The hermeneutics of sacrifice: A study of sacrifice and Christian identity through the work of Paul Ricoeur and Edward Schillebeeckx

Erin Lothes Biviano, Fordham University


Within the traditional understanding of Christian discipleship shaped by the language and symbolism of sacrifice, there is a paradoxical relationship between self-realization and self-sacrifice. This paradox is summarized in the gospel call to “lose one's life to save it.” Feminists have criticized the idealization of self-denial and the excessive glorification of suffering, and challenged the viability of sacrificial language today. However, the traditional value of sacrifice, and the insight that one finds one's identity by giving of oneself for others, merit a critical evaluation of the language and symbols used for sacrifice. Scriptural exegeses demonstrate the rich variety of images for sacrifice that describe the life and death of Jesus Christ, and also show that dedication to God and humanity, not suffering, provides the core meaning of sacrifice. Feminist scholarship further analyzes distortions in theological reflection upon the cross, self-love, and sin that impede an authentic view of sacrifice for contemporary understanding. Paul Ricoeur's philosophical anthropology demonstrates how self-giving positively constructs identity. He views selfhood as an interpretation gained through giving to the other, by which one recognizes one's esteem and agency. One's identity is primarily established by keeping promises over time. Ricoeur also defends the equal primacy of self and other before the demands of the other. Edward Schillebeeckx, OP, offers a theological vision of humanity that is fundamentally oriented by the doctrine of God as Creator, who wills the salvation of all and entrusts humanity with responsibility for history. Suffering is inevitable in the struggle for wholeness and liberation, yet it is never willed by God. Schillebeeckx views the suffering that results from sacrificial commitments to others as a seal on one's identity, forced by the extreme times of trial and persecution. Schillebeeckx's view of creation faith as critical and productive enables both the acceptance of human finitude, which makes sacrifice inevitable, and a religious offering of one's sacrifices in hope for the coming of the Reign of God. Lastly, reflection by kenotic theologies on the self-limiting nature of divine creativity illustrates the inner relationship between self-giving and new life, a paradoxical mystery of which Christian sacrifice partakes.

Subject Area

Womens studies|Theology

Recommended Citation

Lothes Biviano, Erin, "The hermeneutics of sacrifice: A study of sacrifice and Christian identity through the work of Paul Ricoeur and Edward Schillebeeckx" (2005). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3169386.