Unsystematic systematician

Carr, Anne

THE RAHNER REVOLlf TION-II Unsystematic systematician ANNE CARR To a young American theologian, Karl Rahner once described his life as "monotonous" in its routine. But in fact Rahner's "routine"...

...of priests and teachers whose training in seminary and university included a large segment of Rahner's immense work...
...But the emergence, toward the end of his life, of political and liberation theologies in response to the massive global and social problems of poverty, hunger, racism, sexism, classism, and imperialism does suggest the importance of a wider theological vision that reaches beyond the individual to encompass, in some integral way, the intrinsic social and political dimensions of persons in their experience of God and the reality of God's grace in the world...
...His challenge to us is to continue the rigorous questioning in the ongoing renewal of a theology in service to its times...
...nor is there a multiplicity of mysteries that Christians are required to believe...
...Rahner's "brave new church," to borrow a phrase from one of his most insightful commentators, is no easy challenge today...
...Nevertheless, we must ask whether freedom is the only defining human structure or value...
...This is the sense of Rahner's prodigious outpouring of theological "investigations," his endless questions, his careful probing of the limits of human language about God, Christ, human being, and the church...
...The "simple" core of Rahner's theology is the self-communication of Holy Mystery the trinitarian God, in the several moments of Incarnation, grace, beatific vision and the consequent "world grace" that is ours in human time and history...
...Because of the historical and changing character of persons as self-creative before God, the criterion for morality is the enhancement of genuine human freedom...
...We can be silent in adoration only on the other side of speech that has struggled as far as it can to speak of God at the frontiers of its own capacities...
...He admits that it is necessary to fill out the context of human freedom more concretely in a political theology...
...Rather, for Rahner, Christianity and Christian theology are essentially historical...
...In graced freedom we can determine to respect and reverence these limits while not fearing to explore new possibilities...
...Are the ecological and nuclear crises the result of a Western egoism founded on theological and cultural assumptions about the centrality of human beings and the ultimate value of human freedom...
...Rahner's theology is not without its problems and its critics...
...The God of Christian faith, for Rahner, is never domesticated, even in the tangible, historical Realsymbol that is Jesus Christ...
...Human transcendence into the mystery of God, Rahner argues, is possible precisely through our conscious human freedom, our experience in history...
...Metz finds Rahner's theological anthropology too privatized and individualistic...
...Indeed, he is better described as a thinker, an original thinker in the tradition of the great theologians of the past who are his mentors...
...Commonweal...
...It is a work justly compared to Augustine and Aquinas in its already classic status...
...Questions from the left, which Rahner says are the criticisms he takes most seriously, are represented especially by his former student Johann Baptist Metz, an advocate of political theology...
...Mystery, Rahner writes, is not some proposition that we cannot understand and so must simply take on faith...
...Dorothy Soelle once remarked that there are "Rahnerians of the right and of the left.'' Rahner's former colleague Hans Urs von Balthasar represents the "right" in his concern that Rahner's focus on the human and his theory of anonymous Christianity reduce the transcendent sovereignty of the word of God to a merely philosophical or human word thereby rendering the missionary task of the church superfluous...
...Nevertheless, questions remain about the intrinsic value of creation itself, apart from the human...
...This self-gift of God is offered universally, to all persons in our self-transcending "subjectivity" that is, in our knowledge and freedom as the transforming life of God's intimate presence and as new light for our minds on our paths through time...
...is associate professor of theology at the Divinity School, University of Chicago and the author of The Theological Method of Karl Rahner...
...The most rigorous theological reflection, he believes, is the most effective pastoral aid for ordinary people and for the intellectual life of the church...
...Rahner calls for a democratized, declericalized, pluralistic, and open church an ecumenical, public, "world church...
...At the same time, Rahner's approach to contemporary questions is deeply traditional...
...Freedom and experience in history make all Christian theology open and unfinished...
