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Rahner and his Critics: Revisiting the Dialogue
Declan Marmion SM
Abstract: It is not unusual to hear the comment today that Karl Rahner’s is rather outdated to postmodern sensibilities. Despite some truth in this, it would be unwise to dismiss Rahner’s theological style as passé. A spectrum of criticisms of Rahner will be discussed below, beginning with Hans Urs von Balthasar and Johann Baptist Metz, then those of the postliberal George Lindbeck. The vexed question of the role of experience in theology raised by Lindbeck will be explored in the third section. Penultimately, criticisms by Emmanuel Levinas of the ontological tradition of Western philosophy, which forms the basis of Rahner’s theology, will be noted. These thinkers help, either directly or indirectly, to illuminate a number of Rahner’s philosophical and theological presuppositions and (Levinas excepted) his vision of Christianity and Church. However, my approach is to ask whether Rahnerism has resources within itself to respond to these issues raised, despite its idiosyncrasies. Key Words: Karl Rahner – reception; Hans Urs von Balthasar; Johann Baptist Metz; George Lindbeck; Emmanuel Levinas; postliberalism; German philosophy
I. EARLY CRITIQUES: VON BALTHASAR AND METZ
n his introduction to Karl Rahner’s life and thought, Herbert Vorgrimler concedes that Rahner’s theology, like any theology, has its weak points, and is not immune from criticism. He further notes how Rahner’s understanding of Christianity was variously attacked for being either too radical, or not radical enough.1 Thus, Catholic traditionalists complained that Rahner, especially since Vatican II, had relativised the radical demands of Christianity. A famous example of such adversarial reaction to Rahner’s understanding of Christianity is that of Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Cordula oder der Ernstfall.2 This work seems to mark a significant shift in the relationship between Rahner and Balthasar.3
Herbert Vorgrimler, Understanding Karl Rahner: An Introduction to his Life and Thought, trans. John Bowden (London: SCM, 1986), 121-30.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cordula oder der Ernstfall, Kriterien 2 (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1966). [ET: The Moment of Christian Witness, trans. Richard Beckley (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1969)]. A second edition (1967) contained an “Afterword” by von Balthasar as a response to the widespread criticism of his treatment of Rahner in the first edition.
Despite his reservations about Rahner’s anthropological method, Von Balthasar recognised the theological “courage” of Rahner and spoke of him in 1964 as a “brilliant theologian” (einen genialen Theologen). Manfred Lochbrunner, Analogia Caritatis. Darstellung und Deutung der Theologie Hans Urs von Balthasars, Freiburger Theologische Studien 120 (Freiburg: Herder, 1981), 123. See also von Balthasar’s positive evaluation of the early volumes of Rahner’s Theological Investigations: “Grösse und Last der Theologie Heute: Einige grundsätzliche Gedanken zu zwei Aufsatzbänden Karl Rahners,” Wort und Wahrheit 7 (1955): 531-33. For his part, Rahner composed a “Laudatio” for Von Balthasar’s sixtieth birthday in 1965. Karl Rahner, “Hans Urs von Balthasar – 60. Geburtstag,”Civitas 20 (1965): 601-605.
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Marmion / Rahner and his Critics
Balthasar’s book is essentially a reaction to Rahner’s anthropologically-oriented theology, which, in his view, tended to reduce Christian living “to a bland and shallow humanism.”4 In particular, Balthasar claimed that Rahner’s concept of the anonymous Christian had little to do with the message of the Gospel. This concept, moreover, overlooked what he called the “Ernstfall” or “decisive moment,” which is the cross of Christ. Thus, Balthasar laid special emphasis on the readiness to suffer and on the value of martyrdom where the “Ernstfall,” or cross of Christ, becomes the permanent pattern or form of Christian discipleship.5 Moreover, he felt that most forms of modern theology, including Rahner’s, were incapable of providing the grounding or motivation for such a vision of Christian living. One specific criticism Balthasar makes of Rahner’s understanding of Christianity concerns Rahner’s identification of love of God with love of neighbour. Rahner is accused of undermining the absolute priority in Christianity of the love of God for us by “identifying” love of God with love of neighbour. Balthasar’s comments are a reaction to a Rahner article that emphasised, however, the unity of the love of neighbour and love of God.6 At the outset of the article it is clear that Rahner’s intention is to inquire into the nature of charity by reflecting on its unity with the love of God. In other words, he hoped to demonstrate that neither love of God nor love of neighbour can exist or be practised without reference to each other. Rather than subordinating the love of God to love of neighbour, Rahner’s aim is to elucidate how the whole truth of the Gospel is hidden and in germ in the love of one’s neighbour. Just as the love of neighbour and the love of God can be distinguished but not completely separated the same holds true for the relation between the transcendental and the categorial dimensions of human love. Love of neighbour is the fulfilment of the transcendental nature of the human person: in the form of a decision or action it constitutes the way for the individual to actualise her openness to God. Here we see the incarnational seriousness of Rahner’s theology and anthropology. Selfless acts of love are not merely proofs of our love of God but are underpinned and supported by God’s divinising grace. Yet Balthasar’s fear is that Rahner’s transcendental method ultimately leads to a bland Christianity that is not worth its salt. The divergences between the two also need to be seen against their different backgrounds, temperament and training. Balthasar, the refined aristocrat, was more influenced by the figures of Goethe and Mozart, more at home with the arts than with politics, more phenomenological in his theological approach. While he always kept an eye on Rahner’s theological interests, Balthasar was convinced that Rahner’s theology was too limited by his philosophy with its focus on transcendental ideas and notions. In a later section we shall return to a similar criticism of the Western philosophical tradition from Kant to Heidegger via the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, namely, its preoccupation with an analysis of subjectivity (and the subject’s mastery of self) to the neglect of intersubjectivity. Admittedly, Cordula was written at a dark period of
Von Balthasar, The Moment of Christian Witness, 126.
Cordula, who, according to legend, initially recoiled from the prospect of martyrdom, but subsequently changed her mind and willingly underwent death, exemplifies this readiness for death by martyrdom. Von Balthasar, The Moment of Christian Witness, 133. 6 Karl Rahner, “Reflections on the Unity of the Love of Neighbour and the Love of God,” Theological Investigations, vol. 6 (London: DLT, 1981), 231-49 [henceforth all references to the Investigations will be abbreviated to TI], a talk given by Rahner to social workers in Cologne in 1965. It seems that one of the reasons for Balthasar’s difficulty with Rahner’s thesis is that he (Balthasar) confuses the terms unity and identity. Although Rahner sometimes used the term “identity,” his underlying concern was to emphasise aperichoresis or mutual conditioning of the two elements: love of neighbour and love of God.
