Eucharist as Meaning: Critical Metaphysics and Contemporary Sacramental Theology

By Ciraulo, Jonathan Martin | Theological Studies, December 2015 | Go to article overview

Eucharist as Meaning: Critical Metaphysics and Contemporary Sacramental Theology


Ciraulo, Jonathan Martin, Theological Studies


Eucharist as Meaning: Critical Metaphysics and Contemporary Sacramental Theology. By Joseph C. Mudd. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2014. Pp. xx + 249. $29.95.

Bernard Lonergan never explicitly applied his system of critical metaphysics, as found predominantly in Insight (1957) and Method in Theology (1972), to sacramental theology. Nor, presumably, did he have the privilege of discussing theology with Louis-Marie Chauvet. Mudd gives Lonergan a vicarious opportunity to do both. Chauvet's innovative position on sacramental theology makes him an important dialogue partner, but his influence on contemporary sacramental theologians make it imperative to address his theology directly. M. presents readers with a veritable confrontation between Lonergan and Chauvet on the proper understanding of the relationship between metaphysics and sacramental theology, and, more narrowly, transubstantiation.

Chapter 1 is a reliable and gracious analysis of Chauvet's thought. While some readers of Chauvet often either accept him wholesale or dismiss him without serious consideration, M. exercises restraint in doing neither. After elucidating Chauvet's real merit, particularly his thought on the ineluctability of mediation and the connection between sacraments and ethics, M. points to Chauvet's overdependence on the Heideggerian critique of metaphysics, his misunderstanding of Thomas Aquinas's teaching on causality, and, above all, his exhibition of "the all-too-frequent failure of postmodern reflection to come adequately to terms with its own claims" (37). Chauvet, in sum, lacks a self-aware epistemology: "He is trapped in a methodological blind alley" (127).

Chapters 2 through 4 are meant to bring Chauvet's insights out from the "blind alley," as well as to familiarize non-Lonerganians with Lonergan's philosophy to fruitfully engage with M.'s constructive sacramental work in chapter 5. Whereas Chauvet separates metaphysics and meaning, for Lonergan metaphysics is meaning. The goal of these chapters, and indeed of M.'s whole project, is then to transpose "doctrines stated in metaphysical categories into categories of meaning," which are, for Lonergan, still ontological (159). M. aptly exposits the nuances of this critical metaphysics, which maintains a closer link between the objective quidest and human meaning than is found in a classical metaphysics, allowing for an objectivity apart from human perception.

The fifth and final chapter analyzes the Eucharist in Lonerganian categories. Ontology and meaning are so closely aligned for M. that he necessarily distinguishes his own position from that of transignification. Whereas transignification emphasizes a change in meaning for the church, M. …

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