Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com

Religion Christianity


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Foundations of Christian Faith by Karl Rahner (Herder & Herder) This challenging, original, helpful, and rich volume is a work of rare intellectual power and profound religious sensitivity. Karl Rahner's Foundations of Christian Faith has been described as a "summa" of Catholic theology for the twentieth century. Rahner said the book has a "more comprehensive and systematic character" than his other writings. This paraphrase, now published, outlines the Foundations from the view point of the pastoral minister.

Preface. In his 1976 Preface, Karl Rahner said that he wrote the Foundations of Christian Faith for educated readers but not for specialists. He aims to present an idea of Christianity, a conceptual overview of Christian faith. The overview is intellectually honest, but does not claim to be complete. It is a basic course, not the final word. Rahner says that it offers a kind of saving knowledge for everyone, not just for professional students of theology.

In the Preface, Rahner makes two assertions. First, he says that an “idea” of Christianity exists. He calls it a formal concept. This concept can be induced from a study of the various expressions of Christianity. In other words, the many aspects of Christian faith reflect a single idea, a unity that we call Christian faith.

Rahner asserts, secondly, that his search for the idea of Christianity is somewhat “pre-scientific.” It does not proceed in the ordinary scientific manner, with a comprehensive survey of theological literature and citations of all the relevant sources. A scientific survey, he says, may not yield an account of Christian faith. And that is Rahner’s goal: to address Christian faith as a single whole that underlies the many theological specialty studies.

Cover photo of Rahner, scanned from the books by George Vass, Understanding Karl Rahner, four volumes (Westminster, MD: Christian Classics; and London: Sheed and Ward, 1985).

Introduction. The Introduction sketches the general aim of the Foundations, its method, and the book’s assumptions about spiritual knowledge. The first part shows how the book intends to help Christians (and those who want to be Christians) understand the relation between Christianity and the whole of existence

The second part gives us an insight into the general method that Rahner pursues throughout the Foundations. It is a method that unites philosophy and theology in faith. Against those who would subordinate philosophy to theology, Rahner wants to integrate the two. Philosophy presents the human being as a question, he writes, a question about the goal and meaning of life. Theology reflects on Christianity as an answer to that human question. It is the answer that God wants to share the divine life, and indeed offers it, to all humanity.

The third part identifies problems about how we can know ourselves and God. Some of these problems concern the relation between:

- the knower and Christian faith,
- our openness to reality and our limited knowledge of it, and
- what we know and how we conceptualize it.

In general, Rahner suggests that the bases of Christian faith are reliable. Although spiritual knowledge is limited and imperfect, it is nevertheless true knowledge, based on experience, rooted in history, leading to transcendence.

The Foundations of Karl Rahner: A Paraphrase of the Foundations of Christian Faith, with Introduction and Indices by Mark F. Fischer (Herder & Herder) The goal of the Foundations, says Rahner, is less religious edification than intellectual reflection. It asks about the idea of Christianity and about what makes faith possible. At the same time, however, it is no merely neutral history of religion, for it presupposes faith. What does it mean to ask about the possibility of faith?

(Intr.2, p. 3). In this section on method, Rahner explains how his book is a response to the Second Vatican Council. The council recommended an introductory course for seminarians (A) that would summarize the major Christian teachings (B) in a way that recognizes the needs of the age (C). Such a course would acknowledge that theology today is pluralistic (D), and that Christians today can give an account of their faith even in a situation of pluralism (E). Finally, the course envisioned by Rahner would contain a fundamental theology that is also a philosophic reflection on human nature as God’s creation (F). In short, Foundations of Christian Faith acknowledges the pluralism of modernity but insists that a single account of the faith is possible – not as an objective treatise, but as an expression of faith in the God of Jesus Christ.

A. The Call of Vatican II for an Introductory Course. (Intr.2.A, p. 3). The origin of the Foundations is the Vatican II request, in Optatam totius 14, for an “Introductory Course” in Christianity. Such a course focuses on the mystery of Christ and integrates philosophy and theology. The goal is to make even the beginning student aware of (a) the meaning of theological studies, (b) the interrelation of the branches of theology, and (c) the pastoral intent of such study..

B. The "Theological Encyclopedia" in the Nineteenth Century. (Intr.2.B, p. 4). This theological encyclopedia of the nineteenth century is a model for Rahner’s enterprise. Although the actual encyclopedias of that period are not adequate today, their intent – namely, to present the major themes of Christianity in outline – continues to be a sound one.

C. The Addressee of Contemporary Theology.(Intr.2.C, p. 5). In the Foundations, Rahner presupposes that there is a contemporary crisis in which faith is challenged, and that this crisis can be overcome. How? By affirming our faith honestly and in an intellectual way. Although Foundations is aimed at the beginner, such a beginner today is not like the beginner of Rahner’s youth, who could take Christianity for granted. The beginner whom Rahner addresses lives in a different situation, a situation in which the very possibility of belief is contested.

D. Pluralism in Contemporary Theology and Philosophy. (Intr.2.D, p. 7). There are so many subjects in contemporary theology and philosophy that no one can master them all. In this case, teamwork does not avail, for one must appropriate faith for oneself. Furthermore, there is no all-encompassing framework for understanding, and the theologian must be in dialogue with all the human sciences. Finally, one cannot treat philosophy and theology as a collection of facts, but rather must participate in (must affirm in faith) what one discovers and asserts. All of these observations suggest the pluralism of theology and philosophy.

E. The Justification of Faith on a "First Level of Reflection." (Intr.2.E, p. 8). Theology’s arguments for the credibility of faith (the traditional analysis fidei) do not establish faith. Rather, they are themselves a part of faith. Something like an “adequate” reflection on faith, a reflection that is scientifically thorough (i.e., a “second level” reflection, one in which each theological discipline gives an account), is not possible. In Rahner’s sense, all of us are rudes or beginners, for no one has an encyclopedic or all-comprehending faith. But it is possible for us to have a “first level” reflection, a reflection in which we are able to give an account of our own faith. This is based on something like converging probabilities or the method of inference that J. H. Newman called the “illative” sense. Foundations of Christian Faith aims to supply it.

