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von speyr the chalcedonian

Recently, I read an interested passage in Adrienne von Speyr’s book, Man Before God, which is a book one could use to approach her theological anthropology.  I was very interested, however, not just in what she says about the human person in light of the encounter with the Word.  Instead, I was pleased to see her healthy Chalcedonianism. 

In the english translation, von Speyr writes, God the Son

“himself is the Word of the Father from all eternity, and he understands his own unlimited meaning.  But as man, in terms of his human nature, he has to learn his own eternal word and find the right expression” (von Speyr, Man Before God, pg. 67). 

In other words, as God, the Son understands himself perfectly, but as man, he learns to understand and articulate himself as the eternal Word.

“Smile” was my reaction.  You’ll find something similar in many professionally-trained theologians of the Chalcedonian strains of Christology, but you would normally not expect it from a lay person not formally educated in classic Christology. 

Here’s why this is important: the knowledge of Jesus Christ, that is, his knowledge of himself not our knowledge of him, is a hotly debated topic in contemporary Christology.  The question is often put like this: if Jesus is truly human, how is it possible that his human mind could understand himself as fully God?  Put too simply, Christologies from above (of course Jesus has perfect knowledge of himself as fully God) part ways with Christologies from below (of course Jesus does not nor cannot have perfect knowledge of himself as fully God). 

The problem with those characterizations is that they are not yet Chalcedonian. The Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451 makes the major compromising Christological breakthrough with this statement:

“Following the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach and confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, composed of rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father as to his divinity and consubstantial with us as to his humanity; ‘like us in all things but sin.’ He was begotten from the Father before all ages as to his divinity and in these last days, for us and for our salvation, was born as to his humanity of the virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

“We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation (in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter). The distinction between natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis.”

There is much here in this text.  Look at that phrase “the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together.”  In other words, the human nature and the divine nature of the Son preserve their character proper to their nature as they are united.  The human nature stays characteristically human and the divine nature stays characteristically divine. This idea, of course, gets developed rightly(!) by the next ecumenical council. (shhhh, I’m a neo-Chalcedonian).

A proper Christology will preserve the two natures of the incarnate Son.  Thus, we should say that the human mind of the incarnate Son maintains its limitations in understanding himself as the eternal Word and that the divine mind of the Son maintains its unlimitedness in understanding himself as the eternal Word.

Or we could just say it exactly like Adrienne von Speyr: God the Son “himself is the Word of the Father from all eternity, and he understands his own unlimited meaning.  But as man, in terms of his human nature, he has to learn his own eternal word and find the right expression.”

Happily, von Speyr does not stop with this point.  She continues.  In the next section, she says that to understand properly that even though we can discern a type of separation in the knowledge of the different natures,

“He is ‘I’ as man and as God, and in this ‘I’ there can be no discrepancy between them, … he is active word of the Father, the incarnate, only begotten Son in the entire depth and uniqueness of this word” (von Speyr, Man Before God, pg. 67). 

He is one Person with one “I” and this “I” is the divine “I” of the divine Son who has become incarnate.

Happy feast of the Incarnation (sometimes called the Feast of the Annunciation)!

a speyrian interpretation of the prodigal son as the prodigal Word

The gospel reading on the Fourth Sunday of Lent is the story of the prodigal son (Lk 15:1-3,11-32). My friend, Deacon Paul Anel, who is the Art Director of Heart’s Home USA in Brooklyn chose to use a Speyrian interpretation of the passage for his sermon last Sunday.  Here we see von Speyr’s principle at work—everything in Scripture must be brought into the trinitarian relations. 

By permission, I present the sermon here for you:The prodigal Word kneeling at the feet of the Father

“‘A man had two sons…’ We heard that story so many times that we know it by heart. Yet each time we hear it again, we cannot help identifying with this man. I am the prodigal son, the son who strayed away from his Father’s love and home. I wasted my time and life for things that could not make me happy. This parable is the story of my life, my journey, it is the story of my sins and conversions.

Conversion, we believe, is our responsibility. That’s what Lent and penance is about, isn’t it? Sin is something that pertains to us, whereas everything good in us pertains to God: patience, tenderness, courage and, above all, charity. He has taken everything from us. Everything but sin. Sin still belongs to us. It is our thing, our responsibility. Sin is what God cannot take away from us. It belongs to us, and therefore, conversion too. It is our work, our lifelong effort. Maybe our pride.

