Christians, and especially Catholics, cannot begin to think about the Church without considering the sacraments—especially baptism and Eucharist. The twentieth century has seen numerous attempts to revitalize sacramental theology in service of the church’s common life. Louis-Marie Chauvet’s contribution to this field is well recognized, although people do not always pay quite as much attention to how practical his erudite work on sacramental causality intended to be. Indeed, the so-called “petit Chauvet” ends with a chapter dedicated to figuring out how to respond to requests for baptism from parents who do not intend to raise their children in the faith.1
Bernard Lonergan, SJ, also worked in theological modes that seem to be far from the practicalities of parish life. But Lonergan sought to provide a means by which to undergird an authentic transposition of Catholic theology into a form more available to the contemporary world. In an oft-cited passage, Lonergan lays out his program thus:
Classical culture cannot be jettisoned without being replaced; and what replaces it cannot but run counter to classical expectations. There is bound to be formed a solid right that is determined to live in a world that no longer exists. There is bound to be formed a scattered left, captivated by now this, now that new development, exploring now this and now that new possibility. But what will count is perhaps a not numerous center, big enough to be at home in both the old and the new, painstaking enough to work out one by one the transitions to be made, strong enough to refuse half measures and insist on complete solutions even though it has to wait.2
Lonergan pursues these transitions based on his analysis of human knowing, or better, cognitional theory. By understanding (1) what we do when we know, (2) why it is that such knowing is really knowledge, and (3) what it is we know when we are knowing, Lonergan can critically ground his metaphysics, and employ that metaphysics in a contemporary theology. This metaphysics should root an authentically Christian theology including the achievements in understanding it reached by previous eras, in ways that can be heard and understood by contemporary people. Perhaps more importantly, such a metaphysics will also serve as the basis for new insight into that gospel that will help the Christian community to grow in its knowledge of and action for the kingdom.
The book which is here under discussion brings together Chauvet’s particular concern with sacramental causality with Lonergan’s program for making those transitions from classical to contemporary culture. Joseph C. Mudd engages the eucharistic doctrines of the Catholic Church as answers to particular questions addressing: “(a) Christ’s presence in the eucharistic liturgy of the church, (b) the liturgy as a participation in the sacrifice of Christ, and (c) the effect on the faithful of participation in liturgy.” (169) He is testing Chauvet’s proposal according to Lonergan’s above-mentioned criteria for transitions. In doing so, he not only challenges Chauvet’s account of history and doctrine, but seeks to strengthen its description of the real presence of Christ in the sacramental action.
In the dialogue to come, four scholars will help us to consider Mudd’s account of eucharistic doctrine in light of Lonergan and Chauvet. First, we will hear from Glenn Ambrose, a Chauvet scholar from the University of the Incarnate Word in Texas, who will focus on the need for a metaphysics in theology, and whether that proposed by Lonergan actually strengthens Chauvet’s account.
Next, Andrea Stapleton, of Loyola University Chicago, will focus on Mudd’s contention that misunderstandings and distortions of traditional metaphysics have led to “tragic pastoral consequences.” (38) She examines several of what she sees as these consequences in light of this argument.
Conor Sweeney, of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne, Australia, pushes Mudd on the effects of grace in the believer caused by the sacraments. Like many skeptical of Lonergan, he wonders if his extended meditation on human consciousness is robust enough to describe the relationship between nature and grace.
Finally, Timothy Brunk, of Villanova University, will attend to three interrelated areas having to do with the formation of the church as body of Christ and the ways in which those who receive the Eucharist can fail to become that body which they are made to be.
How God effects the changes he promises in the lives of Christians through the sacraments is not a new question. However, it is a question that has received renewed attention in Roman Catholic theology in the contemporary period. The stakes are high, both theologically and pastorally, and I would like to close by thanking all of the authors who will here help us to enter more deeply into understanding the central mystery of God’s action in our midst.
Louis-Marie Chauvet, The Sacraments: Word of God at the Mercy of the Body, translated by Madeleine Beaumont, (Collegeville: Liturgical, 2001), 173–200.↩
Bernard Lonergan, “Dimensions of Meaning,” in Collection, ed. Frederick Crowe and Robert M. Doran, Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan 4 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), 232–45, quoted here at 245.↩
Making Metaphysics Matter (Again)
Joseph Mudd in Eucharist as Meaning: Critical Metaphysics and Contemporary Sacramental Theology undertakes an important pastoral task, to offer a metaphysical approach to the Eucharist that is meaningful for our time, to overcome problematics in current doctrines that remain from classicist sacramental theology. He uses the contributions of Bernard Lonergan to construct a metaphysics of Eucharist that is meaningful and relevant to participants in the sacraments, rearticulating and elucidating the relationship between terms like real presence, relationship with Christ, and mission. He successfully demonstrates the meaningfulness of the sacraments as they are experienced by the believer, and thus reminds the church why the Eucharist is the source of Christian mission. In doing so, he also lays the groundwork for a renewed ecclesiology for our time, providing openings for conversations about the dynamic nature of doctrines of the Eucharist (particularly as they impact the lives of believers), new approaches to ministry, and ecumenical and interfaith relationships. His comprehensive explanation of Lonergan leads the reader to imagine how such a meaningful experience of the Eucharist may indeed open doors for practical application of Lonergan’s method in the life of the church and in the mission of the body of Christ.
Desire, Relationship, Transformation
Mudd suggests that the issues addressed in his work respond to a pastoral problem in today’s church. He explains that misunderstandings and distortions of traditional metaphysics have led to “tragic pastoral consequences” such as a lack of participation in the Eucharist by the laity. (38) He suggests that explanations of the Eucharist are often left in the language of mystery, requiring a “sacrifice of the intellect to the demands of blind faith,” and so his project is thus an attempt to “articulate a fruitful analogical understanding of this mystery.” (xx) Mudd’s method offers a solution by bringing to the foreground a few key elements: desire, relationality, and effect. While each of these holds a place in traditional metaphysics, they may be obscured for the contemporary churchgoer by the technical philosophical categories that are not only prioritized in determining the validity of the sacrament, but also which provide the criteria to determine one’s belief in the real presence of Christ.(172–73).1 Where such concepts as relationship and desire do emerge in other Eucharistic theologies, it is easy to isolate metaphysics from anthropology. Perhaps the association between the two is evident to philosophers and some clergy, but it is less likely so for average churchgoers, catechumens, seekers, and those prohibited from receiving.
Mudd seeks to “broaden out” from notions of causality and substance and other traditional categories, (39) and instead employs the language of Lonergan’s cognitional structure, emphasizing the person as knower and one who experiences a relationship with Christ. Drawing upon Thomas Aquinas, Mudd states that intention, or desire, brings about the effect of the sacrament, not the rites alone. (178) The efficacy of the sacrament is both an act of Christ (ex opere operato) and the conscious act of the recipient (ex opere operantis), but Mudd’s use of Lonergan highlights how the meaning (and thus effectiveness) of the sacrament is enhanced when the recipient is consciously engaged in the reality. Mudd’s use of Lonergan does not dismiss the traditional elements of the sacrament, but rather prioritizes the intellectual preparedness of the recipient in rendering the sacrament meaningful and effective. One may receive the Eucharist and consume it without realizing its significance, thus performing an act of physical eating, remaining in the world of immediacy, or one may participate with conscious intentionality, participating in “spiritual eating” whereby one engages in the realm of meaning, that is to “[affirm] the meaning of the words spoken over the bread in the context of ritual.” (178–81) Pastorally, we can imagine how much more transformative the sacraments would become when the people of God understand the meaning of Eucharist as the participation in the real Christ who calls us to relationship, redemption and mission, rather than a litany of incomprehensible instructions on mastication and digestion of the species. Although traditional metaphysical explanations do not preclude the meaningfulness of the sacrament or the desire for a relationship with Christ, the two too often appear dissociated. Mudd’s integral approach provides a refreshing possibility for authenticity (in the Lonerganian sense of the word) in Eucharistic participation.
