Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Remembering Karl Rahner

I am remorseful because I was remiss. Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the death of Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ. Rahner was a giant of Catholic theology before Vatican II, a major contributor during the Council, and a force after it. As Fr. Joseph Komonchak, writing over on dotCommonweal, observes, Rahner's star has been eclipsed somewhat in recent years by that of Hans Urs Von Balthasar. As with many things, I am conflicted and ambivalent. While I came to Balthasar very much on my own, I have been taught Rahner by professors who are not only very learned people, but fantastic teachers, and people of deep holiness. Their immersion in Rahner is a component of their goodness because they understand that grace is the very air we breathe. Fr. Komonchak himself has been kind to me by sending along articles on which he is working, especially some recent writings about Vatican II. In his post, Karl Rahner, 25 years after, he writes something that is funny because it is true:

"A Balthasarian accused Rahner of compromising the divine transcendence by his anthropocentric approach. I thought this odd coming from a disciple of the man who claims to know an extraordinary amount of what passed between God the Father and God the Son on Holy Saturday!"

I certainly have to agree with Fr. Komonchak when he retorts: "I don’t know of any theologian who more than Rahner stressed the transcendence of the divine Mystery to all our feeble efforts to understand it. He embodied the Augustinian adage: “Si comprehendis, non est Deus” (If you can grasp it, it’s not God.)"

One of my favorite books by a disciple of Rahner is Bill Huebsch's A New Look at Grace: A Spirituality of Wholeness. I also have great memories of reading Faith in a Wintry Season: Conversations & Interviews with Karl Rahner in the Last Years of His Life. The best book on prayer I have ever read, one that I read over and again, is Rahner's own The Need and Blessing of Prayer:

"Man does very many diverse things. He does not have the gift of always doing one thing, although he bears a secret, perhaps unacknowledged and semiconscious longing always to do just one single thing; something that is everything and worth the effort, the heart's final exertion of love."
For Rahner, this one single thing that satisfies is prayer. I think Rahner's ecclesiology remains a completely beautiful vision of Church.

If you are really interested in Rahner, please listen to the America magazine podcast with Fr. Leo O'Donovan, SJ, a doctoral student of and friend of Rahner, as well as the long-time president of Georgetown University.

Last evening I read an article by one of the people who taught me and who is well-versed in the theology of Rahner, as well as that of John Macquarrie, Macquarrie being the one who helped me bridge the gap between philosophy and theology with his Hensley Henson lectures, given in Oxford and published as Heidegger and Christianity (Rahner studied briefly under Heidegger), and who is both an academic teacher and a life teacher, Dr. Owen Cummings. Deacon Owen is the Regents’ Professor of Theology at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. The article, one in his series on popes of the 20th century, on the marvelous Bl. John XXIII, appeared in the excellent periodical published by the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, an order whose goodness to me cannot be exaggerated, Emmanuel.

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