Mystery Theology

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The doctrine proposed by O. casel concerning the active presence of Christ's redeeming action in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist.

Casel's Theory. In more than 100 articles, letters, and works from 1918 to 1941, Casel never ceased to develop, to clarify, and to defend a doctrine that he deemed adequate to express the teachings of the Fathers and the most ancient liturgies and that he based on the notion of mysterium. The most explicit exposition of this doctrine can be found in his work The Mystery of Christian Worship (Westminster, Md. 1962; originally published in German in 1932). He says: "The mystery means three things and one. First of all it is God considered in Himself as the infinitely distant, holy, unapproachable, to whom no man may draw near and live. And this all-holyone reveals His mystery, comes down to His creatures and reveals Himself to them; yet once again in mysterio, that is to say, in a revelation by grace to those whom He has chosen, the humble, the pure of heart" (5). "For St. Paul μυστήριον is the marvellous revelation of God in Christ. Christ is the mystery in person, because Heshows the invisible Godhead in the flesh" (6). "Since Christ is no longer visible among us, in St. Leo the Great's words, 'What was visible in the Lord has passed over into the mysteries.' We meet His person, His saving deeds, the working of His grace in the mysteries of His worship. st. ambrose writes: 'I find you in your mysteries"' (7). "The content of the mystery of Christ is, therefore, the person of the God-man and His redeeming act for the salvation of the Church; it is through this act that the Church is integrated into the mystery" (12).

It is precisely in the mystery of worship that this integration of the Church in the mystery of Christ takes place. "As a participation in the life and truth of God, this divine reality infinitely surpasses all abstract teaching. It could not be encompassed in a doctrine; it had to find expression in symbols. Cultic symbols, then, are necessary modes of expression; they do not have a purely pedagogical value, but are bearers of divine salvation. Thus the mystery of Christ finds its necessary incarnation in the mystery of worship" ["Glaube, Gnosis und Mysterium," Jahrbuch für Liturgieqissenschaft 15 (1941) 276]. "The [cultic] mysteries are a working out and an application of Christ's mystery. God, who revealed Himself in the man Christ, continues after the Ascension of Christ to act on earth through Christ the high priest according to the ordinary economy of communicating grace in the Church, namely, the mystery of worship, which is nothing else but the prolongation of the God-man's action on earth" (The Mystery of Christian Worship 27).

Although essentially in conformity with the best tradition explicated in pius xii's Mediator Dei and Vatican Council II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Casel's teaching comprised two elements that in time gave rise to violent controversies. These controversies at least have gradually shown what in Casel's position was of passing value and what represented a permanent theological acquisition.

Pagan Mysteries. Casel placed his teaching against the perspective of the mystery cults of the ancient Hellenic Mediterranean world. He certainly did not claim that the pagan mysteries exercised a direct influence on the organization of Christian worship. He nonetheless insisted that the use of the same terms by both indicated a fundamental analogy, not indeed on the level of objects, but on that of ways of expression. "The language of the ancient mysteries was used unhesitatingly to express to some extent the unfathomable content of what she [the Church] possessed; indeed many ancient forms and customs were taken over to enrich and adorn the simplicity of the Christian ritual" (The Mystery of Christian Worship 34).

This aspect of Casel's theory was subjected to lively attack, notably by K. Prümm and J. M. Hanssens, who rejected any influence of pagan mystery terminology in Christian liturgy and believed the Christian use of the term mystery had to be interpreted solely in accordance with its Biblical meaning: a divine secret communicated by revelation. One may say that Casel's theory has been greatly undermined by subsequent research done on the mystery cults. It seems well established that the latter contained no precise doctrine on the participation of the mysteries in the divine life, even less on the intervention of savior-gods. On the contrary, D. Deden and G. Söhngen appear to have solidly proved the continuity of the Christian doctrine of mystery with the Biblical tradition, notably the Pauline texts.

Presence of the Redemptive Act. Casel, however, put the accent on the active reality of the mystery of salvation to the point that the very presence of the saving act becomes reactualized in the liturgy. He based the necessity for this reactualization on the factto him indisputablethat tradition understands man's participation in the mystery of salvation as implying and demanding a real but mystical participation in the life and death of Christ. It demands a life and a death of Christ in the very sacramental act; this is how we share in His act of salvation. Some of Casel's expressions seem to imply a reactualization of even the historical aspect of the redemptive act. Despite his lack of precision, his thought was very firm on this point. He did not insist on such historical contingencies, but his fear of seeing the realism of the mystery-presence reduced, and his inability to use a more conceptual way of thinking prevented him from accepting the approach of other theologians, even of those who were less distant from his own conception than he recognized. However, his disciples, notably V. Warnach and B. Neunheuser, thought they were able to be faithful to him and yet propose explanations with more delicate nuances and more in conformity with classical theological modes of expression.

Controversy and Progress. Both aspects of Casel's doctrine came in for criticism; his harshest critics were J. B. Umberg and Prümm, who rejected not only his theory of the Christian mystery's relationship to the pagan mystery cults, but also his conception of the mystery presence.

