Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thesis Thoughts 2 - Rahner's Philosophical Background

For my Master's thesis I will be researching and writing on the debate between Karl Rahner and Hans urs von Balthasar regarding their conceptions of Christology and the salvation of non-Christians. I shall attempt to post summaries of research, random quotes and the like on a somewhat regular basis. Please feel free to share your own thoughts, ideas, questions, sources, etc.

Before diving more directly into the thought of Karl Rahner or Hans Urs von Baltashar and their soteriologies, we would be imprudent to ignore the historical and philosophical situations to which they are responding and in which they are living. If Plato lived today the manner in which he communicated his genius would certainly be quite different that it actually was. The same could be said of Nietzsche have lived in pre-Christian times. Therefore we must consider Rahner’s philosophical sitz im leben before attempting to grasp his system.

For most of the middle ages and up until the 17th Century most people in the Western world saw Jesus Christ as the universal redeemer. In other words, their world view suggested that whatever could be said to be universally or generally meaningful or significant for humanity must in way relate to Christ (Marshall 2). However, Deistic thought countered that Christian presumption, reasoning that for something to universally valid and meaningful, it must also be universally and generally available to everyone. At this time the world was realizing that knowledge of Jesus was not, or had not been, readily available to all people, specifically those living in the Americas. (Marshall 3-4)

Many Christians embraced this Deistic critique while attempting to maintain the universal meaningfulness of the historical Jesus. John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity is a prime example of such an attempt. German Christians made the most profound attempts at finding a middle ground between these two assumptions: that of Jesus’ universal significance, and that of the necessity of universally availability of that which is said to be significant. They attempted to reinterpret the heart of Christianity, which saw Jesus as the unique historical redeemer, in such a way as to maintain the concrete notion of the Christian understanding of redemption while dissolving the “indissoluble bond to Jesus” (Marshall 4). [It is because of this new understanding of redemption that Marx can posit a world in which man is redeemed on his own merits with a Christ figure.]

Thus, Kant enters the scene with his transcendental approach and states that “the unique redeemer is an ideal of perfection, a moral archetype for which we need no empirical example, since the archetype ‘is to be sought nowhere but in our own reason.’”(Marshall 5), leading to Schleiermacher, who offers the most profound and powerful statement of the coalescence of the new deistic assumptions with redemption as posited by Christianity.

Schleiermacher develops a general criterion for redemption – the relative domination of a universal God-consciousness (‘feeling of absolute dependence’) in all experience. All people can experience the need for God in their dependence. (Marshall 6). He argues that the Christian concept of redemption exemplifies the most clear coherence with this criterion. Ever since, transcendentalists, Rahner included, have adopted Schleiermacher’s general approach and method while modifying the criterion necessary for a meaningful understand of redemption which generally available to all of humanity.

At this point, before jumping into Rahner we must consider a couple other thinkers who are especially relevant to any discussion of Rahner and Balthasar and who critiqued and revised some the thought of those mentioned above.

Joseph Marechal, a Jesuit priest from Belgium, critiqued Kant for failing to account for the dynamism of the human intellect since objective knowledge can only be obtained from categorical judgment of speculative reason. (McCool xiv). Marechal attempted to remedy Kant’s transcendental approach to make it cohere with the foundations of St. Thomas Aquinas’ thought. “Marechal believed that the transcendental method could be extended beyond epistemology and could be used to ground a general metaphysics whose form and structure would resemble the metaphysics of St. Thomas” (McCool xvi). Rahner, following Marechal, becomes the most influential proponent of Transcendental Thomism. However, he attempts to improve upon Marechal’s approach by developing a self-grounding metaphysics rather relying on epistemology and by putting more emphasis on the conscious of the human person.

Around the same time, a Protestant theologian by the name of Karl Barth is heavily critiquing Schleiermacher and his method. “Barth saw Schleiermacher as adapting to modernity where he should have resisted it, and distorting theology by moving its center from God and God’s revelation to man” (Kilby 257). Barth was especially critical of the anthropological turn taken by Schleiermacher and others as well as of the notion of having a anthropological or transcendent system on which to rely. Barth countered, “I have no Christological principle and no Christological method. Rather in each individual theological question I seek to orientate myself afresh…not on a Christological dogma but on Jesus Christ himself)” (quoted in Marshall 116).

To a certain extent, Balthasar will take a quasi-Barthian approach. His critique of Rahner vaguely parallels Barth’s critique of Schleiermacher, and his Christology attempted to be Christocentric, like Barth, rather than anthropocentric, like Rahner and the other transcendental Thomists.

In our next post we shall look explicitly at Rahner’s philosophical system and transcendental method.


Kilby, Karen. “Balthasar and Karl Rahner.” Cambridge Companion to Hans urs von Balthasar. Oakes, Moss, ed., Cambridge UP: 2004

Marshall, Bruce. Christology in Conflict: the identity of a Savior in Rahner and Barth. NY: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1987.