Mudd’s theology expands the experience of the Eucharist beyond the level of immediacy and into the world mediated by meaning, in part through the person’s reaction to the symbols and words of the sacrament. This model of the Eucharist as constitutive and communicative defines the reality of Christ’s presence in the communicative act of the Eucharist: the call of Christ and the response of the one desiring a relationship with Christ. This is what brings people to church (or its absence drives them away).
Mudd effectively demonstrates Lonergan’s view that the effect of the sacraments is conversion and transformation of society. The Eucharist as constitutive and communicative naturally elicits conversion. It would be a pleasure to expand Mudd’s work to explore the effect of the sacrament through Lonergan’s theology of conversion (though Mudd does not neglect this). Mudd’s metaphysics of meaning resurrects the Eucharist from its pastoral crisis not only for the individual believer and her community, but it also restores the strength of the church on its redemptive mission to undo decline. Mudd’s timely construction would nicely follow the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, to restore the centrality of sacraments and to reacquaint the body of believers with a sacramental life that is conscious about its relationship with Christ and intentional about its communal transformation and mission.
For Further Consideration . . .
With great appreciation for this excellent work, I offer some reflections that may offer possibilities for continued conversation, particularly regarding ministry, interfaith and ecumenical dialogue, bias and conversion, the role of the priest, and doctrines.
- Would such a replacement of traditional formulations with Lonergan’s epistemological approach still avoid “tragic pastoral consequences” caused by misinterpretation? While I see great possibilities for pastoral integration of this theology, I wonder about ways to translate the language of metaphysics into an accessible pastoral language. If not, it risks being dismissed in favor of the more common approaches to sacramental preparation which require little to no conscious intentionality at all, and thus, what has led us to a pastoral crisis in sacramental theology. I do not think it is impossible, and it is certainly worthwhile, but it would require precision and diligence.
- Is the church experiencing scotosis regarding traditional metaphysics and theological formulations? I agree with Mudd that an intellectual conversion is in order, but what must happen to facilitate such conversion that would prepare the church’s ministers to depart from language of form, matter, substance, and accident and adopt an epistemological metaphysics such as this? Would this appear to be too subjective to conform to such requirements as this, issued by Pope John Paul II, reaffirming the words of Pope Paul VI on Eucharistic doctrine:
One must firmly maintain that in objective reality, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the consecration, so that the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus from that moment on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine.2
If we could adapt to such a metaphysics of meaning and assimilate it into the language of the church and its ministries, I believe it could indeed mend the pastoral problem. But I wonder if it may precipitate a doctrinal “crisis” for classicist thinkers, for this approach may appear to upend some of the classicist justifications of the regulations on participation in the Eucharist (which more than half of the faithful and would-be or ex-Catholics regard as “needing changed”3).
Regarding Ecumenical and Interfaith Dialogue
Insofar as Mudd’s conclusions are epistemologically based and thus universally available to all human beings, I believe they may open the door for an ecumenical conversation regarding real presence and shared mission. Perhaps adding to the pastoral consequences mentioned by Mudd is the consequence of division that remains between Catholics and Protestants based on longstanding distortions and miscommunications about the Eucharist. Perhaps rearticulating the Eucharist according to Mudd’s suggestions would lend to renewed dialogue on the presence of Christ at the eucharistic meal and its call to shared discipleship and shared mission. Mudd says,
Sacramental action is not a matter of bridging the gap between humans and God with the use of sacramental intermediaries. Sacramental action occurs in the recipient of the sacrament. . . . Consequently, the words of Christ reflect not only a change of the substance of bread and wine into the body and blood but also a conversion of the one who receives those words spiritually in order to partake of their effect, which is communion with Christ and therefore a conversion of a sinful human being into an adopted son or daughter of the father. (215)
Mudd rightly points out that the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life because it is constitutive and communicative. So too is the church. In the final chapter of Method in Theology, Lonergan discusses the missionary and communicative function of the church as the transformative agent in the world.
Thus, perhaps Mudd’s achievement could serve as a basis for a new conversation on Christian unity. With less insistence on (often misunderstood and distorted) doctrinal formulations, the opportunity arises for more common language between Catholics and Protestants on the presence of Christ and the response of the faithful that ground a unified vision of Christian mission as a communal response to Christ’s call to redemption and restoration of the world. Insofar as the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life, Mudd places it at the heart of the theology of the church, the body which is to communicate the redemptive mission of Christ to the world.
The church is a redemptive process. The Christian message, incarnate in Christ scourged and crucified, dead and risen, tells not only of God’s love but also of man’s [sic] sin. . . . I have been speaking of the redemptive action of the church in the modern world. But no less important is its constructive action. In fact, the two are inseparable, for one cannot undo evil without also bringing about the good.4
Mudd thus demonstrates the effect of the Eucharist by uniting the metaphysical with the Christian experience of love, redemption, and mission.
The church for Lonergan is a process of communication, and is “at once cognitive, constitutive, effective. To communicate the Christian message is to lead another to share in one’s cognitive, constitutive, effective meaning.”5 The Christian message, emerging from Christ in the Eucharist and in the liturgy as a whole, is to be known, to be lived, and it must be practiced.6 Mudd’s work situates the Eucharist as it is meant to be, as the proper source for conversion in the life of the church, which draws the body of believers into relationship and response to Christ’s call. Mudd’s work opens vast possibilities concerning the theology of sacraments in the Lonerganian framework, potentially adding depth and meaning to ecclesiological efforts and ministry. I believe Lonergan would say that this is not only a Catholic endeavor, but a shared endeavor of all who respond to Christ’s redemptive call.
Insofar as the Eucharist is a conscious and intentional response to Christ’s invitation of God’s mercy and the redemption of human sin, would this be something that non-Christians may also participate in, at least in some fashion? The affirmation of belief is necessary in the recipient, but I wonder if a non-Christian may somehow receive the effect if her desire is to be reconciled with God through God’s act of love and redemption of sin. Would Mudd’s conclusions allow for such a possibility, just as Aquinas considered such possibilities as baptism of desire?7 If baptism is the point of entrance into a commitment to Christ, with the Eucharist being the final act of full initiation, I wonder if Mudd’s conclusions provide a framework to treat all of the sacraments of initiation in a similar manner as Thomas treats baptism. Such a conversation may resemble that of Rahner’s discussion of anonymous Christianity, although I think that Lonergan’s cognitional theory may offer a nuance that sets it apart from Rahner. In any case, Mudd’s approach may broaden the discussion that, at the very least, provides dialogue on the effects of Christ’s presence in history and its implications for interfaith relationships today.
Sacramental Theology and Doctrines
One of Mudd’s tasks is to explore the doctrine of real presence, noting various interpretations, even in the church’s recent history. (172–73) He leads the reader on a brief tour through Lonergan’s method, giving particular attention to doctrines. The impact of doctrines—and their need for ongoing development and consideration in light of new data—is evident today in the initiatives by Pope Francis to welcome those who have been excluded from the eucharistic celebration, such as those in “irregular marriages.”Amoris Laetitia, On Love in the Family, March 2016. Chapter 8 has been the source of discussion (some dispute) as it opens the possibility of participation in the Eucharist to those cohabitating or divorced. Amoris Laetitia is a theology about love in the family, so the theological context pertains more to the theology of love and the sacrament of marriage than the doctrines of the Eucharist. Still, this illustrates the dynamism of doctrines and the relationship among the sacraments. Further, this document does not address every situation in which a person may be excluded from the Eucharist.[/footnote] Doctrinal development may yield greater authenticity in the life of the church, and so Mudd’s contribution is timely.