...Both Gustafson and von Balthasar are critical of Rahner's strong anthropocentric bias...
...Intelligent and loving freedom in its practical experience in history discovers its own limits and possibilities in nature and society, in the experience of grace...
...In Rahner's dynamic system, the score is never settled until the moment of death when what we have done with our lives, in response to God's self-gift, becomes definitive...
...While some have been influenced especially by his powerful spiritual writings or perhaps by one of his theological essays or books, many contemporary Catholics are "anonymous Rahnerians" whose Christian lives of thought and prayer are being nourished by a new generation anne CARR, b.v.m...
...Here the all too common conception that the more God's will is operative the less our wills are active is reversed...
...Even so, Rahner denies that he is a scholar...
...At the same time, Rahner maintains that all Christian anthropology is theology...
...While public, official revelation is complete in Christ as the irreversible divine word in history and its human response, the Christ-event and the church's formulas of faith which define it, represent the beginning and not the end of Christian reflection...
...His own intentions are surely more pastoral than scholarly, although he scorns the distinction between scientific and "kerygmatic" (or pastoral) theology...
...in Rahner's words, "it is no longer numinous...
...AS RAHNER read the tradition the Bible, the Greek Fathers, the medieval theologians, especially Aquinas in light of the "turn to the subject" emphasis of modern philosophy, he was led to see in a new way the implications of the Christian message of God's self-gift to the world...
...In his view, Rahner neglects the social and political situation of human freedom and the crucial importance of human practice in history by his confident emphasis on the "already and always" present fulfillment of grace rather than the future fulfillment so prominent in biblical eschatology...
...His vision of the church's mission is service to others, not to itself...
...James M. Gustafson, on this side of the Atlantic, further argues that Rahner's emphasis on transcendental freedom neglects justice and the many other values and structures that are written into our physical natures...
...Nature is rendered profane...
...Both must test in the crucible of historical experience and practice, enlightened by the Gospel, the decisions, attitudes, and orientations they choose...
...Hence, his astonishing confidence in human freedom as the power of response to God's presence in grace...
...His extraordinary achievement, produced in the routine of a "monotonous" life, broke open the "ideology" of a lifeless Catholic theology in the fifties with a fresh and contemporary expression of Christian faith...
...Freedom, experience, and history make our world, until its end, an open, unfinished world calling for our responsible creativity...
...they are not in competition...
...Freedom and experience in history, which are hallmarks of Rahner's theology, make us ever unfinished persons who seek the God of incomprehensible mystery, who truly create ourselves before God, in the fabric of our own particular lives...
...Rahner is surely right in respect to the balance he suggests between the "mystical and political kingdoms...
...Rahner would respond that it is precisely from our practical experience in dealing with the natural environment of human freedom that we learn the intrinsic limits built into nature as the worldly context of freedom...
...But Rahner believes the concrete changes he proposes are urgent if the church is to fulfill its task and its opportunity today for the sake of the future...
...Thus Rahner is critical of any moral theology that emphasizes merely external conformity or coerced obedience...
...The "church of the future," in Rahner's vision might well include "relative" ordination (of the leader who arises from the community and is temporarily called for a particular congregation) and, yes, the ordination of women...
...In so doing we can extend human freedom from the realm of interior Christian life into the natural, social, and political worlds of our increasingly interdependent global lives...
...Thus there is a fitting logic in Rahner's characteristic essays...
...This is central to the Christian message...
...That led to his startling affirmation: "all theology is anthropology...
...Theocentrism is the obverse side of anthropocentrism because the Incarnation has forever joined divine and human: Human knowledge always entails a tacit knowledge of God, and love of neighbor is itself the hidden love of God...
...As Rahner reflects on the church of past and future, he is at once scrupulously loyal to tradition and courageous in his call for the structural changes demanded by the profound cultural transformations of our times...
...This is no libertinism but the requirement for a sober, responsible, and self-critical adulthood on the part of Christians and the community that is the church...
