Blessed are the Merciful: Charity as Sacramental Action

Thursday, November 14 - Friday, November 15, 2013

All events will take place in the Eck Visitor Center

Registration is required.  Conference participation is free and open to the public. Register here.

Caritas - Basilica window; photo credit by Cecelia Cunningham, 2013


Greco-Roman writers of the ancient world remarked on the striking manner in which the Christian church assumed responsibility for the poor and suffering.  An often unexplored question is what motivated the church to become such a distinctive and prominent actor in this fundamental obligation of any civil society.  Part of the answer to that question was certainly the desire to create a social order that was more just and equitable.  But just as important was the theological conviction that in assisting the poor, one encountered God.  The relief of poverty, in the Bible and in the works of early Christian thinkers, was, to be sure, an act of social justice; but it also had a deeply sacramental character.

The fourth century theologian, John Chrysostom, captured this sense quite well.  In one homily he commended his congregation for the reverence they show toward the altar in his church. That altar is worthy of such veneration, he explains, “Because it receives Christ’s body.” But this is not the only altar to be found in Antioch. Chrysostom exhorted his congregation that whenever they encountered the poor in the streets outside of Mass, “Imagine that you behold an altar. Whenever you meet a beggar,” he continued, “don’t insult him, but reverence him.”  This image was not an idiosyncratic rhetorical flourish.  The correlation of the Mass and works of mercy towards the poor was fundamental to Gospel catechesis.

The aim of this conference is to recover the deep sacramental sense that charity once held in the pre-modern church, to explore why it has been minimized in modernity, and to consider how the church might reclaim such a sacramental vision of charity for our own time.

This conference is sponsored by the Institute for Church Life and the Center for Social Concerns, and is co-organized by Professor John C. Cavadini, McGrath-Cavadini Director of  the Institute for Church Life, and Professor Gary Anderson, Hesburgh Professor of Catholic Theology, both of the University of Notre Dame.  The conference draws its theme from Professor Anderson's just published book, Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition (Yale, 2013). 


Schedule and Presenters

Thursday, November 14

7:00 p.m.  |  Keynote Lecture  |  Eck Visitors Center Auditorium

Charity and the Catholic Reformation

Carlos Eire, T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History & Religious Studies, Yale University

8:15 p.m.  |  Reception  |  Eck Visitors Center Auditorium

Light refreshements to follow Professor Eire's lecture; all conference attendees are welcome.

Friday, November 15

All morning lectures will be in Eck Visitors Center Auditorium

9:00 a.m.  |  Welcome and Introductions

Gary Anderson, Hesburgh Professor of Catholic Theology, University of Notre Dame

9:15 a.m.  |  Lecture  "Mercy Wants You to Be Merciful”: Christ and the Poor in the Preaching of Pope Saint Leo the Great

John Sehorn, Graduate Student in Theology, University of Notre Dame

9:45 a.m.  |  Lecture  | St. Catherine of Siena, Charitable Practice, and the Debt of Love

Sr. Ann Astell, Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

10:15 a.m.  |  Question & Answer

Gary Anderson to moderate


10:30 a.m.  |  Break  |  Eck Center Atrium

Coffee & light refreshments will be available.

10:45 a.m.  |  Lecture  | 'Seeing through God's eyes': The Representation of Charity in Late Medieval Art

Dianne Phillips, Independent Scholar , University of Notre Dame

11:15 a.m.  Lecture  | Charity: Justice in Excess

Cyril O'Regan, Huisking Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

11:45 a.m.  |  Question & Answer

Gary Anderson to moderate

12:00 p.m. |  Panel Discussion  |  Eck Visitors Center Auditorium

John Cavadini, McGrath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life; Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Rev. Jim King, C.S.C., Director of Campus Ministry, University of Notre Dame

Andrea Smith-Shappell, Assistant Director, Center for Social Concerns; Associate Professional Specialist, Theology, University of Notre Dame

 12:45 p.m. | Lunch and Wrap-up | Eck Visitors Center Atrium

Concluding Remarks/Wrap Up around 2:00 p.m.


A campus map is available at: .  The Morris Inn has an adjacent parking lot for hotel guests.  Public parking is available near McKenna in either the Visitors' Lot or at the Notre Dame Bookstore.


The closest available parking for the lecture on Thursday night and the events on Friday is in the Notre Dame Bookstore parking lot, which is open to the public.  For handicap-accessible parking, please check with one of the guard houses at either of the main campus entrances.