The first step in catechumenate formation is to recover our “capacity for symbol”

2 thoughts on “The first step in catechumenate formation is to recover our “capacity for symbol””

  1. Andrew Bechman

    A wonderful essay in every respect, Nick–thank you!

    I always feel discouraged when I hear Catholics insist that “the eucharist is not a symbol,” because it shows that we have lost exactly the sense of symbols that you describe. If the eucharist is not a symbol, it loses all connection to the rich natural meaning of bread, wine, food and drink. It loses all connection to the history of Israel–manna and Passover and all. It even loses connection with the story of Jesus himself and his sharing of meals.

    Many years ago, I read a passage by theologian Gustave Martelet on the meaning of “symbol.” The Greek roots mean “throw together.” In the ancient world, a “symbolon” could be an object–a piece of bone or pottery, say–that two people who made a business deal would break. Later, a representative of one of them could be recognized by fitting together the “symbolon.” So a symbol functions to bring together what should be together, to unite.

    As I thought about this later, it occurred to me that another Greek word had a nearly opposite meaning. It was something “thrown across” that separates what should be united: dia-bolos, the devil. Whatever conception we may have of the diabolical, it seeks to separate what God would unite. Perhaps one way it does so is by dulling our sense of symbols!

    Thanks also for the simple mystagogical practice that you recommend–an excellent way for us to become more “capable of symbols.”

    1. Hi Andrew. I’m glad you liked the article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really like your insights about the Greek roots of symbol and diabolical.

      Nick

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