January 4, 2022

In four substantial chapters, an introduction, and a brief conclusion, this volume supplies a much-needed account of Balthasar’s potential contribution to a theology of religions, centered primarily around his hospitality to Judaism. The first major move in the argument—intersecting methodologically with but certainly not repeating Cyril O’Regan’s work in Gnostic Return in Modernity (2001) or The Anatomy of Misremembering (2014)—is the presentation of Balthasar’s diagnosis of modern thought as a pathological reassertion of Marcionism and Prometheanism. This return would disenfranchise the revelation of the Old Covenant, eliminate divine transcendence and judgment, and idolize human being at the expense of the divine. Further, ancient and modern versions of Marcionite or Promethean anti-Judaism extract the person of Jesus from his proper historical context, a sundering that invites manipulation “to suit whatever cultural predilections are to the fore” (3). Where Marcionism severs, dismantles, and empties, however, Balthasar would unite, arguing for a fundamentally necessary continuity between Judaism and Christianity.

This integrative mode is especially evident in Sciglitano’s treatment of Balthasar’s biblical hermeneutics as anti-Marcionite and pro-Jewish. Balthasar considers the entirety of the Hebrew Bible as dramatic encounter to be revelatory and prophetic: this designation protects all the variegated forms of the Old Covenant, which for Balthasar have both a preparatory and a pedagogical function, as they make “legible” the glorious form of Christ (54). In chapter 3, Sciglitano continues to draw out Balthasar’s anti Marcionite interpretation of Scripture by noting that his uncompromising insistence upon the unity of revelation is undergirded by God’s consistently kenotic gift of love expressed in Creation, Covenant, Cross, and Eucharist. Here Balthasar’s version of kenosis as a Trinitarian phenomenon mitigates Marcionite iterations of kenosis in modernity (as in Hegel, Altizer, or Vattimo) that would dissociate Christianity from Judaism and thereby denature both religions.

An important subtheme in this analysis is the apologetic insistence on the importance of clarifying targets of critique. First, because on Balthasar’s reading early anti-Judaism and its modern resurgences are essentially Marcionite, messianic Christology or the developments of Trinitarian doctrine in patristic Christianity are “co-victims” alongside Judaism rather than the primary offenders (3). Perhaps more important is the need to elucidate the proper targets of Balthasar’s criticisms in his own commentary, particularly vis-à-vis postbiblical Judaism. Our author is appropriately measured in his optimism concerning Balthasar’s reading of the postexilic period, but demonstrates convincingly that Balthasar’s critique can be understood primarily as self-critique, aimed more nearly at modern Western philosophical and Christian ecclesial culture than Second Temple Judaism itself (72-78).

By my lights, the final substantive chapter is the most compelling in its suggestion of an Alexandrian profile in Balthasar’s “Christological hospitality”: evoking Clement or Origen by drawing on the tropes of the Logos spermatikos and the spolia Aegyptiorum, Balthasar accords theological meaning to human culture outside both scriptural and ecclesial borders. Here Sciglitano brilliantly connects discussions of Homeric epic poetry, classical philosophy, and the pneumatologically aspirated epistemology of Balthasar’s Theo-Logic with “covenantal ontology” (131) and the priority of the question of Christian- Jewish relations. Mirabile dictu, this presentation of Balthasar’s theology of religions does not recommend an evacuation of determinate religious content in order to heighten the likelihood of profitable dialogue but rather insists on the particular form of each religion. The book demonstrates throughout with agility and force that Balthasar’s theology of religions is grounded in a strong Incarnational and Trinitarian perspective that actually makes it more rather than less likely to respect the particulars of Jewish religion in a dialogue. Balthasar’s starting point is unrepentantly from the particular—namely, the covenant relation between God and Israel and the specific mission of Judaism in history, which, significantly, is for Balthasar ongoing after Christ. This text does well to note the perhaps surprising fact that as early as Balthasar’s book on Martin Buber—which predates Nostra Aetate by no less than eight years—he argues against a Christian mission to the Jews. Sciglitano writes with clarity, authority, intelligence, and often beauty, precisely summarizing complex arguments along the way. His text serves as an excellent introduction to Balthasar’s thought and will be profitable both for advanced undergraduates and in graduate seminars on Balthasar, Jewish-Christian relations, interreligious dialogue, and theologies of religion and/or culture.

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