I’m happy to announce the publication of my article “‘Naturally More Vehement and Intense’: Vehemence in Calvin’s Sermons on the Lord’s Supper”, in Reformation & Renaissance Review, vol. 20,1 (2018), 70-81. The online (open access!) and printed versions are available at the RRR’s website.
In this article I explore why Conrad Badius,the editor of Plusieurs sermons (1558) speaks in his preface to the collection about the ‘vehemence’ of these sermons of Calvin’s, which were selected by their Christological content as well as their connection to the preparation and celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
This is what the abstract says:
This article focuses on the remarks of Conrad Badius – in the preface to his publication of Plusieurs sermons of Calvin’s – about the ‘vehemence’ of sermons relating to the Lord’s Supper. By comparing two of Badius’s prefaces in editions of Calvin’s sermons, it becomes clear that he chose his words intentionally. On examining here the rhetorical background of vehementia/ véheménce, its use in the final part of Calvin’s sermons is clarified. Some contemporary witnesses to Calvin’s habit are cited. Moreover, in light of the role of vehemence in Calvin’s preaching in general, it is shown that the context of the preparation for the sacrament and its celebration prompted Calvin to preach even more vigorously. The outcome is that Badius’s comments on Calvin’s preaching underline the vital importance of the Lord’s Supper for the Reformer, a sacrament which required intensive and sanctifying preparation.
And Reformation & Renaissance Review‘s editor, Ian Hazlett introduces the article in his editorial introduction thus:
It underlines that Calvin was well aware that while people were willing mostly subscribe to the Reformation, it was a challenge for preachers to break down the crusted hearts of many people in order to induce genuine conversion to the authentic Christian way. The article discusses how Calvin’s preaching, far from being calmly expository or a pleasing religio-cultural lift for the listeners, was at points right confrontational, a spiritual cold shower. There is a focus on Calvin’s robust and vehement style which he employed particularly in the sermons on the sacrament – well testified in contemporary sources of friends and colleagues. Accompanying this is evaluation of how far these high-pitch tones in familiar and accommodating language were attributable to Calvin’s irascible nature and character, or to his masterly recourse to the techniques of classical rhetoric and oratory, and so communication skills; the aim was not just to move and persuade the congregation, part of which was indifferent, hypocritical and nonchalant, but also to force it to submit in order to help the Word of God gain urgent entry. For voluntary or spontaneous adoption of Christian righteousness, inwardly and outwardly, by many people remained illusory. Eucharistic participation in the body of Christ and enjoying the sursum corda were hard to translate into real life.
You can read the full article here. I hope you will enjoy it!
Robert J. Stamps, The Sacrament of the Word Made Flesh (Wipf and Stock 2013); $ 39,- ($ 31,20 [web price])
In his book The Sacrament of the Word Made Flesh, Robert J. Stamps engages with the sacramental theology of Thomas F. Torrance. It was his doctoral dissertation at the University of Nottingham, completed in 1986. It remained unpublished until 2007, when it was included in the Rutherford Studies in Contemporary Theology. And finally, in 2013 it was released in the USA by Wipf and Stock. The delayed date of publication seems not completely coïncidental, as the sacramental theology of T.F. Torrance didn’t catch much attention until the first decade of the 21th century. George Hunsinger’s The Eucharist and Ecumenism (2008), preceded by his important essay ‘The Dimension of Depth’ (2001), is dedicated to the memory of T.F. Torrance and Hunsinger’s sacramental theology is deeply influenced by Torrance. Paul Molnar wrote about the same subject in 2005, in an essay (‘The Eucharist and the Mind of Christ. Some Trinitarian Implications of T.F. Torrance’s Sacramental Theology’) and, to mention just one more example, Myk Habets devotes several pages to the same topic as part of his book Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance (2009). These and other recent publications are not mentioned in Stamps’ book, as its conception predates these books and articles.
