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Rediscovering God through beauty

Beauty, Goodness, Truth – An introduction to the Life and Work of Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905 – 1988) was the title of the first talk delivered by Dermot Mansfield SJ delivered to parishioners West of the Shannon in the diocese of Elphin. Dermot gave two similar inputs, but on the life of St John Henry Newman back in May during the first lockdown caused by the Covid-19 restrictions.

This time, during the second lockdown and over the course of two Tuesdays in November, (17th and 24th, 2020) Dermot spoke to parishioners who signed up to watch his video recordings and join in on the conversation regarding the life, witness, and extraordinary output of the Swiss twentieth-century priest and theologian, whose cause for canonisation is now with the Vatican.

The event was organised by the Pastoral and Faith Development Services of the Elphin diocese and “over both evenings more than fifty adults of enquiring mind came into conversation with Dermot,” according to its Director Justin Harkin, who said he would highly recommend the videos to all who have heard the name ‘von Balthasar’ and would welcome a helpful point of entry to his life, writings, and theological vision. (Watch the video above).

Dermot began his first input with an introduction to von Balthasar’s early life and academic development. He concentrated particularly on the theologian’s deep understanding of the traditional Platonic ideals of ‘the good, the true and the beautiful’, paying particular attention, as does von Balthasar, to the concept of beauty.

“One could sense the fascination for participants as he spoke with us about von Balthasar’s great desire to help women and men retrieve the sense of the beautiful – and therefore of  ‘glory’ in our everyday lives,” Justin noted adding that parishioners were also taken by Dermot’s exploration of von Balthasar’s commitment to helping his readers appreciate ‘the Good’ – the whole Drama of God’s action in our world (‘For God so loved the world – Jn 3:16) and to deepening their sense of  ‘the True’ (‘For this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth – Jn 18:27).

Dermot quoted from von Balthasar’s writings at times, “We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it,” said the theologian writing in his book Seeing the Form.

“With characteristic enthusiasm and foresight, Dermot drew us into von Balthasar’s world,” said Justin, adding, “He helped us to see both the passion and rationale behind this humble theologian’s stringent efforts to respond to various challenges that impacted upon Christians of various denominations throughout the twentieth century.”