Author: Scirghi, Thomas
Date published: March 1, 2012
HEAVENLY PARTICIPATION: THE WEAVING OF SACRAMENTAL TAPESTRY. By Hans Boersma. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2011. Pp. xii + 206. $20.
Boersma has provided a meeting place for Evangelicals and Catholics. This book follows his two recent publications: Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery (2009), and Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition, which won the 2005 Christianity Today Book Award in Theology and Ethics. The current book, B. explains, follows upon his study of nouvelle théologie, and is a more popular account with an eye toward an evangelical audience. He considers this a project of ressourcement, looking to the early church for resources in order to provide theological direction for our age. He also hopes to provide opportunities for ecumenical rapprochement between Catholics and Evangelicals (9).
The title "heavenly participation" refers to the belief that heaven is already present on earth and this presence is reflected in the moral lives of Christians. The metaphor for this heavenly participation is the "sacramental tapestry," a carefully woven unity of nature and the supernatural in which created objects serve as sacraments that participate in the mystery of the heavenly reality of Jesus Christ (8). B. takes this image of the tapestry from Alexander Schmemann's book For the Life of the World (1973). Schmemann rejects the opposition between nature and the supernatural and attempts to reintegrate them sacramentally.
B. argues that Christianity is a worldly religion: "Heavenly participation does not mean that we should ignore the earthly concerns. Far from it! It is only other-worldliness that guarantees an appropriate kind of this worldliness" (x). He sees a problem in our loss of the premodern sacramental worldview, one in which earthly existence pointed to eternal realities. However, modernity has abandoned this participatory, i.e., sacramental, view of reality, creating a chasm between the created order and its Creator.
B. divides the book into two parts. The first explores the notion of the sacramental tapestry and its weaving by the Christology of the Fathers - namely, Irenaeus, Athanasius, and Gregory of Nyssa - and its unraveling by the Scholastics and the Reformation. The second part explains how the church may reconnect the threads of this tapestry through a renewal of a sacramental worldview. For B., nouvelle théologie paved the way for this renewal. He pays special tribute to Henri de Lubac, who demonstrates the need for ressourcement in his eucharistie theology. According to B., de Lubac winds his way between two opponents. The early Protestants, on the one hand, weakened the doctrine on the Eucharist, diminishing Christ's presence m the sacrament, leaving us with a "virtual presence." The traditional idea of the church as the Body of Christ was weakened as well. The neo-Scholastics, on the other hand, focused on the eucharistie body and forgot its sacramental purpose, namely, to create the ecclesial body. This shift led to an increasing focus on the real presence m the Eucharist and a loss of the connection between the Body of Christ and the body of the church. It is de Lubac's understanding of sacrament and symbol, according to B., that will help reweave the frayed tapestry of the Eucharist. De Lubac shows us how Augustine and many medieval thinkers beüeved that the world was full of symbols, and these symbols functioned as sacraments, in that they participate in the reality to which they point, a reaüty much greater than themselves.
This part of the discussion can be confusing, leaving the reader to wonder whether B. confuses sign and symbol. Early in the book, he refers to "mere symbols," which differ from sacraments because the former do not participate in the reality to which they point. He gives an example of a road sign with a silhouette of a deer, which "symbolizes the presence of deer in the area." He is correct in saying that a reasonable driver would not veer away from the sign. Yet the silhouette acts more like a visual word, alerting the driver, poUiting to something beyond itself. Later, in his discussion of de Lubac's work B. develops the theology of symbol is developed. But this category of "mere symbols," in a discussion of sacramental theology clouds the issue, especially after the work of Louis Marie Chauvet's Sacrament and Symbol.
Nevertheless, B. achieves his purpose of promoting dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals. The book would be useful for graduate courses on sacramental theology and the history of theology. Throughout the book, the reader will learn much about the development of eucharistie theology as well as the movement of nouvelle théologie.
Fordham University, New York THOMAS SCIRGHI, S.J.