My PhD

My project is described below. But before reading that, feel free to check out my profiles at a few academic web pages, where you can explore some of my contributions:

Also check out this page from the Centre for Catholic Studies (CCS) at Durham University. The CCS has funded part of my degree.

Presentation of project:

Working title: Participatio actuosa and participatio Christi: A dogmatic, ecumenical and contemporary discussion of the notion of active participation in the liturgy, with emphasis on the relation between divine and human agency

My PhD explores active participation as metaphysical participation in the divine, asking asking these questions: What do we mean when we speak of participation in the liturgy, and how should we understand the relation there between human and divine agency? If God is the supreme agent of the liturgical act, how do we understand human participation in the same? How is it even possible to speak of human agency in this context, and why is it even necessary?

In this project I am continuing my previous work, including a peer reviewed article published in Studia Theologica, a very prestigious Nordic journal of Theology, discussing the relation between liturgical participation and participation in God. Past and current research on the liturgies and reforms tend to focus on history and concrete practices, particularly practical involvement,[1] instead of its metaphysical underpinnings, though there are exceptions.[2]

My primary supervisor is Simon Oliver, who has worked extensively on the metaphysics of participation and sacramental theology. I am also associated with the Centre for Catholic Studies (CCS), and this provides me with an excellent environment for an ecumenical study of the liturgy, because of the expertise of those who are connected to it and its interdisciplinary and ecumenical nature. I think I can provide expertise in Eucharistic theology and Lutheran theology, and its relation to other traditions. My experience as a parish priest (2014-2018) provides a grounded theological contribution, as theology always starts with concrete ecclesial practices.

This project engages the limits of liturgical reform and the relationship between dogma, theology, and liturgy. The relation between divine and human agency and between liturgical participation and participation in God has not been particularly in focus in studies of the later reforms (even to the point of being downplayed),[3] and I believe my project will make a contribution not only to the scholarly field but also to those working with reforms in the various churches. I do also believe that, as we come to understand better what it means to participate, and what it means to participate in Church, we can also grow in our understanding of what it means to participate in society at large, and how we can better engage people not just liturgically but also culturally and politically. And in order to obtain a deeper understanding of the liturgical act we also need a deeper understanding of its actor(s).

I propose in this thesis that liturgical theology, in order to provide a coherent account of this participation, should embrace a theurgic approach, where human acts are consummated by the divine. Commenting on the Iamblichean notion of theurgy, Peter Struck notes: “Theurgy is a divine act, a θεῖον ἔργον, insofar as it is action, established by gods, put into use by humans, whose effect is to bring the material world (including that part of the celebrant which is material) into harmony with the divine order.”[4] This thesis proposes that the only way to allow this to be a real participation is through the Incarnation. In other words, the real theurgist is Jesus Christ and we can only become theurgists in and through Him.


[1] Anne Haugland Balsnes, Solveig Christensen, Jan Terje Christoffersen and Hallvard Olavson Mosdøl, eds., Gudstjeneste á la carte: Liturgireformen i Den norske kirke (Oslo: Verbum akademisk, 2015), 155–172, 210–229, 287–292; Anscar J. Chupungco, “The Implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium,” in T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy, ed., Alcuin Reid (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 279–295 (esp. 283–288, 292–294); Anscar J. Chupungco, “The Vision of the Constitution on the Liturgy,” in T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy, ed., Alcuin Reid, 261–277 (esp. 265–274); Gudsteneste med rettleiingar (Stavanger: Eide, 2020); Martin Modéus, Menneskelig gudstjeneste: Om gudstjenesten som relation og ritual, trans. and comm. Anita Hansen Engdahl (København: Alfa, 2011); Jorunn Raddum, Variety is the Spice of Life? Forandring fryder? The Church of Norway 2011 liturgical reform: A study of the concept of contextuality in Nord-Gudbrandsdal (Master’s Thesis in Practical Theology, MF Norwegian School of Theology, Oslo, 2015).

[2] Bård Norheim, Practicing Baptism: Christian Practices and the Presence of Christ (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014); Catherine Pickstock, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998).

[3] Chupungco, “Vision,” 265–267; Modéus, Menneskelig gudstjeneste.

[4] Peter T. Struck, “Pagan and Christian Theurgies: Iamblichus, Pseudo-Dionysius, Religion and Magic in Late Antiquity” (Ancient World 32:2, 2001), 30 (25-38). For some other central works of theurgy, both Pagan and Christian, see Crystal Addey, Divination and Theurgy in Neoplatonism: Oracles of the Gods (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016); Alan Philip Darley, “Ritual as erotic anagogy in Pseudo-Dionysius: a Reformed critique” (International Journal of Philosophy and Theology 79:3, 2018), 261-278; Andrew Louth, “Pagan Theurgy and Christian Sacramentalism in Denys the Areopagite” (The Journal of Theological Studies, new series, 27:2, 1986), 432-438; Sergei Mariev and Wiebke-Marie Stock, eds., Aesthetics and Theurgy in Byzantium (Berlin/Boston, MS: de Gruyter, 2013); Panagiotis G. Pavlos, “Theurgy in Dionysius the Areopagite,” in Platonism and Christian Thought in Late Antiquity, eds., Panagiotis G. Pavlos, Lars Fredrik Janby, Eyjólfur Kjalar Emilsson, and Torstein Theodor Tollefsen (London: Routledge, 2019), 151-180; Gregory Shaw, “Neoplatonic Theurgy and Dionysius the Areopagite” (Journal of Early Christian Studies 7:4, 1999), 573-599; Gregory Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus, 2nd ed. with foreword by John Milbank and Aaron Riches (Kettering: Angelico Press/Sophia Perennis, 2014); Charles M. Stang, Apophasis and Pseudonymity in Dionysius the Areopagite: “No Longer I” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Charles M. Stang, “Dionysius, Paul and the Significance of the Pseudonym” (Modern Theology 24:4, 2008), 541-555; Ilinca Tanaseanu-Döbler, Theurgy in Late Antiquity: The Invention of a Ritual Tradition (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013); Algis Uždavinys, Philosophy and Theurgy in Late Antiquity, with foreword by John F. Finamore (Kettering: Angelico Press/Sophia Perennis, 2014); Sarah Klitenic Wear and John Dillon, Dionysius the Areopagite and the Neoplatonist Tradition: Despoiling the Hellenes (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007).