So varied and even contradictory are the contexts in which we use the word ‘sacrifice‘ that the term is almost useless. The medieval origins of much of our theology, and the frequent use of the word in the context of the nation state and international conflict – and the commemoration of the many millions who have died in such conflicts – have a lot to do with this confused picture. The meaning of the term ‘sacrifice’ in the context of Christian theology and worship is therefore far from easily agreed or definable.
These were some of the themes developed by Dr Tom O’Loughlin in a Zoom presentation for ACI on Thursday Nov 3rd, 2022.
The audio for the talk can be accessed by clicking here.
Stressing especially the mistake of attributing to God anything we would find unworthy of any human being, Professor O’Loughlin especially deprecated any theological attribution to God the father of any need or desire for the shedding of the blood of Jesus – a tendency associated especially with the medieval theology of St Anselm of Canterbury.
That this mistake may have originated in the fourth century origins of Christendom – the long alliance of church and state beginning in the fourth century – was touched on in the discussion that followed. The need to somehow separate the ‘sacrifice’ of the Mass from any association with violent sacrifice – and to associate it instead only with peaceful mutual service – the giving of ourselves – was discussed.
In the end Dr O’Loughlin’s initial prediction – that the task of resolving the useful meaning of ‘sacrifice’ in a Christian context could not be completed in just one talk – was verified. That we use the word so frequently without resolving the question of how to use it without overtones of violent propitiation of an angry God – who was not the God of Jesus – speaks of the continuing impact of the medieval past and the violence of recent centuries upon our understanding of the Gospel. As St Paul put it, we still see through a glass darkly.