F. The Content of the Introduction. (Intr.2.F, p. 10). The introductory course proposed by Rahner is a unity of philosophy and theology. The philosophy constitutes a “fundamental theology” in which we reflect on Christian existence and its foundations. The theology makes present what Catholics call dogma, namely, what has been revealed by God. The central and most important dogma is that God communicates the divine self to human beings, and that they are capable of receiving this communication. This is not only dogma, but also the philosophic foundation of human existence.

By unifying philosophy and theology, Rahner intends (1) to identify the human being as the “universal question,” (2) to show the transcendental and historical conditions that make revelation possible, and (3) to show Christianity as the “answer” to the question which the human being poses and in fact is.

Undoubtedly faith remains a mystery. But it is an intelligible mystery, says Rahner, a mystery that engages us at the heart of our being. Having said this, Rahner cautions us to be wary of a narrowly Christological approach that prematurely leaps to Jesus Christ as the “answer” before adequately posing the question. Then he warns us to avoid an exclusively philosophical (and not also theological) approach to the problem. Finally, he warns us to be wary of a naive Biblicism that might turn the foundational course into a course on exegesis. 

Part 3. Some Basic Epistemological Problems

(Intr.3, p. 14). In his treatment of epistemology, Rahner anticipates the heart of his theology. That heart is the insight into transcendence, the insight that allows us to call his theology “transcendental.” By that term, Rahner means that we, in the very act of reflecting on our limitations, overcome those limitations. This is especially true when we think about the meaning of our lives. As we reflect on how limited our understanding of that meaning is, we paradoxically experience a desire for, and the intuition of, greater meaning. In this experience and intuition, we have an indirect knowledge of the God who enables meaning and invites us to express it conceptually (A). Whenever human beings know anything at all, they know themselves along with it (B). Despite the fact that our knowledge is conditioned by history, that conditioning does not hinder our essential openness to experience (C). We know ourselves as capable of knowing more, of transcending what had limited us before (D). This experience of transcendence provides an indirect knowledge of God as the one who presents humanity with choices and challenges it to grow (E).

A. The Relation between Reality and Concept, between Original Self-Possession and Reflection. (Intr.3.A, p. 14). Rahner distinguishes between an original experience – the experience, let us say, of an encounter with God as the one who calls us to a deeper understanding of ourselves – and the reflection on that experience. A rationalist might say that only the reflection, only the concept, of the experience is real. A modernist might say that reflection is a second-hand experience, an attempt to understand something which, in its original state, is much more fundamental. Rahner wants to say that the two form a unity. The experience of God strives to express itself in concepts. . . .  

A World of Grace: An Introduction to the Themes and Foundations of Karl Rahner's Theology edited by Leo J. O'Donovan (Georgetown University Press) Contributors: James F. Bresnahan, Michael J. Buckley, John Carmody, Anne E. Carr, William V. Dych, Michael A. Fahey, John P. Galvin, Otto H. Hentz, Brian O. McDermott, Thomas F. O'Meara, J. Peter Schineller, William M. Thompson.

Organized as a companion volume to Karl Rahner's master work, Foundations of Christian Faith, this book, now again available, also provides the most useful introduction to his theology as a whole. Each chapter presents a broad commentary on the corresponding chapter of Foundations, beginning with Rahner's method and anthropology and concluding with his theology of the church and eschatology. It includes a separate chapter on Rahner's moral thought. Valuable for classroom or individual use, this volume provides questions for discussion, suggestions for further reading, and an extensive glossary of specialized terminology. 

The Cambridge Companion to Karl Rahner (Cambridge Companions to Religion) by Declan Marmion (Cambridge University Press) useful passages on such Rahnerian topics as the supernatural existential, Jesus Christ as the entelechy of human existence, and the controversial anonymous Christian. Karl Rahner (1904-1984) was one of the most significant theological voices of the twentieth century. For many his theology symbolizes the Catholic Church's entry into modernity. Part of his enduring appeal lies in his ability to reflect on a variety of issues in theology and spirituality and direct this plurality into a few basic convictions. In addition to the main themes of Rahner's work, this Companion assesses his significance for contemporary theology through dialogues with many current concerns including: religious pluralism, spirituality, postmodernism, ecumenism, ethics and developments in political and feminist theologies. succinct, up to date, yet comprehensive introduction to Rahner’s extensive theological writings; Accessibly presented by a team of internationally recognised scholars;  Brings Rahner’s theology into dialogue with current theological concerns including religious pluralism, postmodernism and ethics

Contents: 1. Introducing Rahner Declan Marmion and Mary E. Hines; Part I. Spiritual, Philosophical and Theological Roots: 2. Theology and spirituality Harvey D. Egan; 3. Rahner’s transcendental project Thomas Sheehan; 4. Experience of grace Stephen J. Duffy; Part II. Theological Investigations: 5. Method in theology Francis Schüssler Fiorenza; 6. Revelation and faith Daniel Donovan; 7. Trinity David Coffey; 8. Christology Roman Siebenrock; 9. Ecclesiology and Ecumenism Richard Lennan; 10. Ministry and worship Jerry Farmer; 11. Ethics Brian Linnane; 12. Eschatology Peter Phan; Part III. Conversations Ongoing: 13. Rahner amid modernity and postmodernity Michael Purcell; 14. Rahner’s reception in twentieth century Protestant theology Nicholas Adams; 15. Karl Rahner: towards a theological aesthetic Gesa E. Thiessen; 16. Rahner and religious diversity Jeannine Hill Fletcher; 17. Liberation and political theologies Gaspar Martinez; 18. Feminist theologies Nancy Dallavalle; Part IV. Retrospect and Prospect: 19. Has Rahnerian theology a future? Philip Endean; 20. Experiences of a Catholic theologian Karl Rahner; Appendix: Reading Rahner: a guide for students Declan Marmion and Mary E. Hines.