Stamps starts his study with an outline of ‘the theological and cosmological framework’ for Torrance’s eucharistic theology. This first chapter functions as a very concise introduction of Thomas Torrance’s view on theology in relation with (modern) science and its epistemological implications. Not surprisingly then, we find in this chapter much interaction between the positions of Torrance and Barth. Stamps does a good job in his exposition of Torrance’s emphasis on God’s self-revelation, his aversion of dualism, and so forth.
The second chapter starts with a brief ‘rationale’ for the subsequent outline of the discussion of Torrance’s sacramental theology. Stamps chooses here for a revision of Calvin’s approach in the Institutes (IV,XVII,1): Signification; Substance of Matter; Effect or Action. In my view this approach is not completely satisfactory. Of course, especially in his early writings, Torrance often refers to Calvin’s sacramental theology and he employed Calvin’s outline himself, ‘though with considerable difficulty’ (60). However, as Stamps rightly remarks, Torrance offers an incisive reinterpretation of the material. Stamps consciously indicates these reinterpretations in the subsequent chapters. But they don’t become structurally visible in this way. And that’s a pity. To be fair, the strength of Stamp’s approach is that the points of divergence can be marked, step by step.
Chapter 3 ‘Sacramental Matter and Action: the Objective Christological Ground and Potential for the Sacrament’ maps the interconnections between Torrance’s christology and sacramental theology. The key to this is found in his most comprehensive treatment of eucharistic theology: “The Paschal Mystery of Christ and the Eucharist’. His christological emphasis on the homo-ousios is the key for the interpretation of his sacramental theology. That has deep epistemological implications: ‘for God cannot be known in the revelatory ‘sacramental relation’, either in word or formal sacrament, except from the integrity of his incarnation.” (99). Moreover: “the worship of Christ is the ground for the Church’s worhsip. We can also understand why the Eucharist in his theology, answering as it does the worship of Christ, should be central to the life of a reconstituted, new humanity.” (109). It is this position that makes Torrance’s contribution unique, pointing to, what George Hunsinger rightly called, the ‘dimension of depth’.
While chapter 3 is the heart of the book, in my opinion, chapter 4 is less convincing: ‘Sacramental Effect: the Subjectification of the Objective Christological Reality’. The subtitle indicates the problem already. According to Stamps “Calvin dealt with sacramental action and effect together in his outline, whereas Torrance’s sacramental theology separates the effect from the action” (144). I don’t think so. In Conflict and Agreement (1960) he makes the distinction between the ‘action of Christ’ and ‘its effect in our reception of it’. But, as Stamps rightly says, “[t]his does nog designate two distinct actions” (ibid.). But then he adds “but [it designates, AT] the difference between Christ’s formal action and its subjectification within the Church” (ibid.). To be sure, Stamps is a very careful ‘exegete’ of Torrance. For a few lines later he writes that Torrance elsewhere (in his shorter article ‘The Paschal Mystery of Christ and the Eucharist’ in The Liturgical Review (1976) “treats these two aspects of our sacramental communion specifically as the Real Presence and the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Therefore, we shall discuss Sacramental Effect under these two headings” (145). Unfortunately, he seems to be unaware of the tension between the title of this chapter and the subheadings. The chapter offers for that matter brief comparisons with Luther’s and Calvin’s sacramental theologies (partly in the footnotes) that are right on target.
The last chapter is called: “An Appraisal of Torrance’s Eucharistic Theology with Open Questions”. Stamps refers in the beginning of this chapter to an personal interview he had with Thomas Torrance.
“When asked in 1985 what he would change if his earlier works on the Eucharist could be rewritten, Torrance stated that he would like to alter their context, i.e. not to discuss the issues so much from the perspective of the Reformation, as from that of the Eastern Fathers.” (240-241)
In the light of this quote, it becomes even more puzzling why Stamps chose to make Calvin’s approach leading for the outline of Torrance’s sacramental theology. He gives the answer by arguing that – in the end – Torrance’s eucharistic theology “finally ought not to be judged by what it aspires to be, but by what it actually is, a Eucharist [sic!] in the Reformed tradition operating from a highly developed christology richly informed by patristic sources” (244). Stamps notes in passing that (especially the early) Torrance is in some respects heavily indebted to Karl Barth (“an ‘actualist conception of God’s Word” (250)), but in the end, his analysis of Torrance’s sacramental theology boils down to the dilemma: either Calvin or Eastern Orthodoxy. That seems to me a serious flaw in his analysis. Torrance’s sacramental theology certainly isn’t purely Barthian, but can’t be properly understood by omitting the Barthian ‘overtones’ in the thought of Tom Torrance.
