Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the kenotic motif in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, particularly in light of his concern to protect human agency. This dissertation argues that Balthasar views kenotic spiritual practice as the pathway to achieve true human agency. This kenotic pathway to agency is placed in contrast to Balthasar's concept of original sin as an attempt by humanity to achieve agency on their own terms. The narrative of original sin results in two possible outcomes for Balthasar: a spiritual pathway toward the absorption of the self, which results in the annihilation of the self or, the autonomy of the self is emphasized to the degree that self-actualization becomes the goal of the spiritual journey and other humans are seen as obstacles to self-realization. This project explores the themes of kenosis within the doctrine of the Incarnation and Trinity as the solution to understanding human agency and as the answer to original sin in and through the Incarnation. The Christological and Trinitarian shape of sainthood and spirituality are explored in the final two chapters. Balthasar's treatment of St. John of the Cross, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Elisabeth of the Trinity are examples of how the kenotic motif is revealed in the lives of the saints. The final chapter looks at Balthasar's spirituality as thoroughly kenotic and that this kenotic activity cannot be systematized into a universal ethical or spiritual model; rather, it is enacted through discernment. This discernment is based on the norm of the gospel as "hard sayings" and as "good news." Each individual human being is invited to take on a unique mission, which forms them into a theological person, those providing a deep and real sense of human agency. The dissertation ends with a speculative interaction of Balthasar's kenotic thought with three other scholars, Edith Wyschogrod, Sarah Coakley, and Sallie McFague, in order to offer a glimpse into future discussions of kenosis in contemporary theology.

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Creative Commons License
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