Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–88) was a Swiss theologian, considered to be one of the most important Catholic intellectuals and writers of the twentieth century. Incredibly prolific and diverse, he wrote over one hundred books and hundreds of articles.
He studied at universities in Vienna, Berlin, and Zurich and his doctorate was completed in 1928. His dissertation was titled “The History of the Eschatological Problem in Modern German Literature.” The following year he entered the Society of Jesus.
Having studied theology and philosophy for several years, Balthasar was attracted to the work of Erich Przywara (d. 1972) and Henri de Lubac (d. 1991). Tired of the prevalent neo-scholasticism of his day, Balthasar was drawn to the spirituality-theology of the Church Fathers. Along with de Lubac, Jean Daniélou, and other Continental theologians, he would work to return to the Scriptures and patristics as primary theological sources.
In 1940 he was offered a teaching position in Rome, but chose to go to Basel and be a chaplain for students. There he met the mystic Adrienne von Speyr (1902–67); she would become a Catholic under his spiritual direction. Her writing became a major source of inspiration for his writing and he insisted that her work could not be separated from his own. Together they founded the Community of St. John, a “secular institute.”
In 1950 he left the Jesuits; in 1972 he formed Communio: International Catholic Review with Daniélou, de Lubac, and Joseph Ratzinger. From 1961–87 he produced his most important work, a trilogy published in fifteen volumes: The Glory of the Lord, Theo-Drama, and Theo-Logic. After many years of fighting illness and exhaustion, Balthasar died on June 26, 1988, one day before he was to be made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II.
The Holy Father wrote: “All who knew the priest, von Balthasar, are shocked, and grieve over the loss of a great son of the Church, an outstanding man of theology and of the arts, who deserves a special place of honor in contemporary ecclesiastical and cultural life.”