The Church as Hermeneutical Community and the Place of Embodied Faith in Joseph Ratzinger and Lewis S. Mudge

by Mary McCaughey (Author)
©2015 Monographs XIV, 512 Pages
Series: Religions and Discourse, Volume 58


This book adds new impetus to ecumenical theology by focusing on embodied faith or the contextual interpretation of Revelation. It does so through an exploration of the insights of Lewis S. Mudge and Joseph Ratzinger. Mudge advocates catholicity as a hermeneutic which embraces the contextuality of faith in local contexts, including Christian communities and the religious practice of those of other Abrahamic faiths. Through his use of semiotics and social theory, Mudge offers novel ways to interpret faith lived as redemptive existence.
Since for Joseph Ratzinger Revelation can never be fully confined to rational statements, it is nevertheless expressed in living praxis. This relates to his view of wisdom, Tradition, truth and the sensus fidei. Ratzinger focuses on embodied faith in Christian experience, the lives of the saints, New Ecclesial Movements and the plurality of different expressions of faith in synchronic unity.
This study encourages the reader to explore the Church as a sacrament of redemption through contextuality and embodiment. Through the writings of two authors with contrasting and yet complimentary approaches, it highlights the transformative potential of Christianity which can serve as a point of ecumenical learning.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • The Second Vatican Council and the Call for a Hermeneutical Openness to Context, Human Experience, and Difference
  • Methodology
  • Part I: What Are they Saying about the Church as a Hermeneutical Community and Embodied Faith?
  • Chapter One: The Church as a Hermeneutical Community and the Place of Embodied Faith in Contemporary Theological Literature
  • 1.0. Introduction
  • 1.1. A Shift in Hermeneutical Focus: From the “Word” to “Embodied Word”
  • 1.2. A Shift to the Genre of Contextuality, Narrative and Praxis in Theology
  • 1.3. Hermeneutics and Ecumenical Ecclesiology
  • 1.4. Post-Modernity and Embodiment
  • 1.5. Symbolic and Hidden Dimensions of Embodied Faith in its Particularity
  • 1.6. Bottom-up Ecclesiologies, Congregational Studies and the Turn to Ethnography
  • 1.7. Participatory Dimensions to the Church as Hermeneutical Community
  • 1.8. Conclusion
  • Chapter Two: Tracing a Background to the Understanding of the Church as a Hermeneutical Community: Biblical, Philosophical and Theological Perspectives
  • 2.0. Introduction
  • 2.1. Hermeneutics in Antiquity: The “Outer” and “Inner” Word
  • 2.2. The Enlightenment Period and the Interpretation of Scriptural Texts
  • 2.3. Developments in Modern Philosophical Hermeneutics: Schleiermacher, Dilthey and Ricoeur
  • 2.4. The Turn to Historicity and Existentiality: Heidegger, Interpreting Being-in-the-World
  • 2.4.1. Heidegger’s Influence on Modern Theology
  • 2.5. Acknowledging Tradition and Intersubjectivity in Interpretation: Gadamer
  • 2.6. The Interpretation of “Life as Text”: Ricoeur
  • 2.7. Postmodern Hermeneutics,
  • 2.8. From Theological Hermeneutics to Ecclesial Hermeneutics
  • 2.9. Conclusion
  • Part II: Lewis S. Mudge and Joseph Ratzinger on the Church as a Hermeneutical Community and the Place of Embodied Faith
  • Chapter Three: Lewis S. Mudge on the Church as Hermeneutical Community
  • 3.0. Introduction
  • 3.1. Lewis Mudge: Life and Theological Background
  • 3.2. Theological Influences on Mudge’s Ecclesiology: Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Eric Troeltsch
  • 3.3. Reading Faith as Embodied Redemptive Existence
  • 3.4. Mudge on the Church as a Hermeneutical Community
  • 3.4.1. Constituted through the Hermeneutic of “Christ the Servant”
  • 3.4.2. Constituted by Living Word and Faith
  • 3.4.3. Eschatological and Universal Sacrament of Salvation
  • 3.4.4. “Catholicity” and “Contextuality”
  • 3.4.5. Ecclesiogenesis
  • 3.4.6. Moral Community: Context and Virtue
  • 3.5. Tradition and the Hermeneutical Community
  • 3.6. Authority and the Hermeneutical Community
  • 3.7. Conclusion
  • Chapter Four: Lewis S. Mudge on Embodied Faith
  • 4.0. Introduction
  • 4.1. Attuning to the Culture of Postmodernity
  • 4.2. Understanding Christian Faith in Social Contexts
  • 4.2.1. Reading the “Life World”
  • 4.2.2. Semiotics and the Reasoning Process of Local Congregations
  • 4.3. Building a Catholic Hermeneutic that Incoporates Contextuality
  • 4.4. Learning from the Texts and Communities of Abrahamic Faiths
