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The Conquest of the Bride | Hans Urs von Balthasar | From  Heart of the World

Copied from http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2007/hub_heartoftheworld_jan07.asp

My  kingdom is invisible, but I want to establish you, my Bride, before the eyes of  men so visibly that no one will be able to overlook you.  I want to raise you up like the brazen serpent in the desert, like the rock against  which hell itself is dashed to pieces, like Mount Tabor over whose peak the shining  cloud hovers, and like the Cross that casts its shadow over all lands — the  blazon of my victory in failure.

I want to establish you upon iron foundations,  and your structure is to be a true and distinctive sign that I am setting up a  memorial to myself upon the earth. You will be my witness to the very edge of  the world, a witness that I was in the world, and I will not forsake you until  the end of time. You will be a sign of contradiction among the peoples, and no  one will even as much as whisper your name, O my Church, without shuddering. Over  you men will have to part their ways, for many will love you and squander everything  for you, but very many will hate you, and these will swear an oath not to rest  until they have exterminated you from the land of men. And you will be despised  like no man or thing, except myself, has ever been despised on earth. They will  stand in line for the privilege of spitting in your face, of wiping off on your  garments the mud from their shoes.

On all walls they will scrawl caricatures  of your mystery, and in the bars, writhing with laughter, they will sing obscene  songs about you. They will set you in the pillory and, after they have bound and  gagged you, they will accuse you of every vulgarity and demand that you wash yourself  clean. No means will be left untried to bring you under suspicion and every  one of your shortcomings will be inflated to monstrous proportions. You will know  hard times, nor will there be any assigned place for you. Wherever the path seemed  to lie open before you, you will, before long, find a landslide and a roadblock,  or perhaps a wall.

“Impossible!”, you will say. You will have to live on earth,  yet without possessing a home. You will have to acquaint yourself with both the  good and the evil customs of every people and with all of men’s distresses. But,  although you will be in their midst, men will make sure to exclude you from both  their trust and their confidence. They will let you feel that you remain the  foreigner in the house, at best tolerated, never truly loved. No matter what you  may attempt in order to make yourself of service, they will not be satisfied.  If you make yourself one of them, they will scorn you; and, if you keep to yourself,  they will say: “You see, she knows herself where she belongs. Let’s then put an  end to the affair and drive her out once and for all.”

For a time it will seem  as though you have attained to well-being and success among them. They will rally  around your banner and make themselves at home in the great shadow of your cathedrals.  Your word will be their nourishment and your blessing will transfigure their lives.  But then it will be as if your children had outgrown the milk of your breasts.  The more clever among them will shake themselves loose of your heavenly bonds,  and the avalanche of their apostasy will gain momentum through the centuries,  until the masses, inexorably dragged along by this irresistible pull towards the  earth, will also desert your fold.

You who wanted to gather up humanity in  order to present it to me as the one fruit in the libation-cup of your prayer:  See how you now stand leafless like a tree in the autumn. No harvest has been  brought in, and the commandment to go forth which burns within your heart is today  still less fulfilled than on the first day when you set out. At that time everything  was still possible, even in the midst of the heathen’s immense darkness. A  light had gone up, and all faces turned automatically towards this New Thing.  But now it seems as though your song is becoming a hurdy-gurdy. Whenever you appear  in a street all windows are shut, and the little which people’s ears nonetheless  still unwillingly perceive excites in them nothing but disgust and infinite boredom.

You can no longer conceal the disgrace of having failed totally, of having  lost the game for good. People’s distress may still fill a couple of your bombed-out  churches… But just wait for the day of prosperity to return and you will be  more forgotten than a corpse of a thousand years. You have not recognized the  signs of the time. The rushing stream of love that you once released over a thirsty  world (the slave raised up a hopeless eye, women lifted their veils, all the disinherited  felt the breath of a more-than-earthly mercy): this rushing stream, I say, is  now dammed up. Your administrators stingily dole out through well-run pipe-systems  and institutions the precious liquid of my grace. The bark of the tree which once  blossomed in the wild has now turned to cork. You have become such an established  household that even the catastrophic storms of the times, and persecution rattling  at your gates and windows, can hardly awaken you from sleep, and a slap in your  face can elicit from you but an embarrassed smile. Disgrace covers the length  of you, all the more poignantly as you try to deny it, pretending nothing is amiss.

