience, whose abysses it illuminates.” A dazzling, devouring fire, no less, expressing those two defining moments of faith, of adoring love followed by obediential service, of God’s truth forging a path that leads to life, unending life with God. Both the contemplative and the active life, in other words. Or, to put it a little differently, worship and work, Mary and Martha. 

There is the Mount Tabor experience of looking upon the glorified face of Christ—or, like the shepherds on that magical night, being drawn in adoration to kneel before the radiant beauty of the Child. Followed, as always, by the summons to take up the Cross and follow in the footsteps of the pierced and crucified One. “Not for a single moment,” declares Balthasar, may we forget that pure point of origin, “the roots from which, all nourishment is drawn: adoration, in which we see, in faith, the heavens opened; and obedience in living, which frees us to understand the truth.”  

And what is that truth which we are to understand, indeed, to commune with forever, but the fact that we are loved by Jesus Christ in the most radical and reckless way possible. “For you must understand,” says Balthasar: “he desires nearness; he would like to live in you and commingle his breath with your breathing. He would like to be with you until the end of the world.” What is that truth which we are to understand, indeed, to commune with forever, but the fact that we are loved by Jesus Christ in the most radical and reckless way possible.Tweet This

Our God, to put it simply, is a beggar for our love, His heart pounding ceaselessly away, pining all day and every day for our attention, for our love. And when His beating heart, joined hypostatically to the eternal Word of the Father, “suddenly jumps out of His ambush and grips at your heart with one of His famous handholds, and your heart goes wild with throbbing, then you must quickly cast yourselves down and say with all humility: ‘Lord, go away from me. I am a sinful man!’ Do Him homage and say: ‘I am not worthy that You should come under my roof’….” 

But, of course, He will not go away, so utterly ironic is the strategy of the Incarnate and, yes, Crucified Word. Such surprising turns God has taken in sending us His Son. It is not as if we are the only ones thirsting for God, that it is only the human heart that remains restless until, as St. Augustine famously put it on page one of the Confessions, we find rest in God. It is that God Himself has grown so restless in His search for us that nothing will satisfy until He has taken possession of all of us, all the time, right down to the very bottom of our socks.  

Isn’t this the message of the Gospels, the thrust of the entire Bible? That God has come among us with an ardor so fierce, so consuming, that it will not be put off by anything, neither dust nor sin, that we might, in our heedless flight from Him, throw in the way to deflect or divert His coming after us.

The heart of God lies at the very center, at the heart of the world. And in faith we are given not just a fleeting glimpse of the glory to come, but a real foreshadowing of the bliss that awaits us on the other side, when we fall at last into the arms of a God who has pursued us from the start, impatient to have us at all cost. 


  • Regis Martin

    Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar’s Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, published by Scepter, is called Looking for Lazarus: A Preview of the Resurrection.

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