The Catholic University of America

 Jeremy Sienkiewicz Defense

Final Examination of Jeremy Sienkiewicz

For the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Friday, December 10, 2010 at 2:00 p.m., Caldwell Room 125

 

Director:

Peter Casarella, Ph.D.

Abstract:

The Eucharist and Salvation in the Thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Meaning and Significance of Reception in voto

The dissertation analyzes St. Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of the reception of the Eucharist as necessary for salvation by elucidating his understanding of the reception of the sacrament in voto. This analysis will serve as the basis for elaborating principles that may shed light on topics being discussed in the current ecumenical treatment of the Eucharist.

To meet this purpose, it undertakes the following tasks: First, it presents, in a chronological manner, the texts in which Aquinas directly answers questions pertaining to the necessity of the Eucharist for salvation. Second, it considers Aquinas’ definition and explanation of votum in the human person, particularly in the context of the sacraments. Third, it explores Aquinas’ understanding of votum sacramenti, particularly in relation to Baptism, and, by analogy, establishes the meaning of what Thomas calls a votum seu desiderium for receiving the Eucharist. Fourth, it analyzes the relationship between the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist in Aquinas’ writings, particularly the ordination of Baptism to the Eucharist and the way in which Baptism itself may supply a votum Eucharistiae. Fifth, it critiques in light of the above the existing literature on Eucharist and salvation in St. Thomas’ theology. Sixth, it elucidates general theological principles from Aquinas that address ecumenical standpoints that speak to the salvation of Christians in separated churches with different practices and realities of the Eucharist.

Ultimately for Aquinas, one’s salvation rests on being incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church.  The unity of the Body of Christ, he says, is the very res sacramenti of the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  Thus, in order to be a part of this unity, one must be in real contact with the Body of Christ, which is the instrument of our salvation. Indeed, one must eat this Body, whether sacramentally or spiritually. Given the complexity of current ecumenism, the issues regarding the relationship of Eucharist and salvation today cannot be considered to be the same as in the thirteenth century. On the other hand, the specific link made by Aquinas between Baptism and Eucharist may suggest some general principles that could illuminate an ecumenical path. Thus, an elucidation of certain principles drawn from Thomas’ Eucharistic theology could promote a better understanding of Eucharist and salvation throughout distinct parts of the Christian world today.