So there you stand, my Bride, truly a sign over the peoples at which fingers  point, a widely known but little loved sign. Your failure redounds to me, since  on your account my name, too, is blasphemed among the heathen. Many a man who  sought me with a sincere heart came to a terrified halt on his way as he suddenly  caught sight of you, and he turned away. And many a one who saw how troublesome  is the life of your faithful, how little redeemed they appear to be, how pitifully  the glow of their hearts smothers under the ashes, how strictly they judge the  world while being themselves secretly full of the world; has turned resolutely  to the innocence of the heathen.

It is not your love — – that overcomes  the world — which is a scandal to them; for that is a scandal which you should  give! Their scandal, rather, is your luke-warmness and your unbridled lack of  love. You were meant to be for men an image of the unity between me and the  Father, and it was for this that I sent you our Holy Spirit, the bond of unifying  love; for this it was that I established you on the all-embracing unity of baptism,  doctrine, and the uninterrupted succession from Peter to John Paul II. Your very  essence is unity, and each of the tokens by which you are recognized and by which  you can prove your identity is founded on unity.

And you will not succeed in  falling away from this unity. You will not succeed because I myself put this unity  within you and burnt this indelible mark into you. You will not succeed because  I have entered into you with my Spirit and, as your one heart, I move you towards  unity from within. But you are always in a state of revolt against yourself.  No people is more torn asunder than yours, none so pervaded by discord down to  the very foundations. Every person within you who holds an office, everyone who  has charge of a mission or who administers a task I have given him, constantly  tends to consider the part that he is as if it were the whole. He sees the small  wheel he turns as if it were the power that moves everything else, or the worthless  service he performs as if it were indispensable.

All of you are members, and  as members all of you should serve so as to complete one another, thankful that  your brothers possess what you yourself do not have. in the love which does not  seek its own you would possess the whole. For I am the whole, I who am the Head  of the Body and the soul which unifies it. But no! Down the centuries you quarrel  over the better places, forever tearing up and mangling my Body to the bone. And  when you do not succeed in tearing a whole member, a whole land, away from the  community of the Church, when you, blinded by spite, do not set up a new —  the thousandth! — sect alongside my real house, then you strive, insatiable  and agitating burrowers that you are, to hollow out like mice the walls within  the house, and like moles to shake the foundations.

Your priests’ enviousness  has become proverbial, and the fights among your Orders, the rivalries among your  organizations, make them the subject of derision. Each individual thinks his own  limited program is the best and only valid one, and so the members become detached  from one another and my holy, life-giving Blood can no longer flow through them.  Long before a new part of your house caves in, long before an external schism  is sealed, the sap of love has already become stagnant within; stealthy heresy  and omnivorous sin have already made the terrible events inevitable.

It is  with you, my Body, that I am forever fighting the great, apocalyptic battle. Whatever  remains far from me and my heart is nothing but hollow flesh, lost in itself.  But I do not find it difficult to save such flesh: it puts up no resistance and  lets itself in due time be brought into the fold. Whoever stands closer to  me, however, has been initiated into my mystery and, belonging to my Body, perceives  the throbbing of my Heart as it resounds throughout the Body’s internal vaulting:  this person has received the Spirit and is, therefore, awake and able to choose  freely. Only he truly knows the meaning of sin.

Thus, I am endangered within  my own Body; it is within me that my deadly enemy lies in wait. I have suckled  a snake at my breast, a worm that does not die. In this, too, have I become like  you: just as temptation rises within you from your own flesh, so, too, does the  deepest threat leap up against me from my own flesh. The spirit is willing and  strong, but the flesh is weak, and where the spirit borders on the flesh it is  vulnerable, having come to terms with weakness. That is a borderline where the  spirit has always betrayed itself, giving itself away.

For, if the spirit had  nothing of flesh, how could it come to form one being with the flesh? In the same  way, I, the strong God, have betrayed myself to you — my Body, my Church  — and in the place where I did this I became weak: there alone could I be  wounded to the death. In that place I yielded, I surrendered to the temptation  of loving a body within my own Body (for who can hate his own flesh?); the temptation  of delivering myself up to the obscure chaos of a body, of plunging below the  shiny surface of the flesh; the temptation of passing over into this world —  this simmering darkness, opposed to the Father’s light; the temptation, I say,  of passing over into this adventure of the senses, into this unknown virgin forest  called Mankind.