If the effect of the sacrament occurs through the desire to participate in the Eucharist, provided the potential recipient has the desire, intention, and knowledge, what does this mean for those who are canonically prohibited from participating? Perhaps this new metaphysics of sacramental meaning would provide the conditions for the possibility that those now excluded would be included, since the assent to the reality of Christ-that-is and Christ-for-us is much more understandable—and authentically relational—than has been offered in traditional metaphysics. Those who may receive the sacrament must assent to the doctrine of real presence and possess the proper formation and disposition for the sacrament.8 Yet a great many people who do not, in fact, assent to the metaphysical doctrines of real presence, nor likely comprehend them, are allowed to receive the sacrament (even young children), while others who desire to participate are excluded.
I believe that Mudd’s contributions address the church’s concerns regarding sufficient preparation better than current pastoral practices, which speak about faith and reason, but fall short when it comes to helping people reason the traditional formulations, though this is clearly overlooked. Mudd asserts that misunderstandings and distortions have created a pastoral problem indicated by a lack of participation in the sacrament; by this he may mean that they do not participate at all or they do not participate consciously (I suspect he means the former). In the latter case, I refer to the very common occurrence of allowing communion to people who lack knowledge about the doctrines of the Eucharist and who may or may not believe in the real presence of Christ, in spite of the teaching that one is to be properly informed, reach the age of reason, and be properly disposed to receive.9 Mudd’s theology may elicit more consciousness and thus more authentic participation in the Eucharist. Surely this would lead to greater conversion and a more transformative church. As Mudd points out, a sacrament that is received with desire, knowledge, and intention will be effective, especially compared to the sacrament received out of unconscious habit.
The Role of the Priest
Mudd refers to the words of Christ spoken during the Eucharist, an instrumental element to render the sacrament meaningful and effective. I would enjoy more discussion about the role of the priest and wonder if more could be said about the mediatory role of the priest in this paradigm. Further discussion could lead to the question about whether the words must necessarily be spoken by an ordained priest, or if in certain cases, the sacrament would still remain valid if the words of Christ were spoken by someone other than an ordained priest.
Bias and Conversion
I would also be interested in more discussion of bias, scotosis, and conversion of the recipient. Mudd discusses each of these, and sufficiently to satisfy his purpose. I would find it interesting to continue to explore bias in the disposition of the recipient of the Eucharist and its consequences for the effectiveness of the sacrament. I would like to know more about how Mudd would explore sacramental effect in Lonergan’s terms of conversion.
Mudd offers an integrated metaphysics of meaning, an approach that I think could lead to more authentic liturgy and a more transformative church. He offers a sound metaphysical proposal with the use of Lonergan to resolve the pastoral problem left by previous metaphysics. His resolution provides a metaphysical description of the Eucharist that satisfies the problem of “real presence” that is pastorally relevant and practical, with its appeal to the believer’s and the seeker’s hope for a “spiritual” and meaningful experience of the sacraments and liturgy.10 The real presence of Christ and symbolic meaning of the Eucharist elicits an authentic relationship between believer and Christ, and recovers the intention of the Eucharist, that is, the intention of Christ. This model of the Eucharist is the heart of the church that Bernard Lonergan describes, a church that communicates redemption and restoration for the world. It offers the participation in the sacraments in the spirit of Pope Francis, who urges us to be a church of mercy, a Eucharistic community that is intentional in its own communal conversion and the transformation of the world through the mission of the church.
I look forward to using Mudd’s book as a resource for my work in ministry, teaching, and in ecclesiological research. Thanks to Joseph Mudd for this much-needed approach to sacramental meaning.
Mudd illustrates the plurality of doctrines on real presence, referring to documents from the Council of Trent, Vatican I, Pope Paul VI, and Pope John Paul II. Each names the criteria for belief in the real presence of Christ, though the explanations vary, as does the language requiring assent.↩
Paul VI, Solemn Profession of Faith, 30 June 1968, 25: AAS 60 (1968), 442–43; cited by John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, April 17, 2003, §6. Available at http://home/163979.cloudwaysapps.com/esbfrbwtsm/public_html.vatican.va/holy_father/special_features/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_20030417_ecclesia_eucharistia_en.html.↩
Pew Research Forum, “Expectations of the Church,” ch. 4 of U.S. Catholics Open to Non-Traditional Families, (report) September 2, 2015. http://home/163979.cloudwaysapps.com/esbfrbwtsm/public_html.pewforum.org/2015/09/02/u-s-catholics-open-to-non-traditional-families.↩
Lonergan, Method in Theology (New York: Herder & Herder, 1972), 364.↩
Ibid. Lonergan’s ecclesiology is also the conscious, intentional act of the community. Mudd draws a clever parallel to the consciousness of the church as an agent of transformation in the world to the conscious act and transformation effected in the Eucharist.↩
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 66, a.12; q. 68, a.2.↩
Code of Canon Law, 916.↩
Ibid., 912–16. Also see Mudd, 172–73. Mudd illustrates through the Council of Trent, Vatican I, Pope Paul VI, and John Paul II the criteria for belief in the real presence of Christ, and the requirement to assent to the teachings of the church regarding real presence. For example, in Paul VI’s Mysterium fidei 35, “In order to be in accord with the catholic faith, [one] must firmly maintain that in objective reality, independently of the mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the consecration.”↩
Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), “Sacraments Today: Beliefs and Practices among U.S. Catholics,” February 2008, http://cara.georgetown.edu/sacraments.html.↩
Insight Within the Limits of Baptism
This book surprised me. It’s not every day that you see Lonergan proposed as an antidote to continental-inspired aporias in contemporary sacramental theology in a way that tries to transcend both scholastic and postmodern categories. Perhaps my own ignorance of possibilities in Lonergan is on display here, but either way, Mudd’s treatment of the theme of eucharistic meaning is an original one that merits consideration.
Mudd’s thesis, in a nutshell, is that Lonergan provides a way beyond the twin temptations of what Marion termed a eucharistic “physics” and “semiotics,”1 a way that will make it possible to re-appropriate eucharistic presence in a meaningful contemporary way. Mudd suggests that both the underlying doctrinal affirmation of meaning in the Eucharist (e.g., that Christ is present in a “real” way) and the postmodern critique of this real as fetishistic could benefit from a dose of Lonerganian “cognitional theory, epistemology, and metaphysics” (47).
Mudd offers and balances: (1) respect for the scholastic/Thomistic/doctrinal heritage, which Mudd recognizes as carrying a trans-system meaning which cannot be thoughtlessly dispensed; (2) recognition of the importance of postmodern critiques such as we see in Chauvet, which thematize certain tendencies in the tradition to think of the sacraments as a “closed grace delivery system” (31) and; (3) a proposed critical third way that purports to go beyond both physics and semiotics, one that moves towards an account of meaning that would, in Marion’s terms, better allow Christ’s sacrificial offering of himself appear according to the measure of its own “givenness.”
On one level, I think that Mudd makes a defensible case for Lonergan’s thought as a way to manage the concerns of both scholastic and postmodern theories of meaning. Although I admit that this assessment may be due as much to my own criteria for what constitutes a faithful rendering of eucharistic meaning (which I will get to in a moment) than it does to any great understanding of Lonergan on my part. What I appreciate in Mudd’s analysis and conclusions is how he largely resists the silliness that typifies so much contemporary reflection on the sacraments, i.e., the sociological collapsing of sacrifice into meal, worship into togetherness, sacramental rite into human ritual, etc. Mudd is not afraid to talk about the Cross, about incorporation into the trinitarian life, about a eucharistic presence in which “Christ is made fully present for the sake of communion” (224). In this, he is able to deftly negotiate an original path between Thomas and Chauvet without capitulating to the oblivion of either physics or semiotics. If this is where Lonergan in substance leads us, then good.