trans.”7 Ultimately.13 Vorgrimler’s contention is that any investigation of Rahner will reveal that Rahner’s thesis of the unity of the love of God and 7 8 “Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar: An Interview with Werner Löser.” Metz. ‘with God’. Studies in the Intercultural History of Christianity 105 (Berne: Peter Lang. ed. See also: Karl Neumann.” America. he is uncomfortable with a preoccupation with a subjectivity that neglects the intersubjective and in particular. The Dramatic Encounter of Divine and Human Freedom in the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. von Balthasar.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics Balthasar’s life. Metz: “… and every review of his (Rahner’s) theology seems almost inescapably to be in danger of roughly schematizing it or arbitrarily abridging it. 16 October 1999. B. 1969). 1994). B. Rahner and Metz: Transcendental Theology as Political Theology (Boston: Univ. Metz Faith in History and Society: Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology. Faith in History and Society. the preapprehension of being.und Nächstenliebe in der deutschsprachigen Theologie des 20. the private. and Liberation Theology. 23-58. Herbert Vorgrimler (Munich: Kösel. 20. who has been critical of Rahner’s transcendental approach to theology. B. Freiburger Theologische Studien 118 (Freiburg: Herder. If Rahner understands God in terms of the striving of the human spirit. Jahrhunderts. It is not that Rahner’s theology represents some kind of closed “system” – he never thought of his work in such a way. Vorgrimler edited a series of interviews and articles by Rahner covering this political dimension. whether he or she wants to be or not. Politische Dimensionen des Christentums: Ausgewählte Texte zu Fragen der Zeit. This is the approach taken by one of Rahner’s former students – Johann Baptist Metz. David Smith (New York: Crossroad. xvi.9 Indeed. the apolitical sphere. he acknowledged both the limitations of his theology as well as the need for other thinkers to develop his ideas in new directions. This is the perennial danger in any attempt to review Rahner’s theology according to J. 160. Metz. 1992). Titus F. runs the risk of not having to enter the field of history since the human person “is ‘always already’. Andrea Tafferner.”11 Alongside this. “The categories most prominent in this theology are the categories of the intimate. A fair evaluation of Rahner’s understanding of spirituality cannot be obtained solely on the basis of a limited and arbitrary selection of his works. 161-68. Innsbrucker theologische Studien 37 (Innsbruck/Wien: Tyrolia. 10 11 12 13 J. “The Jesuits and Modern Theology – Rahner. Dalzell. 1980). An out and out transcendental theology. their disagreement can be traced back to their respective starting points and is at the level of ontology. “Foreword. Shortly after Rahner’s death. See. in other words. The message becomes “privatized” and the practice of faith is reduced to the timeless decision of the person. 1997). 9 J. it is preferable to tackle these issues with Rahner rather than against him. Gerry O’Hanlon. Gottes. Guenther. 1980). Balthasar’s approach is more “from above” and stresses that God is first to be praised and served in obedient discipleship. Der Praxisbezug der Theologie bei Karl Rahner. he claimed. however. the otherness of God.8 In place of polemic. it would seem more constructive to look at how Rahner responded to and incorporated such criticisms into his own work.”12 Since Metz’s criticisms are already well documented. 3 . Karl Rahner. Metz notes the transcendental attempt to undermine history. to draw from within Rahner’s own writings resources to respond to the various criticisms made of him. 1986). Metz.10 With regard to Rahner’s theology. Theology of the World (New York: Herder and Herder. Metz argued that it did not give sufficient importance to the societal dimension of the Christian message. Moreover. Press of America.” Spirit in the World. 109.” Irish Theological Quarterly 58 (1992): 25-45 and Thomas G. but it does reveal his concern at what he considered “the growing anthropocentrism and secularisation of Christian self-understanding.
14 See Jon Sobrino. Rather than claiming that Rahner exclusively pursues a transcendental method. Eerdmans. where the “political” content of his theology comes most sharply into focus. 4 .. Moreover. 55. 1998). “Foreword. Rahner is more at home in critically reflecting on the Church.. Although Rahner’s theology of the love of neighbour sometimes gives the impression of being restricted to a narrowly interpersonal level (i. to one’s immediate neighbour). 1974). and its reduction to a purely humanitarian commitment on the other. Tracy and Gutierrez have returned in recent years to Rahner’s central question. 17 Rahner. can be traced to his early writings on the unity of the love of neighbour and the love of God. 15 Karl Rahner.20 If Rahner’s writings on the Ignatian Exercises focussed on the core experience of a personal encounter with God. “Nuclear Weapons and the Christian. The seeds of Rahner’s later awareness of the political dimension of Christianity.e.15 While he increasingly came to stress the socio-political character of neighbourly love. the practical and more political nature of his later writings. theology must give rise. he insists that the Christian can never abdicate his or her ultimate responsibility before God or delegate this responsibility to others. he further believed that theology should also see God as a politically relevant figure. However. 2001). Rahner’s approach is to accent the political and ethical relevance of conscience. “A Journey Into Time: The Legacy of Karl Rahner’s Last Years. a method that incorporates both transcendental and Rahner.” in Gaspar Martinez. 18 19 20 Rahner. to a socially transformative praxis. See also Declan Marmion. then. in turn. even if he had some questions about it. its nature. reveal a societal component – even if the latter element was not always brought sharply into focus.” TI 23: 16-32.16 Rahner supported Metz’s political theology as thoroughly orthodox. it would be more accurate to claim he follows a two-fold theological method. including with those who are suffering. Confronting the Mystery of God: Political.” TI 6:231-49. he tried to steer a middle course between the privatisation of Christianity. “Karl Rahner and Liberation Theology. ix.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics neighbour14 can be interpreted in terms of the indissoluble unity of the “mystical” and “political” dimensions of Christian spirituality. the question of God.17 In this regard. Politische Dimensionen des Christentums. always involves both a mystical and a societal component. Both these components form a unity just as the love of God and love of neighbour constitutes a unity. which then leads to an insensitivity to social problems. He agreed that theology must criticise those structures in society that oppress individuals and groups. A Spirituality of Everyday Faith: A Theological Investigation of the Notion of Spirituality in Karl Rahner.18 With the many complex moral issues facing the Christian today. task. and Sobrino. See Leo O’Donovan. 79-88. when discussing the Christian attitude towards atomic weapons. Liberation and Public Theologies (London/New York: Continuum. etc. 16 David Tracy. trans. then.” Theology and Discovery. An authentic spirituality.B. “Current Problems in Christology in Latin American Theology. Louvain Theological & Pastoral Monographs 23 (Louvain: Peeters Press. 123-32. Thus. it is worth noting that various politically committed theologies including Metz. on the one hand. in Rahner’s view. Edward Quinn (London: SPCK. which always occurs in solitude and in an immediate responsibility before the inscrutable God. an awareness that subsequently became more explicit.” Theological Studies 46 (1985): 621-46. for example.19 Rahner’s emphasis is on the decision of conscience. The Shape of the Church to Come. future.” Theology Digest 32 (1985): 257-60. In fact. 189-230. “Reflections on the Unity of the Love of Neighbour and the Love of God. he was convinced that the category of love held out great potential for inter-human solidarity. or rather. W.
129-30. “Rahner on the Human Experience of God.21 If Rahner considered the transcendental method to be only one part of theology. Christian spirituality is not merely an “experiencing” but a “doing.). cultural and historical positions.” an activity. Rahner. See Maher.” TI 20: 180. while the historical moment in Rahner’s method should be more explicitly developed. propaganda. depriving them of their potentially idolatrous character. 128. it can be overlooked that such a self-communication also has a history.”26 It is certainly not a question. Rahner’s point is that authentic love of God only exists when concern for self is surpassed and relativised by love for God in Godself.23 In so emphasising the self-communication of God to the human person in the transcendental dimension of their being. “Rahner on the Human Experience of God: Idealist Tautology or Christian Theology?.” as long as this description did not give the impression that he had bracketed the complicated question of the relation between transcendence and history. of Rahner bypassing or neglecting the intra-mundane relevance of the love of God and the consequent requirement of ethical action. On one level we have the emphasis on the unity of love of neighbour and love of God. Glaube in winterlicher Zeit. Thus he could agree with the characterisation of his theology as a “transcendental anthropology.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics historical reflection.” Herausforderung des Christen: MeditiationenReflexionen-Interviews (Freiburg: Herder. while on another level the accent is on Christianity not becoming stifled in the finite: “God and the world must not be made to coincide simply in a dead sameness. 22 Metz’s critique of Rahner highlights the need to develop a method for the dialectic between the transcendental analysis of human experience oriented toward and by Mystery and the attending (dialectically) to the pluralism of social. “The Inexhaustible Transcendence of God and Our Concern for the Future.” Philosophy & Theology 7 (1992): 127-64.24 Yet Rahner warns that one should not limit oneself merely to a one-sided social and political engagement. transcendental reflection always runs the risk of failing to take into account the historical dimensions of theological reality. though. and also Mary V. he maintains. 23 24 25 26 Guenther. however.” CTSA Proceedings 35 (1980): 4765. technical developments. Rahner and Metz: Transcendental Theology as Political Theology. By appropriating some of the criticisms of Metz. necessarily involving a “praxis” of solidarity with one’s neighbour. Maher.” Philosophy & Theology 7 (1992): 148. Rahner. This transcendence of the human person towards God thus relativises all individual finite realities (be they particular ideologies. Rahner also opened the way for a more performative understanding of spirituality. Rahner nonetheless concentrates more on the transcendental moment. 1975).22 Admittedly. etc. Commentators who have examined the relationship between Metz and Rahner agree that. he also maintained that Christians today no longer accept theological propositions of faith which have no apparent connection with their own understanding of themselves. will not shy away from the attempt to bring such political engagement into an “inner synthesis” with one’s spiritual life. Rather. “Gnade als Mitte menschlicher Existenz. albeit a necessary one. While consistently arguing for the ever-present interaction of experience and reflection. social systems. “Orthopraxis and Theological Method in Karl Rahner. 21 Karl Rahner. or for the reciprocal interdependence of transcendental and historical reflection in theology.25 His own attempt to incorporate the concerns of political theology into a broader transcendental framework. The human person is not only a hearer of the Word but a doer of the Word as well. 5 . takes some of the cutting edge off political theology’s critical questions. it is another example of the ongoing dialectical tension between See Leo O’Donovan. it would be incorrect to declare his transcendental theology void of any imperatives impelling Christians towards a spirituality of solidarity. A truly authentic Christian spirituality. 271.
