Karl Rahner, 25 years after
Joseph A. Komonchak March 29, 2009 - 8:13pm
After Mass today, a parishioner from Germany reminded me that March 30th of this year is the 25th anniversary of the death of Karl Rahner, one of the most important Catholic theologians of the twentieth century. I remember feeling orphaned when I heard of his death, and wondered where we could turn in the future for the insights into conditions and situations in the Church we so often gained from him.If one were to judge such things by the number of dissertations devoted to a thinkers ideas, one might conclude that the days of Rahners influence are over, and the torch has been passed to Hans Urs von Balthasar. In fact, the choice in general theological orientation is often put in terms of choosing between Rahners and Balthasars. Some years ago I attended a conference at Notre Dame on the two great theologians. A Balthasarian accused Rahner of compromising the divine transcendence by his anthropocentric approach. I thought this odd coming from a disciple of the man who claims to know an extraordinary amount of what passed between God the Father and God the Son on Holy Saturday!I dont know of any theologian who more than Rahner stressed the transcendence of the divine Mystery to all our feeble efforts to understand it. He embodied the Augustinian adage: "Si comprehendis, non est Deus" (If you can grasp it, its not God.) The incomprehensibility of God, even after his self-revelation in Jesus ChristMystery remaining Mystery, not because of a lack of intelligibility, but because of an excess of intelligibility, nowhere greater than in the mystery we will be celebrating next week, when the mystery that is excess of meaning encounters and overcomes the utter lack of meaning that is sin..Rahners chosen genre was the theological essay, and no one will pretend that his are easy. But one catches something also of the man through his brief works on prayer and in such a work as The Shape of the Church to Come, which still makes for profitable reading.A story: Johannes Quasten, great patrologist and professor at Catholic University, used to visit Mrs. Rahner, mother of Hugo and Karl, when hed return to Germany for a visit in the summer. (She lived to be over 100, I have heard.) On one occasion when she was well on in years, Fr. Quasten commented on something Karl had said about some Church-controversy in Germany. Mrs. Rahner replied: "Oh, Fr. Quasten, dont pay any attention to Karl. He always exaggerates!" Nice to know that Karl Rahner had a mother, too.
About the Author
Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.