23 December 2010

'He that Cometh' Maketh the Church (2)

Henri de Lubac (1896–1991)
IN THE FIRST POST ON THIS TOPIC, I briefly covered Hans Boersma's three reasons for recapturing Henri de Lubac's views on Holy Communion. The first two were glanced at there; some preliminary work as we gear up for the third reason will occupy us here.

Picking up where we left off, the Counter-Reformation scholastics kind of mutilated St. Augustine when it came to the Eucharist (as did their twentieth-century heirs). Case in point, for Boersma, was the way these folks handled the bishop's well-known Sermon 227 on the unity of the body of Christ that resulted from the celebration of Communion. In it, St. Augustine allegorizes the grains that join together to form one loaf, comparing that to individual believers coming together to form one body. There's no talk of real presence, let alone transubstantiation, notes Boersma: "All the focus seems to be on the unity of believers, on their fellowship or communion, which resulted from the many grains being joined together in a loaf of bread." In short, the Eucharist makes the church.

But the scholastics and their modern counterparts were fundamentally unable to deal with these kinds of thoughts, and so they simply ignored and eventually abandoned them. Boersma, through de Lubac, goes so far to suggest that one might not find today's Roman Catholic teaching on the Eucharist explicit in St. Augustine, and, as a result, the neo-Thomists lost St. Augustine altogether.

Fear, that tired, old nemesis, steps up to take the blame once again. Fear, according to de Lubac, was to blame for his church's inability to properly appreciate St. Augustine and other pre-modern theologians. Fear of what? Protestant symbolism. But fear of a vacuous Eucharistic theology is not sufficient reason to buy into neo-scholasticism. At his core, de Lubac rejected the radical separation of nature from grace, as well as the latent rationalism rampant among his peers, which led to his recapturing of a (pre-modern) sacramental approach to reality: supernature, grace, was not some kind of arbitrary imposition on a self-sufficient natural world; rather, the two are not to be separated—nature was never without God's presence. A sacramental view of the world, argued de Lubac (writes Boersma), "began with theology and with the assumption that what we saw around us was the gift of the Creator-Redeemer God."

Therefore, symbol in Eucharistic doctrine is not to be feared. Contra Protestantism, symbols did not just relate to some completely different, distant reality. The symbol and the reality were not to be strictly separated; the symbol (sacrament) shared or participated in the reality to which it pointed. But contra neo-scholasticism . . .

. . . the symbols only gave us a small inkling of the great sacramental reality that upheld them. De Lubac's problem with neo-Thomism was that its "realism" completely identified symbol and reality.  . . . This approach insisted that once we have grasped the symbol, we have comprehended also the Body of Christ; there was no sacramental reality reaching beyond the human symbol.
So much for Aristotle. De Lubac's church (not to mention the Protestants) had forgotten the very purpose of the Eucharistic body, thus suffering from a severly truncated ecclesiology.

Coming up next: The crux of de Lubac's objection, which, according to Boersma, paves the way for genuine ecumenical action.


Principium Unitatis said...

Hello Chris,

I highly recommend The Natural Desire to See God, by Lawrence Feingold, especially chapters 14 and 15, in which he directly responds to De Lubac.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Joe Heschmeyer said...


If I can add on to that reading list, Fr. James O'Connor's book The Hidden Manna has a good collection of St. Augustine's Eucharistic commentaries, and it makes it pretty plain that while Augustine (like the Didache before him) understood extensive symbolism in the Eucharist, he simultaneously affirmed its Reality as the Body and Blood of Christ. Likewise, he thought (for example) that David prefigured Christ, but was also a historical figure, so there's no need for it to be "the Eucharist is symbolic" OR "the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ." It can certainly be both.

Chris Donato said...

Thank you both for the recommendations.

It's worth pointing that I'm not gearing up for an either/or resolution here. Per de Lubac, it's quite clearly both/and, as he was responding to the either/or ethos of his Catholic compatriots (not to mention the Protestants).

The next post in this series should clear this up.

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