Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Before we move on to directly examine what Rahner has to say about salvation for non-Christians, we must consider his Christology and Soteriology more generally speaking. As a Christian, and more specifically as a Jesuit priest, Rahner firmly believes that Jesus is the savior of the world, but, as Ratzinger explains, the problem is for Rahner that of “the dichotomy between the particularity of Christian history and its claim to the whole being man. Can a particular history justly claim to be salvation not just for a particular historical period but for man precisely qua man?”[1] Marshall identifies two possible approaches for answering this dichotomy. The first approach focuses on the Jesus’ life, passion, death, and resurrection as that which makes him meaningful and significant for salvation generally speaking. In other words it is an appeal to the particularity of Jesus in his historical situation rather than an appeal which demonstrates how Jesus fulfills some general criteria for universal salvific significance, which is precisely what the second approach attempts to exhibit. Proponents of the second approach believe that one must first show that anything can be significant for the salvation of all, and until that is shown to be credible, belief in Jesus as the savior must be in-credible.[2]
Rahner, following Kant, Schleiermacher and Transcendentalism, chooses the second approach. He believes that before one can reasonably believe in a universal savior one must determine the general criteria necessary for there to be an absolute savior and then must demonstrate that a particular person or entity, in this case Jesus Christ, fulfills the criteria. Rahner writes: “how can he [Jesus], the concrete one, in his historical-concrete reality, which is not at all generally valid, be a norm for me?”[3]
In addition to his philosophical allegiances, Rahner chooses the second approach because of his understanding of the problem of apologetics. He rightly believes that Christians have a responsibility to preach the gospel, that is, the Good News of Jesus’ salvation, to the world, but recognizes that the modern world, due to modernity and some of the developments of the Enlightenment, finds this message harder to believe than earlier generations did.[4] Rahner believed this was because the kinds of things said by Christians, specifically in the tradition of the Neo-scholasticism of his time, are found to be in-credible by modern people; the teachings of the faith were presented in way that modern people had difficulty relating to.
Kilby explains Rahner’s perspective: for Rahner “what we need is to get away from a propositionalist system of theology so that we can relate Christian doctrines to what we experience in the depths of our being.”[5] [6]Therefore, according to Rahner, the presentation of the doctrines of the Faith must be adapted to the philosophy and perspectives of the day, redolent of the anthropological turn following the Enlightenment. Here, it seems, Pope Benedict XVI would disagree with him. Rahner believes the problem is on the side of the presentation of the information, the content of the faith. However, in Spe Salvi Pope Benedict XVI explains that the faith must not be merely informative, but performative;[7] more important than the delivering of the information is the evangelical witness of performing, of living, the faith.[8]
Regardless of his reasons, Rahner chooses to follow Kant and Schleiermacher in Transcendental approach and Marechal by incorporating the thought of Aquinas in an attempt to solve the apparent paradox between Jesus’ particularity as a 1st Century Jew from Nazareth and his supposed significance as the absolute savior. In following the second approach, the Transcendental approach, Rahner will make an anthropological turn; much of his system will thus start with man. Thus, Marshall elucidates Rahner’s goal:

If the goal of a transcendental Christology is to show how Jesus Christ can be significant for salvation, the method of transcendental Christology is to show that an absolute savior can be significant for salvation, can be that kind of reality. Once this established, it must indicate the way in which absolute savior can be asserted of Jesus, and the goal would then be achieved.[9]

