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The Theology of Karl Rahner

Atila Sinke Guimarães

Book review of A Critical Examination of the Theology of Karl Rahner, by Robert C. McCarthy
Buchanan Dam, TX: Carthay Ventures, 2001, 64 pp. This review became the Foreword of the book.
The Theology of Karl Rahner book cover
One who wants to synthesize the ecclesiastical thinking in the conciliar and post-conciliar phase of the Catholic Church can present three main systems defended by three theologians: the Christogenesis of Teilhard de Chardin, the Theology of Love of Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Anthropological Reduction or Transcendental Anthropology of Karl Rahner.

Teilhard extends theology to all of human knowledge and all of created reality. In the philosophical field, he assumes the unproved premises of “scientific” evolution and composes his well-known Cosmogenesis – the evolution of the universe. According to him, the material universal evolution ascends toward the rational process of man – this is his Noogenesis [the genesis of the understanding]. And, in the present phase of man on earth, everything tends in an evolutionary sense toward Christ – thence his Christogenesis. From matter to spirit, from spirit to Christ – everything would evolve in this direction in an irreversible way, following laws that he seeks to explain.

At the end of the process, creation would be incorporated with Christ, from whom it would initially have proceeded without an essential difference between creature and Creator. The beginning integrated with the end: Christ the Alpha, Christ the Omega. This is the “perfect cycle” that Teilhard offers in his system. Evil itself would be an accident, a force of sliding friction that in an involuntary way naturally impedes the march of evolution. Such philosophical premises are transposed onto all the truths of Faith. Grace, the Sacraments, the Mass, the Eucharist, the Last Things, Dogmas, everything is “explained” in function of Christogenesis. The system attracts by its clarity, largesse of vision, radicality, and poetical sense; but, at the same time, the system fails by virtue of its easy identification with philosophical immanentism, condemned by the Catholic Church.

What Von Balthasar assumes as the presupposition of his system is the primacy of love in relation to reason, of the will in relation to intelligence, of charity in relation to faith. He also pays tribute to philosophical evolutionism - not the linear and “positive” evolution of Teilhard, but the dialectical and tragic evolution of Hegel. History would be the struggle between two principles: justice and mercy, represented respectively by God the Father and God the Son. Jesus Christ would have become incarnate in order to “defeat” the supremacy of justice, faith, and logic, and to replace them with mercy, charity, and charm. Evil itself and those who are bad would not be capable of resisting the force of the attraction of love. Judas, heretics, those condemned to hell, and even the demons themselves would feel “understood” by this irresistible message of love and would have adhered to it in the depths of their hearts. Peter, yes; but John more than Peter. John, yes; but Dismas (the good thief) more than John. Dismas, yes; but Gesdras (the bad thief) more than Dismas. And thus, from the strength of love and mercy, the institutional Church is displaced by the “Church of Love,” and the latter, in turn, is displaced by the “Church of the condemned,” those who would be more united to Christ at the height of the Cross than the others.

In order to “prove” these points, von Balthasar makes use of a notable historical, philosophical, and artistic erudition, which confers to his system a broad visualization. Attractive to romantic spirits and much in vogue in these sad days of unbridled ecumenism, the Theology of Love nonetheless suffers from the fundamental error of subordinating faith to charity. Only one of the consequences of this is that Catholic dogmas are now abdicated in favor of the union of the various religions.

Rahner follows his master, the existentialist Martin Heidegger. For Rahner, what matters is that which exists here and now. Faith would need to cast off its abstract formulations in order to be accepted by today’s man, such as he is. For this reason, all of theology either should be reduced to the human dimension – thence his Anthropological Reduction – or man should be raised up to the divine dimension – from this, his Transcendental Anthropology. His system is known under these two names. Here I put aside my pen with pleasure in order to introduce another analysis of Rahner’s thought: A Critical Examination on the Theology of Karl Rahner by Robert C. McCarthy.
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Karl Rahner: a strong influence at Vatican II  - ICI,  June 1, 1974

To fully appreciate the importance of this work, a word about the role played by the thinking of Karl Rahner is indispensable. The influence of Rahner at the Ecumenical Council Vatican II was greater than that of the two preceding theologians. First, because the two others were not present: Teilhard died in 1955, and von Balthasar could not participate because of the publication of his work Razing the Bastions, which at that time was considered very radical and progressivist. Second, because the ideas of Rahner strongly influenced the German Bishops, who were very well prepared and active during the Council. These Bishops maintained powerful associations of financial aid to the Dioceses of the Third World – a quite important political detail. With this, they influenced a large number of other Prelates to approve their favored projects in the Conciliar Assembly. Third, Rahner was one of the authors of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium; among others, the concepts of “the Church as mystery” and “people of God,” as accepted by Vatican II, are attributed to him.

With this glance at the importance of Rahner in today’s ecclesiastical thinking, the reader can easily understand how welcome is the work A Critical Examination on the Theology of Karl Rahner, S.J. by Robert C. McCarthy. In it, the author synthesizes with notable intelligence and an acute Catholic sense the thinking of the German theologian and provides an objective critique of many of his erroneous points. The study, which does not pretend to be an exhaustive analysis of Rahner’s system, presents the points most opposed to the Catholic Faith. As an ex-Marine, the author knows where to direct the torpedoes that will sink the ship. The work avoids confusing technical terms and concepts and thus has the advantage of being easily understood.

Another merit of the book is that McCarthy presents his synthesis based on the works of the disciples of Rahner or on credible critical works that explain his thinking. If he had based it directly on the writings of Rahner, it would have resulted in a very large volume instead of this accessible and brief study that achieves an analogous result. For Rahner normally uses difficult language filled with many neologisms of existentialist philosophy in order to express thinking that is not always clear.

Thus, Robert C. McCarthy renders a commendable service to the Catholic cause in publishing this first study. It is to be hoped that others similar to it will follow, so that the main errors of Karl Rahner and other theologians will become more widely known. It only remains for me to congratulate the author for his meritorious work and to wish him a broad diffusion of this useful and opportune study.

Los Angeles, October 19, 2000

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