  • 4.5. Conclusion
  • Chapter Five: Joseph Ratzinger on the Church as a Hermeneutical Community
  • 5.0. Introduction
  • 5.1. Ratzinger’s Biographical and Theological Background
  • 5.1.1. The Early Years
  • 5.1.2. Ratzinger as Theologian
  • Ratzinger on Augustine’s Ecclesiology
  • Ratzinger on Faith and Revelation in Bonaventure
  • Metaphysics and History in Ratzinger’s Theology
  • 5.2. Ratzinger on the Church
  • 5.2.1. The Church as Sacrament, Catholic and Trinitarian
  • 5.2.2. Theandric and Embodied Communion
  • 5.2.3. Communion between the Universal Church and Local churches
  • 5.2.4. Communion Ecclesiology, Anthropology and Subjectivity
  • 5.3. The Church as Hermeneutical Community
  • 5.3.1. The Place of Faith and Reason
  • 5.3.2. Faith, Wisdom and Self-surrender
  • 5.3.3. Ecclesial Faith: Entry into Christ’s being
  • 5.3.4. Ecclesial Faith: Intersubjective Communion
  • 5.3.5. Synchronic and Diachronic Dimensions to the Interpretation of Revelation
  • 5.3.6. Office and Charism Interpreting Revelation
  • 5.4. Conclusion
  • Chapter Six: Joseph Ratzinger on Embodied Faith
  • 6.0. Introduction
  • 6.1. A Hermeneutics of Continuity
  • 6.2. Embodied Faith as Existential Experience
  • 6.3. Embodied Faith, Plurality and Unity
  • 6.3.1. Embodied Faith and Multiplicity, Expressed in Different Levels of Identification with the Church and through Charisms
  • 6.3.2. Embodied Faith, Unity and Logos
  • 6.3.3. Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Dialogue
  • 6.4. Embodied Faith as the Living Exegesis of the Word
  • 6.4.1. The “World beyond the Text”
  • 6.4.2. Embodied Faith as Orthopraxis
  • 6.4.3. Embodied Faith and the Role of the Spirit
  • 6.4.4. Liturgical and Marian Embodied Faith and the Testimony of the Saints
  • 6.4.5. Embodied Faith as “Communal”
  • New Ecclesial Movements
  • 6.5. Faith and Culture
  • 6.6. Faith and Doctrine
  • 6.7. Conclusion
  • Part III: The Church as a Hermeneutical Community and the Place of Embodied Faith: From Necrophilia to Sacramentality
  • Chapter Seven: The Church as a Hermeneutical Community and the Place of Embodied Faith: Joseph Ratzinger and Lewis S. Mudge in Dialogue
  • 7.0. Introduction
  • 7.1. Modernity, Rationality and the Church as the Hermeneutical Context for the Interpretation of Revelation
  • 7.2. Embodied Faith: Empirical or Sacramental Signs?
  • 7.3. Parables and Metaphors
  • 7.4. Reading existential faith through sociology
  • 7.5. Contextuality as Plurality in Unity
  • 7.6. Living Christian
  • 7.7. The Church as Moral Community
  • 7.8. Culture and the Resonances of the Spirit
  • 7.9. Authority in the Church as Hermeneutical Community
  • 7.10. Embodied Faith and Tradition
  • 7.11. Conclusion
  • Chapter Eight: Embodied Faith and the Church as a Hermeneutical Community Interpreting Revelation: Sacramental and Existential Signs of Faith in Context
  • 8.0. Introduction
  • 8.1. Embodied Faith revealing Christ: The Saints
  • 8.1.1. Embodied Testimonies for Others
  • 8.1.2. Who Are the Saints?
  • 8.1.3. Embodied Charisms
  • 8.1.4. The Saints: Microcosms of the Church as Sacrament of Christ through Bodiliness
  • 8.1.5. Embodied Pathos and the Case of Martyrdom
  • 8.1.6. Embodied Testimonies to a Passionate Church
  • 8.1.7. Embodied Theology
  • 8.1.8. Embodied Continuity and Newness
  • 8.2. Embodied Faith as Intersubjective: Christian Communities Exegeting the Church as Communion
  • 8.2.1. Christian Communities Exegete the Church as Communion
  • 8.2.2. Parish Communities: Exegeses of Agapé as “Intimacy”
  • 8.2.3. Embodied Faith of a Priestly-People: Ortho-praxis as Ortho-doxy
  • 8.2.4. The Sensus Fidei, Consensus Fidei and the Interpretation of Revelation
  • 8.2.5. Christian Communities and Co-responsibility
  • 8.3. Embodied Faith and “the Other”: Ecumenical and Inter-religious Dialogue
  • 8.3.1. Revelation, Logos, the “Hierarchy of Truths” and Receptive Ecumenism
  • 8.3.2. Embodied Faith and Inter-Religious Contexts
  • 8.3.3. Embodied Faith, Existentiality and Praxis
  • 8.4. Conclusion
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Authored, Edited Books and Chapters in Edited Volumes by Lewis S. Mudge
  • Articles by Lewis S. Mudge
  • Books by Joseph Ratzinger
  • Articles, Addresses, and Essays in Edited Books by Joseph Ratzinger
  • Church Documents
  • Pre-Second Vatican Council
  • 1960s
  • 1970s
  • 1980s
  • 1990s
  • 2000s
  • Documents from Ecumenical Commissions and Dialogues
  • Papers and Presentations from Conferences
  • General Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