This is not to deny that Stamps offers in his book a thorough study of the sacramental theology of Thomas F. Torrance. As indicated, its strenght lies in the ‘exegetical’ reading of all the relevant texts of Torrance’s work. Its weakness is its systematic presentation and evaluation. But for sure: anyone who is on his way to study Torrance on the sacraments, will have to read this book and will definitely find it useful.
I would like to thank Wipf and Stock Publishers for providing the review copy!
This week the 11th International Congress on Calvin Research is held in Zurich. The program shows an impressive variety in speakers and papers. While I’m not attending the Congress, I wondered what I’m been missing. Moreover, I looked for a common trend in the research on Calvin. From a distance, it seems to me that there is serious attention to church discipline in Geneva and in Calvin’s works. Furthermore, a lot of comparisons of Calvin with the Church Fathers or contemporaries in the sixteenth century on doctrinal or exegetical issues. And finally, there seems to be quite a bit of attention to the ongoing business of editing and researching Calvin’s works in a digital era.
It is of course very difficult to form a sound opinion from a distance, but I’ve been wondering to which new directions in Calvin research this congress will point. I have to wait until the book will be published. But in the program we can easily recognize important trends of the last two decades: more attention to the exegetical and homiletic works, more research on the details of Calvin’s life and work (for example the exact dating of his sermons), and so forth. These are for sure worthwile projects. But my question, not in the least about my own research, is: where will the increasing attention to detail lead to? It reminded me of a remark of Eberhard Busch. He wrote:
“It is striking that in many recent works, half of the text consists of footnotes that often refer to a large number of other single investigations which are unfortunately often not available to the reader. Furthermore, there is no lack of studies with such specific theses that they cannot be substantiated except by appealing to hypotheses.” (Reformed World 57,4 (2007), p.242).
This is quite a thing to say, of course. But I can catch the drift of his worries. Let me explain in terms of my own research. I’ve been working for quite some time on Calvin’s sermons on the Lord’s Supper. It is perfectly possible to investigate these sermons on a very detailed level. Questions like the dating of the sermons, similarities on the level of words and expressions, and so forth. But my question is: how can I manage to keep an eye on the thread in the whole of his sermons? One way to find such a thread, is to look for promising approaches in Calvin research. To give my thoughts fresh impulses, I’ve been reading recent articles and book chapters about Calvin’s eucharistic theology. I will mention two of them here, both written by non-theologians.
The first article I read was Nicholas Wolterstorff’s contribution on John Calvin in A Companion to the Eucharist in the Reformation (Brill 2013), edited by Lee Palmer Wandel. I might be biased with regard to Wolterstorff, as loyal readers of this blog may know. But his contribution appears to me as a very lucid and accurate account of Calvin’s theology of the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, I regard it as one of the best short introductions to the topic on a systematic level, although from a historical perspective it is wanting. Nonetheless, it is a very illuminating contribution, thanks to the precise way of analysing what it is going on in Calvin’s theology of the Lord’s Supper. Wolterstorff follows Calvin in his division between ‘the signification, the matter that depends on it, and the power or effect that follows from both’ (Inst.IV,xii,11). Wolterstorff, however, expresses his astonishment with regard to the latter category, because it seems Calvin continuously blurrs the distinction between what is constitutive of the performance of the Eucharist and what are the effects of participation by the faithful.
“Why did Calvin not expand his understanding of what is constitutive of the Eucharist to include its being a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, its being a memorial, and its incorporating an exhortation to charity? I do not know.” (p.113).
