And still we wait: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday and Its Implications for Christian suffering and discipleship
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The significance of Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, is often ignored in Christian life. The most influential modern theologian who has taken its importance seriously is the Swiss Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar. He has presented a very innovative but also controversial interpretation that on Holy Saturday Jesus Christ suffered in utter solidarity with the dead in Hell and took to himself our self-damnation. However, this interpretation and several other aspects of his theology related to it seem to depart from the traditional teaching in an idiosyncratic way and have invited various critiques. What this thesis aims to do is to critically examine Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday and present its implications for Christian suffering and discipleship, while doing full justice to the genre within which he is working (a combination of theology and spirituality) and at the same time taking into consideration the main critiques made against him. First of all, we will argue that Balthasar does not try to present a radical reinterpretation of the doctrine of the Descent into Hell in contrast to the traditional teachings but rather tries to fully appreciate the in-betweenness of Holy Saturday as the day of transition from the Cross to the Resurrection, in other words, from the old aeon to the new. Balthasar says that Christ Himself descended into Hell as victor over sin and death objectively, but He still had to wait for the victory to arrive subjectively. Further, we will claim that this silent waiting on Holy Saturday, which marks the transition from the Cross to the Resurrection, helps us to deepen our understanding of the meaning of suffering in Christian discipleship. The waiting on Holy Saturday represents the fundamentally ‘tragic’ state of the Christian (understood as “tragedy under grace”) torn between the law of this world and the truth of Christ. As a paradoxical being in transition, the Christian believes that their victory is both already there and not there yet. In this sense, the Christian still lives in Holy Saturday. This notion deepens our understanding of suffering in the Christian life, because now we could translate the meaning of suffering into ‘tragic waiting,’ while fully facing the subjective reality of suffering and at the same time maintaining the hope of finding its salvific meaning by relating it to the paschal mystery. Our conclusion will be that this ‘tragic waiting,’ which itself is our lives, now can be seen in a Christological light. In short, we can patiently endure our Holy Saturday because of Christ’s Holy Saturday in Hell.