“‘A man had two sons…’ I would like to suggest that we read that Parable differently. ‘A man had two sons…’ God the Father lived in perfect communion with the Word and the Holy Spirit. Everything that belonged to him belonged to them: his divinity, his perfect knowledge, his love. One day though, the Word decided to set off to a country far away. Taking his heritage, that is, his divine nature, he left his Father’s home and came down into the world. The Word was made flesh and he dwelt among us. There he was, walking among us. Wasting his divine heritage during thirty years in the silence of Nazareth. Then sitting in the house of the sinners, eating with tax collectors and prostitutes. Giving away everything he possessed: his time, his words, his strength. Giving away everything, up to his flesh and blood. Up to his garments. Until he found himself starving on the cross, starving for love, for forgiveness. Far from his Father, no longer deserving to be called his Son, abandoned by him and by us.

“Sin does not belong to us. Not anymore. If there is one thing that Jesus took away from us, it is sin, precisely. Not that he committed sin. It did much more than that: ‘He was made sin’, says St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. He was made sin. That is, he experienced the agony, the exile, the consequences of sin to an extent never quite experienced by any human being. He endured the agony of sin and the loneliness of hell in a way we cannot even imagine.

Love One Another by Georges Rouault, 1923“Lent is not about our conversion, not primarily. It is about Christ’s conversion. It is about Christ confessing on the Cross the sin of the world, our sin, my sin. It is about the Father embracing Jesus-Christ on Easter morning, absolving him from the burden of Sin. Covering him with the mantle of victory. Putting at his finger the nuptial ring… For Jesus did not come back alone to his Father’s home. He married our humanity, saving us from our prostitutions to lifeless idols. Making us the Church, his pure and sinless bride.

“During the next three weeks before Easter, let us ask the Father - not for our conversion - but that we may keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ with faith and gratitude. That each confession may be a participation in his own Great Confession on the Cross. That each confession may fill us with the certitude of the Absolution, that was given once and for all on Easter morning. That each Eucharist may give us the joy to celebrate with him, in his Father’s house, the gift of Salvation.”

—Thank you for this, Deacon Anel.


where is adrienne von speyr buried?

Adrienne von Speyr, who died in September 17, 1967, was buried three days later on her sixty-fifth birthday in Basel, Switzerland next to her husband, Werner Kaegi.  Here's a map of the Basel cemetery Friedhof am Hörnli, which is also the same cemetery where Karl Barth was buried.

View Friedhof am Hönli in a larger map

Here is the location of her tombstone in the cemetery.

View Tombstone of Adrienne von Speyr in a larger map

When you visit, you will see her unique tombstone, which symbolically represents the circumincession of the Trinity.  It was carved by Albert Schilling, who also carved the altar in the Basel Allerheiligen church.

Tombstone of Adrienne Kaegi - von Speyr (1902-1967)

"I believe as best I can; I hope as best I can; I love, finally, as best I can. But the Son's love--and in it the love of the triune God--is infinite, accompanying the dying through death and leading them to their place in eternal life" (Adrienne von Speyr, The Mystery of Death, 114).

what is your favorite adrienne von speyr book?

As a growing number of works by Adrienne von Speyr are being translated, a richer picture of her thought is being painted in the English-speaking world.  No matter how many books of Adrienne von Speyr you have read, what book of hers is your favorite?

Please post it in the comments section below.

For those of you wondering about me, my favorite is Handmaid of the Lord.  You can see my other favorite von Speyr books here.

What is your favorite Adrienne von Speyr book?

von speyr's spirituality influenced the founding of heart's home

For me one of the great blessings of this website is meeting all of you who read it.  Since moving to New York City, I have had the pleasure of meeting the living saints who work for Heart's Home USA, which is an international charitable organization and Catholic ecclesial movement.  The reason for featuring them on this website, which is dedicated to all things Adrienne, is that the founder of Heart's Home or Points-Coeur, Rev. Thierry de RoucyRev. Thierry de Roucy, was significantly influenced by Adrienne von Speyr's spirituality in creating this ecclesial movement.

Founded in France in 1990 and now in twenty countries, the international movement is truly spreading a culture of compassion inspired by Speyrian spirituality.  Père Thierry who usually works from their International Center for a Culture of Compassion in Woodbourne, NY leads retreats, gives talks, and offers schools of community that are usually based on Speyrian themes and writings.  Père Thierry, of course, has written about the spirituality of Adrienne von Speyr (e.g. Adrienne von Speyr: Théologienne de toujours plus and Jésus, les Chrétiens et la Confession: Essai sur le Fondement Christologique de la Confession chez Adrienne von Speyr) and when you meet him and others from Heart's Home you know that von Speyr's spirituality, particularly her understanding of the evangelical counsels, is being lived concretely.