Excerpt: It is both terrible and comforting to dwell in the inconceivable nearness of God, and so to be loved by God that the first and last gift is infinity and inconceivability itself. But we have no choice. God is with us.   Prayers for a Lifetime1

The year 2004 marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Karl Rahner, S. J., who, it is widely acknowledged, was the dominant theological voice of the Roman Catholic Church in the twentieth century. For many, his theology has come to symbolize the Catholic Church’s entry into modernity, an event publicly and ritually celebrated at the Second Vatican Council. Not surprisingly in the forty years since the Council and the twenty years since the death of Rahner both the Council and the theology of Karl Rahner have undergone some critical reappraisal, often in connection with their relationship to modernity. With the widespread intuition that society had moved beyond modernity into a somewhat amorphous consciousness called “post-modern” came the need to look critically at all things labelled “modern.” On the other hand, there is also a growing concern with a tendency in some quarters to retreat into a kind of naïve pre-modern mindset that would also call into question the vision of the Council and the theological insights of Karl Rahner. The legacy of Karl Rahner stands between this Scylla and Charybdis. It seems, then, an appropriate time to re-examine his theology and to introduce Karl Rahner to students of theology for whom he has not been a formative influence.

   This collection of essays brings together a number of noted Rahner scholars from Australia, Canada, Europe, and the United States whose contributions reflect the continuing relevance of Rahner and his relationship both to modernity and to the emerging ethos of post-modernity. The Companion touches the major themes of Rahner’s writings, offering both an exposition of the main lines of his thought as well as critical analysis. We hope that the volume will serve as an introduction and companion to explore the many dimensions of Rahner’s theological thought and that it will be a contribution to the reassessment of the impact and ongoing relevance of Rahner’s theological legacy to Church and world.

   Karl Rahner was born on March 5, 1904, the middle child of seven, in the city of Freiburg in the Black Forest. By his own account, his childhood was unremarkable for the time. His family was middle class and thoroughly Catholic, though not overly pious. An average student at secondary school, he entered the Jesuit community after graduation, following his brother Hugo. With typical reluctance to discuss personal matters, he claimed not to recall the precise motivations that led him to the Jesuits. His years of Jesuit formation and philosophical and theological study in Austria, Germany, and Holland gave him the threads out of which he would develop his thought – in critical dialogue with the prevailing neo-scholastic theology of the time and the currents of modern German philosophy, but also deeply marked by the Ignatian spirituality into which he was being initiated.

   From 1934 to 1936 he pursued graduate studies in philosophy at Freiburg and participated in Martin Heidegger’s seminar. In a story that warms, or terrifies, the hearts of many graduate students, Rahner’s doctoral thesis in philosophy, which became his foundational philosophical work, Spirit in the World, was rejected. His creative rethinking of the metaphysics of knowledge of Thomas Aquinas in relationship to the insights of modern philosophy, particularly Kant and Heidegger, was too much for his thesis director who took a more traditional scholastic approach. Rahner then went to Innsbruck where he completed a dissertation in theology that was accepted for the doctorate. A much less significant work, it was not published until very recently.

   Rahner began lecturing at the theological faculty at Innsbruck in 1937 and remained until it was closed by the Nazis in 1939. During the war he did pastoral work, mostly in Vienna, taught theology briefly at Pullach, and returned to Innsbruck when the faculty reopened in 1948. He taught in Munich and Münster, and returned as emeritus to Innsbruck where he died in 1984. On the surface, this appears to be an unexceptional academic and religious life, but during those years he developed an approach to theology that offered both intellectual and spiritual reinvigoration to what had become for many a sterile and lifeless theological landscape.

   The prayer quoted above offers a key to understanding the central preoccupation of Karl Rahner’s life and work. It is a theme to which he returns in the final essay included in this work, a talk delivered very close to his death – God, the incomprehensible mystery, the horizon of being, who has graciously chosen to draw near to human beings, whose very essence is to be drawn to this horizon as question to answer. For Rahner, to be human is to be in relationship with God. His philosophical work reflects on the conditions for the possibility of this relationship, thus the term “transcendental.” His more theological work works out the consequences of this relationship in the concrete circumstances of life. Rahner himself rejected the idea that he was a systematic theologian since he never developed a system. Nor did he articulate a theological method as did his contemporary Bernard Lonergan. Most of the numerous and eclectic theological works that he produced were in response to pressing ecclesial and social questions of the day.

   Rahner’s early works reveal the style of theologizing that was both to aggravate his critics and win approval from admirers. Rahner is a theologian of continuity, not looking simply to reject the recent past but to show how it could be broken open to reveal other possibilities. In the context of the nineteenth century revival of Thomism, Leo ⅫⅠ in Aeterni Patris (1879) had declared the philosophy and theology of Thomas Aquinas to be the official theology of the Roman Catholic Church. By the beginning of the twentieth century when Rahner was studying theology, the prevalent theological approach in seminary education was what was often called a manualist approach. Students of this neo-scholastic theology studied out of textbooks that most often presented the theology of Thomas Aquinas in a dry, static, and abstract form, quite unrelated to human experience. Neo-scholasticism emphasized obedience to ecclesial authority as the primary responsibility of the Catholic Christian. Throughout his life Rahner reacted strongly against this approach, fearing that post-Enlightenment Catholics would find such an approach to faith alienating and incredible.

   As Rahner began his theological career, however, there were already a number of attempts to bring Thomistic theology more into dialogue with the intellectual currents of the modern world. The Belgian Jesuit Joseph Maréchal (1878–1944) and the French Jesuit Pierre Rousselot (1878–1915) were the most influential in Rahner’s own interpretation of Thomas. Many of these proponents of a “new theology” were concerned to retrieve the “real” Thomas from the deformations of his neo-scholastic interpreters and to show that there was an experiential awareness in Thomas that opened him to relationship with contemporary philosophical currents, particularly the “turn to the subject” which emphasized the role of human experience.

