The Trinitarian Form of the Church: Church as Christ's Sacrament and the Spirit's Liturgy of Communion

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A . in Religious Studies


Department of Religious Studies


Dennis Doyle


This thesis argues that the Western sacramental and christological ecclesiology of Otto Semmelroth, SJ, is complementary with the Eastern pneumatological-trinitarian theology of liturgy of Jean Corbon, OP. Their little studied theologies are taken as key for interpreting and receiving the Second Vatican Council. Where Semmelroth had a distinct and influential impact on Vatican II’s sacramental ecclesiology, particularly in Lumen Gentium, Corbon had a similar impact on the theology of liturgy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. A particular point of significance of Vatican II is its personalist paradigm shift of recentering the faith of the church on God’s revelation of self as Trinity of persons. Semmelroth and Corbon not only started with and maintained the primacy of divine initiative but they also made their faith-filled awareness of the mystery of God, revealed through Christ in the Spirit, the lynchpin of their theological endeavors. Their strikingly similar fundamental, methodological move of perceiving reality as determined by the mystery of the person of God enabled both Semmelroth and Corbon to achieve advances in sacramental theology and theology of liturgy, respectively. Building on these insights, this thesis synthesizes Semmelroth’s and Corbon’s theologies in proposing sacrament and liturgy as co-principles of the church as the form of trinitarian communion. This thesis proceeds by first characterizing the basic points of philosophical and theological twentieth century personalist thought, which takes persons as central and determinative in understanding reality. Ormond Rush’s theological hermeneutical principles of Vatican II are then described. The geographical orientations of the theologies of Semmelroth, Corbon, and Vatican II are explored next and a conciliar hermeneutical principle of complementarity with distinction between Eastern and Western theologies is proposed. From there, Dei Verbum’s theology of divine revelation is analyzed. Following these foundational and grounding points, this thesis explores the essential points of the theologies of Semmelroth and Corbon and situates them in relation to Vatican II and its reception. Finally, a comparison is drawn between their theologies, it is demonstrated that they can be interpreted as complementary, and they are synthesized. In synthesizing Semmelroth’s and Corbon’s theologies, their methodology of awareness of God’s mystery as fundamental is drawn on, a new understanding of and distinction between “liturgy” and “sacrament” is suggested, the concept of the church as Christ’s sacrament and the Spirit’s liturgy of communion with God is explained, and the priestly people of God is presented as the communal expression of the church as liturgy-sacrament.


Theology, Religion, ecclesiology, Vatican II, Otto Semmelroth

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