Laetitia Palluat of Heart's Home with a friend from a nursing homeTheir good, loving works are many.  For example at their house in Brooklyn, NY, with which I am the most familiar, the priests, sisters, young lay men and women care for those who are sick, disabled, poor, or homebound.  They visit with these suffering people offering whatever they can, but most importantly as Sr. Regine Fohrer likes to say, they offer compassion that shares these peoples' suffering just as Mary intimately shared in Jesus' suffering.  Here in New York City, they also engage in a profound evangelization of culture through their ministry to artists.  I think for example here of the work of Fr. Paul Anel.  You will also find them, especially Père Thierry, giving presentations and retreats that are imbued with Speyrian spirituality: unreserved readiness for anything, obedience as performative love, confession as a profound way of being present within God, and the importance of compassionate engagement with the secular world.Heart's Home Volunteer

As you learn more about Heart's Home, please consider volunteering with them in the US and internationally.  Above all, pray for them that they always reside in the heart of Jesus, sharing his love with all.

presentation on balthasar and speyr

On May 29, 2009, I will be presenting a paper called "Paul's Theology of Charism and the Ecclesial Relationship between Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr" at the annual meeting of the College Theology Society.

I gave an undergraduate-friendly version of this presentation a few months ago.  Here is the abstract of my upcoming presentation:

Many systematic theologians acknowledge the relationship between Hans Urs von Balthasar, the significant twentieth-century Catholic theologian, and Adrienne von Speyr, the Swiss physician and Catholic mystic.  There is, however, difficulty understanding the actual character and purpose of this relationship.  What precisely does von Balthasar mean when he calls the greater part of his writings "a translation of what is present in more immediate, less technical fashion in the powerful work of Adrienne von Speyr" (Hans Urs von Balthasar, My Work in Retrospect, 105)?

I argue in this paper that Paul's theology of charism, particularly dealing with double mission charisms, will help us understand correctly the ecclesial relationship between von Balthasar and von Speyr.  While Paul's theology of charism (1 Cor 12-14) speaks mostly of singular missions (preaching, teaching, etc.) for the building up of the church, he also sees a necessary place for double missions.  For example, the charism given to the interpreter of tongues accompanies the one who speaks in tongues "so that the Church may be edified" (1 Cor 14:5).  This Pauline theology of the mutual dependence of charisms will provide a way for understanding the inextricably interwoven relationship between Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr.

The presentation is my small effort to advance the essential insight that the joint work of von Balthasar and von Speyr is inextricably connected.  To be comprehensive and valuable, interpretations of their work must acknowledge this connection.

von speyr in spanish

For those of you interested in reading Adrienne von Speyr in Spanish, I am happy to tell you about a new publishing house called Ediciones San Juan.Ediciones San Juan  

Their purpose is mainly to publish von Speyr's works in Spanish.  The translators know well her theology and mysticism so they are able to provide good faithful translations.

At the time of this post, these editions are available:

  • Ancilla Domini
  • El cantar de los cantares
  • Elías
  • La confesión
  • La creación
  • La misión de los profetas
  • La Palabra se hace carne: Meditaciones sobre el Evangelio de Juan, 1-5
  • La santa misa
  • María en la redencion 
  • Palabras de la cruz y sacramentos

Thanks to Alberto Valero for alerting me to this important work.

new translation - man before god

Man Before God by Adrienne von SpeyrThanks to the translation of David Schindler Jr. and Nicholas J. Healy, we have a new translation of Adrienne von Speyr's short work the way of sanctification, Der Mensch vor Gott.  The book, Man Before God, published by Ignatius Press provides a one-volume summary of her theological anthropology, i.e. how she views the human person in light of his encounter with God.  

Readers of Hans Urs von Balthasar will see in her book similar themes from his work Heart of the World.  If I allow myself any time to reflect upon my existence as a man before God, I begin to know deeply my finitude, my limitations, and my nothingness.  Yet, since God has become man, I am now able to find within my finitude a way toward the infinite.  I stand before God as a finite man longing for the infinite, but Jesus Christ, who has taken on my position of finitude, stands before God as the perfect man who is perfectly infinite.  