On another level, I have to concede that Lonergan speaks a language somewhat foreign to me. I admit that the Lonerganian approach to meaning would not be my first choice, particularly when attempting to come to grips with a sacramental mode of meaning and presence. By the same token, neither would a scholastic or Thomistic approach to meaning and presence. Thus, I here propose a line of critical questioning born out of my own take on the best way into theological meaning. I do so in a spirit of collegiality, and again, cognizant of my own shortcomings vis-à-vis my capacity to adequately appreciate Lonergan’s thought.
My fundamental question is simple: can “insight” in the most fundamental (viz. theological) sense ever begin outside of the fullness of love and relationship, outside of election and adoption? For me, the first act of thinking of a person who by baptism is already called by Christ and named by the Father cannot be otherwise than an act which fundamentally relativizes the entire paradigm of “knowledge,” that is to say, if knowledge is conceived in any sense as cognitively distinct from this new sacramental relation.2 My concern then with both Thomas and Lonergan has to do with the extent to which their thought is based on an intellectualism that does not sufficiently grasp how the act of knowledge performed by the new sacramental person is significantly distinct from the horizon of questioning outside of baptism. I am quite aware that in neither are we talking about the “sawdust” intellectualism typical of neo-scholasticism, but nevertheless I think that in both there is a tendency to presuppose that the questioning subject is above all else a natural “thinker” who approaches the mystery more from the perspective of categories of substance rather than categories of relation.
And even if in Lonergan in particular this is inflected and nuanced in manifold ways via a genuine engagement with contemporary questions (which may in fact successfully engage some of the alleged aporias of postmodern categories), one is still left with the sense that the person above all must first confront faith as an abstract and independent human “knower” via the modalities of consciousness, cognition, and the reflexive capacity of the individual knower who must first probe and discern the depths of the formal structures of reality before faith can become contemporaneously meaningful. All of this seems to me to float perilously close to the epistemological standards of modernity, e.g., the demand for “rational” intelligibility, transparency, universality, and communicability from the point of view of the extrinsic all-seeing “eye” of the subject who “makes” rather than receives reality.
My question is thus about the capacity of faith to reveal itself as faith if the structures of “knowledge”—no matter how nuanced—are one’s starting point. It’s about whether before anything else the gift of grace is a new presence in us, a baptismal presence that takes our “nature” (with all its native capacities) and recreates it in the shape of a living relation to the Father in Christ where the highest “reason” is now personal love.3 In this case, could it not be that the very act of thinking of the baptismal person, the very posing of the question of meaning (especially meaning in faith), must already take place “inside” a definitive Spirit-filled relation wherein the borders of subject and object, presence and absence, nature and grace, philosophy and theology have already been collapsed and rebuilt theologically within the embodied subjectivity of the radiant sacramental person inserted into Christ’s hypostatic identity as human and divine?
The question is to what extent the gift of faith modifies, or indeed, “crosses out” reason before then bringing it fully to itself. Here, I’m happy to concede a fair bit to the postmodern claim about the naturally relative and contingent character of reason. But my appreciation of this insight does not move to a fetishization of absence, but rather zeroes in on the way the postmodern recognizes that at the heart of any act of knowledge is always an “other.” Von Balthasar’s notion that consciousness itself is always posterior to a more basic “knowledge” of love is important here for overcoming intellectualism.4
This is not to say that the subject is categorically incapable of making credible truth claims, but it is to say that the thinking subject is him or herself always already the fruit of a communal act, a diachronic act, an act always preceded by an other, an act always formed from the reception of multiple presences and multiple relations, both personal and otherwise, that envelop the thinking subject. In short, the act of knowledge is so interiorly constituted by otherness and difference that to think always means to think from the point of view of the event, in the relation, in the mother’s smile, and to presuppose these relations every step of the way. On this basis, I question whether Lonergan and I see eye to eye on the question of what constitutes meaning.
But where I also diverge from someone like Chauvet—who revels in mediation and absence to the point of fetishization, and who never truly arrives back to the rich presence of scriptural faith but instead ends up celebrating new abstractions—is in my belief that in the constitution of a baptismal relation the first truly definitive interpretation has already been performed in the baptized body of the son or daughter of the Father. This interpretation belongs neither to physics nor semiotics. First, we can think of this baptismal relation as something like a kind of baptismal version of Heidegger’s dasein. On the one hand, this dasein embodies a theatre of questioning wherein the baptismal subject can never slough off or overcome the conditions within which the question is asked. They have died with Christ in the dark waters. They have risen as son or daughter of the Father. This relation constitutes them completely and utterly. They are inhabited by it. So no “pure” thinking, no “rational” penetration of the mystery from the outside.
On the other hand, nor can there be a wallowing in semiotics, a reification of absence, a certain way of talking about Christ submitting himself to the human measure of that absence (Chauvet). Baptismal adoption resists abstraction and a human placing of limits on the givenness of divine adoption. It is in the sacraments themselves––particularly in what I call the “nuptial” trilogy of baptism (confirmation), marriage, and the Eucharist––that we discover the definitive vision of meaning. In this, holding fast to the integrity and credibility of the liturgical and sacramental rites themselves, we ourselves, in our new sanctified sacramental personhood, become the definitive, embodied, anthropological interpretation of the text of faith. The story is definitively “interpreted” by the embodied forms that life in Christ takes in and through the Church, and it is to these forms that the baptismal person owes their fundamental allegiance.
And this would mean that the category of “friendship” which Mudd follows Lonergan in embracing (cf. 225), could in fact only ever be a pale sociological substitute for the sacramental depth of what it means to be a baptismal person, one that risks never in fact arriving at the true depth of the mystery. Indeed, my sense is that any approach that begins from some point outside the baptismal form of the mystery will for that reason fail to give us the fullness of meaning that can only be received as a gift. None of this precludes a truly “critical” ancillary pursuit of eucharistic meaning once inside the mystery, but my sense is that to pursue meaning from the point of view of “structure” rather than baptismal event will in the end preclude a full arrival to meaning.
What might then be said about eucharistic meaning specifically? Here, only that from the start it must always be allowed to speak for itself on its own terms. This means taking the dramatic staging of faith with the utmost seriousness, particularly the rites themselves as read by a believer who already bears their fruits in his or her body, who by them is able to read the Scriptures fruitfully as the text of a prior adoption. And so from this “inside” perspective, perhaps the meaning of transubstantiation is best first thought of as the real presence of the Bridegroom (attentively present to his Bride) who gives and is giving of himself to a person already born in the Church from his sacrificial offering of himself, already reborn and adopted as a son or daughter of the Father, already called to the labor of conversion necessary to fully inhabit the Son’s relation to the Father, and to consciously participate in his mission of reconciling everything to the Father (Col 1:19–20). From this perspective, all that transubstantiation says is that, in the Church, Christ has truly accomplished the mission given to him from the Father. And we, as his adopted children, already bearing that “proof” in our baptized bodies, are called to faithfully receive both Christ and ourselves in the sacrament and offer its fruits for the sanctification of the world.
Could there be any better place to start?
Cf. Jean-Luc Marion, God without Being (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 161–62.↩
When I refer to the “baptismal” or “sacramental” person, I presuppose a baptismally specified variation of the account of person-as-relation seen in Ratzinger and von Balthasar. Cf. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (fall 1990); Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, trans. J. R. Foster (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004), 181-84; Hans Urs von Balthasar, “On the Concept of Person,” Communio 13 (spring 1986); Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, vol. 3, The Dramatis Personae: The Person in Christ, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991), 202–8; Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology 3: Creator Spirit, trans. James L. Houlden (Ignatius: San Francisco, 1993), 307–15.↩
Cf. Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, trans. J. R. Foster (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000), 147.↩
Cf. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics V: The Realm of Metaphysics in the Modern Age (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991), 616: The child’s “‘I’ awakens in the experience of a ‘Thou’: in its mother’s smile through which it learns that it is contained, affirmed and loved in a relationship which is incomprehensively encompassing, already actual, sheltering and nourishing. The body which it snuggles into, a soft, warm and nourishing kiss, is a kiss of love in which it can take shelter because it has been sheltered there a priori. The awakening of its consciousness is a late occurrence, in comparison with this basic mystery of unfathomable depth.” Cf. Conor Sweeney, Sacramental Presence after Heidegger: Onto-Theology, Sacraments, and the Mother’s Smile (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015), 197–99, 204–5, 230.↩
Sacraments and Conversion
I first read Eucharist as Meaning about three years ago. I was impressed, and wrote at the time that “the book will more than repay the efforts of those who open its pages again and again.” Now I am one of those who have opened its pages again and I continue to find it thought-provoking. In what follows, I will offer some comments and questions by way of starting a conversation about Joseph Mudd’s work. I will address Mudd’s treatment of questioning in Louis-Marie Chauvet, the relationship between sacraments and moral / religious conversion, and the modes of Christ’s presence in the Mass as these presences affect an understanding of the perfection of the sacrament in the thought of Thomas Aquinas.
