A critical assessment of sacrament and ethics in the thought of Louis-Marie Chauvet

Timothy M. Brunk, Marquette University


In this dissertation, I make and defend the claim that Louis-Marie Chauvet has provided the best articulation yet on the relationship between sacramental worship and ethical practice outside of formal worship. It is widely observed that believers experience a disconnect between their lives of prayer and worship on the one hand and their workaday lives on the other. Drawing upon the work of philosopher Martin Heidegger, historian Georges Duby, and anthropologist Marcel Mauss, Chauvet constructs a model of Christian existence with sacramentality at its very core---a model which takes full account of the fruitful tension that exists between sacramental worship and daily life. I begin by examining past efforts to grasp the nature of the relationship between sacrament and ethics, including what Vatican Council II brings to the question. Theologians such as Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Bernard Häring, Juan Luis Segundo, Vigen Guroian, Don Saliers, and Virgil Michel all addressed this issue, but like the Council itself, none of these figures examined how sacramental ritual as ritual implicated participants in the living of an ethical life. Subsequent chapters investigate how Chauvet has used post-modern linguistic theory associated with Heidegger and the gift theory associated with Mauss in order to provide a framework for understanding how sacramental ritual inaugurates or re-inaugurates the Christian identity of those who participate in them and also how these rituals of their very nature involve a return-gift to God of loving praxis towards one's neighbors. Aspects of Chauvet's program have been challenged by Henry Mottu, Yves Labbé, Jean-Yves Quellec, Vincent Miller, and Daniel Franklin Pilario. These writers question Chauvet's appropriation of Heidegger and Chauvet's use of anthropological categories. I argue that Chauvet's thought can on the whole be vindicated against these critics. The dissertation concludes by placing Chauvet in dialogue with liberation theologians such as Jon Sobrino and with feminist theologians such as Susan Ross in order to examine how Chauvet's thought can be brought to bear on the concerns such thinkers bring to the table; I also analyze Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest from the perspective of Chauvet's theology.

This paper has been withdrawn.