Karen Kilby on suffering, pain and loss

In this video, Karen Kilby reflects on suffering, pain and loss in the Christian theological tradition and, as might be expected, she draws heavily upon the work of Han Urs von Balthasar (who is also the subject of her recent book, Balthasar: A (Very) Critical Introduction, a book which I am very much looking forward to reading).


  1. Thanks for pointing this out, Jason. I will have to spend some more time with Balthasar to get a grasp of the supra-suffering of God and the extent to which that leaves open a door to privation existing within the Godhood. My understanding of the Trinity was that the ‘space’ between the Father and the Son provided for the possibility of expression of that love spilling out. In that case the presence of that empty space, that evil is like an empty canvas to be filled. It has a purpose, but only so far as it becomes filled. In that case, it still remains alien to both God and creation and emphasizes that emptiness is to be overcome. Certainly, Balthasar emphasizes the passivity of Christ but I don’t think he would want to downplay the expressive, creative response to God’s call that speaks into that void, casting out the darkness.

    What do you think?


  2. Thanks for this fine link Jason. I like both her style and her thesis. Am I right to think that much of what goes under the title of ‘tragic’ in certain theologies involves the kind of problem she discerns in Von Balthasar? Do you think that one way of addressing this problem involves properly distinguishing between the work of God and human action in a theology of the cross? My only question (and this may be a very big question) lies in the black and white way she presents the very interesting issue. Should we be placed with the idea that suffering is either intrinsically good or intrinsically evil?


  3. Very interesting. I love Kilby’s small volume on Karl Rahner — she’s a gifted communicator. Yet, I’m rather attracted to Balthasar’s model of the Trinity and the self-abnegation within as the ontological ground for creation. This is actually very similar to ideas found in Simone Weil’s mystical theo-philosophy (Waiting for God and elsewhere). The difference is that Weil stops at the Cross, whereas Balthasar continues to the Resurrection. Yet, Balthasar wants to extend the Cross alongside of the Resurrection into eternity (both in protology and eschatology), which Kilby does not like. However, this eternal dialectic is always overcome in the Yes of the Resurrection (creating a synthesis of victory), which reveals the true significance of the Cross (as not void or nothingness, but filled with light and life). If I’m right, then the difference between Kilby and Balthasar is found in Kilby’s preference for Kant over Hegel (hence, her admiration for Rahner over Balthasar).

    I could be way off, but those are my impressions for now.


  4. Kevin, I need to think more about your interesting comment re Kant over Hegel, and whether or not you might be onto something there. Is there anything else you might like to say about what you were thinking on that?

    For what it’s worth, I too (like Bruce) appreciate Kirby’s ‘style’ and her willingness to press creatively and critically into the heart of matters central to the concerns of Christian theology. But at the end of the day, I’m not convinced that she presses far enough. Put otherwise, I wonder if her proposal needs to be baptised in some conversation with MacKinnon, Rose, Fiddes, Hartshorne, Kitamori, Bonhoeffer and Williams, most of whom represent positions in which in an unassailable mystery divine suffering represents not the subjugation of divine freedom but an expression of such.


  5. Apropos of Karen Kilby’s latest book, which is on Balthasar:

    What Kilby has shown in her book on Balthasar is that they live on different cultural universes, and what seems not acceptable to her are perfectly acceptable for others. Kilby overreaches herself and makes atrociously over-extended conclusions when she says that if there is anything that one should not learn from Balthasar, it is that of how one must be a theologian. such Kantian policing of the theological was precisely what Balthasar aimed to overturn, its covert ambition to police all thinking that is the true promethean thinking…

    Several interesting points to consider:

    1) One would have thought that Kilby would pay particular and close attention to the third part of the Balthasarian trilogy and its three volumes dedicated to, precisely, “Theology” or “Theological Logic”. This is the part after all where Balthasar engages with methodological and hermeneutical questions with regard to “theology” AFTER the Theological Aesthetics and Theological Dramatics. Zero. She does not engage this part of Balthasar’s ouvre AT ALL and therefore misrepresents Balthasar’s theology by failing to do so. In this respect, she mirrors the error of Quash who, in his book Theology and the Drama of History, when he makes the case for Balthasar falling back onto an “epic” mode, again quotes mostly from the Theological Aesthetics to buttress his point. Naturally, they fail to present Balthasar’s intention then in his trilogy with accuracy.

    2) One would have expected Kilby to pay close attention to Balthasar’s books where methodological and hermeneutical questions are to the fore ACROSS the whole range of Balthasar’s works. There is no engagement for example with Balthasar’s critique of Barth in Balthasar’s book on the latter, nor with Rahner scattered through out his works. Interestingly, Balthasar has a more positive view of Rahner in the third part of the trilogy for example!

    3) Other works are not even mentioned, like Razing the Bastions, which is after all a programmatic work that Batlhasar thinks should be taken together with Love Alone.

    4) Nowhere does Kilby engage with the secondary literature on Balthasar, and she studiously avoids engaging non-English sources. Look up her bibliography; they are all in English.

    5) Nowhere does Kilby deal with the SOURCES of Balthasar’s positions (as seen in his footnotes for example) in any great depth. She makes it appear therefore that Balthasar is “unfettered”, but she does not for example note the wide use of biblical exegetes that Balthasar deals with in Mysterium Paschale, pro, con, and in-between.

    6) For a deep critical engagement with Balthasar’s thought then, Kilby is truly unreliable. She quotes authors like Endean, who is certainly a Rahner expert but whose knowledge of Balthasr seems utterly sophomoric. We still await therefore the work(s) that are truly and genuinely critical where Balthasar is concerned, someone with (almost) the same exposure to a wide range of theological and other literary texts as Balthasar himself. Perhaps Cyril O’Regan is one such thinker in English; he has a volume coming out on Balthasar soon (Cf. http://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Misremembering-Balthasar%C2%92s-Philosophical-Modernity/dp/0824525620) . Vincent Holzer has written a dense book on the “le differand theologique Balthasar-Rahner” that is so much more respectable than Kilby’s.


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