In this beginning journey to understanding the sacraments, two prominent theologians of the twentieth century provide much guidance. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Fr. Louis Bouyer provide an explanation of the divine gifts bestowed upon humanity in terms not only of the power, spirit, and love which comes from God, but also in the human perception, contemplation, and understanding which set the boundaries of any cosmic interaction we have here on earth.
If there is one word which stands out to me from our readings over the last few weeks, it is anthropology. This word drives the study of the sacraments, because as we our limited by our humanity, in terms of technology, interactions, religiosity, politics, and more, we have changed our understanding for the need, understanding, and participation in the sacraments. Both Ratzinger and Bouyer make clear that the sacraments are God’s way of working in the material world under human terms to provide revelation of and efficacy from the divine realm.
As Ratzinger notes in Theology of the Liturgy, even basic human activities such as “birth and death, a meal, and sexual relations”1 have an element of the divine. These activities acquire a new dimension: they become “the fissures through which the eternal looks into the uniformity of the human routine.”2 Similarly, Bouyer states in Cosmos that man is drawn to rites and rituals, not just as an expression of human understanding, but has a way to explain or process divine revelation. Bouyer writes that “in ritual observance, human activity therefore tends to follow divine activity, through which reality is formed.”3
Man knows through revelation that he is a created being, and thus the desire to understand the Creator flows from this revelation. God is love, and thus divine revelation is the teaching of the way to demonstrate and participate in that love in ways that the human person can understand at a given time in history. A danger exists in this interpretation that as man attempts to decipher revelation that some elements are misinterpreted, or worse ignored. This leads man to consider that creation is for man and from man. Ratzinger pointed this out by writing on the “twofold anthropological error that “originates in the presuppositions of our time.”4
To dive slightly deeper into Ratzinger’s notion which he describes as “confusion of man with God,”5 Ratzinger notes that if there is no autonomy of the human spirit — if it cannot live without “relations to others” — then the relationship between God and man must be “just as man is: corporeal, fraternal, and historical.”6 Thus, even in the material world, God is still providing his love and revelation through means that man can understand and digest. Similarly, Bouyer argues that to live as a human being in the world is to live by not just using ones senses. Thinking and sensing go together (as Dr. O’Malley noted in his Bouyer lecture), and thus God will work through both to provide revelation. Bouyer notes that the result is ritual whereby ritual “aligns the person to the myth of the world.”7 Bouyer describes rites as an “activity of man in the world through with he attunes his being and his life to the main coordinates of cosmic life and being.”8 In conjunction with Ratzinger, Bouyer cautions that the danger is that “we seek to control the God behind the myth.”9
Of note, based on being a political person, was Ratzinger’s second part of his “twofold anthropological error” in which he cited the “Marxist heresy”10 in which the pursuit of the material — in other words, man’s relation only with himself and that with which he can control or create — leads to an inability to “see the eternal.”11 This realm of being can be considered anti-sacramental in that there is nothing — no rite or ritual — which brings man closer to God. Under this system, Ratzinger claims that man “is now imprisoned in his world of work, and his only hope is that later generations will be able to have better working conditions than he did, if he has toiled sufficiently for the creation of such conditions.”12
Although this state of being may seem untenable to those who actively seek God, Bouyer points out to purge God from the activities of the day to day — the material — is not only not natural, but impossible. In describing man’s turn to rationalism, Bouyer notes that even though man “may think he has cast out of his intelligence the patterns of mythic thought,”13 this is but an illusion, for “mythic constructs remain at the root of human consciousness, even if they are repressed into the subconscious — to reemerge whenever there is a relaxation of the conscious mind.”14
Dr. O’Malley, in his lecture From Myths to the World, notes that “divine revelation slowly transforms the way human beings understood the relationship they had with the world.” As stated above, however, this understanding can be misinterpreted or even actively ignored. It takes a constant effort to remember that “every created being is but the expression and materialization of the omnipotent benevolence of the God who showed himself to Abraham and his children.”15 With this recognition, we can see how the sacraments are God’s way of working in the world and through the world to provide divine grace in ways that humanity can partake. As Ratzinger notes, “Man is the one receiving, the one dependent on the fullness of power that is simply given and not to be produced on his own authority.”16