Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Petrine Office

Yes, Matthew, this post is for you. 🙂

In The Fullness of Faith: On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic

Notwithstanding all the problems connected with the papacy throughout the history of the Church, two things speak in favor of its recognition within the Communio Sanctorum and its apostolicity.

In the first place (and we have already touched upon this) the Petrine element is taken for granted, so to speak, right at the beginning, in the Petrine texts of the New Testament. And of these the most impressive is not the passage in Matthew but rather the overpowering apotheosis of Peter at the end of John’s Gospel of love, which begins with the choosing of Peter in the first chapter and contains, at its center, the Apostle’s great confession of faith in the Lord.

Longer excerpt here

The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church

Just as Peter builds on John and John is within (and beside) Peter, the Petrine aspect perhaps appears nowhere more clearly than in Paul. Conversely, Pauline influence is unmistakable in Peter’s letters, [10] which are evidently intended to transmit wholly Petrine tradition. Again, we see two striking figures (who do not in the least blur each other and who have distinct theological and ecclesiological valences) in perichoresis, nor could it be otherwise among the members of the “living Body of Christ”.

Still, not every member communicates in the same way with the other. Within the manifest structure (which we stress is not definable in terms of tight distinctions) there are delicate lines of relation, most clearly drawn and represented by Luke and John. Luke portrays a family relationship between Mary and the Baptist, and, as Paul’s companion, he circumspectly builds a bridge between the latter and the Gospel tradition. Luke and John both bring to light deep, hidden mariological dimensions. In the episode at the foot of the Cross, told only by John, he who in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles is always shown together with Peter becomes “son” and guardian of the Mother. Thus he is shifted into a discrete but totally indispensable central position (mediating between Peter and Mary, between the official, masculine Church and the feminine Church) that alone can give these two dimensions of the Church’s mysterium their place and proportion. Only where these concrete proportions are seen, understood and meditated upon in the light of faith, can one speak to advantage about the office of Peter in the Church. Moreover, this cannot be isolated from its most intimate connection with and within the collegium of the Twelve, each of whom was explicitly called by name.

Longer excerpt here


About Joshua Michael

Writer. Catholic. Fan of John Henry Newman and the Inklings.
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2 Responses to Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Petrine Office

  1. Matt says:

    I love what you’ve selected here. The first time I encountered this line of interpretation was in vB’s “Razing the Bastions” (which is one heck of a book for being written before Vatican II). His interpretation of the Petrine, Johannine and Marian aspects of the Church was immensely helpful to me. As a Protestant who grew up in very “low church” setting, the Petrine structure of the Church was always viewed with suspicion. It was in undergrad that I began to see the episcopal structure, not as “repressive” as I had been taught, but as a necessary structural girding for the more Johannine and Marian aspects. I was so happy to find Balthasar’s articulation did not pit Peter-John-Mary against each other, but rather saw them as mutually formative and reinforcing. Such an articulation is, I think, the best embodiment of a truly “Catholic” ecclesiology: a Church that is secure in its own identity and vocation as to allow a few different “ecclesial personality styles” to perichoretically structure the shape of the Body. You certainly don’t find that in Protestantism since Protestantism is, I think, inherently polemical.

    • I’m glad that you like my choices. I’ve just bumped vB’s Office of Peter to the top of my wishlist.

      The first place I encountered this line of thought was in the first volume of the Glory of the Lord, which I only managed to get halfway through. I keep promising myself to return to it later, but it’s hugely intimidating.

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