← vi | vii → Acknowledgements

Many people have made the completion of this book possible. My sincere thanks go firstly to Bishop Brendan Leahy for his support and honest appraisal of this work in dissertation form. I would also like to thank Reverend Father Vincent Twomey SVD and Pater Professor Stephan Horn of the Ratzinger Schülerkreis as well as Doctor Michaela Hastetter of the Neuer Schülerkreis for their support for the project.

I am particularly grateful to those in the Papst Benedict XVI Institut, Regensburg namely Fr. Franz-Xavier Heibel and Dr Christian Schaller who made me so welcome and facilitated me in gathering so many resources. Thanks also go to the Department of Philosophy, Maynooth University for seminars in Phenomenology, Hermeneutics and for numerous clarifications and those at the Conferences of the Ecclesiological Investigations Research Network, Leuven and Utrecht for their insights on “embodied” and “carnal ecclesiology” and hermeneutics. I am indebted also to Mr Aengus O’Briain, Dr Kevin O’Reilly and Mr Colm Fitzpatrick for proof reading. Finally and not least, my appreciation goes to my family for their patience with my unsocial tendencies during the years of juggling work and doctoral research. To all those who have and continue to embody Christ to me in a constant, patient love – I am truly grateful. ← vii | viii →

← viii | ix → Abbreviations

The titles of the main and the most frequently quoted books (but not the main articles) from Lewis S. Mudge and Joseph Ratzinger are abbreviated in the text according to the list below. On first use of the citation in the text, the full reference is given in the normal style for footnotes and the second reference in abbreviated form. In the text, where a reference refers to a certain chapter within one of these texts listed below, the full title of the chapter in addition to the abbreviated title of the text is given.

The abbreviated original German titles of the main texts used from Ratzinger are given first and listed alphabetically followed by their English language equivalents. Mudge’s numerous essays are contained mostly in his edited volumes, Rethinking the Beloved Community and Sense of a People.

Church documents which have been referenced more than once are also abbreviated and listed here. The full reference details are given in the bibliography and on first citation in the text.

This List of Abbreviations gives the titles of texts, while the Bibliography will give full publishing details of all texts listed.

Joseph Ratzinger


Auf Christus Schauen. Einübung in Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe


The Yes of Jesus Christ: Exercises in Faith, Hope, and Love


Aus Meinem Leben


Milestones: Memoirs

← ix | x →


Die Christliche Brüderlichkeit


The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood


Diener Eurer Freude


Ministers of your Joy


Das Neue Volk Gottes


Der Geist der Liturgie


The Spirit of the Liturgy


Der Gott Jesu Christ


The God of Jesus Christ


Die Geschichtstheologie des Heiligen Bonaventura


The Theology of History in St Bonaventure


Dogmatische Konstitution über die göttliche Offenbarung


The Decree on Divine Revelation


Dogma und Verkündigung


Dogma and Preaching


Einführung in das Christentums


Introduction to Christianity


Ein Neues Lied für den Herrn


A New Song for the Lord


Eschatologie-Tod und Ewiges Leben


Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life


Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures


Das Fest des Glaubens


The Feast of Faith


Gesammelte Schriften: Auferstehung und Ewiges Leben


Gesammelte Schriften: Offenbarungs-Verständnis und Geschichts-Theologie Bonaventuras

