Hans Urs von Balthasar: Do You Feel Division as a Daily Wound?

Feast of St Bessarion the Wonderworker of Egypt

THE  MYSTERIOUS split that has divided the Church for four hundred years” (Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.1; referring to Protestant-Catholic division) – what does it mean to us? If we are aware of the true nature of the Church, we must feel this split not only as a daily wound but even more as a constantly burning shame. The essence, and not merely the name, of the Church is agape: unity in love. So every lapse from this unity calls the very substance of the Church into question. It is impossible not to ask each day with renewed concern – even if this has to go on for centuries – about the reason and necessity for this shame, which for us who have remained within the ancient precincts of the Church is no less burning than it must be for those who felt, certainly with a heavy heart, that they had to leave.

Because the Church’s invisible infirmities and defects were at least the occasion, if not the sufficient ground, for this split, we must not only repent and atone for this past, but even more constantly we must check the present scene to see if there still persist any traces of the scandal that was reason enough for countless Christians to sacrifice the unity of the Church for the sake of a supposedly pure faith in Christ. Do we Catholics still labor for the unity of the Church with that deadly earnest that tells us our very salvation or damnation depends on it? Have we done everything we can to restore it? Should we not hear the reproach that others are more serious and passionate for Church unity than we?

~Hans Urs von Balthasar, “House Divided” in The Theology of Karl Barth


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