Volume 25, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2005
Susan A. Ross
Women, Beauty, and Justice
Moving Beyond von Balthasar
IN THIS ESSAY I CONSIDER POSSIBLE CONTRIBUTIONS OF FEMINIST THEOLogy to theological aesthetics and ethics by comparing the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905—88), the predominant figure in theological aesthetics, with that of Elizabeth Johnson and Sallie McFague. Balthasar's emphasis on contemplation and obedience in response to the unexpected revelation of God's glory contrasts with the practicality, mutuality, and creativity of feminist theological ethics. On the other hand, feminist theology's emphasis on appropriate language and images for God suggests an implicit aesthetics. The artistic work of contemporary African women in crisis situations sheds further light on both Balthasar and feminist theology and brings into relief the relationship of beauty and justice. Although Balthasar's emphasis on the transcendent glory of God may leave him with an undeveloped ethics, feminist theology's agent-oriented approach could benefit from greater attention to contemplation and a transformed understanding of obedience. These conclusions urge greater appreciation and development of the aesthetic and imaginative dimensions of feminist theological ethics.