← x | xi →


Gesammelte Schriften: Volk und Haus Gottes in Augustins Lehre von der Kirche


Gesammelte Schriften: Zeichen unter den Volkern


Glaube – Wahrheit – Toleranz


Truth and Tolerance


Glaube und Zukunft


Faith and the Future


Gott und die Welt


God and the World


Wort Gottes, Schrift-Tradition-Amt


God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office


Im Anfang Schuf Gott


In the Beginning


Kirchliche Bewegungen und Neue Gemeinschaften


New Outpourings of the Spirit


Maria: Kirche im Ursprung


Mary: the Church at the Source


Mitarbeiter der Wahrheit


Co-Workers of the Truth


Salz der Erde


Salt of the Earth


Schauen auf den Durchbohrten


Behold the Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology


Theologische Prinzipienlehre


Principles of Catholic Theology


Tochter Sion


Daughter Zion

← xi | xii →


Zwei Plädoyers, Warum ich noch in die Kirche bin


Two Say Why


Vom Sinn Des Christseins: Drei Predigten


What it means to be Christian: three sermons


Wendezeit für Europa?


A Turning Point for Europe


Weg Gemeinschaft des Glaubens


Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith


Warum Ich noch in der Kirche bin


Why I am still in the Church


Wesen und Auftrag der Theologie


The Nature and Mission of Theology


Zur Gemeinschaft Gerufen


Called to Communion


Zur Lage des Glaubens


The Ratzinger Report

Lewis S. Mudge


Beyond Idealism


The Church as Moral Community


One Church: Catholic and Reformed


The Gift of Responsibility


Rethinking the Beloved Community


The Sense of a People


In His Service

← xii | xiii →


The Servant Lord and the Servant People


Why is the Church in the World?

Church Documents


Apostolicam Actuositatem


Deus Caritas Est


Dei Verbum


Ecclesia de Eucharistia


Fides et Ratio


Gaudium et Spes


Lumen Gentium


Novo Millenio Ineunte


Redemptoris Mater


Sacrosanctum Concilium


Unitatis Redintegratio


Ut Unum Sint

Other Abbreviations


Summa Theologica


A Treasure in Earthen Vessels: An Instrument for an Ecumenical Reflection on Hermeneutics ← xiii | xiv →

← xiv | 1 → Introduction

This book is based on doctoral research that examined the place of “embodied faith” and how it contributes to the interpretation of Revelation within the Church as hermeneutical community. The study recognises that the Revelation event is the “Word” understood as the Incarnate Christ and cannot be confined to the Scriptural “word,” but that the interpretation of Revelation includes its reception in the Body/body. This reception is not merely an intellectual experience but an interpersonal encounter with Christ, the living Word of God, in the Holy Spirit and is a transformative experience of salvation. Thus the term “embodied faith” used through this book refers to Revelation received both as: (a) “Body” (the ecclesial experience) and as (b) “body” (the individual experience) as the reception of revelation by the whole person expressed in “bodiliness” and the witness of living faith. These ideas also relate to how the Church through its members is the interpreter of salvation or the Sacrament of salvation for the world and the book combines concepts both from ecclesiology and fundamental theology.

The discussion in the following pages brings two authors with very different theological perspectives into dialogue. The first, Lewis Mudge, an American Protestant of the Reformed tradition (PCUSA), a pastor, theologian and ecumenist who investigates the Church using a contextual approach, borne from his ecumenical perspective. The second author is Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, former theology professor and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We will draw from his wide-ranging work but focus on his understanding of Faith, Revelation and Ecclesiology. By discussing the work of both on the topic, we come to an appreciation of how to further the interpretation of Christian Revelation in a contemporary and ecumenical context in a way that adds to its reception by the faithful. Firstly we examine the overall context of the work through an appreciation of why we need a hermeneutical interpretation of Christian Revelation and how this task occurs within the life of the whole Church.

