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.↩