“He descended into hell.”
Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century, placed this affirmation of the Nicene Creed at the heart of his reflection on the world-altering events of Holy Week, asserting that this identification of God with the human experience is at the “absolute center” of the Christian faith. Yet is such a descent to suffering really the essence of Catholic belief about the mystery of Holy Saturday?
Alyssa Lyra Pitstick’s Light in Darkness—the first comprehensive treatment of Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday—draws on the multiple yet unified resources of authoritative Catholic teaching on Christ’s descent to challenge Balthasar’s conclusions. Pitstick conducts a thorough investigation of Balthasar’s position that Christ suffered in his descent into hell and asks whether that is compatible with traditional teaching about Christ.
Light in Darkness is a thorough argument for the existence and authority of a traditional Catholic doctrine of Christ’s descent as manifested in creeds, statements of popes and councils, Scripture, and art from Eastern and Western traditions. Pitstick’s carefully argued, contrarian work is sure to spur debate across the theological spectrum.
Pitstick’s book is a challenge to those who regard Balthasar as an entirely trustworthy theologian, ranking with the greatest masters of the Tradition. She subjects his understanding of Christ’s descent into hell to a searching critique and shows it to be seriously at odds with the teaching of the fathers and Doctors of the Church.
—John Saward, associate lecturer, Blackfriars, Oxford University
This severe, but forcefully argued, study will have to be borne in mind in all future assessment of Balthasar’s theological doctrine.
—Aidan Nichols, John Paul II Memorial Visiting Lecturer, Oxford University
Alyssa Pitstick gives no quarter. She notes instances in which Balthasar, in her view, misrepresents scriptural, patristic, and magisterial texts and simply ignores aspects of the tradition inconvenient to his argument. . . Pitstick has thrown down a gauntlet that other theologians should not ignore. . . . Thanks to Pitstick, a new and lively debate over Balthasar’s achievement is almost certainly under way.
—Richard John Neuhaus, First Things
An impressive book. Pitstick has had the courage to challenge a major theological reputation head on, and has done so with great skill. The result is the most sustained and detailed criticism of Balthasar’s theology yet published in English, and a work of acute argument in its own right.
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