Just as you, passionately, with throbbing pulse, cross over  temptation’s boundary, so, too, have I crossed over the boundary of the flesh  with a quivering heart, fully conscious of the danger. I dared to enter the body  of my Church, the deadly body which you are. For the spirit is mortal only within  its own body. And so, from now on, we are no longer two but, together, only  one flesh which loves itself and which struggles and wages battle with itself  even to the point of death. For your sake I became weak, since I could experience  your being only in weakness.

No wonder you realized your advantage over me  and took my nakedness by storm! But I have defeated you through weakness and my  Spirit has overpowered my unruly and recalcitrant flesh. (Never has woman made  more desperate resistance!) In order to put a seal on my victory and exploit my  triumph, I have engraved a mark upon you, O my flesh: on your carnal weakness  I have engraved the mark of my own carnal weakness, and on your sin the mark of  my love.

Never again will your sinful battle against me be anything other than  the long wrestling of love. This is the meaning I confer upon it, and now it can  have no other meaning. Precisely because you, O wretched one, knowingly sin against  love, precisely for that reason is your sin enfolded by my love. And because I,  who am at once Spirit and Love, am myself the battlefield between God and the  world, the battle is already and eternally won in me. Our wrecked covenant —  – our blood-wedding, the red wedding of the Lamb — – is already, here and  now, the white bridal bed of divine love.

Do what you will, you remain the  captive of love. I raised you up, wild one, when you were struggling and weltering  in your own blood. I have washed you in the bath of my Blood, in the water-bath  of my baptism and in the Word of Life, and I have fashioned for myself a glorious  Church, without blemish or wrinkle, holy and unspotted. You may behave like  a wanton courtesan and daily betray me with another: still, you will never be  what you in this way pretend to be. For all eternity you are my pure Body and  my chaste Spouse. I am going to clothe your disgrace with such holiness that the  aroma of your garments will fill the whole earth, and no one will be able to deny  that he has really and bodily sensed your fragrance.

I will deposit such love  into your hands — love for you to distribute — that your name among  the peoples will be called “The Lovable” and “Love’s Watchtower.” And I will put  in your heart such concern for the world and for my lost sheep that the dull herd  will smell their shepherd and run to you almost against their will. The insults  which you are preparing for me will not be as great as the disgrace that I will  bestow upon you from the treasury of my Cross. The mockery they will pile upon  you will be nothing compared with the mockery I will entrust to you as my precious  gift and my priceless wedding present, taken from the storehouse of my divine  sufferings.

The inglorious weakness with which, in this century of collapse,  you stand before the world unable to transform it: this weakness is already a  part of the mystery of my own inglorious weakness, for when was I ever strong  enough to renew the face of this exterior world? Thus, it is my will to give you  a worth which does not properly belong to you, and to fashion you solely from  the might of my heart, as Eve was fashioned from Adam’s rib.

The source of  your life, O Church, is both a demand and a promise. Live not from yourself: live  solely in me and from me. Think of yourself no longer as of the one you used to  be. Think no longer of your heart, but rather let my Heart alone be sufficient  for you — the heart which I have planted in the center of your body. You  ought, in this way, to be my Bride and my Body, and it is my will to redeem the  whole world in you, exclusively in you. Be my handmaid. Renounce your will and  nestle, like Ruth, at my feet. Become obedient even to death.

Be for the world  my embodied obedience, shown forth visibly and sensibly throughout all ages. Be  so obedient that to say “Church” will be to say “obedience”; for redemption is  found in obedience, and whoever proclaims me must depict my obedience even to  the death on the cross. Thus it is that I want to exalt you to be Queen of the  World, and all peoples and ages will have to bow before you. You, however, yourself  obeying, are to exact obedience in my name, for it is my will to rule the world  in none other than you, and in no other body but yours does my Heart throb. This  is the demand and this the promise.

Bind yourself to me so irrevocably that  I will be able to descend to hell with you; and then I will bind you to myself  so irrevocably that, with me, you will be able to ascend to very heaven. Empty  yourself out into me so completely that I can fill you with myself. I will spare  you no extremity — not the heights and not the depths–for I wish to have  no secret from you. Where I am, there you too are to be. What I do, that are you  to do in me.

So it is that I wish to teach you my obedience: a blind obedience  leading you to abandon your every insight, your every love, your every faith,  and through this obedience they will recognize who has my Spirit and who belongs  to my Body. But this obedience will be but the pledge of my love for you and of  your love for me, and in the midst of your slavish service you will experience  the freedom of the children of God coming upon you like the ray of a light from  above. You will experience how greatly servitude follows the coercion of love.  In all of this you will fare as I did when I, by being my Father’s slave, was  only bound the more intimately to his love, and every creaturely distance from  my Father revealed itself as a means and a detour and a more cunning ruse leading  towards unification.

