A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Return to Rahner

For approximately 15 years Karl Rahner was the contemporary Catholic theologian most influential upon my own theological understanding and development. Perhaps the earliest work of his I read was the evocative "Encounters with Silence." I greatly resonated with the cosmic vision of his "Theology of Death." And I can still remember the place and time when I first read, with excitement, his essay "The Concept of Mystery in Catholic Theology."His influence upon me faded when I found myself in new teaching circumstances and when I found myself less happy with the use made of his thought by some of his North American "disciples." Though they appealed to Rahner, they also lamented his "excessive Christocentrism" which they felt had to be "transcended."It is, therefore, with some delight that I've begun to read Karl Rahner again, in particular the essays in volume 18 of the "Theological Investigations." In the essay, "What Does It Mean Today to Believe in Jesus Christ?", he concludes:

If we love Jesus, quite personally and directly, if in our love we allow his life and his fate to become the inner form and entelechy of our own life, then we learn that he is the way, the truth, and the life, that he leads us to the Father, that we may and can call the incomprehensible God "Father" despite his namelessness, that God's namelessness and pathlessness can be our own home, bringing us not extinction, but eternal life.We must love Jesus in the unconditional acceptance of his life's fate as our own norm of existence, in order to experience serenely and joyously our own existence as finally redeemed.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

I hope a thoughtful discussion will soon develop about the various Rahnerian schools and their influences, and their relationships to Rahner's own thought. It seems to me to be a theological realm that deserves and requires self-evaluation.

Rahner's unabashed love for Jesus Christ is heartening and inspiring.

Fr. Imbell --I discovered "Encounters with Silence" when I was young. The slim little book had a great influence on me. But it's easily comprehensible.How about doing a collection for non-theologians of some of the not-too-hard passages in Rahner? Or is his thought so highly structured that you can't understand the parts without understanding the whole? After Encounters with Silence, I would rather doubt that. What about his sermons? They might be a good way for lay people to approach him.

Robert, I very much appreciate your consistent attention to keeping Christ at the center. I resonate with this deeply. Yet I know too that it is no easy thing. The revelation of God in Christ contains within its heart the most costly and challenging truth -- that love and goodness entails the cross. There is no Easter without Good Friday, for us as for him. It is referenced in the passage you quoted:"We must love Jesus in the unconditional acceptance of his lifes fate as our own norm of existence..."To accept "his life's fate as our own norm for existence" is a profound but also a fearful proposition, when one honestly reflects upon it. Would you agree, or have I misunderstood the passage? The fate of Jesus as the norm for my own existence -- there is much to think about here.

Ann,A book I appreciate very much is by my former colleague, Harvey Egan, S.J.: "Karl Rahner: Mystic of Everyday Life." It has generous quotes from Rahner and good suggestions for further reading.

Rita,Of course I agree. You've understood the passage deeply. Is that not what Annie Dillard was getting at when she said that, if we truly realized what was going on at Sunday liturgy, we would wear crash helmets?In that same volume 18 of "Theological Investigations" there is an essay, "Following the Crucified" which you would appreciate. Here is one sentence: "the Christian, every Christian at all times, follows Jesus by dying with him: following Jesus has its ultimate truth and reality and universality in the following of the Crucified."

Thanks, Fr. I. I've ordered it :-)

I was captivated by the same imponderable as Rita, but I'm still having trouble with an unconditional acceptance of Christ's fate as leading to serenity and joy...seems like there's hell to pay between the two.

I'm struck by the contrast of "pathlessness" with "entelechy." Also, this is strange, but the imperative tone of the last paragraph quoted reminds me of Camus's "we must imagine Sisyphus happy." MarkP, for some reason the joy part made me think of Paul, telling Corinthians how we're down but not out, "perplexed but not in despair."

Oh and p.s. Fr. I, hope you plan to share more of your reenchantment with Rahner.

There's a new translation of a Rahner collection, "Everyday Faith" (Herder and Herder, 1968) as "The Mystical Way in Everyday Life" (Annemarie S. Kidder, trans. Orbis, 2010). It was compiled by now Cardinal Karl Lehmann when he was Fr Rahner's assistant in the mid-1960s, and includes some sermons for the liturgical cycle and a range of more academic essays and brief reflections and prayers. The book is a nice introduction, or renewed relationship with Rahner. The three essays in the section "Love of God and Neighbor" turn to God first (always the case for Rahner) and to neighbor and bind them together as the one commandment. One sentence I've returned to in recent days: "The act of loving one's neighbor is not some ethical act, but actually the basic ethical act of human existence." (p. 79)

Joseph P.Thank you for the heads-up. I'll be going to the Catholic Theological Society Convention in San Jose in June and Orbis always has a book exhibit ... with nice discounts :-)

And thanks for your note, Father. I'll be at CTSA as well. The Karl Rahner Society does have its annual breakfast meeting there as well.

A few snippets from Rahner's "Prayers of a Lifetime":* "I really don't think I'm better than other people in the Church. I know that I myself as anything but shining evidence for the origin of the Church in God's grace-giving will."* "How boring, antiquated, bothered only with the system's good repute-- how short-sighted, how addicted to power the 'officeholders' in the Church seem to me; how conservative in a bad sense and clericalist. And when they are unctious with it, when they parade their good will and selflessness, then it gets even harder, because I hardly ever hear them confessing publicly and clearly their mistakes and ineptitudes."* "Have mercy upon us. I don't want to be one of those who find fault with the officeholders in the Church and then contribute all the more to your Church's lack of credibility. Still les do I want to to be one of those who are stupid enough to wonder whether they still want to remain in the Church. I want to keep working for the clear-sightedness that can see the miracles of your grace that even today occur in the Church."Rahner's prayerfulness is so exemplary for us.

You might enjoy this:'rahner a theologian for the 21st century'

Rahner, Lonergan, Newman, Maritain -- Catholic minds who need to be saved from their embalmers.

I have to say I had the same response as Mark P. "Im still having trouble with an unconditional acceptance of Christs fate as leading to serenity and joyseems like theres hell to pay between the two." Maybe not hell to pay as much as heaven to gain, but certainly we're not meant to get there in a comfy chair. I think of Luca Giordano's painting of St. Peter's crucifixion, a picture I can hardly bear to look at. Nontheless, it would be interesting if every RCIA candidate were shown it and asked to consider his readiness to enter into that deal. The "hard" parts of being Catholic, at least in my experience, were soft-pedalled far too much.Bernard, thanks for this slap upside the head: Have mercy upon us. I dont want to be one of those who find fault with the officeholders in the Church and then contribute all the more to your Churchs lack of credibility. Still les do I want to to be one of those who are stupid enough to wonder whether they still want to remain in the Church. I want to keep working for the clear-sightedness that can see the miracles of your grace that even today occur in the Church.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment