In the same issue of First Things, R. R. Reno comments on a new book on Urs von Balthasr (Karen Kirby, Balthasar: A [Very] Critical Introduction, Eerdmans). Reno mentions that some Roman Catholic theologians worry that Balthasar was too “dependent on modern German philosophy,” or that he played “fast and loose with the authoritative tradition of the church.” Reno concedes the point:
Balthasar was by any reckoning a unique figure in twentieth-century Catholicism. For good and for ill, he was a free agent. He left the Jesuits and struck out on his own, forming a community in Basel and founding his own publishing house. He had no academic appointment, no graduate students, and no religious superiors other than the spiritual authority he accorded to Adrienne von Speyr.
That sort of independence got Martin Luther in a lot of trouble (and gets blamed for the downfall of Christendom and the destruction of Europe’s “sacred canopy”.) But now, such creativity and independence inspire marvel. Reno writes that Balthasar “exemplifies an exploratory, virtuoso style of theology. It’s a style characteristic of the heroic generation that prepared the way for the lasting achievements of Vatican II.” But it is also “unstable, and hard to reproduce”:
Balthasar and his peers were unique, creative figures who resist summary and resist integration in the earlier theological traditions of the Church. The result is a feeling of discontinuity in theology, and this often in spite of explicit efforts to the contrary.
Looks to this Protestant like a double standard. Or it could simply be discontinuity between Rome’s willingness to discipline wayward theologians (from the Middle Ages to the Cold War) when during the 1960s development of doctrine turned fairly arbitrary, with continuity and discontinuity doing their best impersonation of each other.