   In neo-scholastic thought, revelation had been understood as purely extrinsic to human experience, primarily known propositionally. In his early works, Rahner is concerned to demonstrate through his transcendental method that revelation, which is in the first place God’s own self-communication, is experienced unthematically as the awareness of unlimited being against which we experience all our limited categorial knowing. God is not one object among the many objects of our knowing, but the infinite and mysterious horizon against which we experience all other reality. In his second philosophical work, Hearer of the Word, Rahner focuses on the human being as constitutively open to the possibility of hearing God’s self-communication. Thus anthropology, or reflection on the experience of being human, is the condition for the possibility of receiving God’s revelation. Though no essay in this volume takes Rahner’s anthropology as its explicit focus, no area of his theology can be treated without dealing with this distinctive and pervasive starting point of Rahner’s theological project.

   Although this transcendental method is often cited as the distinctive mark of Rahner’s theology, it must be understood in relationship to the nature of the vast number of books and articles that are firmly situated in the categorial, responding to the concrete questions of the distinctive historical and ecclesial period in which he lived.

   Particularly from the period just prior to the Second Vatican Council, through the Council where he was appointed as a peritus, until his death, Rahner was occupied with the many dimensions of ecclesial Christianity – intra Roman Catholic issues as well as questions concerning the Church’s relation to culture and to the many social questions of the mid to late twentieth century. Though the mystery of God is clearly the centre of Rahner’s thought, his anthropology understood human being as essentially relational, thus the transcendental necessity of the Church as the concrete locus of the human encounter with God.

   After the two major philosophical works, the majority of Rahner’s writings are concerned in some way with the Church, whether internally or in relation to culture. His relationship to the Church was complex. His stance was often critical, especially when he saw the church retreating into what he called a “Pian” approach (after the recent popes named Pius, with whom he identifies this approach), his shorthand for the authoritarianism of neo-scholasticism. As the Council receded in memory his vision became darker and his fears increased that there would be a retreat to a pre-Conciliar mentality. He referred to “a wintry season” and to the Church as burden. But it is clear that his critique came from a love for the Church and his conviction that it was the necessary continuation of the definitive mission and ministry of Jesus in the world. Its failings impeded that mission. His friend and sometime critic Johann Baptist Metz once said, “He has this church in his guts, and feels its failures like indigestion.”

   Rahner’s pastoral concern for the Church is demonstrative of a theological influence at least as important, and probably more important, than the theology of Thomas and the influence of German philosophy. Karl Rahner was a Jesuit priest marked deeply by the theology and spirituality of Ignatius of Loyola.

   Both his engagement with the concrete questions of the Church and the mystical tendency characteristic of his theology find their roots in Ignatian spirituality. The Spiritual Exercises begin with the subjectivity of the human person and it can be argued that this theological insight is at least as important to Rahner’s starting point as is the influence of the German philosophers.

   Rahner’s essay on Ignatius of Loyola3 in which he has Ignatius speak to contemporary Jesuits is revelatory of the debt he acknowledges to Ignatius. The mystical dimension that he identifies in Ignatius presumably underlies his own spirituality. Although, as we mentioned, the Church occupies a great deal of Rahner’s attention, it is not for him by any means the primary datum of faith. For him always, the center is God who enters into relationship with humans through God’s own self-communication, which is his primary understanding of grace, “uncreated grace.” He chides Jesuits of the past for understanding grace as something foreign to human experience and known only through an extrinsic understanding of revelation. For him, contrary to the neo-scholastic understanding of the time, grace can be experienced. He has Ignatius say, “All I say is I knew God, nameless and unfathomable, silent and yet near, bestowing himself on me in his Trinity. I knew God beyond all concrete imaginings.”4 Here again is the core of Rahner’s theology. This obviously leaves him open to the critique that in the last analysis the concrete or categorial is quite secondary to him. By his own admission Rahner is not a theologian in which all the threads can be neatly tied together. In spite of this seeming relativization of the categorical he paid enormous attention to the nitty-gritty concerns of life as an ecclesial Christian. A number of the authors in the Companion engage this debate as to whether Rahner is primarily a theologian of the transcendental for whom the categorical is radically secondary, but it must be said that in offering his transcendental analysis he always posits the categorical. His work in Christology is illustrative of his own understanding of this approach.

   In his treatment of this most explicitly Christian issue in Foundations of Christian Faith he says that “the two moments in Christian theology reach their closest unity and their most radical tension,” i.e., the transcendental theology that develops an a priori doctrine of the God-man and the historical testimony about what happened in Jesus. But the historical and actual encounter with the God-man must come first. “At this point what is most historical is what is most essential.” This conviction becomes even more explicit in his later work. It is important to note here the development in Rahner’s own thought. Commentators and critics often identify Rahner almost exclusively with the preoccupations and approaches of his early works, but there are important shifts that take place particularly in the years following Vatican.

   Although Rahner did historical work right from the beginning – his work on the history of spirituality and on the history of the sacrament of penance, for example – his attention to history becomes much more pronounced in the later works, perhaps in response to the critic he took most seriously, his friend and student, Johann Baptist Metz. As we have noted this development is perhaps most clear in his Christology. The early christological work such as “Current Problems in Christology” begins “from above” with the christological doctrines. Foundations attests that “the basic and decisive point of departure, of course, lies in an encounter with the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and hence in an ‘ascending Christology,’” though this affirmation is not extensively developed. The essay “The Two Basic Types of Christology”8 brings the two approaches into dialogue and suggests that for the future a pluralism in approaches to Christology is to be expected and valued.

This volume focus on significant and well-developed areas of Rahner’s thought, a number of which have already been touched on. Part Ⅰ deals with the spiritual, philosophical, and theological roots of Rahner’s theology. Harvey Egan develops the centrality of Rahner’s work on spirituality; Thomas Sheehan examines the philosophical underpinnings of Rahner’s transcendental project, while Stephen Duffy deals with the radical reorienting of the understanding of grace that is so emblematic of Rahner’s approach. Major theological themes are then treated in Part Ⅱ. Francis Schüssler Fiorenza takes an innovative approach to Rahner’s theological method and proposes that the occasional nature of Rahner’s writings suggests that he is not a foundationalist but primarily a practical theologian. Daniel Donovan offers a clear exposition of his understanding of revelation and its correlative, faith. David Coffey focuses on Rahner’s contribution to the renewal of trinitarian theology and Roman Siebenrock traces the chronological and theological developments in Rahner’s Christology. Richard Lennan offers an analysis of Rahner’s work on ecclesiology and ecumenism, while Jerry Farmer deals with the related issues of ministry and worship.