I’m not sure whether I grasp Wolterstorff’s point fully here, but it seems that he didn’t consider to possibility of it being both true. Praise, being a memorial, exhortation to charity being constitutive for the Lord’s Supper and at the same time being an effect of it. That seems to me Calvin’s position.
The second article I read, was ‘Things That Matter’, a contribution on Calvin’s eucharistic theology of Ernst van den Hemel in Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality (Fordham University Press 2012), edited by Dick Houtman and Birgit Meyer. Van den Hemel is a Calvin specialist from the perspective of Literary Studies although the book as a whole is concerned with the question of religion and materiality (Religious Studies). Van den Hemel’s approaches Calvin’s eucharistic theology from a semiotic angle. That seems to me a very promising route. At the same time, Van den Hemel turns out to be theologically well informed, acquainted with the books of Paul Helm, Heiko Oberman, David Willis and Alister McGrath. He highlights the ‘extra-calvinisticum’ as an important interpretive key to Calvin’s semiotics of the Lord’s Supper. Rightly so, I think. In fact, Van den Hemel’s contribution is part of a larger picture. It strikes me that there is a lot of attention in Literary Studies for Calvin’s theology of the Lord’s Supper. The amount of references to his sacramental theology in English Renaissance Studies (Shakespeare, John Bale, etc.) for example is amazing. But the interest is one-sided. So far, there seems to be hardly any readiness within Calvin research to learn from the field of Literary Studies. That is a pity, according to me. In fact, it gives me food for thought that some of the most promising recent contributions I read about Calvin’s theology of the Lord’s Supper stem from non-theologians. It might open new avenues in Calvin research.
Last holiday I read Hans Boersma’s Heavenly Participation – the weaving of a sacramental tapestry (Eerdmans 2011). I had read some favorable reviews (here and here) of the book. I’d been looking forward to the reading of the book, not in the least because Boersma appeals to the ‘nouvelle théologie’ of De Lubac and others. Himself being an evangelical theologian, that is quite remarkable. The Dutch systematic theologian Hendrikus Berkhof remarked once about most reformed or evangelical theologians (at least in Holland): ‘catholici non leguntur’ (‘catholics are not read [amongst us]’). Berkhof himself was an exception to that rule, and so is Hans Boersma (who has Dutch roots as well). That makes his book quite remarkable. Heavenly Participation can in this sense even be called a brave book. Boersma shows to be acquainted not only with De Lubac, but also with other representatives of ‘nouvelle théologie’ like Jean Daniélou, Yves Congar and Marie-Dominique Chenu.
Boersma’s overall thesis is that there has been a loss of the Platonist-Christian synthesis of the church fathers. And we are in need of a recovery of that synthesis of the ‘Great Tradition’, as Boersma likes to call it. The book is divided into two parts. The first part, called ‘Exitus: the Fraying Tapestry’, offers an analysis where and how the unraveling of the sacramental tapestry, as it was common among the fathers in the Early Church, took place. The second part, ‘Reditus: Reconnecting the Threads’, attempts to point out how the sacramental world view of the fathers can be restored in its former glory. Now, it’s clear that the success of the last part depends on the degree of success of the first part. If the diagnosis fails, the therapy will be wanting as well. So the question is: How convincing is Boersma’s analysis?
In chapter 3 Boersma lists five factors that, according to Boermsa, the nouvelle theologians believed were responsible for the modern unraverling of the sacramental tapestry:
- Juridicizing of the Church (Congar). The Gregorian Reform, which resulted in an enormous increase of the authority of the pope and of the power of the church as institution. This resulted in a distinction between divine and human actions, which led to a gradual disappearing of the sacramental, divine character of authority.
- Discovery of Nature I (De Lubac). The debates concerning the nature of the Eucharist between Berengar of Tours and his opponents in the 11th century, also led to a loss of sacramental sense. Although the Church rejected Berengar’s views, his underlying assumptions were adopted, especially the separation between sacrament and the unity of the church.
- Discovery of Nature II (Chenu). The rediscovery of Aristotle lead to a discovery of nature in the 12th and 13th centuries, claims Boersma, pointing to Chenu. The dualism between matter and spirit of the Platonic worldview was challenged now. But that meant a desacramentalizing of nature, an abandonment of the Platonist-Christian synthesis.
- Scripture, Church, and Tradition (Congar). The 14th and 15th centuries witness an ever-increasing separation between the authority of Scripture and that of the church. Congar locates the source of this trouble with Henry of Ghent, with Duns Scotus and Ockham in his trail. From their questions it was only a small step to dissenters like Wycliffe, Hus and the reformers. Once again we observe, according to Boersma, a moment of loss of the sacramental ontology of the Great Tradition, in which Scripture and church were kept together.
- Nature and the Supernatural (De Lubac). De Lubac’s Surnaturel offers a detailed analysis of the relationship between nature and the supernatural. He criticizes in particular those Renaissance theologians (like Cajetan, Bellarmine) who spoke about ‘pure nature’ (pura natura), thereby highlighting the autonomous character of the natural. This also led to a loss of the sacramental synthesis, because nature was no longer in need of the supernatural.
In the next chapter Boersma adds two other factors which, in his opinion, contributed to the unraveling of the tapestry. In fact, he calls them the ‘Scissors of Modernity’. These factors are: Duns Scotus’ concept of the Univocity of Being and the rise of nominalism through the pilosophy of William of Ockham. Together they ‘cut the sacramental tapestry in two and thus caused the decline and ultimately the near-collapse of the Platonist-Christian synthesis in the modern Western world. That, in short, is Boersma’s analysis. But, as an analysis, or diagnosis, it raises a lot of questions. Let me list a few of them:
- Boersma offers us a list of seven possible contributing factors to the unraveling of the sacramental tapestry. But nowhere does he pose the question whether all these factors were equally important. Or to put it differently, nowhere does he make an attempt of connecting these factors with each other. In fact, Boersma suggests a lot, but he omits to ask the really important questions.
- Another question would be whether all these cited authors, from past to present, meant the same thing when they spoke about ‘sacramental’. Boersma uses the term ‘sacramental’ without explaining what he precisely means by that. The same could be said of another key term: ‘participation’. What happens then, is that these terms become a kind of mantra, obscuring all possible conceptual differences and problems.
- A next question is how it is possible that in Boersma’s analysis not only the introduction of Aristotle’s philosophical thoughts in the 12th and 13th century counts as contribution to the loss of the sacramental tapestry (discovery of nature), but also the philosophies of the fervent opponents of this development (Franciscans like Duns Scotus and Ockham). And yes, there has been a discovery of nature in the line of this latter philosopical trail. But that was a very different discovery and a very different way of speaking about nature.
- In his critique on Scotus’ concept of univocity of being Boersma claims: ‘For Scotus, God is simply one of many beings – all understood in the same, univocal sense of “being” (…) The new understanding (…) turns God into one of many categories’ [75-76]. Therefore, Boersma opts for the concept of the analogy of being. This leaves room for just one conclusion: Boersma doesn’t understand the concept of univocity of being in Scotus. In fact, the concept of analogy of being presupposes a kind of univocity. So his criticism seems out of tune. More generally, Boersma seems not be aware of the developments in the study of medieval philosophy in the last decades.
In short, this book of Boersma didn’t convince me, how much I sympathize with his sacramental suggestion and his conversation with the nouvelle theologie. That certainly is important for evangelical theologians. There is much to learn from De Lubac, Daniélou and others. And with Boersma, I’m longing for a better and deeper understanding of the sacraments in our church. But in order to achieve that, we need to take a better look to the (indeed: great) tradition of the church than is offered in his book.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, adressed to the Synod of Bishops in Rome yesterday. He spoke about the connection between contemplation and evangelisation. His whole lecture can be read here. In the introduction of his adress Williams touches upon the importance of Vaticanum II. The council was a rediscovery of ‘evangelistic concern and passion’. Then, he continues by saying:
But one of the most important aspects of the theology of the second Vaticanum was a renewal of Christian anthropology. In place of an often strained and artificial neo-scholastic account of how grace and nature were related in the constitution of human beings, the Council built on the greatest insights of a theology that had returned to earlier and richer sources – the theology of spiritual geniuses like Henri de Lubac, who reminded us of what it meant for early and mediaeval Christianity to speak of humanity as made in God’s image and of grace as perfecting and transfiguring that image so long overlaid by our habitual ‘inhumanity’.
It’s a remarkable passage in the Archbishop’s adress, for a few reasons. First of all, it’s in a certain sense brave. De Lubac’s specific view on the history of doctrinal development is by no means generally accepted in today’s Roman Catholic church. No wonder, as his words surely imply an incisive critique on the (neo-)scholastic tradition from Cajetan until the 20th century.
Secondly, the words of Rowan Williams imply a qualified view on the rupture between Catholics and Protestants. This rupture is, at least partly, ascribed to the doctrinal developments in the Catholic church of the late 15th and 16th century. Actually, the Reformation is in this view a re-action, instead of the initial action. Of course, opinions may vary about the nature of this reaction. De Lubac, for instance, was of the opinian that both the Reformation and Jansenism were deviations of the true Catholic doctrine, an ‘over-reaction’. J.H. Walgrave however, a Dutch Catholic theologian and philosopher, claimed the opposite, maintaining that both the Reformation and Jansenism were, in a certain sense at least, the legitimate continuation of (augustinian) Medieval theology.
Finally, the words of Rowan Williams evoque an augustinian anthropology of longing to God and the only possible fulfillment, by embracing his grace. As De Lubac in a number of writings underlined, there is not such a thing as ‘natura pura’, meaning a conception of human nature that is capable of reaching its natural potency. According to this doctrine, the supernatural longing for God does not properly belong to human nature. It’s an ‘extra’, an addition to human nature. The Archbishop certainly is right about the implications about our anthropology for evangelisation. But I suppose it has implications in the direction of sacramental theology as well. The sacramental debate in the Reformation period might be read in this light. In the theology of the Counter-Reformation we might detect a tendency to ‘supranaturalize’ the sacramtents, especially the eucharist, by emphasizing its mystery and incomprehensibility. The Reformation, on the contrary, seems to downplay the importance of the sacraments, may be not so much in theory, as well in practice. In the Swiss Reformation the habit of celebrating the Lord’s supper only four times a year became the standard practice, suggesting that it is an ‘extra’. For me, it’s an open research-question whether this tendency is also inherent in Calvin’s sacramental theology or not. Further study must show.
Gerardus van der Leeuw (1890-1950) was a true polymath. He was in his day an expert in the field of phenomenology of religion. He was a leading liturgist in the Netherlands. His writings about art are still widely read. Besides he served as the Secretary of State for Education and Science (1945-1946).
In his book ‘Primitive Man and Religion’ (only edited in Dutch: “De primitieve mensch en de religie” ) Van der Leeuw wrote about the concept of primitive mentality. It was coined by Levy-Bruhl in the early twentieth century and Van der Leeuw discusses this concept quite extensively.
Van der Leeuw stresses in his discussion the fact that this so-called ‘primitive mentality’ shouldn’t be interpreted in an evolutionary way. We are not talking about an outdated mindset. On the contrary, Van der Leeuw emphasizes that this primitive mentality is still part of modern man. However, it is largely suppressed in our day. We act and live according to our ‘modern mentality’. But what, we might ask, is then the difference between primitive and modern mentality? Van der Leeuw lists eight ‘aspects’ of the primitive mentality in contrast to modern mentality. I will single out three of them, which I consider to be the most important.
