The Unique Place of the Foundations among the Writings of Karl Rahner

By Mark F. Fischer


            Every Master of Divinity student at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo -- the seminary of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles -- purchases a copy of Karl Rahner's Foundations of Christian Faith. For several years it has been a required textbook for priesthood candidates. Its central role in the seminary curriculum testifies to the book's thoroughness and depth. At a time when fundamentalism pretends to speak for all of Christianity, and when the Catholic Church too often assumes a defensive posture, the book offers a powerful theological vision. It presents a Christianity deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition and confidently embracing the insights of world culture and the human sciences. It is nothing less than a "basic course in faith," the literal translation of the book's German title, Grundkurs des Glaubens.[1]


            This basic course, however, is anything but simple. To be honest, the book is so challenging that few students read it in its entirety. Indeed, one professor in the seminary's Systematic Theology Department even confessed to me that he had never finished the text. Seminarians wince at Rahner's specialized vocabulary. They weary of his complex syntax. They struggle with the subtlety of his thought. The Foundations is a basic course, but its topic, Christian faith, is as deep as divinity itself. It does not lend itself to speed reading.


            When students complain about textbooks, professors usually shrug their shoulders and recommend more strenuous study. That is what I did when I first heard seminarians grumble about Rahner's Foundations. No other book can take its place, I told them, and the English translation by William V. Dych is excellent. I advised them to apply themselves more vigorously. But student complaints persisted. Eventually I began to sympathize with them. Foundations of Christian Faith, for all its profundity, is a difficult book.


            So in the mid-1990s I began to write a paraphrase of it. My goal was not to create a substitute for Rahner's text, but to summarize it.[2] I wanted to give students an overview of the chapters and subsections. Students could then compare my overview with Rahner's own words. I put my paraphrase on the internet, and before long, many people were visiting the web site.


            The reader might well ask, however, why students should devote themselves to a book so notoriously difficult -- or even to a paraphrase of such a book. The answer has to do with Karl Rahner himself. Twenty years after his death in 1984, he still remains the object of intense theological study. His ecclesiology enhanced the Church's catholicity and openness to the world, his name is intimately linked with the legacy of Vatican II, and he was among the leading Catholic theologians of the twentieth century.[3] Within his scholarly publications, Foundations of Christian Faith holds a unique place. Rahner himself indicated this, and the following essay will explain what he meant.


Rahner's Claims about the Foundations

In the 1976 "Preface," Rahner made two claims about the uniqueness of the Foundations within his body of work. Although not a summary his earlier efforts, he wrote, the book "has a somewhat more comprehensive and more systematic character than one might be accustomed to in the other theological writings of the author."[4] More comprehensive -- this phrase is surprising, given the tremendous scope of Rahner's writings. What could be more comprehensive, for example, than Rahner's Encyclopedia of Theology (for which he served as General Editor) or the Theological Dictionary (which he co-authored with Herbert Vorgrimler)? To say that Foundations of Christian Faith is somewhat more comprehensive than these all-encompassing works raises a question: what does it comprise that they do not?


            Moreover, Rahner says the Foundations has a "more systematic character" than one might be accustomed to find in his other works. What could be more systematic, however, than the early works with which Rahner established his formidable reputation? Consider, for example, Rahner's 1939 doctoral thesis. Published as Spirit in the World, it analyzed a single question in St. Thomas' Summa Theologica. From this single question, Rahner drew the insight that no human thought can proceed without an image or representation. Even the most profound human thought -- the thought, for example, of God -- depends on mental imagery, on representations that St. Thomas called phantasms. Through these phantasms, Rahner concluded, spirit is present to the world. Rahner's thesis laid a systematic basis for his eventual doctrine of sacrament and symbol, through which God's Spirit becomes tangible. Yet Rahner claims that the Foundations of Christian Faith has a "more systematic character" than his other writings, presumably including Spirit in the World. [5] How can this be?