Rahner, Karl. Rahner Reader. Ed. McCool, Gerald. London: Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd, 1975.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Concerned Catholics for the Future of America - Open Letter to Obama

November 14, 2008

Open Letter to President-elect Barack Obama

President-elect Barack Obama,

As American Catholics, we, the undersigned, would like to reiterate the congratulations given to you by Pope Benedict XVI. We will be praying for you as you undertake the office of President of the United States.

Wishing you much good will, we hope we will be able to work with you, your administration, and our fellow citizens to move beyond the gridlock which has often harmed our great nation in recent years. Too often, partisan politics has hampered our response to disaster and misfortune. As a result of this, many Americans have become resentful, blaming others for what happens instead of realizing our own responsibilities. We face serious problems as a people, and if we hope to overcome the crises we face in today's world, we should make a serious effort to set aside the bitterness in our hearts, to listen to one another, and to work with one another

One of the praiseworthy elements of your campaign has been the call to end such partisanship. You have stated a desire to engage others in dialogue. With you, we believe that real achievement comes not through the defamation of one's opponents, nor by amassing power and using it merely as a tool for one's own individual will. We also believe dialogue is essential. We too wish to appeal to the better nature of the nation. We want to encourage people to work together for the common good. Such action can and will engender trust. It may change the hearts of many, and it might alter the path of our nation, shifting to a road leading to a better America. We hope this theme of your campaign is realized in the years ahead.

One of the critical issues which currently divides our nation is abortion. As you have said, no one is for abortion, and you would agree to limit late-term abortions as long as any bill which comes your way allows for exceptions to those limits, such as when the health of the mother is in jeopardy. You have also said you would like to work on those social issues which cause women to feel as if they have a need for an abortion, so as to reduce the actual number of abortions being performed in the United States.

Indeed, you said in your third presidential debate, "But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, ‘We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.'"

As men and women who oppose abortion and embrace a pro-life ethic, we want to commend your willingness to engage us in dialogue, and we ask that you live up to your promise, and engage us on this issue.

There is much we can do together. There is much that we can do to help women who find themselves in difficult situations so they will not see abortion as their only option. There is much which we can do to help eliminate those unwanted pregnancies which lead to abortion.

One of your campaign promises is of grave concern to many pro-life citizens.
On January 22, 2008, the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when speaking of the current right of women in America to have abortions, you said, "And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president."

The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) might well undermine your engagement of pro-life Americans on the question of abortion. It might hamper any effort on your part to work with us to limit late-term abortions. We believe FOCA does more than allow for choice. It may force the choice of a woman upon others, and make them morally complicit in such choice.
One concern is that it would force doctors and hospitals which would otherwise choose not to perform abortions to do so, even if it went against their sacred beliefs. Such a law would undermine choice, and might begin the process by which abortion is enforced as a preferred option, instead of being one possible choice for a doctor to practice.

It is because of such concern we write. We urge you to engage us, and to dialogue with us, and to do so before you consider signing this legislation. Let us reason together and search out the implications of FOCA. Let us carefully review it and search for contradictions of those positions which we hold in common.

If FOCA can be postponed for the present, and serious dialogue begun with us, as well as with those who disagree with us, you will demonstrate that your administration will indeed be one that rises above partisanship, and will be one of change. This might well be the first step toward resolving an issue which tears at the fabric of our churches, our political process, our families, our very society, and that causes so much hardship and heartache in pregnant women.

Likewise, you have also recently stated you might over-ride some of President G.W. Bush's executive orders. This is also a concern to us. We believe doing so without having a dialogue with the American people would undermine the political environment you would like to establish. Among those issues which concern us are those which would use taxpayer money to support actions we find to be morally questionable, such as embryonic stem cell research, or to fund international organizations that would counsel women to have an abortion (this would make abortion to be more than a mere choice, but an encouraged activity).

Consider, sir, your general promise to the American people and set aside particular promises to a part of your constituency. This would indicate that you plan to reject politics as usual. This would indeed be a change we need.


Deal W. Hudson
Christopher Blosser

Marjorie Campbell
Mark J. Coughlan
Rev. James A. Nowack
Craig D. Baker
Susan DeBoisblanc
Megan Stout
Joshua D. Brumfield
Ashley M. Brumfield
Michael J. Iafrate
Natalie Navarro
Matthew Talbot
Paul Mitchell
Henry C Karlson III
Darren Belajac
Adam P Verslype
Josiah Neeley
Michael J. Deem
Katerina M. Deem
Natalie Mixa
Henry Newman
Anthony M. Annett
Mickey Jackson
Veronica Greenwell
Thomas Greenwell, PhD
Robert C. Koerpel
Nate Wildermuth