1. Van der Leeuw points out that for both mentalities the world is ‘given’. However, the way we deal with this ‘givenness’ differs largely. Modern man asks how we experience the world, what we know of it, what we can do with it. Modern man seeks to ‘handle’ the given world, makes it to an ‘object’. Wood is ‘material’, which can be used to make something. Primitive man on the contrary doesn’t see the world as object, but as subject. He doesn’t look for opportunities to handle the things he meets, but tries to discover its power. Everything has power, life, holiness. Primitive man seeks, not to handle, but to relate to this power, this holiness in every aspect of life.
2. Modern man thinks analytically. He is used to divide reality in parts and bits, in order to get a better understanding. Primitive man thinks synthetically. His thinking is directed to the totality. Modern man makes generalizations and abstractions; whereas primitive man doesn’t. Modern man thinks and speaks in general terms, whereas primitive man thinks and speaks in concrete ways. I’d like to remind that the notions modern and primitive man don’t stand for distinct periods in human history, nor stand for different kinds of civilization. Both modern and primitive mentalities are, according to Van der Leeuw, a lasting part of humanity.
3. A third difference involves the way we participate in reality. For modern mentality, it’s obvious that a person could be present only at one place at once. But for primitive mentality, it’s not obvious at all. Van der Leeuw provides the example of an Indian, who just became a father. He isn’t allowed to see his child the first weeks, but he acts as if (to use an expression which is thoroughly modern) he is present with his child and his child with him. The first weeks he limits his journeys, in order not to fatigue his childs. He avoids trespassing the creeks, in order to avoid the bad influence of waternymphs. For the primitive man living means participating in reality. The differences between these to mentalities becomes obvious in our use of the term ‘symbol’. For modern man a symbol is a kind of allegory which shows us something; for primitive mentality it means participating in its reality.
Van der Leeuw describes these differences in mentality primarily as a phenomenologist of religion. However, he doesn’t hide his regrets about the (relative) loss of primitive mentality in the contemporary culture. According to Van der Leeuw the loss of this primitive mentality causes a loss of ‘unity of life’ (“eenheid des levens”). This loss of unity of life affects the realm of religion (liturgy!), art and indeed the whole culture. For this reason Van der Leeuw seems not to be optimistic about the developments he observed before, during and shortly after World War II.
In short (and applied to the subject of my research) Van der Leeuw’s thoughts on primitive mentality signal a loss of this mentality in our modern society, which blocks a proper understanding of liturgy and the sacraments. Fortunately, his own works in liturgics and sacramental theology provide a good remedy!
Jeremy Begbie is one of the leading theologians discussing the connection between christian faith and the arts. Very recently, I discovered a (pre-publication) article of his, titled: ‘The Future of Theology amid the Arts: Some Reformed Reflections’. (Because of the pre-publication shape of the article, Begbie asks the reader not to cite this version. I will respect that and summarize his thoughts).
In the initial pages, he outlines his perspective on the discussion between theology and aesthetics in different strands of Christianity. He argues that the lack of dialogue between these strands in the early 1980s, has completely disappeared by now. Reformed evangelicals do not hesitate to be inspired by Roman Catholic of Eastern Orthodox writers and thinkers. But it seems as if the Reformed tradition is in this respect always to some degree suspicious. Isn’t the Reformed tradition iconoclastic, extreme suspicious to the (figurative) arts, and so forth. Those are the questions of Begbie, and they seem to hit the mark, according to me.
Begbie knows of some careful corrections in the past decade of this picture of the Reformed tradition. A number of studies argue for a different and more nuanced perspective. But the shadow of doubt still remains… But then Begbie makes a very interesting observation. From whence comes this shadow of doubt, he asks. And doesn’t the Reformed tradition possess enough riches to be explored? What striked me in this suggestion is the similarity in this respect between the situation in theological aesthetics and in sacramentology. Concerning sacramentology, the same observations could be made. The Reformed tradition is still regarded with suspicion, not only concerning the arts, but also concerning the sacraments. And for the same set of reasons, just mentioned.
That’s a pity, Begbie argues. We need the Reformed tradition in the debate about theology and the arts. And I add: we need the Reformed tradition in the ecumencial debate about theology and the sacraments.