            Rahner sheds light on the more comprehensive and systematic character of the Foundations in the book's Introduction. Sketching the content of an introductory course in theology, he states that such a course must treat philosophy and theology as a unity. The traditional seminary curriculum, however, regards philosophy as a handmaid or prelude to theology. Before beginning theology, seminarians study philosophy, especially metaphysics and ontology. These disciplines help students to appreciate transcendent realities like truth and justice. Rahner, however, does not want to presume that his readers have completed a course in philosophy as a preparation for theology. He does not regard philosophy as merely the prelude to or foundation for theology, but as a reflection on the Christian's understanding of the whole of human life. Theology for its part is not exclusively the understanding that follows upon the acceptance of revelation, but encompasses every intellectual effort to understand Christianity. The Foundations of Christian Faith is more comprehensive because it comprises both disciplines as a "question and answer."[6]


            Rahner asserts that his foundational course in theology will show people that they can believe with intellectual honesty "from the very content of Christian dogma itself."[7] This, I believe, is the heart of Rahner's claim that Foundations is more systematic than his other works. The content to which he refers is the self-communication of God to human beings. They in turn can receive God's very life. This is the dogmatic mystery that inspires confidence in believers. Rahner states that it is more fundamental than any other. The other dogmas -- the unity of God, the two natures of Christ, and (as we shall see) even the Trinity -- presuppose God's fundamental offer. The other dogmas contain the self communication of God, to be sure, as well as an understanding of human beings as hearers of the divine Word. But they do so as presuppositions. Rahner aimed to make the presuppositions explicit. If the Foundations is more comprehensive because it contains both philosophy and theology, it is more systematic because it draws out the consequences of God's decision to share the divine life with human beings.


            These claims about the more comprehensive and systematic character of the Foundations of Christian Faith are not argued at any length in the book's Introduction. They are so fundamental to Rahner's intention, however, that they deserve closer scrutiny.


First Claim: The Comprehensiveness of the Foundations

To see how Foundations of Christian Faith comprises both philosophy and theology, Rahner invites us to regard the human being as a question, a question in the philosophical sense.[8] It is the question of the origin and destiny of humanity. Human beings are able to reflect on this question due to their history (i.e., the way the question has been framed in the past) and to their capacity for transcendence. The answers to this philosophical question from previous generations do not suffice and leave us dissatisfied. In every age human beings raise the question anew, moved by a desire to transcend the answers of the past and plumb reality more deeply. In searching for an answer, Rahner's procedure is eminently philosophical, and seems distinct (at first) from theology.


What is his answer to this question about origin and destiny, the question that human beings "have" and "are"? Rahner claims that it is Christianity itself. Christianity teaches that the human being has a basic orientation to the mystery of God. God is not eternally distant, says Rahner, but wants "to be the innermost center of our existence." God gives the divine self to human beings as a share in divinity (grace) and in the person of Jesus Christ (history). So the answer to the philosophical question about the origin and destiny of human beings is not only philosophical, but a Christian answer as well, and thus a theological one.


Rahner's procedure of uniting philosophy and theology challenges traditional assumptions. Indeed it challenges the very pedagogy of theological formation. Every Catholic seminary requires that aspirants to the priesthood complete a number of philosophy courses before they embark on theology proper. The study of being, ethics, logic, and philosophical anthropology -- these are typical courses from the pre-theology curriculum. Although official documents about seminary formation emphasize that the relation between philosophy and theology is complementary, nevertheless theology occupies the superior position. Philosophy is supposed to lead the seminarian from human to divine realities.[9]


Rahner's method, however, compresses the two by "philosophizing . . . within theology itself." In fact, Rahner criticizes the traditional pedagogy. It unfortunately begins with a philosophical approach, he says, an approach that treats the revelation of God as if it had to be "proven" or at least demonstrated to be possible. For the person who already believes, this approach can be unfruitful. It almost requires him or her to suspend belief, as it were, and pretend to be an Enlightenment-style philosopher, investigating the conditions for the possibility of faith. By contrast, Rahner's approach is directly Christian. "We are reflecting," he writes, "upon the concrete whole of the person's self-realization in Christ." His approach is not that of a systematic doubter but of a Christian who wants to know more clearly humanity's origin and destiny in God.

