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Sacramental Theology.

Vorgrimler became well known to theological students early in his career because of his association with Karl Rahner. In the past decades he has established his own reputation as a thoughtful scholar. This book should certainly reenforce that opinion; it is both a careful and detailed synopsis of the tradition and a creative theological response to post-conciliar liturgy and theology. At a time when there is so much discussion about the merits of a liturgical theory vis-a-vis a sacramental theology, V. offers one possible answer to the debate.

V. notes in his Introduction that sacramental structures and events have always shaped the relationship of God with humans. But this relationship has always presupposed faith. This faith, in the Christian tradition, has consistently taken some ecclesial and liturgical expression. These convictions give the rationale for the opening chapter on the theological preconditions for sacramental theology. With wonderful clarity and conciseness V. lays out the foundational issues of revelation and symbol and how they permeate every aspect of human living. This discussion leads into an explanation of the "sacramental principle," i.e. the human being as a living image of God. The final introductory remarks deal with the Christological, pneumatological, and trinitarian presuppositions of sacramental theology. V.'s thoughtful approach is in evidence when he speaks of Christ as a primary example of "being this person who made no resistance to God, who was sinless because he was completely possessed by God."

Next, V. situates the sacraments in their liturgical context. His central topic is the description of the presence of God and Christ in the liturgy. After summarizing Rahner's thought on the subject, V. notes that we also are made present in liturgy to God the Father, "brought before his face: through his Son Jesus in the Holy Spirit." V.'s discussion on the sacramental economy of salvation builds on these notions of presence. The explanation of the Church as the fundamental sacrament is a good example of how V. is able to review the familar patristic and systematic material and yet, because he introduces the question of the Church's sinfulness, is able to give new depth to a somewhat worn topic. As throughtout the book, he makes the reader ecumenically aware of why the other Christian traditions have problems with these ecclesial assertions: the apparent loss of the fundamental difference between God's work and the Church's work. He strongly criticizes Rahner on a related point: "In Rahner's work, God and Church are sometimes brought dangerously close to one another." These observations do not detract from the positive tone of the book but inculcate a critical dialogue with the topic under discussion.

V. also offers an historical and systematic overview of "sacraments in general." In this section, he introduces the student of Peukert's innovative use of critical theory to discuss sacrament and explains how sacraments are affected by the Christian's particular church and stages of life. At the same time, he manages a thorough and freshly conceived examination of all the usual areas of sacramental theory.

V.'s final chapters are devoted to an examination of each of the seven sacraments. I will look at his treatment of the Eucharist as a test of his approach. In the 70 pages devoted to the theology of the Eucharist V. takes note of much of the large current literature on the subject. In introducing the topic, he insists on the importance both of church unity and solidarity with the unjustly oppressed of the world as proper contexts for understanding Eucharist. Nor is the ecumenical question avoided. While carefully stating Rome's conditions for a valid ecumenical Eucharist, V. also suggests that Innocent III's teaching that the Eucharist reveals and causes the Church's unity might redefine the debate in a more productive fashion. His critical assessment of the import of current biblical scholarship on the question of the Last Supper is excellent and his historical overview of eucharistic theology is quite thorough. But perhaps what most characterizes his treatment of the sacrament is the honest and candid way in which he is willing to deal with the controversial areas of the topic, including his oft-repeated repeated reminder that Christ, in the Holy Spirit, is the primary subject of the eucharistic celebration.

The one criticism I have of V.'s work, typical of much German scholarship, is his apparent unfamiliarity with the work of English-speaking theologians. Thus, his discussion of liturgy could have benefited from the work of E. Kilmartin and D. Power and that of Confirmation should have taken into account the important recent work of A. Kavanagh. A fine book, suitable not only for graduate students but also for undergraduate majors in theology.
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Author:Duffy, Regis A.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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