while at another. Apologetics and the Eclipse of Mystery: Mystagogy According to Karl Rahner (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. Lindbeck categorises traditional perspectives according to three types. 6 . One approach “emphasises the cognitive aspects of religion and stresses the ways in which church doctrines function as informative propositions or truth claims about objective realities. such a political theology is.” in George Lindbeck. 1980). 30 31 Lindbeck. 125-126. while the second. then one already practices in an authentic way political theology. and then adjust their vision of the kingdom of God accordingly… postliberals are committed to doing the reverse. he terms “cognitive-propositionalist” or preliberal. On the other hand.”29 If “liberals start with experience. have their roots in Schleiermacher’s view of doctrines Rahner. ed. liberal theologians in the experiential-expressivist tradition.”31 This position. If one not only sees and takes seriously these necessary mediations of transcendental experience but also fills it out in a concrete way. including Tillich. Buckley. Catholic and Postliberal.28 At one level. The Nature of Doctrine.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics transcendence and history at the heart of Rahner’s twofold theological method. a practical fundamental theology. not possible without reflection on those essential characteristics of humankind which a transcendental theology discloses. or in other words. resists current fashions and the wish to acknowledge a revelatory dimension to present experience. As Rahner himself put it (in the context of the relationship between his theology and that of Metz): For it has always been clear in my theology that a ‘transcendental experience’ (of God and of grace) is always mediated through a categorical experience in history. “Introduction. In Lindbeck’s view. x. 2002). POSTLIBERAL CRITICISMS: RAHNER AND LINDBECK George Lindbeck. grammatical rules. whereby doctrines are interpreted as expressive and evocative objectifications of internal experience. He terms his own approach “cultural-linguistic. The Church in a Postliberal Age (London: SCM Press. The Nature of Doctrine. xii. A third approach attempts to combine the cognitive-propositionalist and the experiential-expressivist theories. Therefore. and that doctrines are communal. In relation to doctrine. I believe that my theology and that ofMetz are not necessarily contradictory. this is a book about doctrine. proposed a new way of conceiving religion and religious doctrine in his The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. it presents a vision of theology and Christianity for a postliberal age. Bacik.” a postliberal position that emphasises the way religions are like languages or cultures embedded in forms of life. A second approach focuses on the “experiential-expressive” dimension of religion. 16. “Liberal” here characterises a specific position “that espouses a theory of religion as the bearer of common human experience and a theory of doctrine as expressions of those experiences. formerly of Yale University. Lindbeck points to Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan as examples of such an effort: the liberal perspective. 27 28 29 Philadelphia: Westminster.27 II. with an account of the present.”30 The first perspective enables Christianity to accommodate to present trends.” to James J. if it truly wishes to concern itself with God. in interpersonal relationships.. postliberal stance. Lindbeck. Rahner and Tracy. “Introduction: Radical Traditions: Evangelical. James J. and in society. 1984.
usually embodied in myths or narratives… which structure human experience and understanding of self and world. views religions as self-enclosed language games in which doctrines operate as grammatical rules. “The Nature of Doctrine. Resisting the impulse to “find their stories in the Bible. if they find something personally congenial. he maintains.39 Friedrich Schleiermacher. trans. “Lindbeck’s New Program for Theology: A Reflection. in turn. A. pre-linguistic.” The Thomist 49 (1985): 460-72. For a more nuanced position.”36 In contrast. language and/or religious idiom are prior to any efforts to acquire them.”38 The slogan of postliberal theology reflects this: It is the text.”34 Whatever the merits of Lindbeck’s rule-theory of doctrine he has oversimplified the “experiential-expressivist” approach by suggesting that the relationship between experience and doctrine in Rahner is unilateral rather than dialectical. The Nature of Doctrine. J. 132. non-discursive experience. language is prior to experience . K. “Doctrine in the Diaspora. 199. To become Christian or religious is to interiorise a set of skills by practice and training and consists of “prolonged catechetical instruction” until catechumens are “deemed able intelligently and responsibly to profess the faith. Theological faithfulness is “intratextual” in that it refers to the theologian’s primary commitment to the authority of the biblical text and subjecting his or her propositions and experiences outside (extra) Scripture to correction by those within (intra) Scripture. religions are externalisations of a pre-reflective. which absorbs the world.” The Journal of Religion 68 (1988): 87-92. Whether Schleiermacher can be classified in experiential-expressivist terms is a moot point. See also James J. 33 34 35 Lindbeck.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics as mere “shadows of our religious emotions. This experientialexpressivist or revisionist model. Religions are also viewed as “comprehensive interpretative schemes.”33 Our culture. 33.it is necessary to have the means for expressing an experience in order to have it. 39 Lindbeck. Louvain Theological & Pastoral Monographs 28 (Louvain: Peeters Press. The Nature of Doctrine. Lindbeck rejects such a unilateral relationship between experience and language. 122. Buckley. that all language and culture are merely “expressive” of a foundational. Gerrish. Jeffrey C. 2000). On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers.”32 This assertion that inner experiences are prior to expression. like a culture or language. See B. 1959). the irreducibly subjective component of experiential-expressivism. 32. rather than the world the text.”37 The postliberal or “cultural-linguistic” model. 32 Lindbeck. pre-thematic foundational experience. 36 37 38 Lindbeck. is based on the typically modern liberal “turn to the subject” paradigm. 7 . Lindbeck. The Nature of Doctrine. highlights.” intratextualists seek instead to “make the Bible their own story. The Nature of Doctrine. From the experiential-expressivist perspective. see David Tracy. Oman (New York: Harper and Row. A particular faith community must understand the world in its own language and it accomplishes this primarily through the biblical narrative or text. 118. then. In short. religion in a cultural-linguistic framework. to become part of a tradition or join a church. The Nature of Doctrine. Goh.35 The experiential model is ideally suited to those “structures of modernity” which “press individuals to meet God first in the depths of their souls and then. syntax and semantics. language is a communal phenomenon shaping who we are by its distinctive patterns of grammar. perhaps. Christian Tradition Today: A Postliberal Vision of Church and World. Rather. according to Lindbeck. is “a communal phenomenon that shapes the subjectivities of individuals rather than being primarily a manifestation of those subjectivities.” The Thomist 49 (1985): 447-448. 22.