Critique of Rahner

Critics of Rahner fault him, however, for uniting philosophy and theology. Philosophy, they say, is the realm of human reason. Theology, by contrast, must begin with divine revelation. Rahner's attempt to unite the two, say the critics, blurs the distinction between the human and the divine. Ultimately it blurs the distinction between human nature and divine grace, they argue, even making God dependent on creation. In short, the "more comprehensive" character that Rahner claims for his Foundations, i.e., the book's unity of philosophy and theology, is the very thing that his critics condemn.


One of Rahner's most vociferous opponents is the American theologian, Paul D. Molnar. In two lengthy articles, Molnar has attacked Rahner for his doctrines of experience and revelation. Rahner's theology reduces God to a reflection on human experience, Molnar charges, thus making divine revelation unnecessary.[10] Although Molnar is a hostile critic, his careful analyses of the Foundations highlight many distinctive features of the work. Let us take a moment to review Molnar's critique in broad outline so as to show why Rahner calls the Foundations "more comprehensive" than his other works.


Molnar insists on clear distinctions. To understand God, he argues, the Christian must choose a theological method over a philosophical one. Rahner, he charges, conflates the two. The mysterious God revealed the divine self to the Israelites, Molnar reminds us, and not to the other nations. God is the first cause, radically different from all creatures, who only know their creator indirectly, from God's effects upon creation and from distinct acts of historical self-revelation.[11] Molnar accuses Rahner of forgetting this. His method of uniting philosophy and theology reduces God to a necessary part of human existence. Molnar puts it this way: "By assuming that knowledge of God is a universal experience of man as he is, Rahner has precluded any real transcendence or freedom for God independent of what human experience ascribes to him."[12] If God can be known from human experience, then God is not transcendent. If human experience is the measure of God, then God cannot reveal divinity in sovereign freedom.


Starting from this premise, Molnar levels further charges against Rahner. The first is that Rahner's theology has not consistently held "scriptural faith" as the norm of God's being. Another is that Rahner tried to "deduce" the meaning of grace and revelation from human experience. A third charge is that Rahner erased the difference between creator and creature. In short, Molnar argues that Rahner's unity of philosophy and theology has not preserved the transcendence of God. It has failed to see that God's specific self-revelations in history not only surpass, but may contradict, our "natural" knowledge of God.[13]


Molnar's critique casts the features of Rahner's "more comprehensive" approach into high relief. Rahner did indeed hold that we know God in our reflection on experience. "All knowledge of God," Rahner said,[14] "is an a posteriori knowledge which comes from and through encountering the world." Molnar is entirely correct to argue that knowledge of God, for Rahner, is inseparable from experience of the world. Nowhere, however, does Rahner claim that the world supplies "direct" knowledge of God. In fact, Rahner takes pains to insist that we cannot know God as if God were an object among other realities that are present to us. The fact that the human being is able to encounter the divine in reflecting on experience does not reduce God to a product of human reflection. It rather points to a fundamental aspect of human experience. Rahner calls this a "supernatural existential," an orientation or receptivity toward God as the ground of human being.[15]


The supernatural existential expresses a fundamental Rahnerian insight: "Really and radically every person must be understood as the event of a supernatural self-communication of God."[16] Because every person can receive this communication, the supernatural existential illustrates Rahner's unity of philosophy and theology. The doctrine of the supernatural existential is a philosophical statement about the capacity of every person, distinct from an explicitly theological revelation. At the same time, it is a theological affirmation. It affirms that God invites human beings to share in the divine life. Not all accept the invitation, and people can refuse it. But the capacity to hear God's Word and obey it belongs to everyone.


