Catholic Cosmological Theology: Sacramentality

Catholic cosmological theology was once a central cornerstone of Catholic identity and consciousness—now largely lost to the world and to most Catholics. Protestants have always looked suspiciously at Catholic sacramental theology and cosmology for being too close to paganism; but Catholic theology holds the opposite view—it is paganism that is close to original truth of Christianity in its untainted form. We will examine in three parts Catholic cosmological theology: Sacramentality, Sacramentals, and the Sacraments.

Catholic cosmology is—like Plotinus’ cosmology—concentric and hierarchal simultaneously. Everything emanates from the Trinity. Everything is ordered in hierarchy by the Trinity. The same goes for Catholic cosmological theology. There is also a two-fold nature to sacramentality, sacramentals, and sacraments: One nature pertains to universality; the other to particularity. That is, one part of Catholic cosmological theology encompasses all while the other part is specific to the Church. I wish to mostly look at cosmological theology as it relates to the former rather than later.

The first aspect of Catholic cosmological theology is called sacramentality. Sacramentum is the Latin translation of the Greek word mysterion, meaning mystery. Sacramentality is the most universal aspect of Catholic cosmology. Sacramentality is also essential to the enchanted, rather than disenchanted, view of the world. According to Catholic cosmology, all creation—from the cosmos as a whole to the tiniest pebble or grain of sand—is a mysterious and beautiful sign pointing to the divine.

The proper understanding of the cosmos is a sign rather than a thing; the philosophy of signs and things was formalized by St. Augustine in De Doctrina Christiana. There is a double-meaning, yet again, in creation. Creation exists both as a thing and a sign. But creation is not the objective thing-itself. Owing to Catholic pluralism, to reduce creation to a sign in of itself or a thing only is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of reality which is a pluralistic integrated composite whole. Creation is a thing, but its more significant reality is that of a sign pointing to God. One is supposed to understand the things of the world as not mere things (matter alone) but as also having a mysterious, enchanted, or spiritual dimension that is a gateway (sign) to the Holy.

Paganism, in this respect, is simultaneously closest to the Catholic vision but also the most idolatrous (cf. Rom. 1). Paganism understands, or understood, creation to be enchanted. Where Paganism went wrong was in its intrinsic materialism. Paganism could not look beyond matter in-of-itself and therefore ended up reducing the creation to the Divine-itself. Hence why Augustine, in City of God, explained how all the pagan deities could be explained as being the natural forces of the world. Paganism is a form of enchanted materialism which binds the mysterious divine with matter itself.

While Catholicism equally maintains this conception of enchanted materialism it does not bind the mysterious divine with matter itself. Rather, enchanted matter is a gateway to the transcendent God existing beyond matter. Pagan cosmology was materialistic and monistic; it had no imaginative conception of something beyond matter. Christian cosmology, being pluralistic, is forced to maintain that there is more than matter. Hence why matter is both a thing but also a supra-material sign to something beyond pure matter.

Sacramentality is the synthesis of the Catholic vision. One should not mistake the creation for God-itself, but creation, matter, is something that can lead one to God. Conversely, it is also a conduit by which God manifests himself in the world.

These are the peculiarities and nuances, paradoxes, or contradictions (if you’re a pure materialist) of Catholic cosmological thought. God is at once manifest and transcendent. He exists in nature but is also beyond nature. God is that which is before our corporeal and carnal eyes but that which is also beyond our senses. Creation contains the mysterious hidden nature of God while not being God-itself.

Sacramentality is the enchanted cosmological principle that everything that exists (as things) is also a sign (or signifier) of the God existing beyond Nature. Everything in the world and throughout the cosmos, then, is something from which one can encounter God and by which God can enter human lives. It is universal, abstract, and idealistic. Creation is an image, a gateway, to the Divine.

Concerning the Protestant claims that sacramentality is pagan, Protestantism fails to understand the Catholic perennial mindset. According to the Apostle Paul (cf. Rom. 1), in the beginning God’s invisible quality and truth (and God is “Truth itself” according to Catholic theology) was known to all. After the Fall, and the slow drift away from this Truth, people began to mistake (in err) the creation for God himself. It is not Paganism to Catholicism as the Protestants claim. It is Catholicism to begin with, the falling away from Truth emerging as Paganism. Hence why Paganism is close to the sacramented vision of Catholicism while being idolatrous and materialistic; having confused matter for God and worshiping matter as God.

What is sacramentality?

Sacramentality is the Catholic cosmological principle that everything that exists—properly understood—is a sign to God and a conduit by which God can enter the lives of people. When you look at the stars, the trees, the birds, or even a rock, you should be able to see the face of God in all such things. Hence why matter signifies the Divine. It is not the Divine in-of-itself, but it is an image of the Divine that can draw humans closer to God.

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