Von Balthasar on the Spirit’s Inspiration

Von Balthasar is in the middle of a long section on Christ: specifically, the link between “identity” and “mission” in Christ. For von Balthasar, Jesus is his task, his identity is defined by what he was sent to do. And so he can say things like, “Jesus Christ dedicates his whole self to his mission; he is entirely one with it. He is the ‘one sent'” (Theo-Drama, vol. 3, 166). Further, “The task given him by the Father, that is, of expressing God’s Fatherhood through his entire being, through his life and death in and for the world, totally occupies his self-consciousness and fills it to the very brim” (172). But this also means a complicated interplay of “freedom” and “inspiration” is involved in Jesus’ identity and mission:

Sublime inspiration awakens in the person inspired a deeper freedom than that involved in arbitrary choice; for that very reason, it stamps the work with the character of personal uniqueness and necessity. It is revealed as the work for which a [person] has lived, in which they have “immortalized” themselves; it enabled him to possess himself entirely, precisely because he was possessed by it. He has grasped and fulfilled his mission. This mission was not waiting for him, ready-made, in some preexistence: it was slumbering within him like a child in its mother’s womb, pressing to be delivered–out of the womb of his most personal freedom.

What this analogy teaches us is this: when Jesus lays hold of his mission and fashions it, he is not obeying some alien power. The Holy Spirit who inspires him is not only the Spirit of the Father (with whom the Son is “one”) but also his own Spirit. We cannot imagine his mission ever having a beginning: he has always laid hold of it already. It may be that he lives for it and for its sake (the inspired artist can experience something analogous), but he will not be able to say that his mission existed (in some eternal time) prior to his having affirmed and grasped it; for it is always his. Nor is it his in the sense that it lies ready, prefabricated, so that he only needs to assemble it. No; he must fashion it out of himself in utter freedom and responsibility; indeed, in a sense, he even has to invent it. (198)

Jesus does not simply follow some step-by-step directions when he undertakes his Father’s will, but he struggles through it. He has to listen patiently, at each moment, for the details of the Father’s will: he “adhered to it daily and hourly” (157). And just in receiving this inspiration from the Father through the Spirit, he realizes his own uttermost freedom to be who he is: that just these works and this mission make up who he has always been and will be.


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