Molnar dislikes the supernatural existential. From his viewpoint, a capacity extended to everyone is not gracious and free, but rather a constituent of human nature. If it belongs to everyone, then God apparently owes it to us. With the supernatural existential, Molnar argues, Rahner has muddied the clear distinction between God and humanity. He has left us "unable to distinguish God from ourselves"[17] by confusing the realms of nature and of the supernatural. These, like the realms of philosophy and theology, should be rigorously distinguished.


Rahner's Method and God's Intention

It is fair to say, however, that the Foundations had anticipated these objections. Indeed, Rahner conceded that the human capacity for receiving God's Word cannot be readily distinguished from the basic openness of the human spirit. "God's self-communication in grace," Rahner confessed,[18] "cannot be differentiated from those basic structures of human transcendence" described in Chapter II of the Foundations. Rahner admits that it is almost impossible to say where the human capacity to hear God's Word stops and where grace begins. But this concession does not obscure the difference between humanity and divinity, as Molnar charges. It is rather an admission that every human capacity or talent is ultimately a gift from God. Yes, the supernatural existential does claim that something supernatural -- namely, the capacity to hear God's message -- is given to everyone. But it obliges neither God to give the divine self nor humanity to receive it.


Molnar contends that the supernatural existential cancels the need for an explicit historical revelation. If the capacity to hear God's Word in daily experience were to belong to everyone, Molnar argues, then the revelation of God to Moses, and of the incarnate Word in Jesus, would be unnecessary. But Molnar's critique runs aground on Rahner's sharp distinction between these supreme examples of revelation and the human capacity to respond to them. The supernatural existential enables humanity to hear God's Word in specific events and people. "God self-communication as offer," Rahner wrote, "is also the necessary condition which makes its acceptance possible." Without something like a supernatural existential, people would not be able to recognize God in history. Critics may object that the human capacity for reflecting on experience lacks the clearly supernatural character of Biblical theophanies and miracles. Philosophers may even recognize this capacity by the light of reason. But were it not for this capacity, people might never understand theophanies and miracles for the divine realities they express.

The "More Comprehensive" Method and God's Intention

Let us take a moment to review our progress up to this point. We have identified Rahner's claim that the Foundations is more comprehensive with his intention to unite philosophy and theology. Rahner philosophizes within theology by defining a universal human capacity (a capacity upon which philosophic reason can reflect) for receiving God's Word (and theologizing about it). Without this capacity, no one could discover in Scripture and tradition, or even in theophanies and miracles, expressions of the transcendent God.


Critics have attacked the Rahnerian union of philosophy and theology as an improper confusion of the human and the divine. The proposed union appears to drag theological revelation to the same level as philosophical thought. It seems to shrink the divine to a human reflection on experience. And by fusing supernatural gift with a natural capacity, it seems to reduce divine grace to human nature. Rahner's union of philosophy and theology strikes some critics, not as "more comprehensive," but as an affront to Christian tradition.


Their critique, I have argued, is unpersuasive. It attributes to Rahner a claim that he never made, raises objections he had already anticipated, and misunderstands his intention. The critique appears to rigidly exclude philosophy from theology.[19] But it also enables us to see distinctive features of Rahner's "more comprehensive" approach. By focusing not just on the revelation bequeathed in Scripture and tradition, but additionally on the human capability to recognize and receive that revelation, Rahner helps us understand God's intention for humanity. It is nothing less than a desire for people to discern the divine Word in history and accept the invitation to obey it. Rahner's union of philosophy and theology enables people to receive, through human experience and a subsequent reflection on it, genuine knowledge of God. This knowledge, however a posteriori and indirect, comes to people in the divine invitation to transcend themselves by responding to God's appeal.