As we have discussed above, for Rahner, all people, in their essence, anticipate the unsurpassable self-communication of God,[10] which is made possible by the supernatural existential, but for them to receive this very real self-revelation as communication, it must occur historically and categorically. This requires that the a priori transcendental experience of man be mediated historically as human freedom is mediated categorically. Thus, in Rahner’s system, the absolute savior must be a historical individual who freely and unconditionally accepts God’s self-offer, while not only pointing to, but actually being God’s self-communication. Thus, Rahner’s system demands a sort of Hypostatic Union in order for there to be an absolute savior, and, because the absolute savior is one of us, he must merely be the prime example of what we are oriented towards. He elucidates, “The incarnation of God is therefore the unique, supreme, case of the total actualization of human reality, which consists of the fact that man is in so far as he surrenders himself.”[11] Therefore, “The concrete human essence (wesen) is nothing other than a potential obedentialis for hypostatic union,”[12] and accordingly, Rahner can axiomatically claim, “anthropology is defective Christology.”[13] In light of this, Marshall rightly asks how any of us can be satisfied with anything less than hypostatic union is that is what we are ordered towards?[14]
Rahner has shown than man has an a priori orientation or dynamism toward transcendence. A transcendent openness can only open towards the Absolute Horizon of being. Therefore, the telos of the world, or mankind at the least, is in receiving God’s self-communication, in fulfilling this potential for reception of God’s grace.[15] Because man is not merely spiritual, but physical as well, this self-communication must take place historically and spatio-temporally. It must be a real event with a permanent beginning.[16] Thus, for Rahner, “we give the title of Savior simply to that historical person who, coming in space and time, signifies that beginning of God’s absolute communication of himself which inaugurates the self-communication for all men as something happening irrevocably and which shows this to be happening.”[17] It is not necessary that the historical advent of the Savior mark the beginning of God’s self-revelation, but it must be the irrevocable and absolute form and climax of the communication. However, in addition to the historical advent of God’s absolute self-communication in the Savior, in order for the Savior to be the universally significant for all men, he must be “the object of a radical orientation of our whole being, on account of which such a reality is capable of affecting [mankind] as a whole.”[18]
Perhaps we should summarize what we have thus far discussed. A being can only be absolute savior if mankind is dynamically oriented toward it. We see in the essence of man the supernatural existential, the preparation for the offer of God’s self-communication as grace, that transcendent openness to the Absolute Horizon. Thus, only God, the Horizon, can be our savior. The savior must be the real pledge of God, must actually be God’s self-communication, and this communication must be historical. In the absolute savior, God be must enter into history, and he must do so as one of us so that we can fully receive this communication.
We can now see how Rahner’s system has led to recognition of Jesus as the absolute savior of the world. Jesus is the divine Son of God. He is the eternal Logos, the Word of God, God’s self-communication, enfleshed. In the Hypostatic Union the Word of God has become one of us to fully reveal himself to us. Although he may only contact a portion of us in his historicity and particularity, because we are transcendentally a priori oriented to receive this self-communication as grace, all men, even those who have no contact with this “consummation of human reality at the hands of God, towards which all person are oriented in grace”[19], can receive this new salvific grace of Christ in their transcendence. He can be significant, efficacious for their salvation as the historical fulfillment of the pledge made by God in the supernatural existential, the openness to receiving him.
Marshall attempts to critique Rahner’s transcendental Christology. He is critical not of Rahner’s execution, which he finds to be masterful, but of the problem inherent in applying the transcendental method to Christ. Marshall believes that Rahner’s system forces him to make implications which result in the loss of particularity of Christ, which, Marshall admits, even Rahner says is unacceptable. In this regard, Marshall references Rahner as having said that the Catholic faith is indissolubly bound up with Jesus of Nazareth and that when Jesus becomes only one among several exemplary persons, we are no longer dealing with Christianity.[20] Nevertheless, Marshall describes Rahner’s definition of what is necessary for something to be an absolute savior, “any reality/person can be significant for salvation only because and in so far as we are oriented toward it by our very nature; only by falling within the scope of this transcendental orientation can any reality affect us as a whole and so be genuinely saving”[21], and adds that Jesus cannot possibly fulfill this criterion.

We are not and cannot be, oriented in this way toward Jesus Christ; he himself can in no we be derived or deduced from our transcendental orientation and its content. Therefore, Jesus is not and cannot be significant for salvation…Since he, as a particular person, cannot be significant for salvation, he cannot be the absolute savior, according to Rahner’s logic.[22]

Thus, Marshall believes that Rahner’s transcendental method forces into choosing between two alternatives. On the one hand, Marshall argues that Rahner can argue that Jesus fulfills the general criteria he has set forth for being generally significant for salvation, but this requires Rahner to let go of Jesus’ particular as emphasized by the Christian faith because it has nothing to do with significance for salvation. On the other hand, Marshall explains, Rahner can uphold the importance of Jesus’ particularity as the faith does, emphasizing his being a first century Jew who fulfills the specifically Jewish prophecies for the Messiah, his poverty, his miracles, his death, etc. while recognizing that Jesus, in his particularity, does not fulfill the general criteria for being the absolute savior. [23]
However, despite Marshall’s sharp intellect, we must conclude that his critique is flawed and incorrect. We could argue, as some critics do, that Rahner’s transcendental method puts Christianity on a slippery slope which may relativize Christ’s unicity, but we cannot say it is incompatible with Christianity. The deficiency in Marshall’s critique appears to be that he forgotten about the Hypostatic Union. Jesus is fully God and fully man. In his divinity he fulfills the general criteria for being significant for salvation. In his humanity we can honor his particular place in human history. Jesus of Nazareth is the divine Logos. He is the son of Mary and the Son of God. He is a man who lived near Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago, and he is the absolute savior of the world.

[1]Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 163.

[2] Marshall, 19.

[3] Karl Rahner, Schriften zur Theologie, Vol. 15, 234; emphasis added: “wie kann er, der Konkrete, in seiner gar nicht allgemeingültigen, sondern in seiner geschichtlich-konkreten Wirklichkeit für mich eine Norm sein?”

[4] Marshall, 19.

[5] Kilby, 263.

[6] Note that here Balthasar and Rahner differ as well. “For Balthasar, neo-scholasticism was inadequate because it was dry as dust and reductive, because it fialed to bring out, indeed it positively obscured, the reality and beauty of the thing presented, the object of revelation.” (Kilby, 263).

[7] Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, par. 2.

[8] Here Benedict is reminiscent of Balthasar and his emphasis on the Cross and martyrdom as witnessing to the faith.

[9] Marshall, 28.

[10] Ibid., 34.

[11] Ibid., 110; Rahner’s emphases; translation slightly altered.

[12] Ibid., 36

[13]Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations Volume I: God, Christ, Mary and Grace, (New York, New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1973), 122.

[14] Marshall, 36.

[15] McCool, 167.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 168.

[18] Marshall, 33-34.

[19] Ibid., 34.

[20] Ibid.,53.

[21] Ibid., 56.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., 57.

1 comment:

Henry Karlson said...

I have problem with Marshall, because I think the Pauline understanding of Jesus as the "second Adam" implies we are indeed directed towards him, in the same way we come out of the first Adam.

I think the best way to take Rahner is not to follow his approach exclusively, but as a complement to other theological aspects he doesn't entirely address/find room for. But far too many take him exclusively, for one reason or another.