an increasingly liberal society.” The Thomist 56 (1992): 87. distinctive. This contrast model of Church. is that theology. Lindbeck. the postliberal vision runs the risk of ghettoising the Church and rendering theology as a public discourse practically impossible. “Ecumenism and the Future of Belief. In fact.”44 By “little flock” Rahner did not mean a petty sectarian mentality as a way of protecting a cosy traditionalism. The future of the Church will therefore require some kind of “sociological sectarianism. A. to an undermining of the specific content and identity of particular religious traditions. Unless the Church is more than an aloof contrast-society.”42 some kind of standing apart in order to witness to. it risks failing to contribute positively to the world in which it forms a part. not unlike that of Balthasar.40 It is with the aim of combating the “acids of modernity” that postliberal theology wishes to absorb the universe into the biblical world.43 Rahner. has accommodated itself too uncritically to a secular and pluralist culture. might initially appear to be supporting Lindbeck’s view of the Church of the future when he talks about the future “diaspora” Church of the “little flock. 29-34. and negotiate the challenges of. Columbo. Unlike Lindbeck. Goh. especially in its liberal or revisionist forms. biblical narratives and tradition stands over and against an approach that argues for a mutual correlation between theology and human experience. Rahner. The difference is also one of method. Most of his publications from the sixties onwards were of an “ad hoc” nature – responding to particular issues of the times. 8 . With its rather pessimistic reading of postmodern culture. is either a strategy of accommodation to secular thought and culture or a kind of resistant sectarianism. The former leads to dissipation and loss of the distinctively Christian identity. The Shape of the Church to Come. Segregation is not the answer. This is a plea to the Christian community to rebuild its particular. 448. it appears. This leads to a further problem with Lindbeck’s vision of Christianity: it seems too black and white. Christian Tradition Today. with its attendant understandings of doctrine. labels such as 40 41 42 43 44 J. “Rahner and his Critics: Lindbeck and Metz. for his part. which leads to dissolution of the biblical witness and a loss of Christian identity. It leads to a Church of communal enclaves of mutual support living in the midst of a hostile and de-Christianised culture.41 Rather than “translating” the language of the Bible into the speech and thought forms of modern culture. The choice facing Christians. Rahner did not want the particularity of Christian identity to be purchased at the price of the public character of theology. His ecclesiology needs to be viewed in connection with the renewal inaugurated by Vatican II and its openness to the world. This leads. in turn. biblical culture. 91-105. The divergences between Rahner and Lindbeck have not only to do with the future of Christianity and with questions of Christian identity and particularity. When applied to Rahner’s work as a whole.” The Church in a Postliberal Age. He did not recommend Christians to isolate themselves from their cultural environment. whereas the latter represents the only hope for the Church in a world that is becoming less and less Christian. 127. The Nature of Doctrine. Lindbeck. he often presented the dividing line between Christians and non-Christians in a rather fluid manner. the postliberal approach highlights the assimilative power of the biblical text and its capacity to draw us into a particular framework of meaning. 135. and its inward-looking model of Church.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics An underlying presupposition of the postliberal agenda.
broadly speaking. revelation to experience.46 or some form of “mediating” theology that seeks to establish common ground between theology and secular culture. exegetical approach to theological interpretation bespeak the extent to which the confessional sensibilities of classical Protestantism shape the conception of foundationlessness they consider to be normative. Moreover. he maintained. Due to the influence ofMetz and others. a process.” Religious Studies Review 21. Hinze. reaches a similar verdict: “(Postliberals’) insistence on the priority of the scriptural narrative. The Council made no formal dogmatic definitions and its teaching is to be understood positively as the expression of “instructions” or “appeals” rather than in the context of errors to be condemned as tended to be the case with previous councils. “Lindbeck’s New Program for Theology. the postliberals are stronger in highlighting the contextual and tentative character of knowledge and truth. But once again. To do so. “Postliberal Theology and Roman Catholic Theology. 49 Karl Rahner. They also criticise the epistemological Pelagianism of a Western philosophy overly keen on establishing first principles or foundations on which the edifice of knowledge can be built. 20:89.Nonfoundationalism (Minneapolis.”47 Where postliberals are weaker is their unwillingness to engage positively with the radical pluralism of contemporary society. Tracy’s conclusion that the postliberal position is “a methodologically sophisticated version of Barthian confessionalism. particularly in the more secularised cultures of the West. The challenge to theology. and their commitment to a descriptive or. 9 . 6:287.” 465.” Karl Rahner. would be to blur the differences between Christians and the world. John Thiel. Following Barth. Rahner became increasingly conscious of the historical. postliberals reject the mediating approach “because it subordinates the Word of God to human words. 45 Thus. he argued that provisional theological formulae were more appropriate in terms of furthering our faith understanding than authoritative universal definitions. Nonfoundationalism. Bradford E. and to action for ecclesial reform and social transformation. 48. to critiques of ideology.”Sacramentum Mundi (New York: Herder and Herder. The desire for a secure and certain foundation of knowledge overlooks the fact that all human knowing is intimately connected with such Systematic theology is “transcendental” when it investigates the “a priori conditions in the believer for the knowledge of important truths of faith. and it is therefore not surprising that postliberal theology gives “insufficient attention to justice issues. He believed the traditional dogmatic language of the Church was no longer intelligible to many Christians today.” Tracy. we are presented with an either/or approach: either a nonfoundationalist theology that espouses Reformation theology’s suspicion of theological speculation.” 46 47 48 Thiel. and analogous character of theological assertions.” TI. The issue is how authentic doctrinal development can take place in the context of a pluralism of theologies and competing views that cannot be adequately synthesised. will always be to acknowledge two basic tenets of Christian faith: the universal salvific will of God and that this salvation comes through God in Christ alone. Admittedly.4 (1995): 302. and finally the infinite to the finite. he claimed. But this is to dichotomise the spiritual and the political. Fortress Press. partial. Rahner never viewed doctrinal pluralism and the plurality of religions as developments to be lamented but to be welcomed.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics “transcendental”45 or “experiential-expressive” are insufficient descriptions. Rahner pursued the search for new and creative ways of formulating Christian faith. “Transcendental Theology. they believe.49 The (Catholic) church has often had difficulty coming to terms with the historical. and fragile character of Christian truth claims. 1994). contextual. 89. 1970). their antipathy to speculation as an aid to theological reasoning.”48 In relation to doctrine. Rahner looked to Vatican II as the inspiration for this theological rather than dogmatic approach. “Basic Theological Interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. of trial and error in the development of doctrine.
while for the liberal it is something to be embraced in a spirit of critical appreciation. for example. EXCURSUS: RAHNER. He would have certain affinities with the postliberal vision in his emphasis on “Christianity’s estrangement from the world – derived from Augustine’s view of the City of God as a stranger here on earth. THEOLOGY AND EXPEREINCE The postliberal critique of Rahner’s “experiential-expressive” theory of religion in the previous section raises the question about the role of experience in Rahner’s theology. 2000). 50 Contemporary interpretation of dogmas attempts on the one hand to acknowledge the abiding validity of their truth: God’s self-communication has a noetic or cognitive dimension. 52 Recent comments by Cardinal Ratzinger have called into question the optimism of some of the documents of Vatican II (e. both personal and social. is enabled to grasp.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics factors as: historical location. 1997). 86. they point beyond themselves to the mystery that is God. But it is also important to acknowledge the fact that those theologians whom Lindbeck has labelled “experiential-expressive” (including Rahner. See Paul D. the latter wished to recover “forgotten truths” of the tradition important for the Church’s vitality. the church dealt with this question by distinguishing between the truth. Murray. unlike the counter-cultural.” The Way 38 (1998): 163. Yet. psychological assumptions.” John Thornhill. postliberal vision. these are by their very nature partial and not full expressions of this truth. Elizabeth A. 3-41.53 Rahner would have appreciated the cultural-linguistic approach to religion for its emphasis on the linguistic. See also John L. there is the challenge to present this truth not as a dead relic from the past but as something fruitful for the life of the church. ideological allegiances.54 III. While granting the abiding validity of the truth of dogmatic statements. Fortress Press. substance.” The Australian Catholic Record 79 (2002): 7. See. Postmodernity: Christian Identity in a Fragmented Age (Minneapolis: Augsburg. In other words. and linguistic practices. 53 Paul Lakeland. the liberal or revisionist approach. conceptual frameworks. 51 This is another limitation of Lindbeck’s postliberalism. 54 10 . Johnson. historical and contextual character of knowledge. Lonergan and Tracy) have also come to terms with the historical character of Christian truth. In this process. For him.50 Traditionally. Such factors undermine the claim that there is an unchanging meaning of dogmas that can somehow be discovered outside of history. or meaning of a dogma and the way it is expressed or presented.g. “Creative Fidelity in a Time of Transition. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroad.” and the Christian gospel’s essentially “antithetical relationship to the cultures of fallen humanity. If the former sought to bring the Church into the modern world.51 Rahner’s underlying intention in all of this is to see whether it is possible for Christians today to be both faithful to their tradition while at the same time genuinely engaged in the wider human community. doctrinal and creedal statements have a specific cognitive status. Allen. This should lead to a greater degree of modesty in theological discourse.. tradition is not some fixed. “Theology after the Demise of Foundationalism. 80. Tillich. evangelical perspective views the pluralism of the contemporary world as essentially a challenge to be overcome. does not seek to absorb it. which the Spirit-guided church. it is feminist theologians who have retrieved neglected possibilities within the tradition and highlighted the historical open-endedness of talk about God. The recognition of the importance of religious experience. 1996). has In more recent times.Cardinal Ratzinger (New York: Continuum. he drew on the two movements of Vatican II – aggiornamento and ressourcement. In sum. Gaudium et spes). The value of this distinction is to serve as a reminder that the language of dogmatic statements should not be absolutised in the sense of identifying the language with the reality of which they speak. the postliberal. political contexts. 112-113. static entity merely to be received and preserved52 but requires ever-new articulation. while engaging the world. On the other hand.