   Ethics and eschatology remain to be mentioned. Rahner’s ethical thought comes from his deep conviction about the unity of the love of God and love of neighbour, another key instance of his conviction of the relationship between the transcendental and the categorial. Not known primarily as an ethicist, Rahner worked with the category of “fundamental option” to offer a context for understanding moral decision making in light of one’s whole disposition before God. Brian Linnane takes up the area of ethics and its relation to Christian witness.

   Eschatology for Rahner was an integral part of theology. It is one of the most intriguing areas of his thought where he deals with the possibility of universal salvation, or apokatastasis, questions of individual and community, and the relation between the material and the spiritual. As he approached death himself, Rahner became more preoccupied with issues of how one lives into one’s own death. Peter C. Phan probes this significant dimension of Rahner’s thought for both its present significance and its future possibilities.

   Having evoked the context, influences, and some central and well-developed themes of Rahner’s theological journey, it is important to note some of the many other topics that engaged his attention through his long career. They provide an insight into the journey of the Roman Catholic Church as well as into the changing social landscape of his time. Rahner wrote on Mary, where his work also shows considerable development from the early approach of opening up the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption to later work that recognizes the ambiguities in the Mary tradition and a need for reconceiving the place of Marian devotion in light of the hierarchy of truths and the changed situation of contemporary women. In the context of this changed social and cultural situation Rahner also explored the role of women in ministry. He evaluated the 1976 “Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood” as authentic but reformable teaching and encouraged further discussion of the issue.9 Perhaps Rahner’s long friendship with the German author Luise Rinser was an influence on his sympathetic attention to women’s roles in Church and society. His reticence about his personal life leaves the possible influence of Luise Rinser on his theological work largely to conjecture.10

   Rahner also wrote on the theology of revolution, on the dialogue with Islam, on religious pluralism, on atheism, on the natural sciences and their relation to faith, and on theology and popular religion. Part Ⅲ of the volume takes up some of these topics of Rahner’s later life which show the development in his own work and perhaps provide a bridge to today’s concerns. These chapters also introduce in a more focused way some contemporary areas of critique as well as acknowledging indebtedness to Rahner’s theological project as foundational to today’s theological preoccupations.

   Liberation and political theologies as well as feminist theologies often acknowledge Rahner for his recognition of the important role of experience as a starting point in theology. In turn they critique him for his lack of attention to specific, historical experience, the experience of the poor and marginalized, including the experience of women. Although more complex, this describes Metz’s critique – a critique Rahner accepted. Although Rahner’s theology did not make this move, he recognized that this was a legitimate direction for its development. Gaspar Martinez and Nancy Dallavalle explore the relationship between Rahner and liberation, political, and feminist theologies.

   Rahner wrote on ecumenism, but there has been little attention to his reception in Protestant theology. Nicholas Adams offers a realistic assessment of the impact of Rahner in Protestant circles, focusing especially on the critique of George Lindbeck.

   Theological aesthetics is also an area of contemporary interest where Rahner’s views have been little noted. Gesa Thiessen draws attention to the importance of artistic image and poetic word as sources of Rahner’s theological imagination.

   One of the most widely controverted areas of Rahner’s theology was his use of the`phrase “anonymous Christian” to express his conviction that all human beings are touched by the grace of Jesus Christ and therefore drawn into the salvific embrace of God. Jeannine Hill Fletcher situates that discussion within the context of the prevalent exclusivist understandings to which Rahner was responding and contemporary theologies of religious pluralism. Does Rahner’s inclusivist position, infelicitous as its language may have been, remain a viable theological option for understanding religious diversity?

 Karl Rahner had his critics, both during his lifetime and now in a changed philosophical and ecclesial world. During his lifetime, Hans Küng, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Johann Baptist Metz raised critiques from significantly different perspectives. Hans Küng was impatient with Rahner’s insistence on showing the continuity of his approaches with the tradition rightly understood. Was a linear, positive, unfolding of the tradition inevitable? Could not the Church ever just admit mistakes?

   Von Balthasar questioned Rahner’s whole anthropological starting place, finding his theology too human-centered. Along with other critics from the right, he questions whether Rahner has evacuated Christianity of its categorial content in favour of a relationship with God not essentially mediated by the concrete content of faith. Metz, for his part, was concerned with an individualism or privatism which seemed to render the social and historical dimensions of Christianity quite irrelevant. In the light of Rahner’s hopeful expectation of salvation the suffering, the unexpected reversals, and the interruptions of life could be overlooked.

In the context of post-modernity questions are raised about the ongoing relevance of a theology so rooted in notions of permanent truth and an anthropology presupposing a modern understanding of the self. Michael Purcell addresses the challenges of post-modernity to a theology seemingly so rooted in the ethos of modernity.

Although often considered difficult to read – and he can be – Rahner’s major themes recur throughout both his academic and more popular writings. It is sometimes better to approach him first through the more popular works where the pastoral concern and mystagogical sensibility that mark all his work is unmistakable. Works such as Encounters with Silence, The Shape of the Church to Come, Everyday Faith, Karl Rahner in Dialogue, and Christian at the Crossroads, to name just a few, are excellent ways to encounter Rahner’s major themes in accessible language. They reveal the deep pastoral intent of Rahner who famously said that all (real) theology is pastoral theology. Rahner had no patience with abstract theological speculation for its own sake. A brief bibliographical guide for students approaching Rahner for the first time is found at the end of the volume and a brief glossary of commonly used terms will also help first-time readers.

