Sacramentality in the Fathers

Sacramentality in the Fathers

JPI 646/865
3 Credits

As we can see in the writings of the New Testament and of the Fathers, the person of Christ was considered to be the fulfillment of the law and the prophecies given in the Old Testament. Christ’s excessive and unexpected fulfillment of the Old Testament’s expectation of salvation, which is only seen with the eyes of faith, brought forth a typological and symbolical reading of Scripture over against reductionist (e.g. Marcion) and gnostic interpretations of Christ. The Church Fathers’ approach to Scripture and to reality as such aspired to do justice to the historical and bodily dimension of salvation history and the deeply mysterious way in which God’s revelation takes place within history. Importantly, for the Fathers, revelation did not simply mean an intellectual transmission of information, but most of all God’s mysterious and sacramental self-gift to human beings—as it can be experienced and participated in the Church’s liturgy. We can even speak of a sacramental ontology in the Fathers, as this is what their philosophy and theology in the end point to. In the 20th century, Henri De Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar, among others, made it their goal to recover and develop this sacramental thought of the Fathers and discover its fruitfulness, which is still relevant today. This course aims at enabling students to understand the Fathers’ thought on the sacraments—especially the Eucharist and matrimony—within the larger framework of their thought. Readings will include Irenaeus of Lyon, Origen, Augustine, and Maximus, as well as Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Selected Texts


Jonathan Bieler portrait

Jonathan Bieler

Assistant Professor of Patrology and Systematic Theology

Dr. Bieler received his doctoral degree in theology at the University of Zürich (2017), with a dissertation in Patristics on the coherence of Maximus the Confessor’s thought, which is published by Brill (2019). He taught in the theological faculty at the University of Zürich and assisted the chair of Patristics with teaching and research. In his work, he strives to combine the usage of historical-critical methods with faithfulness to the Church’s living tradition.

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