Mudd writes that
in failing to be explicit [about what it means to know], Chauvet employs a problematic metaphysics in which the real remains already-out-there-now-real, even if he describes it in terms of absence rather than presence. . . . This is why Chauvet can advocate for a position of permanent questioning while interdicting all questions that demand “Is it so?” Questions that move toward knowledge of truth belong to the realm of metaphysics, which he has abandoned for the symbolic.
This assessment calls to mind Vincent Miller’s 1997 review of Symbol and Sacrament. With respect to Chauvet’s use of the notion of Gelassenheit, Miller offered this caution:
Many symbolic practices in the contemporary church have been called into question as distortions of the gospel. Such criticisms from liberation and feminist theologians are now familiar. Chauvet’s notion of symbolic mediation offers no resources to evaluate symbols that have become distorted.
In turn, my 2007 assessment of Miller pointed out Chauvet’s claim that bread “cannot become Eucharist under just any conditions” and that “to offer God bread kneaded with the death of the poor is murder and sacrilege.” At the time, I thought that my rebuttal of Miller fit the bill. Rereading Mudd now leads me to think instead that Chauvet posits that sacramental symbols can be corrupted but does not address how one knows that a given symbol has been corrupted. How might Lonergan’s notion of authenticity/inauthenticity apply to the question of corrupted sacramental symbols?
Mudd argues that “sacramental worship confounds picture thinking or the image of knowing as taking a look at what is there to be seen, because what is at stake in the mystery of sacramental action is religious and moral conversion.” Mudd’s larger point here has to do with sacraments and intellectual conversion, but I want to dwell on the other modes of conversion for the moment. Chauvet does not employ the language of conversion with the specificity achieved by Mudd (and Lonergan), but he does have this to say about receiving Christ:
There is something paradoxical here: the appropriation of Christ as a sacramental body is effected under the mode of disappropriation; we receive Christ in sacrament only in the handing over (“we offer you”), which culminates in the gratuity of a “we give you thanks” which must be taken literally. Receiving Christ is possible only under the mode of “receiving oneself from him.” Such is the offering of the Church, such is the “sacrificial” attitude in which it situates its movement of dispossession and where, by the same token, it receives, as a gift, its identity as Church of Christ.
Participation in sacramental worship involves constantly receiving oneself from Christ, acknowledging, again and again, dependence on God. Writing in a different context—and not addressing Chauvet as such—M. Therese Lysaught has argued that “given that the other upon whom the Body of Christ finds itself dependent, needy and open is God who is true and trustworthy, this openness and contingency . . . dissolves as threat becomes possibility of adoration and service.” Sacraments are effective signs of love, involving the inauguration or reinauguration of oneself before God, with all that entails for love of God (religious conversion) and love of neighbor (moral conversion). I wonder if this idea of receiving Christ under the mode of receiving oneself from Christ might enrich Mudd’s analysis.
Perfection of the Sacrament / Modes of Presence
A theme important to Lonergan and to Mudd is the retrieval of the meaning of doctrinal statements that come to us from the past. Doctrines concerning Eucharist address Christ’s presence in the eucharistic liturgy. Mudd offers this important statement: “Crucially, the doctrinal tradition does not restrict Christ’s presence to the elements, as popular understanding tends to. Both Sacrosanctum Concilium and Mysterium Fidei emphasize the multiple presences of Christ in the liturgy.” The claims about these documents are indubitably true. For example, in no. 7, Sacrosanctum Concilium speaks of Christ present in the Word proclaimed, in the consecrated eucharistic elements, in the presbyter, and in the gathered assembly. As Henri de Lubac has shown, however, it is also indubitably true that the phrase corpus mysticum has a long history, associated first with the consecrated elements and only later with the ecclesial body of Christ whereas the expression corpus verum followed the opposite path. An initially strong link between the ecclesial body of Christ and the sacramental body of Christ weakened as the link between the sacramental body of Christ and the historical body of Christ came to be emphasized in the wake of the Berengarian controversy of the eleventh century. Edward Kilmartin recapitulates this point.
The separation of the grace of the sacrament of the Eucharist from the sacrament itself is a weakness fostered by the overexaggerated concentration on the reality of the somatic presence of Christ. On the grounds of the medieval debate concerning the relationship of (a.) the historical and glorified body of Christ and (b.) the sacrament of his body and blood, and stimulated by the gradual decay of biblical and patristic symbolical thinking, the use of the concept “mystical body” for the eucharistic sacrament was replaced by “true body” (corpus verum), while the term “mystical body” (corpus mysticum) was applied to the Church. In early scholasticism the Church became the “mystical body,” the body built up by the sacramentum. This teaching was passed on to the thirteenth-century theologians. Thomas Aquinas, employing the distinction of Peter Lombard, speaks of the res non contenta of the sacrament as the “corpus Christi mysticum.”
In Chauvet’s view, when the connection between the eucharistic body of Christ and the ecclesial body of Christ is reduced to this kind of extrinsic connection, the properly theological character of the love and the deeds of love that give concrete expression to the unity of the ecclesial body is diminished. Chauvet observes that “Scholastic theology emphasized this with force: if the ‘first effect’ (res et sacramentum) of the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ, its ‘ultimate effect’ (res tantum), that is to say, the grace that it intends for its participants, is the theological charity that is lived out in charity between brothers and sisters.” However, when the symbolic unity of the ecclesial body and eucharistic body is weakened, so too is the “force” with which Scholastic theology can discuss the Eucharist as ordered to theological charity. Aquinas may hold that the Eucharist is ordered to charity, and he clearly states that “in the sacrament of the altar, two things are signified, viz. Christ’s true body, and Christ’s mystical body,” but the division between the ecclesial body of Christ and the eucharistic body of Christ is evident, for example, in his understanding of how a priest celebrating Mass acts in persona Christi. In treating the question of schismatic priests and holding that such priests may consecrate the bread and wine of the Eucharist, Aquinas holds that “the priest, in reciting the prayers of the Mass, speaks in the person of the Church, in whose unity he remains; but in consecrating the sacrament he speaks in the person of Christ, Whose place he holds by the power of his orders.” Chauvet maintains that by dividing the in persona Christi and in persona ecclesiae as he has done, Aquinas “pushes to its ultimate consequences the movement of the deadly break between Christ and the Church begun a century before him.” This means that while “of course the Church as the community of believers united to Christ by faith and the sacraments of initiation remains the end-goal of the sacraments . . . it is no longer constitutive of the very realization of the sacrament: the priest, insofar as he is invested with the powers of Christ, suffices for this.”
Eucharist as Meaning defends Aquinas’s claim that in “this sacrament [= Eucharist] is accomplished in the consecration.” Drawing on de Lubac, Chauvet asserts that Aquinas’s understanding of the Christ present in the ecclesia is weak and Chauvet sees this weakness play out in the Angelic Doctor’s understanding of the realization of the sacrament. Is Chauvet misreading Aquinas here or can Mudd’s analysis benefit from Chauvet’s application of the historical work of de Lubac? Does the retrieval of Aquinas’s understanding of the perfection of the Eucharist retrieve a teaching in need of correction?
