Review: Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology

Hans Boersma. Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, ix + 325 pp., £65.00/$130.00 cloth. £25.00 paper.

Boersma begins with the Jesuit patrologist Jean Daniélou’s controversial 1946 essay: “Les Orientations présentes de la pensée religious” (“Current directions in religious thought”). According to Daniélou, theology had become disconnected from life, the result of the neo-Thomist division between nature and supernature.

Seeking to reconnect theology and everyday experience, Daniélou advocated ressourcement … a return to the Bible, the Church Fathers, and the liturgy.”[p. 5] And what did he hope to gain?  A sacramental ontology, which Boersma convincingly argues is “the key to understanding nouvelle théologie.”[p. 2] In the chapters that follow, Boersma walks the reader through nouvelle théologie’s theological predecessors and chief proponents before calling for “a study of the overall impact of nouvelle théologie.”[p. 289] Boersma concludes:

By focusing on the Eucharist as a fellowship meal, much contemporary Protestantism, and evangelicalism in particular, tends to ignore the sacramental basis (sacramentum) of the Church’s unity. None the less, from the perspective of communion ecclesiology, both neo-Thomists and evangelical Protestants tend to separate the sacrament and its reality (though the former focus on the sacrament and the latter on the reality). Despite their different context, therefore, contemporary Protestants do have much to gain from an appropriation of [Henri] de Lubac’s and [Yves] Congar’s reintegration of the sacrament with its mystical reality. In short, spiritual interpretation, reintegration of Scripture and Tradition, and communion ecclesiology are among the most urgently required means to advance the unity of the Church.[p. 294]

There is no doubt that this is a fine work, thoroughly researched and convincingly argued. It will no doubt be of interest to readers of Boersma’s Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).  That said, it’s disappointing to see a publisher like Oxford University Press using print-on-demand services that fail to deliver a quality product. I received this review copy, a casewrap with a warped cover and sub-standard binding, from Oxford via Lightning Source, and though I did not pay for my copy, readers who pay £65.00/$130.00 are right to expect a well-crafted book, one with a fine binding that stands up to repeated reading.

Review by Christopher R. Brewer

Image Credit: Oxford University Press 


  • Christopher R. Brewer (PhD, St Andrews) is a Program Officer of the Templeton Religion Trust, Nassau, The Bahamas. He has edited or co-edited six volumes, including Art that Tells the Story which was named one of Hearts & Minds Best Books of 2011. He is now working on a book for Zondervan Academic provisionally titled Understanding Natural Theology, and an additional edited volume (for Routledge). His current research has mostly to do with questions at the intersection of theology, philosophy, and contemporary visual art, but also includes Anglican ecumenism.

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