Blogging Through Chauvet’s ‘Symbol and Sacrament’ – Introduction

First published in 1987 in French as Symbole et Sacrement: Un relecture sacramentelle de l’existence chrétienne, Louis-Marie Chauvet’s Symbol and Sacrament was one of the first thinkers to think through what the linguistic turn might mean for the area of sacramental theology. A French Catholic theologian, Chauvet’s work on the subject is packed with scintillating insight, whether theological, philosophical, or biblical. His influence can be traced in many subsequent writers on the subject.

I was first introduced to his work by my friend, Ben Kautzer and read through the lengthy Symbol and Sacrament volume a year ago. I decided that over the Christmas period I would start to blog a detailed summary of Chauvet’s book, both for the purpose of refreshing my memory on the subject, and to introduce others to his work.

Symbol and Sacrament is forbidding in its length, and may not be the most accessible for those unacquainted with phenomenology, and philosophers such as Martin Heidegger. Hopefully the following series will provide a useful summary for those who would not otherwise read Symbol and Sacrament itself. If you find my summary helpful, perhaps you might also appreciate Chauvet’s own The Sacraments: The Word of God at the Mercy of the Body, in which his principle insights are presented at a more easily digestible length.

Chauvet begins by remarking upon the fact that an appreciation of the diversity of the sacraments and the heterogeneity of the elements comprising the realm of ‘sacramentality’ has led to a movement away from the traditional preoccupation with the question of the ‘sacraments in general’ (1). What Chauvet seeks to provide is a ‘foundational theology of sacramentality’ with the sacraments as ‘symbolic figures allowing us entrance into, and empowerment to live out, the (arch-)sacramentality which is the very essence of Christian existence’ (2). The sacraments unite the figurative and the pragmatic orders: ‘whatever we are permitted to see there is given to us precisely that we may simultaneously live it.’ The sacraments are thus at once both revelation and empowerment.

In seeking to maintain the revelation and empowerment of the sacraments, the Scholastics framed them in terms of the categories of ‘sign’ and ‘cause’. Chauvet argues for a fundamental shift in our framing of the sacraments, favouring the terms of language and symbol over cause and instrument. This shift represents a challenge to the metaphysical presuppositions that ground dominant traditional approaches to the sacraments. Chauvet’s theological articulation of the place of the sacraments rests upon a philosophical position that underlies it.

Chauvet’s case begins with an establishment of this philosophical ground, before situating the sacraments within the symbolic order of the Church. The sacraments are

one element among others in this vast and yet coherent psychic structure which all together makes up Christian identity … a series of connections between Scripture (the level of cognition), sacrament (the level of thanksgiving), and ethics (the level of action). (3)

The sacraments have a unique and essential place and function, which cannot be substituted for by anything else.

Underlying this entire approach to the sacraments is ‘a particular understanding of the relations between God and humankind.’ The fact that God communicates his grace through the sacraments raises the question of what sort of God they imply, a God who ‘takes flesh in the sacraments’ and ‘through them … reaches into the very corporality of believers.’

Symbol and Sacrament Posts:
Chapter 1: Onto-Theology in Classical Sacramental Theology
Chapter 2:I: Heidegger and the Overcoming of Metaphysics
Chapter 2:II: Theology After Heidegger
Chapter 3: Subjects and Mediation
Chapter 4:I: Symbol and Sign
Chapter 4:II: Language and the Body
Chapter 5: The Structure of Christian Identity
Chapter 6: Scripture and Sacrament
Chapter 7: Sacrament and Ethics 

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Sacramental Theology, The Sacraments, Theological, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Blogging Through Chauvet’s ‘Symbol and Sacrament’ – Introduction

  1. Pingback: ‘Symbol and Sacrament’ Chapter 1: Onto-Theology in Classical Sacramental Theology | Alastair's Adversaria

  2. Pingback: ‘Symbol and Sacrament’ Chapter 2:I: Heidegger and the Overcoming of Metaphysics | Alastair's Adversaria

  3. Pingback: ‘Symbol and Sacrament’ Chapter 2:II: Theology After Heidegger | Alastair's Adversaria

  4. Pingback: ‘Symbol and Sacrament’ Chapter 3: Subjects and Mediation | Alastair's Adversaria

  5. Pingback: ‘Symbol and Sacrament’ Chapter 4:I: The Symbol and the Sign | Alastair's Adversaria

  6. Pingback: ‘Symbol and Sacrament’ Chapter 4:II: Language and the Body | Alastair's Adversaria

  7. Pingback: ‘Symbol and Sacrament’ Chapter 5: The Structure of Christian Identity | Alastair's Adversaria

  8. Pingback: ‘Symbol and Sacrament’ Chapter 6: Scripture and Sacrament | Alastair's Adversaria

  9. Pingback: ‘Symbol and Sacrament’ Chapter 7: Sacrament and Ethics | Alastair's Adversaria

  10. Pingback: The Hidden Functions of Religion | Alastair's Adversaria

  11. Pingback: Most Popular Posts (and a few neglected ones) | Alastair's Adversaria

  12. Pingback: A Look Back at 2012 on Alastair’s Adversaria | Alastair's Adversaria

  13. Pingback: Ten Years of Blogging: 2011-2012 | Alastair's Adversaria

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.