One might raise further relevant questions, as Lonergan might say. Space restricts me to those I have identified above. I look forward to the conversation.
See my endorsement on the back cover of Joseph Mudd, Eucharist as Meaning: Critical Metaphysics and Contemporary Sacramental Theology (Collegeville: Liturgical, 2014).
 Mudd, Eucharist as Meaning, 127.
 Vincent J. Miller, “An Abyss at the Heart of Mediation,” Horizons 24 (1997) 230–47 at 239.
 Louis-Marie Chauvet, Symbol and Sacrament, trans. Patrick Madigan and Madeleine Beaumont (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1995), 358. See my discussion of Miller in Timothy Brunk, Liturgy and Life: The Unity of Sacrament and Ethics in the Thought of Louis-Marie Chauvet (New York: Lang, 2007), 115–19.
 Mudd, Eucharist as Meaning, 135.
 Chauvet, “Le sacramentologue aux prises avec l’eucharistie,” La Maison-Dieu 137 (1979) 49–72 at 60–61.
 The “self” here is one’s own self and also the “self” of the ecclesial body of Christ.
 M. Therese Lysaught, “Sharing Christ’s Passion: A Critique of the Role of Suffering in the Discourse of Biomedical Ethics from the Perspective of the Theological Practice of Anointing of the Sick,” (PhD diss., Duke University, 1992), 269–70.
 Mudd, Eucharist as Meaning, 169.
 See Henri de Lubac, Corpus Mysticum: The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages, eds. Laurence Paul Hemming and Susan Frank Parsons, trans. Gemma Simmonds et al. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006). My discussion here largely follows the discussion presented in Liturgy and Life, 64–65.
 For example, as evident in Augustine’s Sermon 272: “If it’s you that are the body of Christ and its members, it’s the mystery meaning you that has been placed on the Lord’s table; what you receive is the mystery that means you.” I am using the text in Augustine, Sermons: III/7 (230–272B) on the Liturgical Seasons, ed. John Rotelle, trans. Edmund Hill (New Rochelle, NY: New City, 1993), 300–301. Chauvet cites this sermon in “La ritualité chrétienne dans le cercle infernal du symbole,” La Maison-Dieu 174 (1998) 31–77 at 68; “L’Église fait l’eucharistie; l’eucharistie fait l’Église,” Revue Catéchèse 71 (1978) 171–82 at 175–76; “Le sacrifice de la messe: représentation et expiation,” Lumière et vie 146 (1980) 69–84 at 71; Thèmes de réflexion sur l’eucharistie (Lourdes: Congrès Eucharistique International, 1981), 13; and Symbol and Sacrament, 291–92, 313, and 389.
 Edward J. Kilmartin, The Eucharist in the West: History and Theology, ed. Robert Daly (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1998), 152.
 Chauvet, Symbol and Sacrament, 277.
 ST III, q. 65, a. 1, sed contra.
 ST III, q. 60, a. 3, sed contra.
 ST III, q. 82, a. 7, ad. 3.
 Chauvet, “La fonction du prêtre dans le récit de l’institution à la lumière de la linguistique,” Revue de l’Institut Catholique de Paris 56 (1995) 41–61 at 47–48.
 Chauvet, “Le peuple de Dieu et ses ministères,” Prêtres diocésains 1290 (1990) 127–55 at 132. I have emphasized “constitutive.”
 Mudd, Eucharist as Meaning, 177.
 De Lubac never appears in Eucharist as Meaning, not even in the bibliography.
7.10.17 | Glenn Ambrose
Metaphysics and Sacramental Theology
It’s been over twenty years since Liturgical Press published the first English translation of Symbol and Sacrament and thirty years since its original French publication. Joseph Mudd’s Eucharist as Meaning is among a steady drip of publications addressing his work. But while the number of books and articles on Chauvet may remain relatively small, the measure of his influence outpaces the number of pages written about him. At this point, we are, and should be, beyond the initial phase of the discovery and analysis of his thought and have entered into the far more interesting period of developing it and putting it into creative dialogue with past and present thinkers. Mudd’s work is an excellent example of both an elucidation of Chauvet’s work and a potentially fruitful advancement of Chauvet’s project. It also promises to introduce Chauvet to a new range of scholars influenced by Bernard Lonergan, many of whom I suspect are systematic theologians, and not the audience of liturgists and liturgical theologians that have thus far expressed interest in Chauvet. In what follows, I draw attention to the general issue of theology with or without metaphysics and ask us to consider the following questions: Do we really need a metaphysics? Does Chauvet’s work need a metaphysics? And is the need for a metaphysics more of a psychological than a conceptual problem?
Not long after I had defended my dissertation on Chauvet, a friend introduced me to Joseph Bracken, SJ, who expressed interest and admiration for Chauvet’s work. But he was critical of the Chauvet’s seemingly outright rejection of metaphysics and suggested that his work could benefit from an integration with process philosophy. In a 1998 article in Theological Studies Bracken in fact explored ways in which Whitehead’s thought might fruitfully be integrated with the anti-metaphysical projects of both Jean-Luc Marion and Chauvet.1 I draw attention to Bracken’s work simply to show that interest in applying a metaphysics to Chauvet’s project has been championed by others—a task I personally find far more interesting than debates over whether Chauvet is correctly interpreting Thomas. To be sure, process metaphysics and the theology it inspired is very different from the Thomistic tradition Mudd is drawing on, but there are some intriguing similarities. Like Heidegger, Whitehead offered a somewhat blanket critique of all of Western metaphysics and attempted to develop a corrective approach. Curiously—and maybe very relevant to Mudd’s work—Bracken, a few years after proposing that a Whiteheadian understanding of universal intersubjectivity could function as a foundation for Chauvet’s turn to the symbolic order, went on to argue that Lonergan’s transcendental method resonated not only with Thomistic thought but also a Neo-Whiteheadian metaphysics.2
Of course, Bracken and Mudd are not alone in placing great value on metaphysics. A theology with metaphysics has been normative throughout Christian history, even if the metaphysics has been more implicit and not systematically integrated with theological thought at times. But is there really a need for metaphysics? And equally important, is it even possible to be without metaphysics?
Ours is a time of many works with the words “after,” “without” and “post” in it—God after God, Theology without Metaphysics, Postmodern, etc. Many, but not all, of the theologians who use these expressions have more or less accepted Heidegger’s diagnosis of metaphysics as an onto-theology and seek alternative approaches to inoculate theology from its distorting influence. However, that there have been onto-theological metaphysics is a more credible claim than that all metaphysics have been, or are bound to be, onto-theological in nature. The task then for theologians who want a theology with metaphysics is to avoid onto-theology either by: showing that some traditional metaphysics are not onto-theological (Radical Orthodoxy); developing or utilizing a new metaphysics that avoids onto-theology (Process Theology); or, in the case at hand, transposing and modifying a traditional metaphysics (Lonergan and others) in a manner that escapes the onto-theological critique.
Does Lonergan present a metaphysics that would fall under the weight of an onto-theological critique? It is certainly not a metaphysics in a strong foundational sense that promises certainty and falls easily into the traps Chauvet so aptly describes. But it does promise to be a realism, albeit a very critical realism, with its isomorphism between being and knowing and keen awareness of the prejudices that can distort thought about the real. As a metaphysics it is best thought of as a moderate foundationalism and Mudd is persuasive in not only showing its compatibility with Chauvet’s project, but also in highlighting additional and sometimes corrective insights that Lonergan’s approach can produce when integrated with his thought.