← 1 | 2 → The Second Vatican Council and the Call for a Hermeneutical Openness to Context, Human Experience, and Difference

The idea of “embodied faith” is not a new term. It could be taken as an understanding of how revelation is lived by those who receive it. Primarily it is based on the understanding of Christian Revelation as the communication of the “event” of God’s self-communication, rather than that which can be confined to text, either in Scriptures or in statements of doctrine. Revelation as expressed in the Church’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum points to the fullness of God’s self-communication expressed in the person of Jesus Christ. It also explains how the revelatory event of Christ’s life as word and deed is brought to fullest expression through the self-giving events of Paschal Mystery.1 Revelation is not a static list of propositions to be believed but is a God who reveals to humanity his nature and plan for salvation. Even in the early Church, the “rule of faith,” was “not a creed or confession with a verbally fixed formulation” but was always connected to the lived expression of the baptismal life. The content of faith was the truth about God and the living relationship of faith guided words about God.2

← 2 | 3 → After the Reformation and the Council of Trent, a more propositional view of faith emerged as the content of Revelation became the priority in the face of new interpretations in the theology of the Reformers. The early twentieth century saw a propositional view of faith reinforced due to the threat of modernism, which aligning itself with liberal Protestantism, sought to reduce religion to a “feeling” and to something purely subjective.3 Liberal Protestantism sought to free the “essence of Christianity” from accretions or the “husk” of explanations which had grown around it. It prioritised the invisible, spiritual dimensions of religion rather than any visible manifestations. Rather than accept the importance of the subjective dimensions of faith, the Catholic Church reinforced its position on the a-priori nature of Revelation. However it did so by rooting the objectivity of faith in propositions. It turned towards rationalistic proofs for Revelation in miracles and prophecies4 and downplayed the nature of Revelation as mystery.

It was only with the Ressourcement movement in the theology of the early twentieth century with its “return to the sources” and through the emergence of the biblical, liturgical and Marian movements that the dimensions of Revelation as mystery re-emerged. The seeds were sown to recognise the interior dimensions of the faith including a new understanding of grace, Church and sacraments.5 This new form of theology was concretely expressed through the work of Henri De Lubac (1896–1991), with its rediscovery of the patristic sources of Ecclesiology and his work on nature and ← 3 | 4 → grace.6 The acknowledgment of the historical dimensions of Revelation was put forward by John Henry Newman (1801–1890) in his work An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.7 Philosophy also played its role in contributing to the recognition in theology that human experience could point to the supernatural. Maurice Blondel (1861–1949) explained that the supernatural cannot be grasped and defined but is revealed within the very structure of action and human desire. As he understood it, the supernatural is manifested in and through the praxis of life whereby ultimately human beings need to make a choice either for the absolute or contrarily for their own ego.8

The Second Vatican Council was the culmination of the Church’s rediscovery of the biblical, patristic and liturgical roots of the interpretation of Revelation. For Dei Verbum, Revelation could only be understood through a relationship with the God who wanted to reveal himself out of love, in order to draw human beings into the divine life of loving communion. The document emphasised the incarnational and dynamic principles of Revelation, namely that the “humanity of Christ is the expression of God,”9 and that Christ revealed the meaning of Christian Revelation by “praxis” or by living it.10 It recognised that the Church facilitated the assimilation of revelation through the action of the Spirit into the hearts and minds of Christians.11 The ongoing incarnation of Christ through members of the Body contributes to the interpretation of the message of Revelation through the praxis of human life. René Latourelle expresses the task for the Church’s work of interpreting Revelation as that of mediating between a faithfulness ← 4 | 5 → to the unchanging truth of Revelation itself on the one hand, and on the other, recognising how Christ is alive today in members of his Body:

The Church understands itself to be the guardian of a past that is not a museum but an ever-flowing, always life-giving wellspring. It relies on the past in order to understand the present; it remains faithful to revelation without watering it down; it remains faithful to Christ without emptying him of his reality; and, on the other hand, it constantly repeats: Christ is present and alive today.12

As a message based on the Incarnation that continues to be interpreted through on-going embodiment of the message, Dei Verbum accepts that there “is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down.”13 This growth occurs through “the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience.”14 This is what we mean by “embodied faith.”

This emphasis on the historical and subjective dimensions to Revelation is mirrored in the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. Paragraph one speaks of the Church as a type of “Sacrament,” “a sign and instrument of communion: of human beings with God and with each other.”15 To describe the Church as a sacrament means that it cannot be confined to historically visible realities to be described and interpreted in rational categories. Even a description of Church as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic,” can no longer be presented as a type of apologetical proof of its nature without reference to mystery: the inner mystery of God and God’s plan of salvation.

