Sacramental Realism and the Powers: A Reconsideration of de Lubac’s Eucharistic Ecclesiology -- By: Bryan C. Hollon

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 43:0 (NA 2011)
Article: Sacramental Realism and the Powers: A Reconsideration of de Lubac’s Eucharistic Ecclesiology
Author: Bryan C. Hollon


Sacramental Realism and the Powers: A Reconsideration of de Lubac’s Eucharistic Ecclesiology

Bryan C. Hollon*

Henri de Lubac typically referred to himself, not as a systematic theologian, but rather as a historian of dogma. Although his historical projects had far reaching implications, he often did not make those implications explicit. Nor did he always state clearly the extent of his own motivations for taking on some of his major writings. He simply went about his work, tracing important developments in the history of Catholic theology, and leaving it to others to draw many of the conclusions. His famous book, Corpus Mysticum (completed by 1938 though published in 1944), is a good case in point. Whereas Corpus Mysticum offers a quite technical account of the historical development of eucharistic piety in the Middle Ages, it’s inspiration and implications, though not explicitly stated, are inextricably linked to the ascendance of Nazism and Fascism in pre-World War II Europe.

Indeed, the chief motivation for the book may well have been de Lubac’s conviction that the Eucharist is the central and efficacious sign of the Church’s victory in Christ over the powers and principalities which rule this current age and which ravaged European civilization in an especially monstrous way during much of the 20th century. Along with his conviction that the Eucharist “makes the church” by facilitating an ontological bond with Jesus Christ, the one who defeats the powers, de Lubac was concerned that eucharistic piety had been reduced to a mere spectacle under neo-scholastic influence and thus had become disconnected from true sacramental efficacy. Toward the end of Corpus Mysticum, de Lubac suggests that, considering the sad state of mid-twentieth century “Christendom,” the Church would do well to appreciate, once again, the power of the Eucharist to make the Church anew each day.1 In short, de Lubac’s genealogical work on eucharistic terminology, and his promotion of a pre-12th century sacramental sensibility, were intended to inspire greater faithfulness in a Church that seemed too often bound by and submissive to the very principalities and powers defeated on the cross of Christ.2

It would be easy to conclude that Corpus Mysticum offered at least an implicit criticism of the development of transubstantiation as a doctrine. Indeed, Hans Urs von Balthasar suggests that the primary “point of departure for the problematic of Corpus Mysticum” was de Lubac’s concern that “individuali...

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