But do we need a metaphysics and in particular does Chauvet’s sacramental theology need a metaphysics? I am still inclined to say no, despite recognizing the positive contributions that a synthesis with Lonergan or even Whitehead can bring. There is something important in retaining the non- or anti-metaphysical narrative of Chauvet’s work. In other words, there is some new wine in Chauvet’s perspective that I fear may be spilled if it is put in old wine skins.
Furthermore, in the 555 pages of Symbol and Sacrament there is at least a metanarrative of Christian existence that includes theoretical reflection on the structure of knowing. Admittedly, metanarratives are connected to and rightfully critiqued along with metaphysical traditions today. But the fact is human beings need big stories, apart from which we are only swamped with the raw data of experience stripped of any significant meaning. And just as with metaphysics, there are both bad and good metanarratives. Metanarratives are—or should be—incredulous today only when they present themselves as reductive, exclusive and/or totalitarian stories. Or, as Chauvet might say, closed circuits of knowledge that are full of themselves and ignorant of the other. But a metanarrative is a must. If we do not explicitly articulate one, there will be an implicit, perhaps even unconscious metanarrative, in operation. But we do not need a Western metaphysics or at least a Western metaphysics is not universally needed. Such a conclusion rests in the belief that the gospel truly transcends culture while at the same time affirming the need for the Christian faith to be mediated in particular times and places, i.e., truly enculturated. And in the third millennium, if Christianity is going to have a positively transformative impact in the world, it is not necessary for all peoples to be schooled in Western metaphysics. Does an African or Asian Christian really need to know Neo-Platonic metaphysics in order to understand the incarnation?
I am proposing here that metaphysics be thought of as a particular kind of metanarrative, not the only kind. The reality is that metaphysical metanarratives in the West have been primarily Hellenistic in nature, if not also frequently onto-theological. Whitehead had a legitimate point when he concluded that Western philosophy was one long footnote on Plato. And there really is some constructive tension between Athens and Jerusalem. Chauvet offers us a theological metanarrative that has a built-in suspicion of metaphysics. It is also I believe fundamentally a theological metanarrative. Symbol and Sacrament can be read back to front. By that I mean, the theology of creation, Trinity and cross as well as the gracious and gratuitous nature of the event of grace, are not conclusions derived from postmodern and post-structuralist thinkers. Rather, these theological insights are grounded in the Judeo-Christian experience of divine encounter and inculturated (transposed?) by Chauvet into a late twentieth-century continental context. In other words, Heidegger is not driving Chauvet’s theology. Therefore Chauvet’s critique of onto-theology may be more indebted to theological sources than philosophical ones. In the end, is Chauvet doing anything different from Paul who recognized the folly of the cross seen from the Greek perspective?
This is not to say that all attempts to add a metaphysics to Chauvet’s theology will domesticate its disruptive and transformative potential. On the contrary, Mudd’s work shows that a better reading of Thomas only strengthens the initial program set out by Chauvet. This is especially evident in Mudd’s conclusion that transignification (properly understood!) is transubstantiation (properly understood!). In Roman Catholicism, given the weight of the authority of tradition, this transposition of fundamental Thomistic insights in the alternate terrain of Chauvet’s metanarrative is particularly important. But so is the work of Lieven Boeve that seeks to extricate metaphysics from theology. And personally, I would like to see more of the after, without, and post thinkers like John Caputo and Richard Kearney engage with Chauvet (and Lonergan for that matter).
Thus far, I have had less to say about Lonergan mostly because my exposure to Lonergan has been minimal and indirect despite being partially molded by a Jesuit education.3 But by putting Chauvet and Lonergan in conversation, Mudd has potentially opened up the psychological dimension of Chauvet’s thought that has been underemphasized by many of those who have been drawn to his work. Lonergan was profoundly influenced by Jean Piaget’s theories of cognitive development. His transcendental method or “generalized scientific method” recognized that there was, as Piaget concluded, a “parallelism between the progress made in logical and rational organization of knowledge and the corresponding formative psychological processes.”4 This is what is behind Lonergan’s contention that there is an isomorphism between being and knowing, or more exactly, the structure of the known and the structure of knowing.
I frequently inform my students that being fully human is hard work. Work that calls for serious attention and discernment or, as Lonergan would say, being attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible. And in fact, much of our growth, the growth that really matters, involves a developmental movement that can be described as a process of reaching greater levels of consciousness or degrees of subjective existence. The passage to faith is not disconnected from this process which necessarily involves moments of disequilibrium, doubt, mourning and loss as well as moments of integration, discovery, celebration, and positive transformation. Religious practices such as Eucharist ought to facilitate this growth—continuously. That is to say, it needs to do more than simply inscribe the faith. Or put otherwise, the “letting go” that is called for is not some passive resignation to the symbolic order of a religious tradition. It is not letting go of an individual false sense of mastery only to hand oneself over to another master. It is not “Jesus take the wheel” but rather hold on loosely, be attentive, and drive responsibly.
Taken literally “Jesus take the wheel” is reckless, a blind fideism; holding on too tightly, a rigid dogmatism, makes us unresponsive to ourselves and the other. Sacramental practices such as Eucharist ought to be “transitional spaces” (Winnicott) that are at once secure environments that we celebrate and give thanks for and places that challenge us to undergo ongoing transformation. Religious ritual in general has been particularly apt at inviting an initial discovery and conversion, strengthening bonds in the community, and expressing ongoing commitment to a tradition. These are all good things, but it sometimes comes at the expense of ongoing, sometimes radical, transformation. Transitional spaces, including the conceptual spaces of a metaphysics or a metanarrative, can become so secure and comfortable that leaving it is like dying. But it is often the case that in dying to oneself, we increasingly discover our self and this holds true for institutions as much as for individuals.
This raises the possibility that we are confronted primarily with a psychological problem, not a conceptual one when dealing with onto-theology or other closed circuits of knowledge that pretend to offer mastery or save us from ambiguity. It is certainly the case that no conceptual system is immaculately conceived nor immune to being misunderstood. Thomism is a good case in point. Any adequate retrieval of his thought today requires corrections and Chauvet is in part at least critiquing what became of Thomism. This does mean that overcoming onto-theology or bad metanarratives is always an ongoing process as is—and is in fact linked to—becoming a subject or being initiated into the faith. Christians pray for the reign of God to come precisely because it is not all here. Christian sacraments then are celebrations of this reign of God and as such they profess both the belief that it is coming and our responsibility to and for its advent. That it is not all here means that we should not be all that surprised when sacramental events are disruptive experiences and we should be worried when we are bored by them.
Mudd’s work is a valuable resource especially for those Catholics in a Thomistic transitional space—and for an institution that still largely inhabits that space. Lonergan’s Thomism offers a corrective transposition of the one who at the end of the nineteenth century became the universal doctor of the church. This reading of the Thomistic tradition brought to bear on Chauvet’s theology does more than correct a misreading of Thomas. It promises to better substantiate in a traditional manner the sacramental reinterpretation of Christian existence that Chauvet offers. But in the third millennium I suspect that fewer Christians will be able to inhabit a Thomistic transitional space. Increased cultural diversity, new technology, scientific discovery, and the super accelerated pace of change will necessarily give rise to new metaphysics and metanarratives. It is astonishing that a thirteenth-century thinker, utilizing a metaphysics formed in sixth century BCE, has had such an enduring impact. This certainly testifies to the genius of Thomas. But perhaps it is time for a Thomas of the twenty-first century. Someone who will integrate contemporary cosmology, neuroscience and hermeneutics with the Christian experience of salvation in a spirit of celebrated cultural diversity and rational pluralism.