If you read this book, you must know that her title has a double meaning: it means Man (as in a human person) before God, but it also means The Man (Jesus Christ as the perfect man [Der Mensch]) before God. 

the ecclesial relationship between von balthasar and von speyr

I am happy to present to you a very imperfect presentation I gave to the St. John’s University chapter of Theta Alpha Kappa Society (a theology major and minors honors society).  There is nothing more humbling than listening to yourself speak.  There are some minor misstatements that I would like to revise, but you may enjoy hearing this informal presentation on Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr.

audio no longer available

Here is an unedited mp3 of my presentation called “The Ecclesial Relationship between the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar and mystic Adrienne von Speyr.”

To introduce my presentation, I used this PDF handout.

Please tell me what you think in the comments section below.  Enjoy!

lumina and new lumina

Lumina and New LuminaA new translation is available of the small but valuable work, Lumina und Neue Lumina.  Published by Ignatius Press, this book, Lumina and New Lumina, which is a collection of aphorisms, really contemplative 'insights', should be graciously welcome in the English-speaking world.

"To get or to understand people always means: to look at them from God's angle, from the point of view communicated through Him.  It is not a science but a pure grace."

"Christian hope is a vessel in which faith lives; love carries it."

"Only when you are familiar with silence have you learned to speak; what you have to say can ripen only in silence."

new italian publication

The italian journal, Humanitas, has published a concentrated issue on Adrienne von Speyr as a mystic of the twentieth century.  Edited by Giacomo Coccolini, you will find these important articles: Humanitas, Adrienne von Speyr issue

Coccolini, G., "Introduzione" 

Martinelli, P., "Adrienne von Speyr e la mistica cristiana"

Servais, J., "Una mistica imperniata sulla Rivelazione giovannea. Adrienne von Speyr" 

Ouellet, M., "Adrienne von Speyr e il Sabato Santo della teologia" 

Krenski, Th., "Stefano o Gezabele? «Mistica oggettiva» di Adrienne von Speyr" 

Sincere thanks to Dr. Alberto Fanton for alerting me.  


are there dissertations on von speyr?

Yes, as far as I have been able to find, there are a few dissertations (one of which is my own). They are:

Berg, Blaise R. "Christian Marrige according to Adrienne von Speyr," S.T.D. diss., Lateran Pontifical University, John Paul II Institute of Studies on Marriage and Family, Rome, 2003.

Matro, Justin. “Christian Suffering in the Spiritual Writings of Adrienne von Speyr.” S.T.D. diss., Gregorian Pontifical University, Rome, 1999.

Miles, L. M. "Obedience of a Corpse: The Key to the Holy Saturday Writings of Adrienne von Speyr." Ph.D. diss., University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK, 2013. PDF available

Schiettecatte, J. “Disponibilité aimante: L’attitude d’amour johannique chez Adrienne von Speyr à la lumière de l’exégèse contemporaine.” S.T.D. diss., Teresianum Pontifical University, Rome, 1998.

Schmidt, William. “The Sacrament of Confession as Sequela Christi in the Writings of Adrienne von Speyr.” S.T.D. diss., Lateran Pontifical University, John Paul II Institute of Studies on Marriage and Family, Rome, 1999.

Sutton, Matthew. "The Gate of Heaven Opens to the Trinity: The Trinitarian Mysticism of Adrienne von Speyr." Ph.D. diss., Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, 2007.

Others in process. I look forward to promoting more dissertations on von Speyr's vast theological and mystical work.

where can one find von speyr's works in german?

In the USA, finding Adrienne von Speyr's works in German can be difficult.  You can purchase most of them from the Johannes Verlag.  If you are looking for some of the privately published works (i.e. a few volumes of Die Nachlasswerke), you will have to try interlibrary loan through your own library.  The Alcuin Library at St. John's University has the most complete collection of Adrienne von Speyr in German, except for the second volume of Kreuz und Hoelle.  I would very much like to find a copy of this second volume.


I am always struck by the central theme of obedience in von Speyr's works. 

I recently did a presentation as a guest lecturer for the Carmelite sisters in Milwaukee.  For the presentation, I chose the evangelical virtue of obedience and used the chapter on obedience in Adrienne von Speyr's book They Followed His Call.  The focus of the class was on the first sentence, "To be a child of God means to be obedient, to draw on an obedience that has its source in the obedience of the Son himself, in order to live by it." (Speyr, They Followed His Call, 58).  Our obedience as children of God must imitate the obedience of the true child of God, the Son, and this imitation is of the crucified Son who "became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8).  These Carmelite sisters, who have committed themselves to redeeming the world by their daily obedience to God through their Mother Superior, were really moved by the Holy Spirit in what Adrienne von Speyr had to say about obedience.  Through this presentation on her theme of obedience I could see them widening their horizon of daily obedience to take in the great landscape of the eternal obedience of the Son of God.