Integration: matter assumed a spiritualised human body. It must consequently abandon its autonomy and hence its most sublime manifestations: storm, fire, sea….

Once in a human body, matter becomes wholly “invisible”. And yet, its beauty is here unsurpassable, by the grace of the descending form.

It was God’s boldest plan to predestine individual spirits as matter for the highest kind of molding. Here too, by becoming a member of the Mystical Body, the spirit in a true sense gives up its highest natural manifestations:

It must in some sense decline in order to enter into unity. But at the same time, through grace, it gains an unsuspected supernatural beauty.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Grain of Wheat




His thoughts and actions continually surprise her, so that, increasingly, she “does not understand” his meaning, as for instance when, in the Temple, he leaves her without warning; when he fails to receive her when she visits him; when he refuses to manifest his power in the public ministry, squandering his life and ultimately slipping from her on the cross, substituting the stranger, John, for himself.

With all the strength she can muster she listens to this Word as it grows more and more vast, divine and seemingly alien; its dimensions almost tear her asunder, yet it is for this, for everything, that she gave her consent right at the start. She lets herself be led where she “does not wish to go” – so far is the Word she follows from being her own wisdom. But she consents to this leading; it is a measure of the fact that the Word, which she loves has been “implanted” in her heart (Jas 1.21).

The Christian who tries to be a hearer of the Word can only experience  these hard, ineluctable and ever-increasing demands in his life if he unreservedly  exposes himself to the Word. On the one hand, certainly, he must genuinely listen to the voice within, to God’s voice in his conscience, to the exhortation of the “interior teacher” (as Augustine  calls Christ’s indwelling in us as Word), in an attitude of docility vis-a-vis  the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.

Such an inner listening would correspond in some way to Mary’s inwardly directed contemplation. But it would not be of the same order as her beholding of the Son, bodily present with her, living, acting, challenging her. Without this second element our communion with the Word – hard of hearing and fond of comfort as we are – would be in danger of being stifled.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer



A man must have gazed long at the face of incarnate, crucified Love and pondered deeply on Love’s actions if, when it comes to the point, he can speak of his own failing love in thise terms: “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thigns.” (1 Cor 13.7).

In such love, however, contemplation comes to blossom in the truth of a human life; it shows whether he has really acted so as to allow God’s word to be paramount in his life, God’s truth and love to triumph over his untruth and egoism.

That is what is meant by worshipping in spirit and truth; it also involves renouncing “ultimate knowledge” for the sake of “ultimate love”. For as knowledge, it will pass away…but love never ends.” (1 Cor 13.8).

The love which “surpasses knowledge” can only be “known” (Eph 3.19) in something more-than knowledge, which is in fact love itself, a loving together with God and from God, just as God’s truth is one with his life of love which pours forth in a threefold stream.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer


Isangelos: “equal to the angels” – a magic word for the early Christians. They envied the angels their ability to  live continually in the light of full consciousness and not let a single drop of grace go to waste.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Grain of Wheat

I Must Decrease

Almost everything in the usual guidelines for spiritual progress is based on the unspoken principle: I must grow.

When religion is not founded on security anxiety, the impulse towards “higher culture”, “spiritual refinement,” and so on, often plays the decisive role.

We can live our whole life without ever realising the meaning of: I must decrease. Not decrease exteriorly and grow interiorly; not decrease through mortification in order to increase in virtue according to the spiritual man; not decrease in “appearance” in order to grow in “essence”; but quite simply: he must grow, I must decrease.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Grain of Wheat