Rahner started out in a theological climate that was dramatically different from today. He was dealing with a monolithic theological and philosophical system that placed obedience to external authority at its center. Philosophy was the privileged partner and interpretative companion to theology. Today radical pluralism is the situation. Along with philosophy, the social sciences, and increasingly the empirical sciences, are being brought into the dialogue searching for meaningful interpretations of humanity, God, and the cosmos. If post-modern thinkers question Rahner’s understanding of truth and his understanding of the self, there exists an equally strong tendency today to return to a pre-Conciliar mentality, to an authoritarian approach to faith, to the kind of neo-scholasticism that was Rahner’s nemesis. Fundamentalisms of many kinds abound and not just outside Christianity. In the light of this complex reality, Johann Baptist Metz suggests that Rahner is the ideal theologian for this post-modern period. Rahner, in Metz’s view, should not be simply identified with the ethos of modernity since his work critiques problematic aspects of modernity, as well as of pre-modernity and post-modernity. “Rahner’s life work has succeeded in bringing together what has long been separated, indeed set at variance: his work has brought to an end the schism between theology and life history; it has related doctrine and life, the mystical and the everyday, in the context of the irreducible complexity and anonymity of our postmodern situation.”11 For Metz, Rahner’s insights, though not the last word, remain valuable in today’s complex world.

   The authors you encounter in this Companion represent a variety of perspectives on the legacy of Karl Rahner. We have not attempted to harmonize them. Their perspectives may be influenced by the philosophical and ecclesial concerns of the author’s own cultures and contexts. Whether their primary concern is a retreat into pre-modernity, or a concern that a theology so grounded in Rahner’s philosophical positions can in fact speak to the issues of post-modernity, they agree that Roman Catholic theology has been profoundly touched and changed by the theology of Karl Rahner. To encounter Rahner is to encounter the variety of interpretations of his thought as well as the personal, spiritual, and theological impact that he has had on generations of scholars and believers. 

Karl Rahner: Spiritual Writings by Karl Rahner, edited by Philip Endean (Modern Spiritual Masters Series: Orbis Books) Philip Endean, an English Jesuit, is editor of the journal The Way and author of Karl Rahner and Ignatian Spirituality. He serves as editor of this volume in the Orbis Modern Spiritual Masters Series. In his introduction to this collection of writings, Endean talks about the importance of mystery and grace in the Catholic purview of Karl Rahner (1904-1984). This German professor, who spent most of his life teaching at the Universities of Innsbruck, Munich, and Munster, was a very devotional person. He believed that prayer was the most important element of the Christian way, saying in a discussion with a friend, "I believe because I pray." The turning point in his life came when he was 60 and participated in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Although previously seen as a traditionalist, the German theologian became, according to Endean, "a kind of intellectual icon for the forces of change in Roman Catholicism."

This anthology is divided into four sections: God and Human Experience; Turning Points; Jesus; and Church, Creativity, and Process. Rahner's major theme was the many paths of God's disclosure in grace. In his exploration of the growth of the whole person toward God, he emphasized the importance of mystery. Rahner's most broadly quoted statement was: "Tomorrow's devout person will either by a mystic — someone who has 'experienced' something — or else they will no longer be devout at all."

An Excerpt from the Book:

Colloquy With God?

Anyone who reads Christian spiritual literature, anyone who listens to sermons on prayer, will be familiar with the statement that prayer is a “dialogue with God.” There is certainly no need to gather together here examples of this commonplace of Christian spirituality and of the theology of prayer. Perhaps, however, it is not completely pointless to offer some reflections on the question of whether and in what sense prayer can be called dialogue with God. For, after all, this word “dialogue” presupposes that in prayer it is not just humanity but God’s own self that speaks, speaks to us, speaks in such a way as to answer our words. The question that is to occupy us here is thus not the more general and comprehensive question about whether prayer is possible at all, and what preconditions it must have, in other words the question of the personal address that a human being can direct to God (today, certainly, not an easy problem.). Rather we are asking whether, and in what sense, we can say that in prayer God speaks to humanity in such a way that we can really call prayer a dialogue between God and humanity.

Certainly, human beings today have great difficulty in understanding and recognizing that in prayer they experience something like God’s personally speaking. In this kind of short essay we can justifiably leave aside the wider questions about a personal experience of God`as existing and the God-humanity, God-world relationship — questions that are already quite difficult enough for human beings today. But apart from these, the specific difficulty with experiencing prayer as dialogue is this: our first inclination to take as the person’s own mental state or activity what a more exuberant piety is accustomed or inclined to interpret as God’s speaking to us.

The point is undoubtedly correct; it must not be denied; and these days we cannot naively ignore it. The question then arises: why can this be understood as a special manifestation of God, as God’s speaking? People today have the impression that in prayer they are to a certain extent talking and deliberating with themselves — with this talking to oneself perhaps being about God, this self-reflection perhaps happening “before” God. If they experience particular sudden, unexpected, strong inbreakings or outbreakings of new ideas and impulses (of course this happens), people today will initially interpret such occurrences as things happening within their own existence, as the deeper levels of the soul expressing themselves, as the breakthrough of what was previously repressed, as a fortunate interplay of subconscious associations, or the like. They will point to the fact that the same somewhat out of the ordinary mental processes are also present where`there is no question of specifically religious content: with artistic intuitions and ideas that cannot in any real sense be programmed in advance, in sudden transformations of the whole person that are not expressly motivated by religion, and so on.

There is not need here to investigate whether this is right or not quite right; be that as it may, people today have the impression that it would be to accept the miraculous, or else old-fashioned mythology, if they were to understand and unexpected, powerful mental event, just because it was sudden, vivid, and significant, as resulting from an intervention of God at a particular point in space and time within the normal course of their mental history. In the mental sphere, at least generally speaking, this appears to people today just as improbable and incredible as miracles in the external sphere (understood as new interventions of God in God’s world). People today, even if they recognize God’s existence, explain the course of their inner world in terms of causes within the world. And these remain causes within the world, even if they produce less normal phenomena within the sphere of consciousness.