147. Theology. Der Mensch als Geheimnis: Die Anthropologie Karl Rahners.” TI 4: 60-73 and “The Hiddenness of God.” Christian Spirituality Bulletin 6 (1998): 1-12. on Christian faith considered as a whole.2. he writes that “theological discourse does not only speak about the mystery but… only speaks properly if it is also a kind of instruction showing us how to come into the presence of the mystery itself. 56 This idea is further developed by Rahner in his third lecture on “Reflections on Methodology in Theology. in more traditional terms. O’Connell (London: SCM.” esp. Karl Lehmann. then. “Intellectual Honesty and Christian Faith. “Theologie aus der Leidenschaft des Glaubens: Gedanken zum Tod von Karl Rahner.59 For even in his spiritual writings.” Michel-Dominique Chenu. 11 . “Toward Defining Spirituality. more precisely. Walter H. 402. Rahner is theologising on a first level of reflection – reflecting. In his description of some of the fundamental characteristics of Rahner’s theology. 57 On this. … One does not get to the heart of a system via the logical coherence of its structure or the plausibility of its conclusions. 1984). Cardinal Karl Lehmann gives the “spiritual element” pride of place. In effect.58 It has failed to recognise the analogical nature of such theological propositions. describes and elucidates it. “What is a Dogmatic Statement?” TI 5: 60. Monferrato: Marietti. “The Study of Christian Spirituality: Contours and Dynamics of a Discipline. in a second step. failed in its true mission. trans. 58 For Rahner’s reluctance to have his writings classified as works of theological scholarship. and as “the expressions of a spirituality.55 Theologians have come to recognise that religious experience cannot be dismissed as “cognitively empty” as happened during the Enlightenment. Rahner understands theology as the “science of mystery. 62 Rahner. theology both grows out of the spiritual life and remains in debt to it. “Ein Brief von P.62 Throughout his writings Rahner frequently uses the term “experience” without defining it. 59.” of theological propositions. If we are surprised by the theological divergences found within the unity of dogma.57 A theology that does not acknowledge this dimension of mystery. and remained stuck on the conceptual level..” which transcends the formulation of mere human words and which calls ultimately for an attitude of worship. His preference is to describe his writings as “the work of a dilettante” (246). 1982).” Stimmen der Zeit 202 (1984): 294.” TI 16: 227-43.”56 Rahner himself continuously underlined that an experience of God is at the core of what it means to be Christian. see Rahner’s “The Concept of Mystery in Catholic Theology. Principe. We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People. as he describes it. Or. the reductio in mysterium or. n.” in Klaus Fischer. One gets to that heart by grasping it in its origins via that fundamental intuition that serves to guide a spiritual life and provides the intellectual regimen proper to that life. Une Ecole de Theologie: Le Saulchoir (Casale. All theological reflection begins and ends in the holy mystery of God.60 Rahner never considered his more explicitly “theological” writings (e. Mit einem Brief von Karl Rahner (Freiburg: Herder.” TI 11:101-114. for example.g. It is here that the borders between Rahner’s spiritual and more strictly theological writings become rather fluid. Matthew J. the “Third Lecture.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics become increasingly accepted as one appropriate starting-point and referent for both theology and spirituality. Theological assertions are then regarded as derivative. Karl Rahner.” TI 7:58-60. In addition. kerygmatic language.” TI 17: 243-48. the most See. then we must also be surprised at seeing one and the same faith give rise to such varied spiritualities. see “Some Clarifying Remarks About My Own Work. a “reductio in mysterium Dei. cited in Gustavo Gutierrez.61 In evocative. in his view. in the Investigations) as “scientific” in the strict sense of the term – even these writings were to have an “edifying” purpose. has. 1974). See also Sandra Schneiders. he uses the term in a variety of inter-linked ways.” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 12 (1983): 127-41. It involves a being led back into mystery. reflects on this experience. 59 60 61 Rahner. seeing in this the living source or ground for the dynamism of Rahner’s theology. 55 “It is this that gives them their interest and their grandeur.” and so lead beyond the concepts to the reality signified.
But our experience of God is also atypical – it cannot simply be grouped together with these other experiences66 – since God is so radically different from the objects of ordinary experience.” The closest we come to a definition of the term is in his Theological Dictionary. N. or clearly distinguished from the reflective activity of the created mind. Hoye. articulated. more significant. James A.” “experience of transcendence.: Paulist Press. 206-34. “Gotteserfahrung im Alltag: Der Beitrag Karl Rahners zu Spiritualität und Mystik.” 63 65 66 Rahner and Vorgrimler. Experience.” TI 11: 151-52.J. 1996). trust. conceptualised experience. Theology and Life Series 37 (Collegeville.” American Benedictine Review 44 (1993): 22-57. some commentators refer to how he sometimes uses the singular (die Erfahrung). which is termed “categorial. See also Rahner. than the dimension of reflected. Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler. “The Experience of God Today. ed. then whatever we discover about experiential knowledge in general will help illuminate the dynamics of our experience of God. there is an ambiguity operative from the outset in Rahner’s notion of experience. ed. faithfulness. Gotteserfahrung? Klärung eines Grundbegriffs der heutigen Theologie (Zürich: Benziger.” “experience of the Holy Spirit. but rather lies hidden within every human experience. where religious experience is described as “the inner self-attestation of supernatural reality (grace). “‘I have experienced God’: Religious Experience in the Theology of Karl Rahner. at the beginning of their discussion of Rahner’s understanding of experience.” “mystical experience. 162. Thus. 64 Rahner and Vorgrimler. See William J. to their primordial ground in the mystery of God.” Karl Rahner in Erinnerung.B.” Theological Dictionary. 1994). Reflection never totally includes the original experience. and love. 1992). The category “transcendental” points to a dimension of human experience and to a level of consciousness that is deeper. 100-117. The Graced Horizon: Nature and Grace in Modern Catholic Thought.” and “experience of enthusiasm. trans. Duffy.” Theological Dictionary. Albert Raffelt (Düsseldorf: Patmos. The Turn To Experience In Contemporary Theology (New York/Mahwah. 112-114. “Experience. Rahner further maintains that the dynamics of our experience of God are comparable (but not identical) to what happens in typical human experiences such as joy. Richard Strachan (New York: Herder.” “experience of grace. O. Recent commentators include: Stephen J. Experience always involves at least a certain incipient process of reflection. 1994). is a rather elusive and enigmatic concept in Rahner’s writings. Herbert Vorgrimler. Commentators usually deal with this difficulty by focusing on a number of distinctions which Rahner himself makes. “Experience as such and subsequent reflection upon this experience. Wiseman.”63 Such religious experience is only possible. 1965): 162. Thus. “Experience. conceptual reflection of the mind upon itself.”64 In other words.”65 If experience is a way of knowing. 129159 and 208-50. in which its content is conceptually objectified are never absolutely separate one from the other. propositional language. and at other times the plural (die Erfahrungen).” Rahner hopes to delve beyond or behind the world of doctrines. Rahner’s intention is to show that the experience of God is not so much given to us in addition to other experiences. Cornelius Ernst. Die Theologie Karl Rahners: Inkarnatorische Spiritualität: Menschwerdung Gottes und Gebet. It refers to a source or to a particular form of our knowledge arising from “the direct reception of an impression from a reality (internal or external) which lies outside our free control. Minnesota: The Liturgical Press.” Theological Dictionary. “Experience. “in conjunction with objective. 90-107. then.S. Ralf Stolina. Gelpi.67 One such distinction is that between the “transcendental” and the “categorial” dimensions of experience. since God and God’s activity can never be grasped in isolation. Donald L. 85-114. 1993). But at the same time the two are never identical. we cannot make a clear-cut distinction between the creative working of God’s grace and our conceptual interpretation of it. and the like.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics common of which include the following expressions: “experience of God. 162. 67 12 . Innsbrucker theologische Studien 46 (Innsbruck-Wien: Tyrolia.
