I know that I said that I did not intend these summaries to get too detailed, but this seemed important and some of it is just eminently quotable. The rest of the chapter will hopefully follow tomorrow. I’m also aware that I’m not providing any comments or reflections. To be honest, much of what Father Schmemann touches on in this book touches me at a level that is too sensitive to speak about in public and so it seems safer to stick to summaries. However, there are also more general issues that are going through my head and which I will try and formulate more precisely sometime.
In this fourth chapter of The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdom, Father Schmemann begins by pointing out that the unbreakable unity between word and sacrament that we find both in the early Church and in the contemporary order of the eucharist, has become obscured by school theology which was influenced by western ideas and which led to a distorted understanding of both word and sacrament.
I daresay that the gradual “decomposition” of scripture, its dissolution in more and more specialized and negative criticism, is a result of its alienation from the eucharist – and practically from the Church herself – as an experience of a spiritual reality. And in its own turn, this same alienation deprived the sacrament of its evangelical content, converting it into a self-contained and self-sufficient “means of sanctification.” (66)
In Scholasticism, Scripture and the Church become two independent and external authorities, two “sources of faith,” so that the question becomes which has ultimate authority. And this leads to a further reduction:
For if we proclaim holy scripture to be the supreme authority for teaching the faith in the Church, then what is the “criterion” of scripture? Sooner or later it becomes “biblical science” – i.e., in the final analysis, naked reason. But if, on the other hand, we proclaim the Church to be the definitive, highest and inspired interpreter of scripture, then through whom, where and how is this interpretation brought about? And however we answer this question, this “organ” or “authority” in fact proves to be standing over the scriptures, as an outside authority. (66-67)
This is not simply a western problem but has also affected the Orthodox Church, for the application of the principle that the interpretation of scripture belongs in the Church remains unclear.
Insofar as it exists, our biblical scholarship finds itself entirely in the grasp of western positions, clinging as much as possible to the “moderate,” i.e., in fact the penultimate, western theories. And as far as church preaching and piety are concerned, they too have long since ceased to be “fed” by, to find their true source in the scriptures. (67)
This rupture between word and sacrament has also had serious consequences for the doctrine of the sacraments so that they cease to be evangelical in the deepest sense of the word. The focus shifted from their essence and content to their conditions and efficacy.
Thus, the interpretation of the eucharist revolves around the question of the method and moment of the transformation of the gifts, their conversion into the body and blood of Christ, but with almost no mention of the meaning of this transformation for the Church, for the world, for each of us. As much as it may seem paradoxical, “interest” in the real presence of the body and blood of Christ replaces “interest” in Christ. … Alienated from the word, which is always the word of Christ … the sacrament is in a certain sense torn away from Christ. (67-68)
However, in the liturgical and spiritual tradition of the Church, there is an unbreakable link between word and sacrament.
The word presupposes the sacrament as its fulfilment, for in the sacrament Christ the Word becomes our life. The Word assembles the Church for his incarnation in her. In separation from the word the sacrament is in danger as being perceived as magic, and without the sacrament the word is in danger of being “reduced” to “doctrine.” And, finally, it is precisely through the sacrament that the word is interpreted, for the interpretation of the word is always witness to the fact that the Word has become our life. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). The sacrament is his witness, and therefore in it lies the source, the beginning and the foundation of the exposition and comprehension of the word, the source and criterion of theology. Only in this unbreakable unity of word and sacrament can we truly understand the meaning of the affirmation that the Church alone preserves the true meaning of scripture. (68-69)