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


Mary McCaughey

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.
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Chapter Four: Lewis S. Mudge on Embodied Faith

← 176 | 177 → CHAPTER FOUR


We have seen in the previous chapter, how for Mudge, the Church as hermeneutical community is only “catholic” insofar as it accounts for the contextuality of faith. Such contextuality is the embodiment of phronesis or the counter-cultural mindset of Christ the servant. Understanding how the Church works as a hermeneutical community, calls for a discernment of locally generated social signs of faith or life in community. For Mudge, such signs are distinctive in that they challenge worldly values of power.

In this chapter, we examine how exactly Mudge reads embodied signs of redemptive existence, why he wants to learn from them and how he builds them into the Church as hermeneutical community. Firstly, we explain how Mudge is attuned to a fragmented culture of postmodernity and its emphasis on contextuality. Secondly, we explore closely how Mudge’s examination of the life-world of faith is motivated by a desire to go beyond a rationalistic understanding of faith; and thirdly, we examine his use of semiotics to access the reasoning process of local congregations. We examine fourthly, how he reads the work of the Spirit in the world and fifthly, how he builds unity from the diverse expressions of faith. Mudge incorporates the embodied faith of Abrahamic faiths into the “household” of the Church through a “parallel interactive hermeneutics” which examines their texts and communities.

Mudge’s concern to move beyond the grand narratives of modernity to focus on faith-in-context is influenced by his response to the challenge of a...

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