The Form of Jesus Christ: A Balthasarian Conversation

30 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2020

See all articles by Matthew Cavedon

Matthew Cavedon

Emory University - Center for the Study of Law and Religion

Date Written: December 5, 2014


“What is bothering me incessantly is the question… [of] who Christ really is….” Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not the first to ask this question, nor will he be the last: Jesus Christ is an inexhaustible mystery. He is not, however, the sort of mystery that one simply puzzles over, like a calculus problem that proves a bit too difficult. Rather, he is mystery in the same sense as Raphael’s stunning colors, or Henryk Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs: mystery as overwhelm, as the source of unceasing awe.

This is the great insight of Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the twentieth century’s most unique theologians. The Jesuit master saw aesthetic theory as a great vein to be mined for the praise of Jesus Christ’s mystery. This paper will run alongside Balthasar’s systematic theology as found in Seeing the Form. Rather than serving as an exegesis of Balthasar, or an attempt to situate his thought within the great cosmos of Christian thought, this paper aims to join its teacher Balthasar in elucidating something of the mystery of Jesus Christ. It aspires to sing out praise in response to Bonhoeffer’s question. Naturally, it will encounter thinkers other than just Balthasar along the way—Saint Augustine in particular, one of Balthasar’s predecessors in seeing form as inseparable from understanding Jesus Christ, will make recurring appearances.

But the real touchstone this paper wishes never to leave is Jesus Christ himself. Certainly, it will seek to examine him from different angles, to behold several of the infinite dimensions in which he subsists. Here is Jesus Christ, the revealer and concealer of transcendent divinity! There he is again—the great attuner of the universe, and of human freedom! Can he even be glimpsed in the midst of the believers, lovingly impressing his form on those who love him?

Consider this, then, a work of love.

Keywords: Christology, aesthetics, theology, Jesus Christ, Hans Urs von Balthasar, modern theology, beauty, glory, form, depths, mystery, paradox, atonement, Logos, St. Augustine, incarnation, salvation, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Suggested Citation

Cavedon, Matthew, The Form of Jesus Christ: A Balthasarian Conversation (December 5, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Matthew Cavedon (Contact Author)

Emory University - Center for the Study of Law and Religion ( email )

201 Dowman Drive
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

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