New Online Signatures
William Simon
Deacon Keith Fournier
Mary Ruebelmann-Benavides
Jesus Benavides
Steve Dillard
Toby Danna
William Eunice
Mark Shea
Fr. Phil Bloom
Christopher Gant
Robert King, OP.
Peter Halabu
Kelly Clark
Eric Giunta
Mark Gordon
Linda Schuldt
Michael Mlekoday
Bryan McLaughlin
Victoria Hoffman
Jonathan Jones
Jim Janknegt
Marcel LeJeune
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
Ken Hallenius III
Zach Gietl
Megan Bless
Kathy Myers
Timothy M. Mason
Kevin Koster
John Anthony D’Arpino
Brian Desmarais
Mary C. Borneman

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thesis Thoughts - Historical Background

For my Master's thesis I will be researching and writing on the debate between Karl Rahner and Hans urs von Balthasar regarding their conceptions of Christology and the salvation of non-Christians. I shall attempt to post summaries of research, random quotes and the like on a somewhat regular basis. Please feel free to share your own thoughts, ideas, questions, sources, etc.

In our pluralistic society, what is the state of Christology and the Christian dogma that Jesus Christ is the universal savior of mankind and the cosmos? Before focus our efforts more directly on the above question and the specific theologians at hand, we would benefit from a brief historical overview of the topic.

From beginning of Christianity, throughout the New Testament we are confronted with seemingly contradictory passages on the universal or not so universal salvific will of God. Avery Cardinal Dulles, in his First Things article "Who can be Saved?" lists a series of Biblical texts which seem to indicate that salvation requires faith and belief in Jesus Christ. In this regard, he quotes St. Paul, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9) and St. Mark "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16), among others, and draws the
conclusion that
"according to the primary Christian documents, salvation comes through personal faith in Jesus Christ, followed and signified by sacramental baptism."

On the other hand, in his book Dare We He 'That All Men Be Saved'? von Balthasar convincingly shows that this conclusion is not so clear. He contrasts Jesus' statement of condemnation with statements of Jesus' or God's universal salvific will. We can here cite St. Timothy who writes, "This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:3-6). Balthasar, quoting St. Peter, adds that "God does not wish ' that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Pet 3:9).

What are we to make of this? Certainly we cannot expect a just and loving God to
condemn to hell those who have never even had the opportunity to hear the Gospel preached. But how can they be saved with belief in Christ, without Baptism, without being the Body of He who is life?

Dulles shows that some of the early Church fathers held exceptions to the necessity of explicit faith in Jesus for some of the ancient philosophers who seem to have found Christ in the truth of natural
wisdom and philosophy. On the other hand Augustine taught that those who had never heard the Gospel would be denied salvation because salvation comes this faith, which they clearly could not have had. They would suffer eternal punishment for original sin and their own personal sins. Dulles informs us that this Augustinian view held sway "throughout the middle ages."

In his Papal Bull Unam Sanctam, Pope Boniface VIII writes clearly and forcefully, "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human
creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.
" Additionally,the Council of Florence mentions "pagans" (not merely heretics and schismatics) for the first time in this regard, teaching "The holy Roman Church…firmly, believes, professes and preaches that "no one remaining outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans", but also Jews, heretics, or schismatics, can become partakers of eternal life; but they will go to the eternal fire."

However, starting in the 19th Century the Church's understanding of salvation "outside" the Church
begins to develop. In encyclical Quanto Conficiamur Moerore (1863), Pope Pius IX writes matter of factly "We all know that those who suffer from invincible ignorance with regard to our holy religion, if they carefully keep the precepts of the natural law which have been written by God in the hearts of all persons, if they are prepared to obey God, and if they lead a virtuous and dutiful
life, can, by the power of divine light and grace, attain eternal life." The Second Vatican Council affirmed Pope Pius' statement in Lumen Gentium which taught that Christ is the
sole mediator of salvation and the Church is necessary for salvation, but adds that "Divine Providence [does not] deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part,
have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life."

The fathers of the Second Vatican Council were allegedly strongly influence by the thought of Rahner and his "anonymous Christianity" in developing and formulating the relevant passages of Lumen Gentium. Therefore, in attempting to understand how non-Christians can be saved, theologians have often adopted and adapted Rahner's method and framework in order to discuss Christ as universal savior in a pluralistic society. However, after the Council, Rahner has been looked upon less favorably by the Magisterium, and Balthasar, whose thought Pope Benedict seems to especially appreciate, became one of Rahner's harshest critics.

Balthasar does not disagree with Rahner so much on the idea of salvation outside the [visible] Church (in Dare We Hope he comes closer to apokatastasis than Rahner ever did), but he is wary and harshly critical of Rahner's method, which has been termed, "Transcendental Thomism."

In my next post I shall explore some of the philosophical and historical influence which led Rahner to choose his method and led Balthasar his.


Balthasar, Hans urs von. Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? San Francisco:Ignatius Press, 1988.

Dulles, Avery Cardinal. “Who Can Be Saved?” First Things. February 2008

Dupuis, J., and J. Neuner. The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents
of the Catholic Church. Alba House, 1983.