I now repeat with you the same game which the Father played  with me. I dismiss you, out into the world; I leave you behind on earth, widowed,  only in order to unite myself to you from heaven in a more interior, more spiritual,  more divine manner. I leave you as if bereft of soul in the grave of the world,  with your spirit wandering among the shades of the underworld, only to deliver  you from death suddenly, abruptly, thus again proving to the world that you live  and that I live in you. For your existence in the world is an incessant miracle,  and no one can ignore the fact that you drink from an alien spring, that a table  other than theirs nourishes you.

And so, in spite of everything, you will be  my sign among the nations. To them you will remain a very implausible thing, so  much so that they will daily prophesy your death. And you will indeed die after  a fashion. But see: we live, you and I, for I have died once, and whoever eats  of my death will live eternally and I will awaken him on the Last Day — –  and each day is the last.

I have died once, and only once does my Body, my  Church, pass over from death to life. This is the one turning. Each of your members  must make it a reality in union with me, each in his own place, in his own century,  but in the unity of the one change, in the transubstantiation of this world into  the other world (they are the same). There is but one turning wherein earth  becomes heaven, and this turning point is the Church. Here the occluded (closed  up) world opens up and awaits the promised grace. Here man confesses his guilt  and recognizes his truth. By the very act of becoming exposed, man’s truth is  effaced and in its place he receives the truth of God.

Here the old man is  replaced by the new. Here the world dies and another world rises. Here the two  eons intersect. Here every ending becomes a be ginning, every impasse becomes  the pledge of a hope. Here springs forth out of the hardest rock the water of  eternal life. Here ends the road of reason and faith sprouts wings. Here the puzzle  of the world is solved through the mystery of God. Here is bridged the chasm between  heaven and earth, because your faithful live in both realms at once.

Blessedness  is no longer a distant promise: this, rather, is eternal life — that in love  they have come to know you, Father, and also me, whom you have sent. And no human  flinching concerning salvation will constitute such shaky ground that the Rock  of Faith will not outdo instability with firmness. “For my sheep hear my voice  and I know them, and they follow after me, and I give them eternal life, and they  will not in all eternity be lost, and no one will snatch them from my hand. My  Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all others, and no one can steal  from the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

This is why I myself am  the Resurrection and the Life, and whoever believes in me, whoever drinks from  the source that flows from my open side, from him a new source will spring forth  which will be inexhaustible, for it flows from eternal life into eternal life.  And, Martha, it will not be on the Last Day that I will awaken him, for whoever  believes in me has already passed over from death to life. His grave has already  burst open and he has risen to eternal life. This is eternal life, that believing,  loving and hoping, they come to know you, Father, and also me, whom you have sent.  To you, my Church, have I entrusted this fountainhead. Out of you, who are  my Body, out of your open side does it flow forth to refresh all peoples. Just  as you, as the new Eve, have sprung forth from my sleep, so do I, who am divine  life itself, spring forth from you. Your hands distribute me as the Bread of the  World.

For, to be sure, the woman derives from the man, but the man is then  born of the woman. Everything, however, derives from God. Being God, I am the  Source and am before every being, and for this reason the man is the glory of  God and the source of the woman, and God-become-human is the man, while the Church  is a woman, since the woman is the glory of the man. But, because I became  the Son of Man, I have been born from human beings and am your child, O Church.  For everyone who does the will of my Father is not only my brother and my sister,  but my mother as well. You have sprung forth from my Heart and I have rested under  your heart. You, to whom I gave birth with much suffering at the Cross, will be  prostrate in painful labor with me until the end of the world.

Your image mysteriously  blurs to merge with the image of my virginal Mother. She is an individual woman,  but in you she becomes the cosmic Mother. For in you my individual Heart, too,  widens to become the Heart of the World. You yourself are the holy heart of  the nations, holy because of me, but unifying the world for me, making my Blood  circulate throughout the body of history. In you my redemption ripens, I myself  grow to my full stature, until I, two-in-one with you, and in the bond of the  two-in-one flesh — you, my Bride and my Body — will place at the feet  of the Father the Kingdom which we are. The bond of our love is the meaning of  the world. In it all things reach fulfillment. For the meaning of the world is  love.