In conclusion, do we need a metaphysics? No, but we need some kind of metanarrative. Any effective metaphysics today can learn from past traditions, but must attend to what science is learning about the brain and cognition. Does Chauvet need a metaphysics? No, but his metanarrative does contain theoretical reflection concerning the structure of knowing and his sources are a dizzying array of philosophers, linguists, social scientists, and theologians. Many of them may be in the same ballpark, but they are sitting in very different sections. For that reason, a sound metaphysics may bring greater clarity to Chauvet’s project. Are we dealing with a psychological problem? Yes, the drive to understand is integral to the quest for a full and meaningful life. The late sociologist Peter Berger said that human beings were condemned to find meaning and this is a matter of life or death. The temptation, with us from the very beginning—think of Genesis chapter 3—is to embrace totalitarian schemes, erase ambiguity, and have certitude. We need to let go of that because reality and meaningfulness is found somewhere between determinism and chaos. So let us have both theologies with and without metaphysics.
Joseph A. Bracken, “Toward a New Philosophical Theology Based on Intersubjectivity,” Theological Studies 59 (1998) 703–19.↩
Joseph A. Bracken, “Intentionality Analysis and Intersubjectivity,” Horizons 33.2 (2006) 207–20.↩
It was primarily a Rahnerian perspective that guided my thought in graduate school. The most important secondary source for my understanding of Lonergan, prior to reading Mudd’s Eucharist as Meaning, is Eugene Webb, Worldview and Mind: Religious Thought and Psychological Development (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2009). Much of what follows is indebted to this work, particularly pp. 23–38 and 110–18.↩
Jean Piaget, Genetic Epistemology (New York: Columbia Press, 1970), 13. Quoted in Bernard Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, 3rd ed. (New York: Philosophical Library, 1970), 399.↩
7.10.17 | Joseph Mudd
Response to Glenn Ambrose
Glenn Ambrose’s work on Chauvet is the definitive treatment of the French theologian’s thought, so I am very grateful that he has taken the time to read my work carefully and to respond to it so thoughtfully in this forum. Ambrose raises the theological methodological question at the heart of Chauvet’s work and central to mine: Do we really need a metaphysics? While he initially offers a possible modification of classical metaphysics in conversation with process thought and indicates an openness to Lonergan’s “moderate foundationalism,” Ambrose eventually rejects metaphysics, arguing that the anti-metaphysical approach Chauvet takes avoids the temptation of onto-theological certitude into which metaphysics necessarily falls. I find elements of this approach compelling, and Ambrose clearly articulates the best parts of Chauvet, but his opting for metanarrative begs the question, “Isn’t this metaphysics under a different name?”
Looming in the background of these debates is Heidegger’s diagnosis of the ontotheological-metaphysical roots of modernity’s forgetfulness of being, and its appropriation by “post-modern” theologians. Whether the diagnosis is applicable to theology is a matter for ongoing debate.1 The most compelling element of Heidegger’s deconstruction for theologians is, of course, its seeming liberation of God from the strictures imposed by the categories of Aristotelian science. This fits very well with the liturgical-sacramental starting point for theological reflection Chauvet takes. The God who reveals/conceals itself in the sacraments is the God beyond/without being. Clearly, God is beyond any categorization that would in any way restrict the divine initiative or that would render God as a being among beings. And theologians would be quick to affirm that certitude regarding God is idolatrous when it is the fruit of human reason alone. And yet, the Catholic tradition holds as a matter of faith that the existence of God can be know with certitude through the things that are made by human reason. There is a complementarity between reason and faith. To reason is given the full range of questions that emerge from our experience of the universe of proportionate being. From our experience we ask “What is it?” and “Is it so?” To seek answers to these questions is natural to the human. Our answers which take the form of judgments regarding the adequacy of our understanding give us an account of things that allows us to navigate the world.2
Ambrose affirms as much when he admits that a metanarrative is a must for theology. And his misgivings about metaphysics becomes clearer when he asks, “Does an African or Asian Christian really need to know Neo-Platonic metaphysics in order to understand the incarnation?” Of course, the faith of Christians does not depend on metaphysics but on the divine initiative. Nevertheless, while one might employ a variety of analogies in order to clarify the relationship between the Father and the Son, or between the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, the theological tradition, interacting with the cultural environment of the day, found helpful tools for articulating those relationships in especially illuminating ways with the result that certain cultural categories became part of the dogmatic inheritance of Christians, most obviously and vexingly the category “substance.” Including such categories was already a move in the direction of an inculturated theology, and one can imagine categories from other cultures finding a home in the dogmatic tradition handed down to future generations of Christians,3 but an imperfect, developing, analogical and yet fruitful understanding of the mysteries articulated in the terms of the dogmas benefits tremendously from knowing something about the context of their emergence. One need not convert to Platonism before confessing faith in the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son. But if one asks the seemingly inevitable question, “What does ‘consubstantial’ mean?” the answer will likely include some discussion of early Christian doctrinal controversies and the philosophical context in which they were carried out. Whatever constructive tension there might be between Athens and Jerusalem, the purpose of the dogmas is to answer questions that emerge from experience, especially liturgical experience, questions like, “What does it mean to say that Christ is present in the Eucharist?” What Athens offers Jerusalem is a set of theoretical tools for making sense of certain statements the Christian community makes about Jesus.4 Those tools are used to construct authoritative statements, but they remain tools. We might call them metaphysics or metanarrative, but if we are to answer questions posed by our encounters with revelation, we will need some tools.
If we opt for a new set of tools today, it is because the context in which we pose questions has changed. We ask questions just as our ancestors did and when we ask questions we seek answers, or at least, the best available account of what is the case. What was really so repellent to Heidegger, and to those who took up his toolkit, was the certitude promoted by what he referred to as “the Catholic system.” Certitude is clearly at odds with the ambiguity and variety that is the very essence of symbol and ritual. If there is any place where onto-theology confronts the personal otherness and mystery of God, surely it is in the sacraments. And yet theologians in the West today are given the task of mediating the meaning of this mystery to a culture that is informed by the horizon of modern scientific rationality. This does not mean that one should reduce the mystery of God present in the sacraments to what “reason alone” allows one to say about it, surely not. It does, however, suggest that an approach that “integrates contemporary cosmology, neuroscience and hermeneutics with the Christian experience of salvation in a spirit of celebrated cultural diversity and rational pluralism” is needed for the church today. I hold that Lonergan authored such an approach.
Lonergan’s metaphysics provides basic general categories that allow scientists, social scientists, philosophers, and theologians to communicate with each other across cultures. His theological method elicits the special categories that emerge in the horizon of religious conversion. Lonergan’s heuristic approach is open to multiple disciplines and multiple cultural expressions. He avoids reducing theology to a backwater of abstruse technical questions. But he is not averse to theory, because he recognizes that theory is simply an expression of the systematic exigence of human conscious intentionality.
Chauvet deftly shifts the theological discussion of the sacraments from metaphysics conceived in terms of causality to a metanarrative of Christian existence conceived in terms of symbolic mediation. This is the right move to make in my view. Lonergan does it without abandoning metaphysical discourse because in the end we cannot have theologies with or without metaphysics, only theologies with implicit or explicit metaphysics. Better to be explicit.
See Marilyn McCord Adams, “What’s Wrong with the Ontotheological Error?,” Journal of Analytic Theology 2 (May 2014), available at http://journalofanalytictheology.com/jat/index.php/jat/article/view/jat.2014-1.120013000318a/222#_ftnref36.↩
It is important to note that Lonergan’s understanding of judgment lacks the pretensions of certitude. For him judgment regards whether all the relevant questions regarding some instance of contingent being have been asked. In the case of revealed realities that transcend the universe of proportionate being the judgments belong to God and we assent to them in faith. In these cases, rather than ask the question for judgment, Is it so? we instead ask the question for systematic theological understanding, How can this be? In the Eucharist we do not by our human reasoning secure the reality of Christ’s presence, but we ask about the statement, “This is my body, given for you,” how can this be?↩
See, e.g., Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Theology Brewed in an African Pot (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2008).↩
Bernard Lonergan, “The Origins of Christian Realism,” in Philosophical and Theological Papers 1958–1964, Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan 6, eds. Robert C. Croken et al. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 80–93.↩