A Good Day In Hell
A brief, dashed off blast. I have no idea whether any of this is strictly orthodox, so go easy. Most of it is from beyond (or possibly beneath) my praygrade, so I'm not to blame.
It seems that most Christians proceed directly from Good Friday to the even gooder Sunday, forgetting all about Holy Saturday. But not Balthasar, who felt that Holy Saturday was the Master key to the metacosmic meaning of the Incarnation, for it is the missing link between Crucifixion and Resurrection, dis-memberment and re-union.
For when the Word became flesh, he didn't just became a man, nor did he become only mankind. Rather, because man contains within him all the vertical degrees of existence, Christ also became existence as such, in all its diverse modes and possibilities, both manifest and hidden, gross and subtle, local and nonlocal.
It is said that Christ is the second Adam who done undid what the first done did. That being the case, it was necessary to get to the very "bottom" of existence, both horizontally and vertically. If he hadn't done that, then the situation would have been analogous -- in a manner of speaking, of course -- to taking an antibiotic for only a few days instead of the full course. In such a case, there is a danger that the infection will just hide out or mutate and return in an even more virulent form. Rather, you have to take the full course in order to kill every last trace of the parasite in your whole system.
Balthasar's views on this subject are apparently controversial, but for me, they necessarily follow from the very nature and purpose of the Incarnation. For if the purpose of the Incarnation is to heal man's alienation from God by taking it on and reversing it, then Christ must again follow this alienation all the way down to the roots, which would include not just terrestrial abandonment, but the post-biological abandonment of hell; or, one might say both temporal and eternal forsakenness.
If you imagine the Logos dropping into time and history, this descent was "arrested," so to speak, for the 33 years Jesus assumed the human form and walked the earth. But then, at the point of death, with no physical form to support him, he continued his vertical plunge to the very bottom of all cosmic possibility, into the darkest nescience at the extreme periphery of being, where it shades off into the hopeless and helpless non-being of hell.
Picture the sun, then imagine one of its rays striking the earth. But remove the earth, and the ray goes on and on, gradually diminishing in strength until it becomes undetectable and merges with the Dark. Only then can Darkness itself be subsumed into the saving grace of the cosmic theo-drama.
Or, to turn it around, in the absence of this total descent into darkness, it is as if there is an autonomous, far corner of the cosmos, a misspelled underword existing outside the circle of the Trinity.
To say with the Fathers that "God became man so that man might become God," is equally to affirm that God incarnates in the cosmos so that the cosmos itself might be sanctified and divinized: cosmotheosis, the reinstatement of the primordial unity of existence.
Time itself as we know it must go into suspension on Holy Saturday. It is not as if there is an unbroken linear thread between Crucifixion and Resurrection, but a true hiatus, or ontological fissure, in which not just Jesus, but the cosmos itself is abandoned and in ruins.
Why? "Because only in this way can God display the divine freedom to embrace completely what is not divine, and thus display what divinity completely, triumphantly, and unalterably is. God's 'hiding' of God in the dereliction of the Cross and the silence of Holy Saturday is in fact the definitive revelation" (in Oakes; emphasis mine).
Another way of saying it is that the transcendent became immanent so that the immanent might become transcendent. The source of transcendence is beyond the created order, and the latter can no more "contain" it than a circle can contain a sphere. It is as if the transcendent God plunges to the limits of immanent godlessness, paradoxically assuming what is not God into God. God in-corporates his own negation, so to speak.
For better or worse, I take seriously our theomorphic clueprint, i.e., that we are created in God's image. Therefore, the best analogy I can think of at the moment is a psychoanalytic one -- of the person plunging into the darkness of his own unconscious recesses in order to shine a light on his own subversive mind parasites and save them from their self-sufficient activity beyond the reach of the central self.
In fact, there is frankly nothing new in psychoanalysis per se; rather, it was simply a secularization of the spiritual adventure that had always been known by the great mystics, cf. Dante and his journey to the ends of hell prior to the ascent to paradise (or quintessentially in the Dark Night of St. John of the Cross).
"The emptiness of Holy Saturday is precisely the fullness, the actual fullness, of God.... God must be such as to make it possible for divine life to be victorious simply by 'sustaining' itself in hell.... God is God in or even as what is other than God (a dead man, a lost soul)." And "if we are serious in regarding God as intrinsically loving, this otherness must be something to do with divine love" (ibid).
The creation is not God, just as your child is not you. In abandoning himself to his own creation, it is as if God pours out his life for the sake of his children. For you will only know infinite love when you are aware of your love for an infinitely precious object, and equally know that this victorious love is stronger than death.