at the same time. 69 Rahner. and to enable others to discover it within themselves. “Experience of the Holy Spirit. etc.” TI 11: 157. A person has such experiences before he or she reflects on them. faithfulness. on our part. Rahner states how the experience of God is more basic and more inescapable than any subsequent process of rational and conceptual reflection. Rahner’s spiritual writings in particular aimed to draw attention to this experience. “The Experience of God Today.” TI 18: 199. regardless of how inadequate or inaccurate our conceptual interpretations of ourselves might be. especially in those limit situations where the individual is thrown back onto him or herself. it is not to be thought of as one particular experience among many other human experiences. anxiety. this transition from experience to conceptual knowledge. love. his contention is that it is impossible for anyone not to have a basic. we can say. whether the night that surrounds us is the void of absurdity and death that engulfs us. “Reflections on the Experience of Grace. experience of God. anexperience of the self. this experience does not impose itself upon us in the fashion of a datum of sense experience or an organic sensation that we automatically make the transition from the experience itself to a recognition and interpretation of it at the conceptual level.” or to those who interpret their lives in explicitly religious categories. goodness. firstly. and transparency of the individual reality of our experience point with promise to eternal light and eternal life. then. “The Experience of God Today. Rahner is referring to something extremely concrete. faithfulness. such experience is both unthematic and prior to any subsequent attempt. or attempts to analyse them. this experience occurs when the “lights shining over the tiny island of our ordinary life are extinguished and the question becomes inescapable. Rahner’s claim is that we cannot avoid experiencing ourselves. 70 13 . Fourthly. Such an experience of God as the absolute mystery is not therefore confined to the individual “mystic. at conceptualisation and analysis. beauty. beauty. that everyone has such an experience. can provide the locus for our experience of God. 68 For some this experience takes place there where “the greatness and glory. On the one hand.”69 He provides examples of both a positive and negative kind that together represent two aspects of one and the same experience of God. “Experience of Self and Experience of God. experiential knowledge is not in our control to the same degree. In contrast to conceptual knowledge. Conceptual knowledge can never totally capture and fully communicate the deepest levels of our experience of self.” Rahner.68 While the experience of God is different from any other human experience. trust. if unthematic. etc. The experiences Rahner has in mind include such basic experiences as joy.” For others. Rahner considers basic human experiences (of love.70 Drawing together some of the characteristics of Rahner’s convictions about the experience of God. even when we do reflect on our self-experience. Moreover. this experience of God is. Concrete experiences of life. can be difficult. This process of objectifying reflection. On the other hand. Thirdly. which he describes as “the element of the ineffable in the concrete experience of our everyday life. responsibility. While conceptual knowledge requires a greater amount of active participation on our part and is related to the amount of time and energy invested in analysis and reflection. our conceptual interpretation can be inaccurate or distorted. “Experience of the Spirit and Existential Commitment. In fact.” TI 11: 153.) as inescapable.” TI 13: 123-24. The experience of God is utterly inescapable because we experience God whenever we experience our transcendence. however diffuse and unthematic it may be. Secondly. We can never give our experience of ourselves wholly and completely to another person.” TI 3: 86-87. but it is certainly not superfluous. the See also Rahner.” TI 18: 195-99.” TI 16: 27-29.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics With regard to the experience of ourselves Rahner contends that we always know more about ourselves than we are able to say. trust. and “Experience of the Holy Spirit.
30-45. the experience of God takes place in concrete. though it is always as holy mystery that God is encountered. the prophet. This led to his being criticised – by both liberals and postliberals .for undervaluing the concrete historical or categorial aspects of existence. including those of non-Christians. This forms part of Lindbeck’s criticism of Rahner’s “experiential-expressive” position. or the poet. The postliberal criticisms notwithstanding. something different.. Griffiths.73 There is also the question of whether Rahner has taken sufficient account of the great diversity of religious experiences. and by language. Rahner is more aware of its complex symbiotic and reciprocal nature than Lindbeck’s account suggests. Not that Rahner would deny that any experience has to be identified using some set of concepts and rules if it is to have cognitive significance. religious experience is susceptible of reflection and objectification. 73 Paul J. its espousal of a general account of human experience. Today. rather than being merely an appendage to experience. Rahner attached a certain primacy to the transcendental dimension. or whether he is simply assuming a common core to all religious experiences. the mystic. i. religious experience involves gradations – ranging from ordinary experiences of grace to more mystical experiences. God may indeed be “met” in our experience. but in external interaction with other persons and with our environment. neither are they simply produced by it. and something more fundamental than that 71 72 Rahner. In the working out of this dialectical relationship. we have argued that as far as the relationship between experience and doctrine is concerned.71 There is much to be valued in Rahner’s treatment of religious experience. “Some Thoughts On ‘A Good Intention. ordinary or negative) as a source of theology need not be rejected. he has always contended that we realise or achieve ourselves. nor is he claiming that religious experiences elude explanation.’” TI 3:105-106. Rahner has shown how the common features of human experience point in this direction. “In Latin.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics experience of God constitutes the radical essence of every personal experience (of love. Our discussion has aimed to show that religious experience necessarily involves a dynamic interplay of the transcendental and categorial realms.. everyday experiences of both a positive and negative kind. by our interaction with a religious tradition. 1991). including his acknowledgement of a cognitive dimension. “‘Enough About Man’: Christians after their Modernity and the Postmodern Objections to their God.. An Apology for Apologetics: A Study in the Logic of Interreligious Dialogue (Maryknoll. that religious experience can be a source of theological insight. and in order to highlight the . not in an abstract spiritualised inwardness. however. See The Nature of Doctrine. one who has become experienced is called an ‘expers’. However. 38-39.e.frequently concealed . Doctrinal claims issue rather from a process of critical thinking. The foregoing list of characteristics of Rahner’s notion of religious experience is not meant to be exhaustive. of abstraction. In Rahner’s defence.depth dimension of human experience. therefore. Seventhly.g. an “expert” is supposedly one who keeps himself from all experience… The expert is someone who has read a lot. on the contrary. that our religious experience is shaped and mediated by our prior beliefs and concepts. Rahner has shown that the appeal to experience (whether transcendental. e. While they are not completely unrelated to experience. Rather.). i.72 He would also accept that doctrinal statements cannot be regarded as reports of actual experience. Sixthly. etc. but experienced nothing. NY: Orbis.” Communio 29 (2002): 373. the phrase “experience of God” implies “that there is something more. faithfulness.e. Fifthly. 74 14 .74 It needs to be stressed.” Jörg Splett. Some people have a greater ability than others to identify and articulate such experience.
speculative and largely anachronistic. which we would rather evade: loneliness. including any religious experience.” by the other human being. Conversations with Philippe Nemo. exemplified in Heidegger.” insists Levinas.79 Purcell attempts a rereading of Rahner in the light of the ethical metaphysics of Emmanuel Levinas. 1998).” knowledge cannot take precedence over sociality. including doctrine and dogmas. he himself intended nothing of the kind. “The Appeal to Experience. Schner. the latter.2 (1995): 8.”78 Rahner’s concern rather was to highlight the religious dimension of all experience. 10. which.76 An unfortunate effect of this kind of distinction.” Theological Studies 53 (1992): 40-59.77 While Rahner’s tendency. RAHNER. 81 15 . Subjectivity is not in the final analysis the “I think. Mystery and Method: The Other in Rahner and Levinas (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press. He specifically criticises the traditional hegemony of ontology. particularly ordinary. can serve as a prelude to a possible experience of God. For a good discussion of the rhetorical and other appeals to experience in theology. in which the other always has priority. the perichoresis of being and knowing is displaced by the social relation. trans. For him any disjunction between experience and doctrine is misguided. as abstract. 1996). at times.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics knowledge of God which can be acquired through the so-called proofs of God’s existence.6. in a way that goes beyond comprehension. where the particular being is always already understood within the horizon of Being. 78 Michael Purcell. Michael Purcell. critical reflection. has been characterised by a striving for totality. with its stress on comprehension and assimilation. Simon Critchley. The former is lauded as real. everyday experiences where we are “thrown back on ourselves” – when we are no longer able to overlook factors in our life. “To be or not to be. 77 Philip Endean. however. see George P. eds. A recurring theme throughout Levinas’ work is his reaction to the whole spirit of Greek philosophy. he believed.” Christian Spirituality Bulletin 3. Peperzak. Emmanuel Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 1985).” TI 11:149. 1-10. to play off unthematic or nonconceptual knowledge of God against a conceptual. 79 Emmanuel Levinas. by the “Other. and especially the reality of death.”75 For Rahner.. Cohen (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. n. concrete and relevant. suffering. “Theology out of Spirituality: The Approach of Karl Rahner. 80 Emmanuel Levinas. “The Experience of God Today. Such realities. Rahner aptly described the task of his theological programme in Foundations as the attempt “to relate our theological concepts back to their original experience” (17).81 The “what ought to be” of ethics is not to be 75 76 Rahner. We are “spirits in the world.” and “our worldliness – which includes our dependence on language and society – conditions our experience and knowledge even of God. IV. and Robert Bernasconi. from sustained.80 In Levinas’ framework. is not the question. LEVINAS AND THE CHALLENGE OF OTHERNESS A recent work exploring the development in Rahner from a focus on subjectivity towards inter-subjectivity is that of the Scottish theologian. verbal knowledge could appear to bolster such a view. Rationality operates within an inter-relational context. R. is the inclination – particularly among newcomers to theology – to bracket out their experience. however. “Is Ontology Fundamental?” in Adriaan T. Ethics and Infinity. the basic experience of God is prior to and more fundamental than our subsequent attempts at conceptual interpretation and verbalisation. in his view.
