Above: Karl Rahner
Image in the Public Domain
KARL RAHNER (MARCH 5, 1904-MARCH 30, 1984)
Jesuit Priest and Theologian
The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim Him with their mouths and deny Him with their actions is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.
Karl Rahner, probably the greatest Roman Catholic theologian of the twentieth century, characterized his life in modest terms:
I do not know what’s happened to my life. I did not lead a life; I worked, wrote, taught, tried to do my duty and earn my living. I tried in this ordinary everyday way to serve God–that’s it.
–Quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 103
Our saint, born at Freiburg, Germany, on March 5, 1904, came from a devout Roman Catholic family. An older brother, Hugo Rahner (1900-1968), became a Jesuit in 1919 then went on to become a scholar of patristics. Karl joined the Society of Jesus three years later and became a priest in 1932. He studied philosophy at the University of Freiburg. There Rahner sought to expand his horizons beyond neo-Thomism. The inquisitive pupil attended lectures by Martin Heiddeger (1889-1976), an existentialist philosopher. Rahner wrote a thesis, Spirit in the World (published in 1939), a study of the metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas in the context of philosophy from Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) to Heiddeger. Our saint’s neo-Thomist professor rejected it. Rahner completed a degree at the University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria. In 1937 he joined the theological faculty there. Two years later, however, Nazis closed the university.
Rahner, ever a priest, worked as a pastor in Vienna during World War II.
Our saint was also a natural academic. He taught at Pullach, Bavaria, from 1945 to 1948. Then he returned to the University of Innsbruck, becoming Professor of Dogmatic Theology in 1949. Rahner, ultimately author of more than 4000 articles and books, became the subject of Vatican censorship before his return to favor in 1962. That year he became an architect of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), for which he contributed to the documents on the church, revelation, and the church in the world. Rahner was Professor of Religion at the University of Munich from 1964 to 1967 then Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Munster from 1967 to 1971. Finally our saint retired to Munich then, in 1981, to Innsbruck. He continued to be an active theological writer in retirement.
Rahner died at Innsbruck on March 30, 1984. He was 80 years old.
Our saint, rooted in Roman Catholic tradition, sought to make that tradition intelligible to the modern, pluralistic, post-Enlightenment world. He began this project during the repression of modernism instituted by Pope St. Pius X (reigned 1903-1914) and not ended until Vatican II. Despite more openness from Vatican II forward, many conservative Roman Catholics have never approved of Rahner’s theology. He has been an agent of the degradation of true faith, they have concluded to the present day.
Rahner emphasized the role of human experience in divine revelation. He argued that, for people to perceive divine revelation, the communication of it must be comprehensible via human experience. Our saint also wrote that the infinite mystery of God is the root of all human existence, so religious experience is not a category separate from the rest of life. Rahner also insisted that grace is intrinsic to human nature, which God has ordained to be open to receiving grace. Therefore, he wrote, opening oneself to grace in every situation is the way to salvation.
One might quibble with aspects of Rahner’s theology, but the emphasis on grace is positive.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JANUARY 9, 2017 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS PEPIN OF LANDEN, ITTA OF METZ, THEIR RELATIONS, AMAND, AUSTREGISILUS, AND SULPICIUS II OF BOURGES, FAITHFUL CHRISTIANS ACROSS GENERATIONAL LINES
THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY PUCCI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST
THE FEAST OF JULIA CHESTER EMERY, UPHOLDER OF MISSIONS
THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP II OF MOSCOW, METROPOLITAN OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIA AND MARTYR
O God, by your Holy Spirit you give to some the word of wisdom,
to others the word of knowledge,
and to others the word of faith.
We praise your Name for the gifts of grace manifested in your servant Karl Rahner,
and we pray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit
lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-14
1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16
–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 720