Of course there are still also today many people in the Church, especially in the many groups with a charismatic piety, who understand specific mental experiences, especially speaking in tongues, baptism in the Spirit, radical conversion an the like, quite uninhibitedly as charismatic interventions of the Holy Spirit “from outside.” They more or less ignore the simple fact that all such experiences are, to begin with, theirs; at least until the contrary is strictly proven — something not the case even with parapsychological phenomena — they must be explained as the effects of states of affairs, external and internal, present within themselves. Moreover, an outsider can see parallels to all such charismatic phenomena in non-Christian religions, which clearly display all these mental causes — the nature, the style of consciousness, the language, the limitations — with the result that this alone makes it almost impossible to discover or look for anything that must necessarily be traced back to a special, miraculous intervention of God. On these and similar grounds, people today find it very difficult to discover something in their praying consciousness that they want to interpret simply as God speaking as opposed to themselves speaking. Prayer seems to them to be a monologue, or at best talking to oneself, but not a dialogue with God, not an event that one could seriously call, seriously and without too much reservation, dialogue.

Table of Contents:

Prologue: Why We Need to Pray

1. God and Human Experience
Encounter with God
God’s word and a baby’s experience
God of my daily drudge
A spiritual discourse on desire and concupiscence in the style of Master Johannes Tauler
On movement
The mystical: the way of faith to God

2. Turning Points
Religious institution and experience from within
Opening the heart
On the experience of grace
Spiritual choices
Colloquy with God?
Stanislaus Kotzka

3. Jesus
God who is meant to be coming
Mary in theology
God of my sisters and brothers
On the following of Christ
The man with the pierced heart

4. Church, Creativity, and Process
Church, institution, and Spirit
Theology and the Life of the Spirit
Prayer for the creative
God of Law
For the Church
Prayer on the eve of ordination
To love God I don’t need any Church
Allegiance to the Church
The Jesuits and the future
What scope is there for a new devotion to Mary and to the saints?
Plea for an unnamed virtue
On intellectual patience with oneself
Thanking God when there’s so much pain?
That which is to come

Karl Rahner and Ignatian Spirituality by Philip Endean (Oxford Theological Monographs: Oxford University Press) Karl Rahner SJ (1904-1984), perhaps the most seminal figure in twentieth-century Roman Catholic theology, believed that the most significant influence on his work was Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. This book casts significant new light on Rahner's achievement by exploring that influence. It brings out the links between Rahner's theological creativity and the twentieth century rediscovery of Ignatian spirituality led by his brother Hugo, thereby clarifying in a new way the relationships in Rahner's thought between grace, christology, and ecclesiology. By offering a fresh and contemporary theological interpretation of Ignatian retreat-giving, Philip Endean illuminates the new departures this ministry has taken in the last thirty years, as well as contributing to the lively current debate regarding the relationship between spirituality and speculative theology.

Philip Endean is a Lecturer in Theology and the Head of Pastoral Studies, Heythrop College, University of London.


Rahner's earliest essays on `the immediate experience of God' are redolent of a narrow clerical culture. It is hard for contemporary readers to grasp why Roman Catholic theologians in the early decades of the twentieth century argued so bitterly about the issues. It was Rahner's achievement to bring his own positions within these debates into a broader context. Within this narrow world of spiritu­ality, of asceticism and mysticism, Rahner found in Bonaventure and others convictions about `the immediate experience of God'. He saw-perhaps with Ignatius's help-that these convictions applied, not primarily to privileged people and situations, but to the human condition as a whole. Everyday human experience became an indispensable source for theology.

On this basis, Rahner renegotiated for Catholic theology the relationship between nature and grace, between the word of Chris­tianity and human reality at large. While not abandoning the Augustinian stress on God's free, gratuitous initiative, Rahner insisted that such gratuitousness must be within the divine dispen­sation from the beginning. Thus he created new space in Catholic theology for concerns conventionally repressed and held in suspicion: Pelagius's insistence on the inherent goodness of human freedom; an Antiochene stress on the full humanity of Jesus; Protestantism's recognition of authority within the whole Church. The revealed Word, Christ and the tradition he inaugurates, neither smothers the human as such (the heresy of extrinsicism), nor does it reduce to what we know of the human anyway (the heresy of intrinsicism). Rather it constitutes a uniquely necessary instrument, irrevocably deployed by God in order to bring the whole creation to gracious fulfillment.

The revolutionary changes in Roman Catholicism marked by Vatican II cannot, obviously, be ascribed to any one theologian or prelate. Nevertheless, the convergence between these changes and Rahner's theology is striking. In a profound essay, the historian john O'Malley has pointed to how the call to read the `signs of the times' represented a revolutionary departure from precedent: `Vatican II took greater note of the world around it than any previous council, and it assumed as one of its principal tasks "colloquies” and conver­sations with that world'. Aggiornamento was a new concept in the his­tory of Roman Catholic thought, marking a profound shift in thinking:

Given the incomplete state of studies on the idea of reform, it is precarious to generalize. Nevertheless, two distinguished historians of religious reform, Hubert Jedin and the late Delio Cantimori, have independently ventured the opinion that the perennial spirit of Catholic reform was accurately epitomized by ... Giles of Viterbo (1469-1532), in his inaugural address at the Fifth Lateran Council: `Men must be changed by religion, not religion by men'. What Vatican II's aggiomamenlo called for was precisely the opposite. It determined that religion should be changed by men, in order to meet the needs of men (sic).

Rahner himself made a similar point when claiming that Vatican II marked the emergence of a'world Church', as opposed simply to a Church reflecting European and perhaps North American cul­ture. One aspect of his position turned on how the Council marked a transformation in consciousness regarding the world outside institutional Christianity: non-Roman Catholic Christians were no longer simply benighted heretics, pagans no longer simply in error. Rather, if the Churches ever are reunited, the non-Catholic Christians will bring something positive; and even the institutional forms of paganism can be of salvific significance. Prior to the Coun­cil `none of this was actually explicit in the Church's awareness, but it is present there now and cannot now be removed, since it is under­stood, not as a modern liberal trendiness but as an element of Chris­tian conviction as such'.

The idea of God's presence in history, in other words, has implied profound changes in Roman Catholic self-understanding. If Rah­ner's testimony is to be trusted, his own contribution to that change is rooted in what he learnt from Ignatian spirituality. Ultimately, therefore, in interpreting, defending, and developing Rahner's writ­ings on Ignatian spirituality, we are dealing with something central to Christian theology as a whole. Rightly understood, commitment to tradition and openness to the historical process-in particular to what as yet lies outside the visible Church-vary in direct, not inverse proportion.

