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Document Details :

Title: Geloven in een surrealistisch perspectief? - To believe in a Surrealistic Perspective?
Subtitle: Een theologisch wederwoord bij de symbool- en sacramentstheorie van Paul Moyaert - A Theological Reply to Paul Moyaerts Theory of Symbol and Sacraments
Author(s): VAN DEN BOSSCHE, Stijn
Journal: Bijdragen
Volume: 60    Issue: 3   Date: 1999   
Pages: 324-345
DOI: 10.2143/BIJ.60.3.2002327

Abstract :
In his recent study on ‘The Excessiveness of Christianity’ the K.U. Leuven professor of phi-
losophical anthropology Paul Moyaert describes how Christianity is marked with excessiveness
in its ethical, religious-metaphysical and mystical self-understanding. Here we deal only with the middle part of the study, on “the incarnation of meaning.”
In the first part of our contribution we explore Moyaerts theory of symbol. Moyaert rightly resists both an instrumental reduction of the symbol (i.e., making it serve another purpose) and an intellectual reduction (i.e., making it stand for something else). But in his search for the own rationality of the symbol, he inclines towards absolutising its meaning, installing an intrinsic relation between the signifier and the signified. Moyaert recognises the role of human intentionality installing a signification in the symbol, but argues that the symbol exceeds that subjective signification with an objective meaning which it brings about itself. He sees an “intimate entanglement of ‘significatio’ (sense) and ‘esse’ (being)” which is at the heart of what he calls a “realism of meaning.” Our argument against this reasoning is that if the symbol bridges the distance between signifier and signified in an objective relationship between both, apart from every signifying human intentionality, then this symbol escapes historicity, and brings about an absolute presence, or the divine, thus becoming what we call the locus onto-theologicus susceptible to unmasking as an idol. Moyaert partly seems to recognize this, but nonetheless defends it as the “surrealistic perspective” from which we must think the symbol.
In the second part of our contribution we follow Moyaert in his application of his theory of symbol to sacramental presence, especially the praesentia realis. He replaces the terms “signifier – signified” with their religious equivalents “incarnans – incarnatum,” seeming to assume that they have the same meaning. But this is not an innocent procedure. Whereas in the symbolic the distance between both poles should be held apart in order to avoid idolatry, in the movement of sacramental incarnation God bridges this distance in His becoming present through the historical. The praesentia realisis in the tradition of the Church not the highest possible symbolic presence of God, hence a kind of “praesentia surrealis”, but God’s sacramental presence (through the historical), pushed to the limit of its historicity, in a manner analogous with Jesus’ being completely one of us and yet also “without sin.” Hence does faith not occur in a perspective of surrealism, but of realism.
In our evaluation, we make a plea for a theological nuance of Moyaerts theory of symbol, recognising that a symbol as signifier needs to maintain distance from its signified in order to avoid becoming an idol, and so must also be recognized the historicity of the indeed irreducible otherness of the symbol for the individual. What is distinctive about the sacrament, as opposed to the symbol, is its accomplishment of God’s Mysterious movement bridging the distance between creation and Creator. Without this nuance, Moyaerts position appears to us to fall back into to the ultimate functionalisation of faith which consists in mastering contingency through the (surrealism of the) symbolic. Indeed, Moyaert is not alone among contemporary philosophers who turn from recognizing the irreducible groundlessness of life to a rediscovery of Christianity as an inspiration for philosophical anthropology which, however, threatens to reduce faith to a kind of post-religious wisdom tradition. In those cases, one suspects that this new sympathy for Christian faith may turn out to be a Trojan horse in the mother of all religious wars, still ongoing between Greek-modern autonomy and Jewish-biblical heteronomy.