Chauvet Newly Translated in German

Nearly thirty years since its original publication in France (June 1987) and twenty years after its English translation (December 1994), Louis-Marie Chauvet’s Symbole et Sacrement has just been released in German (Symbol und Sakrament, Pustet-Verlag, January 2015). That such a new translation would appear after so many years seems notable and, one would surmise, a testament to the originality of the work. Indeed, Cardinal Karl Lehman, at a launch of the book this weekend sponsored by the Chair of Liturgical Studies at the University of Wuerzburg, extolled the originality of the now retired French theologian’s integration of philosophical and social-scientific theories in situating the sacraments within the entire scope of theology and grounding their place and practice in people’s entire lives, body and soul.

Chauvet’s magnum opus has no doubt exercised a singular and immense influence on sacramental-liturgical theology  while, nonetheless, drawing a range of criticisms, adjustments, counter-proposals, and suggestions for furthering the hermeneutical approach he so thoroughly argued (see, for example, the essays by several of the European authors in the Festschrift I co-edited with Philippe Bordeyne in 2008). Myself, I am gratefully indebted to Chauvet for his sacramental-theological system, both for my own writing but also in my instructional work with divinity and grad students. Especially helpful, I’ve found, is his method (drawing on Heidegger’s anthropology) for establishing and exploring the interrelationship of word, sacrament, and ethics in the life of the church and in its members. The anti-clerical undertone and implications throughout his work is, in my opinion, another laudable dimension.

Would others like to comment on their own use and/or estimation of Chauvet’s “Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence”?


  1. I’ve never felt like I really “got” Chauvet—I just couldn’t see what the big deal was. Maybe I’ve just never bought the Heideggerian dismissal of pretty much the entire western philosophical tradition as “ontotheology.”

    I too find Blankenhorn’s critique (really more a defense of Aquinas’s sacramental theology), linked by Peter Kwasniewski above, to be pretty convincing. I’m just suspicious that the critique of the “productionist” model of sacrament—the idea that sacraments are causes of grace—is simply a sign of a post-industrial mindset that is alienated from any sense of craft. Maybe if we actually had experience of making stuff and working with tools we wouldn’t find the idea of sacraments as “instruments” to be so problematic.

    But people who have first hand experience of Chauvet say that he is a very kind and holy man, which is more than I can say for many academics! I figure that counts for something.

  2. I would echo your comments, Bruce, about how Chauvet’s work is useful for “establishing and exploring the interrelationship of word, sacrament, and ethics in the life of the church and in its members.” Fifty years ago, Vatican II castigated the “split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives [which] deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age” (GS 43). Chauvet’s use of Heidegger and of gift theory provides an important theoretical tool for addressing that split and overcoming a false dichotomy between sacred and profane. All of existence is (potentially) sacramental and hence the significance of Chauvet’s sacramental reinterpretation of Christian existence.

    And I wrote a book about Chauvet’s sacramental theology.

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