This understanding of the Church as a Sacrament was gradually rediscovered through the work of Otto Semmelroth, Karl Rahner and Edward ← 5 | 6 → Schillebeeckx before the Council.16 Attending to the model of the Church as Sacrament recognises the visible and invisible dimensions of the Church as a communion formed by God and not by structures. The focus was no longer on how the hierarchical nature of the Church formed the unity of the Church. Rather the hierarchy served the unity brought about through the sacraments in particular the Eucharist. Understanding the Church as sacrament of communion and unity offered new insights to understanding how Revelation is received and embodied by the ecclesial community and in turn is interpreted by it. This is because the Church itself is the Body of Christ lived out through the communion of charity shown among the lives of its members. The Church is the sacrament of communion because members live union with God and others in all dimensions of their lives including family, community, culture and history. In this way the Church becomes a living “sign” that invites others to communion.17

The importance of embodied faith was elaborated in a post-Conciliar context in the document, Evangeli Nuntiandii under the category of “witness.” Building on the context established by Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium’s understanding of the Church as Sacrament, the Church’s Apostolic Exhortation written by Pope Paul VI, emphasises the link between the Church as the Sacrament and the historical and subjective dimensions of Revelation manifested in witness. The Church “remains as a sign – simultaneously obscure and luminous – of a new presence of Jesus, of His departure and of His permanent presence. She prolongs and ← 6 | 7 → continues Him.”18 Furthermore, the intimate life of communion at the heart of the Church, centred on the Word, the teaching of the apostles and the charity rooted in the Eucharist, “only acquires its full meaning when it becomes a witness, when it evokes admiration and conversion” and also in the living existential reality of “the preaching and proclamation of the Good News.”19 Thus it is the praxis of the Christian faith in the living community of the Church or “embodied faith,” which adds to the full and living interpretation of Revelation.20

The document on Evangelisation also recognises how the proclamation of Revelation is to be received in a transformed life. It states that “proclamation only reaches full development when it is listened to, accepted and assimilated, and when it arouses a genuine adherence in the one who has thus received it.”21 This reception of Revelation is manifested in a life “transformed” which embodies “the kingdom” in the world as “the new state of things … the new manner of being, of living, of living in community, which the Gospel inaugurates.”22 Yet, this transformed life is expressed ecclesially since it cannot “remain abstract and unincarnated.” It “reveals itself concretely by a visible entry into a community of believers.”23 This post-conciliar document also recognises that to communicate the Gospel, requires understanding its contextuality in terms of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of concrete human life, both personal and social.24 It distinguishes between communities which embody the Word by witnessing to “agapé”, from other forms of base communities influenced by more ← 7 | 8 → ideological thought.25 Later, through the work of Ratzinger and Mudge we examine how Christian communities embody Revelation and in doing so contribute to its interpretation.

Since the Second Vatican Council and the Church’s openness to dialogue with other Christian denominations and other religions, the Church is called to constantly re-evaluate her own self-identity. Before the Council, the Church had difficulties in knowing how it could learn from faith in subjective, historical, inter-subjective and living contexts.26 Since the Council, the Church’s thinking has opened up to interact with cultures, human experience, science and history,27 other Christian denominations28 and ← 8 | 9 → world religions.29 René Girault notes how the Second Vatican Council in its entirety “sends out a strong ecumenical message.”30 Ecumenical dialogue involves a re-interpretation of the past in order to overcome prejudices and idiosyncrasies of various groups.31 In turn this has led to a focus on hermeneutics as a way to re-interpret both the written texts and life-texts of different Christian denominations. The ecumenical context calls the ← 9 | 10 → Church to consider her nature as a hermeneutical community in order to discern the patterns of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the world outside her institutional boundaries. There is the need for “a hermeneutics of unity,” as “relating one’s own convictions to the faith of other Christians, believing that the Holy Spirit is speaking in many unexpected ways.”32 Discovering how the Gospel is received and lived by Christians of all denominations provides a way to find new and unexpected angles on Revelation. This openness to examining the reception of the Gospel in life is also influenced by philosophical and sociological currents which emphasis praxis as a way of interpretation.33 While not disregarding the importance of how Revelation has been expressed through language and doctrines of faith in the Church, the openness to recognising the living experience of Christianity is necessary since ultimately as God’s self-communication, Revelation will always transcend our human attempts to classify it, even while it can be encountered and experienced. Also Revelation not only expresses God’s nature as love but is experienced as salvation which effects transformation in the midst of human life.

This open attitude of the Second Vatican Council has paved the way for contemporary theological developments. A postmodern cultural context which emphasises plurality, has also led to a new theological emphasis on multiplicity, contextuality and particularity. Now more than ever, the Church is called to respond to the postmodern challenge to recognise multiple expressions of embodied faith in different social and cultural contexts.34 However a related challenge posed therein is one of hermeneutics; ← 10 | 11 → one of interpretation. How can the Church account for diverse perspectives of contextual faith but yet not lose sight of the unity of faith and the essence of Revelation?

