Theology after Heidegger must take into account history and language as elements in the pursuit of meaning. Quite often, this prompts a hurried flight from metaphysics to an embrace of an absence at the centre of Christian narrativity. Conor Sweeney here explores the “postmodern” critique of presence in the context of sacramental theology, engaging the thought of Louis-Marie Chauvet and Lieven Boeve. Chauvet is an influential postmodern theologian whose critique of the perceived onto-theological constitution of presence in traditional sacramental theology has made big waves, while Boeve is part of a more recent generation of theologians who even more wholeheartedly embrace postmodern consequences for theology.
Sweeney considers the extent to which postmodernism à la Heidegger upsets the hermeneutics of sacramentality, asking whether this requires us to renounce the search for a presence that by definition transcends us. Against both the fetishisation of presence and absence, Sweeney argues that metaphysics has a properly sacramental basis, and that it is only through this reality that the dialectic of presence and absence can be transcended. The case is made for the full but restless signification of the mother’s smile as the paradigm for genuine sacramental presence.
Introduction: Context, History, Object
1. Postmodern Soundings
2. Sacramental Presence in Louis-Marie Chauvet
3. Sacramental Presence in Lieven Boeve
4. The Praxis of Sacramental Presence after Heidegger
5. Reimagining Metaphysics after Onto-Theology
Conclusion: Sacramental Presence and the Mother’s Smile
Endorsements and Reviews
Conor Sweeney’s is a welcome new voice in the burgeoning choir of theologians returning to metaphysics. Carefully critiquing postmodern Heideggerian approaches to sacramental presence, he invites us to recognize the sacraments’ transcendent love in the mother’s smile. With this evocative use of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Sweeney sets us on the right path: an approach to sacramentality that moves beyond the flat horizons of language and time.
Hans Boersma, J.I. Packer Professor of Theology, Regent College, Vancouver
This work will be immensely valuable for those who teach sacramental theology with reference to the Trinitarian Christocentrism embedded in the magisterial teachings of the post-Conciliar era. Sweeney is critical of both the Baroque scholastic temptation (offering the world a metaphysics devoid of the encounter with Christ) and the postmodern temptation (concluding we can’t say anything definite about anything.) Instead he suggests we reimagine sacramental presence according to the perspective of the nuptial mystery.
Tracey Rowland, Permanent Fellow in Political Philosophy and Continental Theology, John Paul II Institute, Melbourne