Solidarity and mediation in the French stream of mystical body of Christ theology

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Theology


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: William L. Portier


In its analysis of mystical body of Christ theology in the twentieth century, this dissertation identifies three major streams of mystical body theology operative in the early part of the century: the Roman, the German-Romantic, and the French-Socio-Liturgical. Delineating these three streams of mystical body theology sheds light on the diversity of scholarly positions concerning the heritage of mystical body theology, on its mid twentieth-century recession, as well as on Pope Pius XII's 1943 encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi, which enshrined mystical body of Christ" in Catholic magisterial teaching. Further, it links the work of Virgil Michel and Louis-Marie Chauvet, two scholars remote from each other on several fronts, in the long, winding French stream. After encountering Lambert Beauduin and his French-stream mystical body theology during his study tour of Europe, Michel returned to the U.S. to begin its arm of the liturgical movement and brought Beauduin's unique link between the liturgy and social questions with him. Further, he developed "mystical body of Christ" as a fundamental theological norm to hold together the many arms of his stateside labors. For Michel, the mystical body of Christ was solidarity formed in the liturgy and rooted in Christ. Around mid-century, mystical body theology began to recede from its prominence in Catholic theology, which had been facilitated by the Tubingen School's recovery of the image in the nineteenth century. Though nowise forgotten, later twentieth and twenty-first century works of ecclesiology treat "mystical body of Christ" or simply "body of Christ" as one image among others for the church. The dissertation argues that several factors, including the Second World War and Catholics' embrace of historical-critical biblical scholarship, contributed to its decline. Though it faded after mid-century, the mystical body theology of the French stream endured under the surface. The study demonstrates an academic/ecclesial genealogical connection between contemporary French sacramental theologian Chauvet and the French stream. Establishing this connection situates Chauvet's work within that stream and enables us to see in it an example of the postconciliar provenance of mystical body theology, not immediately recognizable as such. Chauvet's project in his major work, Symbole et Sacrement, is in line with the French stream's understanding of mystical body theology as a pervasive theological norm. From this angle, Chauvet's emphasis on the body or "corporeité" can be seen as a development of the thinking of the French stream before him in dialogue with some of the dominant voices in French philosophy in the seventies and eighties. The dissertation concludes with some sketches concerning possible implications and future directions of the study."


Jesus Christ Mystical body History of doctrines 20th century, Chauvet, Louis-Marie, 1941- Symbole et sacrement, Michel, Virgil George, 1890-1938, Theology France History 20th century, Theology, Spirituality, Religious History, Religion, History, Mystical Body of Christ, Virgil Michel, Louis-Marie Chauvet, Sacramental Theology

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