The interpretation of Revelation in its historical and subjective dimensions could be described as “reception.” Richard Gaillardetz points out that since the Council, there has been more attention given to the concept of ecclesial reception.35 He notes that “in every act of receiving the faith, the receiver contributes something to that which is being received.”36 Ormond Rush highlights how reception is a new way of understanding faith in its personalistic dimensions as a “response to and an appropriation of God’s salvific self, communicated through Jesus in the Spirit.”37 Through the category of reception, “Revelation becomes effectively traditioned to new generations in new cultures and contexts”38 This depends on recognising the charismatic dimensions of the Church since, the Holy Spirit “enable(s) reception of that reality in the new contexts within human history into the future”39 and preserves the infallibility of the truth of Revelation in and among all these various contexts.

For the purpose of this book, while “embodied faith” is another word for the reception of Revelation worked out in new contexts, we focus particularly on ecclesial contexts. Embodied faith recognises that the Church is built up through the Spirit so it is truly made up of “living stones” (1 Peter 2: 5), ← 11 | 12 → of those who embody and live a communal and personal encounter with Christ. Embodied faith is an expression of salvation worked out in the Holy Spirit. An important question raised in this book is how and to what extent a sociological or ethnographical account of embodiment and reception can express the experience of the Holy Spirit and “read” God’s presence in human life.

Through bringing the work of Lewis Mudge and Joseph Ratzinger into dialogue, our aim is to explore the understanding of embodied faith within the Church as hermeneutical community by asking questions such as: (1) How can the Church understand embodied faith as Revelation received in culture, history, communally and subjectively? How can it acknowledge salvific realities in these expressions? (2) How can the Church accept new embodied expressions of Revelation in the present while also practicing a “hermeneutics of continuity” (recognising Tradition)? (3) Can the Church as hermeneutical community make use of social sciences, semiotics and phenomenology in order to further its understanding of the meaning of Revelation embodied in time and space?

These questions as we shall see, relate to the very nature of the Church herself. The Church is the “subject” in creation to which the fullness of the deposit of Revelation has been entrusted. It is also the living sacrament of salvation for the world. In reading and interpreting where Revelation is lived and embodied ever anew by the work of the Holy Spirit, the Church can learn where it best manifests itself as sign of Christ in the world. In our stressing the reception of Revelation as “embodied faith,” our discussion also contributes theologically to the understanding of the Church as sacrament. We aim to understand how exactly the Church is to be a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6), Lumen Gentium.

In light of the above we also explore: (1) How the Church as hermeneutical community includes the interpretation of the faith offered by all her members, with reference both to authority and charismatic dimensions; (2) How the Church nourishes her members both spiritually and intellectually to be living signs of God’s presence in the world; (3) How the Church as hermeneutical community can embrace signs of redemptive existence in the lives of all Christians and those of other religions, to come to a more authentic interpretation of Revelation itself.

← 12 | 13 → Ormond Rush calls for a new systematic theology based on “a new hermeneutical approach, which integrates the sensus fidelium, Tradition, Scripture, Theology and the Magisterium in the Church’s on-going reception of Revelation through faith.”40 We argue however that in order for this hermeneutical approach to systematic theology to work in practice, there is also a need to provide certain clarifications about how we interpret Revelation. Clarifications are needed so that new interpretations of Revelation are always encouraged by acknowledging subjective and historical dimensions based on human relationship with God, yet at the same time also acknowledge Revelation as a gift of God and not a purely human or cultural construct.


Our methodology is primarily thematic, focusing on the theme of the Church as hermeneutical community and attending to embodied faith. However it is also expository in that it focuses on various texts from two main authors. It has to be noted at this point that Joseph Ratzinger is the more prolific writer of the two. Hence longer sections of this work are devoted to the theme in Ratzinger in comparison to sections on the theme in Lewis Mudge.

Since we treat the topic in the work of two theologians, we cannot set the theme within the context of the whole span of writings of each theologian. In the case of Ratzinger, we treat of the topic of the Church as hermeneutical community primarily within his treatment of Revelation, Ecclesiology and faith. In Mudge’s case, we focus on the theme of the Church as hermeneutical community within his Ecclesiology. While we have given a certain focus on some of his ecumenical works we have only drawn from these what is relevant for our theme.