The traditional character of Casel's doctrine and its conformity with patristic teaching have also been the object of discussions. It can now be considered as established (L. Monden, E. Schillebeeckx, and J. Betz) that the Fathers

regard sacramental grace as an ontological participation in the glorified existence of Christ by means of a real configuration to the mystery of His passion and death. In particular, they hold the Mass to be the reactualization, the representation (in the etymological sense of the word) of the sacrificial act of Christ on the cross for His Mystical Body. They therefore clearly and indubitably affirm the fact of a presence of Christ's death as a saving act in the mystery of Christian worship. Beyond this they do not go. One does not find in their writings a speculatively elaborated theory of the Sacraments; they do not provide any indications as to the how of the mystery presence. [Monden 188]

The compatibility of Casel's doctrine with St. thomas aquinas's theology was also discussed. Casel himself did not seem certain that his teaching was in accord with Thomas. Söhngen, the first theologian to attempt the integration of a modified Caselian doctrine in the perspective of classical theology, considered Casel's thought at least foreign to Thomas's teaching.

Such was not the opinion of E. Schillebeeckx, who took up and deepened the views of A. Vonier and E. Masure. Because of the hypostatic union, all that Christ's humanity experienced was assumed by the Divine Person whose acts do not suffer the limits of duration. Consequently, the effect of each act will be realized when the Divine Will, eternally actual, determines that it should be realized. It is primarily through the Sacraments and the other mysteries of worship instituted by the Church that the redemptive mystery is brought to us according to the will of Christ. Summarizing Schillebeeckx's thought, J. Gaillard writes (541):

In the liturgical mysteries we have, at one and the same time, the actual presence of the transcendent element and the virtual presence of the total act (passion, resurrection, etc.) always acting, though its transitory elements belong definitively to the past. The historical salvific act is thus attained by the mysteries, either in itself as far as its permanent element is concerned, or by divine power as far as its purely temporal element is concerned. Liturgical mysteries are truly the celebration and manifestation of the historical redeeming act, even though their actual content is only the mysterium, i.e., the permanent element and the instrumental power.

Moreover, the Thomistic teaching on the sacramental character as a participation in the priesthood of Christ ensures "the real foundation for this unity [of the various liturgical mysteries] and therefore occupies a key position in Catholic sacramentalism. Because of the sacramental character, the symbolic worship of the Church becomes a mysterium; by this mysterium the Sacraments are Christ's own actions in and through the Church" (Schillebeeckx 670).

Bibliography: A complete list of Casel's works (211 nos.) may be found in a. mayer et al., eds., Vom christlichen Mysterium (Düsseldorf 1951). For the study of the various controversies, the essential work remains t. filthaut, Die Kontroverse über die Mysterienlehre (Warendorf 1947), Fr. La Théologie des mystères (Paris 1955). g. sÖhngen, Symbol und Wirklichkeit im Kultmysterium (Bonn 1937): Der Wesensaufbau des Mysteriums (Bonn 1938). v. warnach, "Zum Problem der Mysteriengegenwart," Liturgisches Leben 5 (1938) 939. b. neunheuser, "Mysteriengegenwart: Ein Theologumenon inmitten des Gesprächs," Archiv Für Liturgiewissenschaft 3 (1953) 104133; "Ende des Gesprächs um die Mysteriengegenwart?" ibid. 4 (1956) 316324; "Dom Odo Casel and Latest Research," Downside Review 76 (1958) 266273. l. monden, Het Misoffer als Mysterie (Roermond 1948). j. betz, Die Eucharistie in der Zeit der griechischen Väter (Freiburg 195561) v.1.1. e. masure, The Sacrifice of the Mystical Body, tr. a. thorold (London 1954). a. vonier, A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist (1925; reprint Westminster, Md. 1956). e. h. schillebeeckx, De sacramentele heilseconomie (Antwerp 1952). c. davis, "Dom Odo Casel and the Theology of Mysteries," Worship 34 (1960) 428438; Liturgy and Doctrine (New York 1960). d. deden, "Le 'Mystère' paulinien," Ephemerides theologicae Lovanienses 13 (1936) 405442. j. umberg, "Mysterien Frömmigkeit?" Zeitschrift für Aszese und Mystik 1 (1926) 351356; "Die These von der Mysteriengegenwart," Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 52 (1928) 357400; "Sacramenta efficiunt quod significant," ibid. 54 (1930) 92105. j. m. hanssens, "Estne Liturgia cultus mystericus?" Periodica de re morali canonica liturgica 23 (1934) 112132, 137160. k. prÜmm, Der christliche Glaube und die altheidnische Welt, 2 v. (Leipzig 1935); Christentum als Neuheitserlebnis (Freiburg 1939). j. gaillard, "La Théologie des Mystères," Revue thomiste 57 (1957) 510551. a. schilson, Theologie als Sakramententheologie: Die Mysterientheologie Odo Casels, 2nd ed. (Mainz 1987). a. schilson, "Die Gegenwart des Ursprungs: Überlegungen zur bleibenden Aktualität der Mysterientheologie Odo Casels," Liturgisches Jahrbuch 43 (1993) 629. m.-j. krahe, "Der Herr ist der Geist": Studien zur Theologie Odo Casels, 2 vols. (St. Ottilien 1986). a. a. hÄussling, "Odo Casel noch von Aktualität? Eine Rückschau in eigener Sache aus Anlaß des hundertsten Geburtstages des ersten Herausgebers," Archiv für Liturgiewissenschaft 28 (1986) 357387. a. grozier, Odo Casel Künder des Christusmysteriums, ed. Abt-Herwegen-Institut der Abtei Maria Laach (Regensburg 1986).

[i. h. dalmais/eds.]