Christian truth and Christian language are essentially symbolic, permanently open to new unfolding. They make only the austerely formal claim that, in Jesus and in the tradition stemming from him, God has made a complete gift of self. It can be left entirely open how that claim is further to be specified, even if we can never disinvent past contingencies. The exegetes, the social scientists, the feminists or whoever are permanently liable to call into question any particu­lar opinions we hold on the relevant material issues. Christian trad­ition is not the only source we need in order to interpret reality fully and deduce our obligations. We must use it, rather, as one indis­pensable resource, in indefinite interaction with a plurality of others.

Shortly after Vatican II, Rahner speculated on the nature of the­ology in a pluralist world, and suggested that we might have to envisage `two forms of theology running parallel'.

The other kind of theology would `courageously let itself disinte­grate into a plurality of theologies  It was Rahner's achievement to show us that such pluralism was no disaster, rather a reflection of the deepest sense of Catholicity, a mirror of God's creative freedom. In this achievement, Rahner at least resembles Ignatius.

`Ignatius is a person of transcendental rather than categorical piety. ' As we have seen, Hans Urs von Balthasar took exception to this statement, on the ground that it discounted historical revela­tion. But in fact there are deep affinities between transcendental theology and the pedagogy of the Exercises. Neither Ignatius nor transcendental theology takes us away from the historical, but they do recognize that the formal truths of Christian revelation are sus­ceptible to indefinitely many continuations. Life under Christ's standard is pluriform. Fidelity to Christian tradition, the following of Christ's standard, simply means flexibility and openness before the ongoing action of God. Rahner shows us how we can hold to the absoluteness of Christianity while renouncing the dishonest, fetish of a comprehensive explanation of all that occurs. The tradition fur­nishes, rather, a framework empowering response to the multiple disclosures of God's mystery.

Von Balthasar's work certainly allows for pluralist perspectives on the reality of Christ, but he seems to believe that the tradition should guarantee our ability straightforwardly to distinguish the authentic from the distorted. In an`interview given in 1976, Balthasar commented on Rahner's theology as follows:

I have tried to see Christianity or the figure (Gestalt) of Christ in the first place as a figure, and his Church together with Christ. One can walk round a figure and see it from all sides. Again and again one sees some­thing different and yet one sees always the same thing. Thus I do not believe in the pluralism of which Rahner's pessimism is so convinced. Rather I believe in catholicity. .. Because we-or at least we Christians always look towards the same thing, even if we also cast glances towards only parts of it.

Rahner rarely reacted in public to von Balthasar's criticisms of his work, but a comment made to a Jesuit audience in 1973 can serve as a rejoinder:

If we were to behave as if our being Christian gave us a 'world-view' in which everything fits together harmonically, we would, in the end, be set­ting ourselves up to be God. This is because the whole of reality is a sym­phony only for him. To make pluralism into a symphony-as good old Balthasar does-a symphony that we can hear as such: this is funda­mentally impossible.

As Rahner's Ignatius put the matter to his modern disciple in 1978: People have often accused your theology of being cheaply eclectic. There is of course something right about that charge. But if God is the `ever greater God', who outstrips every system within which humanity seeks to bring reality under its control, then your `eclecticism' can also perfectly well be an expression of how God is too much for humanity and of how humanity willingly accepts that divine being-too-much. After all, in the end there is no system within which a person, from the one point at which they stand, could take in the whole. Your theology should not operate lazily, in cheap compromises. But a thoroughly elaborated, transparent system in theology would be a false system. In theology too you are the pilgrims seeking the eternal homeland of truth, in an Exodus ever new.

In the chapel of the house in Innsbruck where Rahner lived dur­ing his most productive years, a visitor is confronted by a large wall mosaic. At the centre stands Christ, dressed in priestly vestments and carrying the cross, with his heart openly displayed. On the right is Thomas Aquinas, holding the Summa theologiae; on the left we find Ignatius, with his Constitutions leaning against his cloak.

Rahner was not the sort of theologian who took works of art as a starting-point, but this mosaic can nevertheless stand as an illustra­tion of Rahner's approach to Christianity. Ralmer's writings on the Sacred Heart depend relatively little on the idea of reparation so strongly emphasized in the mainstream devotional tradition. For Rahner, the term `heart' points, rather, to a metaphysical truth about human identity, about being a ‘spirit in world'. Our access to our own `hearts', our self-presence, comes only in and through our interactions, through our presence to others. When devotion to Christ centres on the symbol of his heart, this reminds us that Christ's revelation occurs only in and through his relationships with us. The Jesus we read of in the gospel must become the cosmic Christ who incorporates us. Thus Christian tradition remains per­manently to be continued.

Thomas Aquinas and Ignatius have their place in the picture, because both developed articulations of Christianity particularly respectful of this fundamental principle. If the word of God is pro­claimed in terms of Thomas's austere scholasticism or of Ignatius's terse requests `to reflect and draw profit', then the event is com­pleted only when the hearer responds, participating in the mystery in ways that we cannot predict in advance. In 1956, Rahner had written of how Ignatius's qualities had still not been fully appropri­ated or appreciated. `In regard to what is most his own, his day seems ... Still to come.  In context, this remark refers to Ignatius's role in the history of ideas; it could, however, also stand as an emblem of how Rahner took from Ignatius the sense of a God who is ever greater, of Christian revelation as constantly generating new forms of life.

This study can end as it began: by evoking how the idea of Rah­ner writing a Dogmatik der Exerzitien issued only in a few jottings and in an empty notebook. As Ignatius said in another context, it is God's own supreme wisdom and goodness that must `preserve, direct, and carry forward' what God has begun. Seen in them­selves, our efforts are only fragments: mere attempts to clear space so that God's grace can be disclosed.

Headline 3

insert content here

WT Main | About WT | Review Links | Contact | Review Sources | Search

Copyright © 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Headline 3

insert content here