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Light in Darkness
Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Catholic Doctrine of Christ's Descent into Hell
POD; Published: 2/12/2007
ISBN: 978-0-8028-4039-4
Price: $ 41.50
474 Pages
Trim Size, in inches: 6.25 x 9.25
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He descended into hell.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century, placed this affirmation of the Nicene Creed at the heart of his reflection on the world-altering events of Holy Week, asserting that this identification of God with the human experience is at the "absolute center" of the Christian faith. Yet is such a descent to suffering really the essence of Catholic belief about the mystery of Holy Saturday?

Alyssa Lyra Pitstick's Light in Darkness -- the first comprehensive treatment of Balthasar's theology of Holy Saturday -- draws on the multiple yet unified resources of authoritative Catholic teaching on Christ's descent to challenge Balthasar's conclusions. Pitstick conducts a thorough investigation of Balthasar's position that Christ suffered in his descent into hell and asks whether that is compatible with traditional teaching about Christ.

Light in Darkness is a thorough argument for the existence and authority of a traditional Catholic doctrine of Christ's descent as manifested in creeds, statements of popes and councils, Scripture, and art from Eastern and Western traditions. Pitstick's carefully argued, contrarian work is sure to spur debate across the theological spectrum.

David Bentley Hart
— author of The Beauty of the Infinite
"Hans Urs von Balthasar was undoubtedly one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. . . Certain aspects of his thought, however — and most particularly his famous or infamous 'Theology of Holy Saturday' — have often roused considerable disquiet in the breasts of certain of his readers, and have even caused some to accuse him of importing Gnostic, Romantic, or German idealist notions into the Christian story. One need not share either Alyssa Pitstick's doctrinal commitments or her ultimate conclusions to see that her book provides a much-needed service: by comparing Balthasar's theology of the harrowing of hell so relentlessly to traditional statements of Catholic dogma and belief, she provides the foundations for a debate that — sooner or later — must be undertaken in earnest by Balthasar's champions and detractors."
John Saward
— Oxford University
"Pitstick's book is a challenge to those who regard Balthasar as an entirely trustworthy theologian, ranking with the greatest masters of the Tradition. She subjects his understanding of Christ's descent into hell to a searching critique and shows it to be seriously at odds with the teaching of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church."
Thomas Howard
— author of On Being Catholic
"In Light in Darkness Alyssa Lyra Pitstick undertakes a Himalayan venture — namely, to scrutinize the work of von Balthasar on a particular, and particularly critical, point, Christ's descent into hell, and to bring to bear on the question the entire Catholic tradition — Sacred Scripture, Creeds, the Magisterium, the sensus fidelium, and even liturgy and art. What marks the work supremely is its circumspection: there is nothing rash, nothing hasty, and nothing ill gotten. . . Any thinking reader will find here a splendid case in point of robust theological dialogue. Very highly recommended."
Aidan Nichols
— Oxford University
"This severe, but forcefully argued, study will have to be borne in mind in all future assessment of Balthasar's theological doctrine."
Richard John Neuhaus
— in First Things
"Alyssa Pitstick gives no quarter. She notes instances in which Balthasar, in her view, misrepresents scriptural, patristic, and magisterial texts and simply ignores aspects of the tradition inconvenient to his argument. . . Pitstick has thrown down a gauntlet that other theologians should not ignore. . . Thanks to Pitstick, a new and lively debate over Balthasar's achievement is almost certainly under way."
New Blackfriars
"An impressive book. Pitstick has had the courage to challenge a major theological reputation head on, and has done so with great skill. The result is the most sustained and detailed criticism of Balthasar's theology yet published in English, and a work of acute argument in its own right."