...44 direct proportion...
...It is a church which does not shrink from social criticism and which is internally focused on its own evangelical spirituality and "non-moralizing" morality...
...It may well be the ultimate, from a religious perspective, but are there penultimate issues facing us in the human context of an unfinished and imperfect world issues such as justice, equality, fairness, humility and repentance before God that require the attention of theology...
...Creative freedom is key here...
...HENCE ANOTHER of Rahner's daring assertions, this one about ethical life, in his revision of traditional natural law theory...
...When one takes seriously the ' 'nature'' of the human person as a dynamic drive toward Holy Mystery, in which human freedom creates itself before God, much that was considered unchangeable or natural is seen to be the product of human freedom and, therefore, changeable...
...No system can comprehend life, especially the mystery of God's life in time...
...These are themes familiar to all who have been touched by this great systematic thinker...
...What is this legacy and what are its challenges for us today...
...Revelation, he insists, is for us and for our salvation, for the abundance of human life and human meaning...
...Is it only the presupposition and preparation for the self-communication of God to human persons in grace...
...Rahner's 25 January 1985:45 response is that he has always insisted that transcendental experience of God and of grace in the world is only mediated through societal relationships...
...it is the power to determine ourselves in a fundamental orientation to God...
...Again, autonomy and closeness to God increase in Commonweal...
...Rahner's remarks about the new situation of women in the church are brief: the church of women, he says, must determine from its own experience the concrete patterns of Christian life that will be appropriate for women in the church of the future...
...The real mystery that is God is the source of our being, our most proper environment, our true home...
...Our much-vaunted knowledge is a tiny island in a sea of mystery, the mystery for which we are made, the God whom we can finally know only in love and worship...
...He is concerned to find in the tradition the heart of the matter that theology so often loses in its' 'history of forgetting.'' Tradition can really be understood, he asserts, only by the theologian who is responsible to the present and future...
...Rather than efforts at system-building, the essays are attempts to answer particular contemporary questions that arise from the experience of Christians and the Christian community in the ever new situations of history...
...Thus in the early fifties, he called for a theology in service to its times, outlining a contemporary theology that would take serious account of new developments in adjacent disciplines, that would relate itself to current worldviews, that would offer a fresh response to new questions of Christian life in the world...
...Human being is finite spirit open to God...
...Mere repetition" of time-worn formulas distorts the living dynamism of Christianity and the genuine meaning of fidelity to tradition...
...And for Christians, it means that it is not merely in blind faith that we share in God's life on our human journey: grace, in fact, is a conscious element in our ordinary experience...
...Rahner's own response to this sort of criticism is that the divine and the human are indissolubly united in the Incarnation and grace...
...And yet, for all our necessary human planning, the future, God's future, cannot be controlled...
...The major differences between the church of past and future, symbolized in the Second Vatican Council, are suggested in his images of the church "in diaspora," "pockets of Christians" who are no longer Christians by birth into ethnic or national communities but the '' little flock'' of voluntary membership, the church' 'from the roots...
...And the danger is that we no longer respect and reverence nature but are led to understand it only as the raw material for human exploitation and consumption...
...The message of grace, God's self-gift, is not from the outside as it were, but hidden at the center of our ordinary lives as they shape and are shaped by history...
...This naming of God as mystery, however, does not mean giving up the search for intelligibility and meaning in blind fideism...
...God remains incomprehensible and hidden, named only in faltering human words: mystery, abyss, horizon, goal, future of all human knowledge and action always greater than we can conceive...
...It is often noted that, despite the occasional and informal character of the essays that comprise much of his major work, a profound systematic perspective is apparent in his thought...
...Since Rahner's death, a good deal has been written about his signal contribution to theology...
...Such reflection is best when accompanied by a "mystagogy'' or initiation into mystery that is spiritually sensitive, respectful of cultural and religious pluralism, that appeals only and always to the unique experience of personal human freedom as the capacity for authentic religious response to God...
