Prof. Cyril O’ Regan: “Balthasar: Apocalypse and the Eclipse of Nietzsche” 

As with many young German speaking intellectuals between the early 1920s and WW II, Hans Urs von Balthasar judged his time to be one of cultural crisis with outcomes indeterminate in general and undecided with regard to Christianity in particular. I would like to focus on two early responses in Balthasar’s work to the perceived crisis in which Nietzsche was a major focus and chart subtle shift between his view of Nietzsche in his 1928 dissertation and the profile we get of Nietzsche in his 3-volume Apokalypse der deutschen Seele (1937-1939). In his dissertation Nietzsche shares the stage with Kierkegaard as being of the two most important thinkers who have unveiled the jadedness of Western culture and the attenuation of Christianity. Consequently, precisely because of the apocalyptic form of his diagnosis, Balthasar views Nietzsche more or less as a productive resource for the healing of the culture and the renovation of Christianity. Changes in both method and critical evaluation are, however, to be observed a decade later in the second volume of Apokalypse der deutschen Seele. If anything, for Balthasar, Nietzschian apocalyptic seems to be even more important than it was in the dissertation. Not only does Balthasar give Nietzsche’s work many more pages than in the dissertation, but avails of ‘Dionysos’ as the figuration of the multitude of philosophies of life that are covered in the text. At the same time, however, there is a clearer sense of the decision that needs to be made: Christ or Dionysos or Christ and the Anti-Christ. Without being overly declarative, Balthasar effectively makes a very definitive decision against Nietzsche, who seems to more or less disappear in Balthasar’s mature work to be replaced by Heidegger as the carrier of the Dionysian or vitalist alternative to Christianity.