Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sacramental Signification

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In E.L. Mascall's book Corpus Christi, he mentions Vonier's book on The Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist. This is an excellent book and I can only believe that after looking deeply in Andrewes's Eucharistic theology that he would have been in agreement with much of the theology found there. Mascall comments on this work with the following:
The missing factor can, I believe, be found in the work of another Roman Catholic writer, Abbot Anscar Vonier, whose book A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist was published in 1925. For Vonier, the fundamental fact about the Eucharist is the fact that it is a sacrament; and the fundamental fact about a sacrament is the fact that it is a sign, albeit a sign of a very special kind. Now the purpose of a sign is to represent; and the purpose of that particular kind of sign which is a sacrament is to re-present, to make present, to effect, that which is represented. A sacrament is a sign which has effective causality, a sign which brings about that which it signifies. Furthermore—and this is Vonier's special contribution to the discussion—sacramental efficacy is an altogether unique type of effective causality and it must not be confused with other types. It is, of course, supernatural, but not all supernatural causality is sacramental. 'If', writes Vonier, 'the priest at the altar brought down Christ from heaven in his natural state as a full-grown man, this would not be a sacrament in the least, as it would lack the very essence of the sacrament, representative signification.' And again, the sacramental world is a new world created by God, entirely different from the world of nature and even from the world of spirits. It would be bad theology to say that in the sacraments we have here on earth modes of spiritual realities which resemble the ways of the angels. We have nothing of the kind. If we spoke with the tongues of angels and men it would not help us in the least to express the sacramental realities. Sacraments are a new creation with entirely new laws. 94 95
There is little to no disagreement with this theology of Sacramental Signification that one finds in Andrewes's theology. Andrewes really does re-capture a Catholic Sacramental theology that needs visiting again and in fresh way to see how using him in ecumenical dialogue with Catholic bodies would be a helpful benefit to the Church in the area of ecumenical dialogue.


Blogger Brian Douglas said...


I agree that there seems to be little of disagreement with the theology of Andrewes and some much later theologians (even from a variety of traditions). It is remarkable really that there is this consistent strain. In Anglicanism it is this consistent strain of moderate realism that is so pervasive in the Anglican eucharistic tradition. Mascall's work is very good in 'Corpus Christi' and he argues so strongly against any immoderate or fleshy form of realism much in the same way that the Articles argue against it on the basis of destroying the nature of a sacrament. Of course Mascall is somewhat more specific in his moderate realism than the Articles but nonetheless I see a consistency between diverse sources (e.g. Articles, Andrewes, Mascall and Vonier).

5:53 pm  
Blogger Jeff said...

I have found the same in my reading of these three sources. I have a question, would you agree that Andrewes and Mascall are nuancing the Articles and interepreting them in their widest possible interpretations and even possibly implying a critique of them? I find it interesting that Andrewes does not refer to them in his writings. What do you make of that?

6:02 pm  
Blogger Brian Douglas said...

Yes I agree that they both seem to be nuancing them. Actually I have found that sort of discussion quite helpful in refining my understanding of moderate realism in relation to the Eucharist. Certainly I think they are critiquing them as well. I can't really answer why Andrewes does not mention the Articles but perhaps he was attempting to move past the party divisions which would have been sparked off. If this is his reason I certainly agree with him since such an approach attempts distance from the party acrimony and engagement with the underlying assumptions in a more critical manner.

6:22 pm  

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