WORD and Oliver Davies

For God to speak is for God freely to “come into existence...”

Oliver  Davies, in THE SIGN REDEEMED: A STUDY IN CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTAL SEMIOTICS (Modern Theology 19:2 April 20030) explains the overlap between the disciplines of theology & Semiotics.

I am often finding myself at pains to communicate the power of words and when I changed from English teacher to ordinand and then to vicar, the potency of language changed for me as I began to see that the gap between sign and signifier had been closed in the revelation of God. This has always fascinated me and yet finding the words to describe this when one's undergraduate English student days are long gone, has been frustrating. That is until some friends of mine began to introduce me to the mind of one Oliver Davies and I now begin to read his words in my own attempt to find words again.

Oliver Davies describes the potency of the language spoken at the Eucharist: The world is therefore made different by these words. What we find here then is a kind of speaking which is akin to the originary speech of the opening verses of Genesis. In Genesis 1–2:4.

Oliver Davies speaks of the closure of the gap between sign and signifier in the very Word or Logos being Christ. This is revelation. There is something rather Barthian about Davies' approach to revelation that captures me. He describes how this gap is closed in a particular way with Scripture: The Hebrew homonym dabar—dabar, meaning both “thing” and “word”, suggests that the distinction between objects in the world and linguistic signs may be less comprehensive than may appear.

Jesus also is the Word or Logos, the one through whom all things were made... the Father speaks in the Son, Jesus speaks as the Father. The gap, even though it is only the fraction of space between speaking mouths, is now closed. But that movement of intensified intimacy also releases a further stage in the creative revelation of God to and in the world, for we now learn in the Baptism of Jesus that God is not one but three and one...what is revealed in the Incarnation of the Word is itself a mode of speaking: a polyphonic, inner-Trinitarian discourse of total transparency, communication
and surrender.

Davies' proposal that we return to the word, to scripture through the symbol that is the Eucharist, the performative act, that seems at first to advance beyond language and then to return to it is intriguing. He talks of the absence and the presence, an oscillation between bread and wine and body and blood which plays out the cycle from death to resurrection. He also allows for that theology of a change in the participants with which I have always resonated as someone more charismatic by spirituality.

The Eucharist then marks the point at which the community of those who came after are taken up into the dynamic of Jesus’ own “act of reading”, and are made one with him within a scriptural world.

"Real presence" then might be understood as this complete closure of gap between sign and signifier, where the performative nature of the speech act under the power of the Spirit causes that fusion of the material substance and the divine reality so that indeed there is something efficacious about the sacrament that is the Eucharist. Davies explains how for Aquinas the Eucharistic signs becomes so transfigured by signification that the object of their signifying, that is the body and blood, take on presence.

Struck by the different feel of the various prayers, as I celebrate the Eucharist, some that ask the Spirit to transform the bread and wine and some to transform the people participating in the Eucharist, I am struck by Davies' insistence that the worshipping community [are] overtaken by the divine presence which is its ground, as textual sign by authorial voice. This overshadowing is simultaneously the sanctification of the ... interpreting community, who are as integrally part of the
Eucharistic “event” as are either the bread and wine or Body and Blood.

Oliver Davies' Theology of the Eucharist might influence praxis to the extent that it helps the worshipping community focus on its mission.

A Eucharistic way of reasoning will... be ...structured as dialogue, listening and debate. The very disclosure of the Godhead is triadic ...the community ....constituted by it are called to ... reciprocity and response... informed by voices from within the Church and the traditions of the Church, but ... also.... attentive to voices from outside the visible borders of the Church which communicate new and developing understandings of the world and of the place of humanity within it.

Thank you Oliver Davies. 

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