← 13 | 14 → We have divided the book into three parts. Part I asks what contemporary theological literature is saying about the Church as hermeneutical community and the importance of embodied faith in the interpretation of Christian faith. Developments in philosophical hermeneutics are also examined as a background to understanding the importance of praxis and life for interpretation.

Chapter One examines the topic of the Church as hermeneutical community within contemporary theological literature. The emergence of the topic been influenced by: (1) a shift in hermeneutical focus: from the “word” to the embodied word; (2) a shift to the genre of contextuality, narrative and praxis; (3) the emergence of a hermeneutical approach to Christian faith especially through ecumenical dialogue; (4) Postmodernity and embodiment; (5) symbolic and hidden dimensions of embodied faith in its particularity. The focus on the place of embodied faith for our understanding of the Church as hermeneutical community is also influenced by the turn to (6) “bottom-up” ecclesiologies, congregational studies and the use of ethnography. The theological literature also highlights the (7) participatory dimensions to the Church as hermeneutical community.

Chapter Two examines how philosophical hermeneutics has influenced the turn to a hermeneutical method of theologising. A brief survey of the development of philosophical hermeneutics from Augustine to Ricoeur reveals how hermeneutical methods have moved from examining the revelatory event behind the biblical text, to “the text” and then to “the world in front of the text.” This development is explored by examining: (1) hermeneutics in antiquity; (2) the Enlightenment period and the interpretation of Scriptural texts; (3) developments in modern philosophical hermeneutics: Frederich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey; (4) the turn to embodied historicity: Heidegger, interpreting “being-in-the-world”; (5) Tradition and inter-subjectivity in interpretation: Gadamer; (6) the interpretation of “life as text”: Ricoeur; (7) Post-modern hermeneutics and the social construction of unity; (8) the move from theological hermeneutics to ecclesial hermeneutics.

Part II, encompassing Chapters Three to Six, examines Joseph Ratzinger and Lewis Mudge and their understanding of Church, faith and contextuality. Both (1) have a particular emphasis on the understanding of ← 14 | 15 → Tradition and its place in the Church as hermeneutical community; (2) correlate Tradition and contemporary contexts: social, cultural and historical; (3) address the importance of “embodied faith” and faith experience in order to understand how Revelation itself becomes more life-giving.

Chapter Three specifically focuses on Lewis Mudge’s understanding of the Church as hermeneutical community. He is chosen because of his particular concern to respond to the challenges of postmodernity and his interest in embodied, contextual faith. He is particularly interested in the importance of multiplicity for interpretation through holding together the mutual relationship between “higher” and “lower” level thinking in the Church through phronesis. Ultimately phronesis operates for him within the Church as moral community. He also outlines what is needed to structurally incorporate the knowledge gained in the Church through various assemblies and Councils. This chapter explores (1) Lewis Mudge’s life and theological background and (2) theological influences on his ecclesiology. It also explores (3) his reading of embodied faith; his understanding of (4) the Church as hermeneutical community; (5) Tradition and the hermeneutical community and (6) Church authority and the hermeneutical community.

Chapter Four outlines how (1) Mudge attunes to a postmodern context to read embodied, contextual faith in local Christian communities who christologically interpret worldly signs and patterns of life from the culture around them. Secondly, it explores how (2) Mudge reads the “life-world” of faith through semiotics, social theory and phenomenology to go beyond a rationalistic conception of faith. It also explores how he interprets the work of the Spirit in the world and how he builds unity from diverse expressions of faith. His interpretative method offers potential for the interpretation of faith in its symbolic and existential dimensions. It leads to the question of how the Church as hermeneutical community can make use of such phenomenological and sociological data to contribute to new angles on Revelation and whether such data can actually express salvific truths. This particular question will be examined in Part III.


XIV, 512
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (March)
Ecumenical theology Revelation Catholicism Redemption
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. XIV, 512 pp.

Biographical notes

Mary McCaughey (Author)

Mary McCaughey was born in Dublin in 1972. She graduated with a degree in Business and Social Studies from Trinity College Dublin in 1993 and pursued postgraduate studies in Education and Equality Studies at University College Dublin and further studies in Theology. She graduated with a Doctorate in Divinity from St Patrick’s College, Maynooth in 2012. She is a lecturer in Systematic Theology at the Pontifical University, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Her research interests include Revelation and Faith, Ecclesiology and Mariology.


Title: The Church as Hermeneutical Community and the Place of Embodied Faith in Joseph Ratzinger and Lewis S. Mudge
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526 pages