Mystery is no longer depicted negatively in terms of truths that are provisionally Levinas. Such a deficient form of knowledge. to be engulfed by that which one thinks. or what Levinas terms. This desire to move beyond a presumptuous ontotheology. which places the Other at the centre. Love of God can only be achieved by a categorial action. “The subject is one who stands in the presence of being. The Other does not present herself primarily as a truth to be known but as an interlocutor: to comprehend a person is already to speak with her. but rather of a being-with-the-Other.” that infinitely exceeds my understanding. 83 Karl Rahner. he aptly summarises philosophy as “the wisdom of love at the service of love.” “Dialogue with Emmanuel Levinas: Emmanuel Levinas and Richard Kearney. Still. 1986). 84 85 86 Karl Rahner. Cohen (New York: State University of New York Press. fails when confronted with the utter mystery and incomprehensibility of God. 27. is manifested in a more apophatic manner of speaking that stresses the incomprehensibility of the holy mystery. with its emphasis on apprehension and possession of God. Mystery and Method. “To think is no longer to contemplate but to commit oneself. is the one for whom I am responsible and who summons me to respond. but for the Other. to be involved. and subjectivity is described primarily in ethical terms. our relation with the Other includes wanting to comprehend him or her. trans.”84 In relation to the love of neighbour. As Levinas puts it. one for whom to be is to be conscious of being. is primarily the people with whom one lives. by a going-out into the world. By positing the ethical encounter with the other person as the proto-philosophical experience.. dynamic can be seen in Rahner. The relationship with God is realised in the love of neighbour.” TI 6: 241. particularly in his reflections on the love of neighbour. A. Levinas concedes. direction and measure to everything else. “Is Ontology Fundamental?” 4. It is not a matter of being with oneself. Elsewhere. Dych (London: DLT. 82 “The heteronomy of our response to the human other. Richard A. ed. “Reflections on the Unity of the Love of Neighbour and the Love of God. We have noted how. and for its understanding of subjectivity as the being-present-to-itself of being. Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity. within Rahner’s later theological writings another strand is evident – one which recognises that knowledge understood as comprehensive mastery is inadequate. The social is beyond ontology. Levinas is urging a thinking beyond ontology. understood as responsibility for him or her.” in Face to Face with Levinas. W.trans. where this Other is another person.83 A similar. if less developed. 161-62. Rahner’s philosophical background lies firmly within the ontological tradition of Heidegger criticised by Levinas for its emphasis on the identity of being and knowing. Lingis (The Hague: M. “the face. Philosophy is first of all an ethics – subjectivity is not for itself initially. Nijhoff. 171.86 Yet.”85 This essential a priori openness to the other belongs to the most basic constitution of a person and is experienced in the daily concrete encounters with one’s neighbour. Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. precedes the autonomy of our subjective freedom. This awaking to alterity is more than a coming to self-consciousness. Of course. both the world of things and the world of persons. which. “every transcendental experience is mediated by the categorial encounter with concrete reality in our world.” Purcell.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics collapsed into the “what is” of ontology. 52. understood as the world of persons. for him. 16 . Rahner maintains.” Emmanuel Levinas. 1981). or to God as the absolutely other. it is an acknowledgement that the Same or the subject is not a totality closed in upon itself. yet it is more than this.”82 The meaning of being is located in exteriority. The human Other. 1978). Rahner explored how “the act of personal love for another is the all-embracing basic act of a person which gives meaning.
His vision of such a heteronomous society – constituted by the I’s responsibility for the Other . 1996). 256.” Basic Philosophical Writings. 5-57.46. in effect. Existence and Existents (1947) was written for the most part within the confines of Stalag 1492. who is and remains excessive to the capacity of the subject.”91 Levinas offers no systematically developed social ethics but rather a philosophical reflection on the ethical basis of a humane society.” the human Other. whose primary focus is on ethical responsibility rather than on political action in society. See. That this is deliberately the case is acknowledged by Levinas himself. similarly exceed the comprehending gaze. Balthasar. Metz. Levinas: An Introduction (Cambridge: Polity Press. has consistently practised a suppression of the Other. Levinas claims. a refusal to engage with the Other. 25-33.” TI 4: 41. “The Theology of Mystery.89 Despite the urgency of much of Levinas’ language and his valuable retrieval of the notions of alterity. This absorption of otherness into the politics of identity and the same. n. 356. Theology and Praxis: Epistemological Foundations (Maryknoll: Orbis.92 V.19771981 (Leuven: Centre for Metaphysics and Philosophy of God.87 Human beings. for example. Rahner attempts to harmonise the notions of knowledge and mystery: The supreme act of knowledge is not the abolition or diminution of the mystery but its final assertion and total immediacy… It [the concept of mystery] is no longer the limitation of a knowledge which should by right be perspicuous… We must understand the act of knowing in such a way that it will explain why knowledge can only exist in a being when and in so far as that one being realises itself by an act of love. But Levinas goes further by recasting subjectivity as essentially “for-the-other. See also Colin Davis. Rahner aspired to overcome the mutual marginalisation 87 88 Karl Rahner. there remains a tantalising lack of concreteness about much of his writing. CONCLUSION We have examined some of the explicit and implicit criticisms of Rahner’s theological vision and the foundations on which it is based. but is constituted by alterity. intersubjectivity and the priority of the ethical relationship with the Other. and Levinas are valuable dialogue partners for Rahner and help to develop his thinking in new directions. Like Levinas. 48. created to participate in the mysterious character of God.90 This criticism has as its theological counterpart political and liberation theologies that have drawn attention to the totalising discourses of traditional theology “where history pretty much hovers in the abstract. Western philosophy.is an ethical appeal to overcome the egocentric and totalitarian tendencies in society that overlook minority and marginal groups. Rahner acknowledges that cognition is essentially inadequate to the relationship with the other. This is somewhat surprising given Levinas’ own background as a prisoner of war. Rahner’s theological method is nevertheless subtler than is often portrayed. Purcell. Bibliography 1929-1977. 1987). Lindbeck. Clodovis Boff. Mystery and Method. by a failure to think of the Other as Other.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics incomprehensible. 1981). “Meaning and Sense. 92 17 . 89 90 Levinas. Totality and Infinity (1961) appeared against the political backdrop and experience of totalitarianism. While accepting some of their criticisms.88 It entails entering into a relationship with the ungraspable: the Other is not another self. 91 Roger Burggraeve. is. Instead. this neutralisation of alterity. Emmanuel Levinas: The Ethical Basis for a Humane Society.
