Liturgical Theology after Schmemann: An Orthodox Reading of Paul Ricoeur

Liturgical Theology after Schmemann: An Orthodox Reading of Paul Ricoeur

Liturgical Theology after Schmemann: An Orthodox Reading of Paul Ricoeur

Liturgical Theology after Schmemann: An Orthodox Reading of Paul Ricoeur


While only rarely reflecting explicitly on liturgy, French philosopher Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) gave sustained attention to several themes pertinent to the interpretation of worship, including metaphor, narrative, subjectivity, and memory. Inspired by his well-known aphorism, "The symbol gives rise to thought," Liturgical Theology after Schmemann offers an original exploration of the symbolic world of the Byzantine Rite , culminating in a Ricoeurian analysis of its Theophany "Great Blessing of Water.".

The book examines two fundamental questions: 1) what are the implications of the philosopher's oeuvre for liturgical theology at large? And 2)how does the adoption of a Ricoeurian hermeneutic shape the study of a particular rite? Taking the seminal legacy of Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) as its point of departure, Butcher contributes to the renewal of contemporary Eastern Christian thought and ritual practice by engaging a spectrum of current theological and philosophical conversations.


Andrew Louth

It is generally recognized that “liturgical theology,” as a notion or a discipline, owes its existence to the great Orthodox theologian of the last century Fr. Alexander Schmemann. Liturgical theology, as Fr. Alexander understood it, is distinct from liturgiology the study of the history and development of liturgical rites through (primarily) liturgical texts, and from a theology of liturgy, understood as a fundamental dimension of theology of worship. Both these disciplines are important—indeed liturgical theology depends upon them—but liturgical theology, as Fr. Alexander understood it, is theology derived from, or validated by, the liturgical practice of the Church. Fr. Schmemann’s own practice of liturgical theology was powerful and influential. the changes in the way in which the Orthodox liturgical rites have been celebrated in the course of the last fifty years or so bear out Fr. Schmemann’s influence. These changes can, however, be seen (as can Schmemann’s liturgical theology) as growing out of the experience of the Russian émigrés in exile who, robbed of the splendor they were accustomed to in “Holy Russia,” had to make do with the bare essentials in makeshift places of worship: there they came to discern the true shape of the liturgy.

To see liturgical theology as Fr. Schmemann did is to enter into a commanding vision with profound entailments for the nature of theology, although the way he practiced liturgical theology is not without its critics. Christians of the Eastern Rite rejoice in their possession of a premodern liturgy. in his search for the true liturgical ordo, Schmemann could be seen, with some justice, as undermining the very liturgy he knew and experienced.

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