...For non-Christians, this means the possibility of' 'anonymous Christianity," wherever Christ's hidden grace is implicitly accepted in a life of openness to God and conscientious moral activity...
...ANOTHER CRITICISM of Rahner's thought (and much of current Western theology) has emerged recently in the wake of the ecological crisis, A young American theologian, Lois Daly, questions Rahner's emphasis on history over nature as the context of our lives as Christians in the world...
...The mystery of God, Rahner holds, is correlative to the mystery of the self as we discover who we really are and what we are called to be and to do in the freedom that is our gift and task in time...
...In a characteristic axiom, Rahner says that there is a direct proportion between autonomy and closeness to God...
...In creation, and more intensively in grace, God is both the enabling source and the lure of human freedom...
...The significance of human action is measured by whether it comes from freedom and whether freedom is loving or sinful...
...Nevertheless, he adds, if political theology is to be genuinely concerned about God, it must reflect on those essential human characteristics through which every individual bears a mediated immediacy to the divine...
...Rahner affirms that because of its essentially free and historical character, Christianity is intrinsically non-ideological, not bound to a system but open to the new in history...
...Nevertheless, it is these very systematic themes that suggest the unsystematic, unfinished character of Rahner's thought, which is both its appeal for so many of us in our daily lives as Christians and its challenge to contemporary theology...
...But in fact Rahner's "routine" generated an extraordinary legacy for Roman Catholicism and for the wider Christian community as well...
...That is to say, freedom in its basic sense is not simply the ability to choose this or that...
...This new theology would especially make use of history to plumb the Christian tradition in its theology, spirituality, preaching, the records of Christian life and devotion ("what was said and what was left unsaid"), to discover the work of the Spirit and to carry the tradition 25 January 1985: 43 forward...
...And is it too easy for us Christians simply to name our Jewish neighbors and other non-Christians, whose lives demonstrate moral goodness and religious authenticity, "anonymous Christians" when they, in fact, would reject this well-meaning but unwelcome designation...
...While there is an immutable core at the center of human reality which can only be discovered in practice, and which limits the scope and provides the context of human freedom, its very nature indicates how much we ourselves and the world in which we live, within the horizon of God's grace, are in our own hands...
...Mystery is the infinite and inexhaustible intelligibility, the blinding fullness that the little word "god" names but that can never be fully comprehended even in the abiding closeness of mystery that is final salvation, vision, glory...
...Christianity demands no less than the full commitment of creative freedom in love: love of God and love of neighbor in their inescapable unity...
...All these critical discussions, however, suggest Rahner* s importance as a theological conversation partner today and the enormous influence of his thought in its unfinished character as a "system" that argues for the unsystematic the experience of grace in the open freedom of history...
...Grace, the very mystery of God, permeates everyday human experience and can be recognized if we search our experience as Christians and as the community of Christians to discern what God is doing in our history...
...This criticism points to the instrumentalist view of nature involved when human freedom is so stressed: the world of nature becomes mere material for human use and creativity...
...We must enter into association with thinkers of the past, not only to become acquainted with their views but to learn something about reality.'' It is the present Christian reality with which Rahner is concerned, the reality of God now in our lives...
...Asking always his "transcendental" question about conditions for the possibility of Incarnation, grace, and glory, Rahner presses onto his definition of the human person the event of God's self-expression the capacity for incarnation (fully realized, of course, only in Christ...
...Neither church nor world clearly demonstrates the present triumph of grace, Metz argues...
...The church exists to proclaim the Christian message of grace and freedom and to nourish the life of grace through its sacraments especially the Eucharist, its central sacrament...
...This theological task "belongs inalienably and exclusively to women...
...His approach to the central mysteries of Christian faith embodies a coherence and consistency, even a kind of simplicity, within the complexity of the questions he addresses and the equally complex responses he offers...

Vol. 112 • January 1985 • No. 2


 
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