lex credendi. For all his emphasis on the ineffable God. meditate and experience God constitutes an important element in theological reflection. and one which has helped theology come to terms with the situated. Against this. it would be fairer to say that he came to increasingly assert the interpersonal dimension of being. namely.” Horizons 25 (1998): 181-202.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics between religious or spiritual experience and the theological academy. the relational character of the person. Theological Studies 61 (2000): 3-15. for example. it also entails a concrete lived practice. preferring instead to “celebrate the heteromorphous nature of discourse and life. The One in the Many: A Contemporary Reconstruction of the God-World Relationship (Grand Rapids.97 In a postmodern vein Rahner was aware that language has a life of its own. which it regards as illusory.95 Yet. Declan Marmion and Gesa Thiessen.” TI 16:156-66. 2001). it was emphasised how he increasingly sought to complement his transcendental approach with an incorporation of a more historical perspective – testified. Representative examples include Jean-François Lyotard.93 In other words. UK: Eerdmans. See also Kevin Hogan. 94 Karl Rahner. But Christianity is not just about experience. see Joseph A. one which does not succumb to total epistemological scepticism. 15-47. The radical postmodern stances. “Experience of Self and Experience of God. the question remains whether Rahner’s transcendental method is radically undermined by the postmodern critique or whether the unsystematic and apophatic nature of his work might lend itself to a non-foundationalist reading. “Entering into Otherness: The Postmodern Critique of the Subject and Karl Rahner’s Theological Anthropology. Rahner did not stop at pure negation but used this as a springboard into the search for unity with the transcendent. 96 Karl Rahner “Experiences of a Catholic Theologian. The centre does not hold because there is no centre – the new cultural motto is “live and let live” and “go with the flow. in the light of the current non-foundationalist mood in theology. See his “Reflections on a New Task for Fundamental Theology. text or individual human subject. Rahner accomplished this by taking seriously the dictum lex orandi.”96 There is no fixed meaning to anything – whether world. 93 For a comprehensive treatment of the shift to intersubjectivity within Catholic theology. We discussed a common criticism of Rahner’s transcendental method in this regard. that his method is insensitive to social problems and ineffectual in the area of social change.” A more moderate form of postmodernism. eschew all attempts to construct some grand narrative or overarching theoretical system. Although Rahner did not develop an explicitly social ontology – the starting-point of his philosophical/theological anthropology is the individual human being in his or her drive toward transcendence . Michigan/Cambridge. and so “he is cautious about emphasising too strongly the ability of language to express matters so Though beyond the scope of this paper.we have noted a shift towards intersubjectivity in his thought. his assumption was always that theological reflection must be built on a living experience of faith. 97 18 . by showing that the specific way Christians pray. It is this latter approach which has affinities with Rahner’s Denkstil. recognises truth only relative to the community in which a person participates. and the necessity of the other. 95 Thomas Guarino. “Between Foundationalism and Nihilism: Is Phronesis the Via Media for Theology?” Theological Studies 54 (1993): 40. in his choice of theological topics. in contrast to modernity.” trans.94 Rather than seeing Rahner’s subject as totally isolated. is open to ever-new interpretations. Bracken. while resisting the search for the means to ground knowledge in a context-neutral fashion. word. Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. partial and fragile character of all human knowing and doing.” TI 13: 126.
1998) and John D. not unlike Rahner before them. eds. Two recent examples include: Thomas A. eds. “The Problem of the Starting-Point of Theological Thinking. he was aware of the inescapability and the irreducible nature of such pluralism and the impossibility of integrating the many different schools of theological thought. Rahner never favoured an aloof. “The Poetry of Transcendental Thomism.” in John Webster. For a critical review of the book and the movement. see Werner Jeanrond.” Scottish Journal of Theology 54 (2001): 385-404. Some form of correlation between theology and the contemporary postmodern context is necessary if theology is not to become a thoroughly introverted affair. Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward.103 Without wishing to turn Rahner into a postmodernist. If Christians are to be a leaven in society. this has come to pass – was that theology would petrify into a self-enclosed discourse disconnected from the challenges and criticisms of other disciplines and from society. his theology has at times anticipated some of the characteristics of this style of thinking.. 70-89.. By taking seriously the pluralistic.. 57. are ultimately relativised in the face of Holy Mystery that is their source and goal. While he would have acknowledged the postliberal desire to preserve the distinctiveness of the Christian voice. the socalled “radical orthodoxy” movement. “Radical Theology and the Future of British Theology. Nor would he have identified with a more recent variant. Religious scholars. Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology (London: Routledge. it is often difficult to have respectful and constructive dialogue between the various parties concerned. 2001).105 In the light of the explosion in scientific knowledge too. to the central tenet of Rahner’s theology. ed. the “abstractness” of his theological concepts became increasingly clear to him. Carlson. Baron. However. to Craig A. insist that our language about God is inadequate if not idolatrous. Ries. 1994).100 In thus reviving the apophatic tradition. including Marxists. with its rather inward-looking approach. he maintained.104 In drawing attention to the intellectual pluralism of modern society. 19 . see David F. Caputo and Michael J.” in Lieven Boeve & John C. 100 John Milbank. and polarisation of attitudes towards renewal within the Churches. Zur Person und Theologie Karl Rahners (Würzburg: Echter. namely. ed. advocating a new. the Gift and Postmodernism (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. atheists. 112-38. 1997).102 Christian identity is not a given but a constantly evolving task. it is unlikely that Rahner would have aligned himself with the incipient sectarian tendency of postliberal theology whose main fear is that Christianity has accommodated itself overmuch to surrounding culture.”98 All faith formulations.101 Rahner’s concern – and to a certain extent. Theology and Foundationalism in the Thought of Karl Rahner. Rahner. 99 Rahner was one of the first theologians to enter into dialogue with experts from other secular disciplines. it is hard to see how segregation can be a viable option. and natural scientists. see Karen Kilby. influenced by the writings of Derrida. and confrontational tone.”Scottish Journal of Theology 55 (2002): 127-40. 101 Yet. On the other hand. This leads us back. Indiscretion: Finitude and the Naming of God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 104 105 See. standing-apart posture as a way of maintaining one’s Christian identity.. 98 The literature here is voluminous. in the light of the current intellectual factionalism.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics definitively. Ford. in conclusion. See Hans-Dieter Mutschler. 103 For a discussion of this aspect of Rahner in the context of a non-foundationalist reading of him. this seems to be option favoured by Lindbeck in The Nature of Doctrine. including the Catholic Church. “Philosophy. Scanlon. for example. way of speaking about God. “Pluralism in Theology and the Unity of the Creed in the Church. eds. The Presence of Transcendence: Thinking ‘Sacrament’ in a Postmodern Age (Leuven: Peeters. The Possibilities of Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark. they are also. Gott neu buchstabieren.. 1994). 1998). 102 These issues raise the question of what exactly constitutes Christian identity. contextual and interdisciplinary99 nature of theology. For further critical discussion.” TI 11:3-23. 97-119. Rahner anticipated many of the themes that preoccupy the current postmodern scene. Marion and others. Levinas. more tentative. God.
A Conversation with Leo O’Donovan. that mystery is … the blessed goal of knowledge which comes to itself when it is with the incomprehensible one… In other words. It originally appeared in the Irish Theological Quarterly 68. who cannot be explained with rationalistic clarity.” America. 202. 106 20 . then. DiNoia refers to the conclusion of an interview given by Rahner on the occasion of his 75th birthday: “The true system of thought really is the knowledge that humanity is finally directed precisely not toward what it can control in knowledge but toward the absolute mystery as such. 180. He received his STD degree at the University of Leuven Belgium in 1996.AEJT 4 (February 2005) Marmion / Rahner and his Critics the God of incomprehensible mystery. Louvain Theological & Pastoral Monographs (Peeters/Eerdmans.106 Author: Declan Marmion SM is Lecturer in Systematic Theology at the Milltown Institute of Philosophy and Theology. Rahner’s lifelong testimony to the mystery of God as integral to the Christian tradition is probably the greatest achievement of this “unsystematic” theologian. Publications include: A Spirituality of Everyday Faith: A Theological Investigation of the Notion of Spirituality in Karl Rahner. editor of The Cambridge Companion to Karl Rahner (Cambridge University Press. and is enhanced for publication in AEJT with permission of the Editor. and Christian Identity in a Postmodern Age: Celebrating the Legacies of Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan (Dublin: Veritas Publications.” See “Living into Mystery: Karl Rahner’s Reflections at Seventy-five. The article is being reprinted with the permission of the Editor of the Irish Theological Studies. 10 March 1979. the system is the system of what cannot be systematized. forthcoming 2005). Email: dmarmion@iol.” DiNoia.” The Modern Theologians. 1998).ie “The absence of system in Rahner’s theological program finds its final explanation in the nature of this mystery. Dublin.4 (2003): 195-212. forthcoming 2005). “Karl Rahner. In sum.
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