Second Claim: The Systematic Character of the Foundations

Let us turn now to Rahner's second claim about the Foundations, the claim that it has a more systematic character than his other books. He expounds this assertion indirectly (without explicitly arguing the book's systematic character) in the Introduction. There he distinguishes between the large number of propositional truths in dogmatic theology and the "really absolute mysteries" in the content of Christian faith. We find the absolute mysteries, he says, in


the self-communication of God in the depths of existence, called grace, and in history, called Jesus Christ, and this [self-communication] already includes the mystery of the Trinity in the economy of salvation and of the immanent Trinity.[20]


Grace and Christ, the "absolute" mysteries of God's self-communication (Rahner says in the same place), "constitute the basic content of faith." The theme of God's self-communication contains even the Trinity. Here, in a single sentence, Rahner brings us to the heart of his theological system. The sentence suggests why Foundations has a more systematic character than we are accustomed to find in Rahner's other writings. The book elaborates the insight that Christian faith is about God's gift of self.


To read the remainder of this text, please order the printed version of The Foundations of Karl Rahner by Mark F. Fischer, published in 2005 by Crossroad Publishing (ISBN 0824523423).



[1] Karl Rahner, Grundkurs des Glaubens: Einführung in den Begriff des Christentums (1976), Eighth (1984) Paperback Edition (Freiburg -- Basel -- Wien: Herder, 1997). In 1976, the book received the "Imprimi potest" (or permission to be published after a critical review) from Rahner's Jesuit superior and then the "Imprimatur" (a definitive approval for publication) from the Diocese of Freiburg im Breisgau.


[2] Although the summaries of each section in the text reflect my own judgment regarding selection and abbreviation, nevertheless they accurately paraphrase Rahner's thought. In that way they differ from the admittedly "personal interpretation" of the Foundations contained in the various essays edited by Leo J. O'Donovan, A World of Grace: An Introduction to the Themes and Foundations of Karl Rahner's Theology (New York: A Crossroad Book -- The Seabury Press, 1980). The essays provide what O'Donovan calls a "running introduction" (see p. xi) to the Foundations, rather than a summary of it.


[3] On Rahner and the Church's catholicity, see Richard Lennan, The Ecclesiology of Karl Rahner (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1995). Lennan summarizes the "unequivocally Catholic" aspects of Rahner's ecclesiology, starting at p. 263, and at p. 229 he traces the genesis of Foundations in Rahner's 1969 book, Zur Reform des Theologiestudiums. On the legacy of Vatican II, see John R. Sachs, "'Do Not Stifle the Spirit': Karl Rahner, the Legacy of Vatican II, and Its Urgency for Theology Today," Proceedings of the Catholic Theological Society of America 51 (June 6-9, 1996): 15-38. On Rahner as a leading Catholic theologian, see Miguel H. Díaz, On Being Human: U.S. Hispanic and Rahnerian Perspectives (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2001), p. xiii. Díaz argues that U.S. Hispanic theologians have found in Rahner's thought an enrichment of their own themes, such as solidarity with the oppressed and the theology of the Kingdom of God (p. 135).


[4] Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, translated by William V. Dych (New York: Seabury Press (A Crossroad Book), 1978), p. xv. "Wenn hier eine Einführung geboten wird, dann darf der Leser auch nicht erwarten, dass dieses Buch eine abschliessende Zusammenfassung der bisherigen theologischen Arbeit des Verfassers sei. Das ist es nicht, und das will es nicht sein, wenngleich dieser Grundkurs von seinem Thema her einen etwas umfassenderen und systematischeren Charakter hat, als man es bei den sonstigen theologischen Veröffentlichungen des Autors gewohnt sein mag." Grundkurs des Glaubens, p. 9. Harvey D. Egan's book review of the Grundkurs drew attention to Rahner's claim that the book has a more systematic and comprehensive character, Theological Studies 38:3 (1977): 555-559, at p. 556.


[5] Indeed, Geffrey B. Kelly wrote that the Foundations is Rahner's "only major systematic work." Kelly, "Introduction," in Kelly, Editor, Karl Rahner: Theologian of the Graced Search for Meaning, vol. 8 in the series The Making of Modern Theology: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Texts (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), p. 22.


[6] Foundations., p. 11. In the next paragraph, Rahner seems to equate the philosophic dimension of his basic course with fundamental theology. "By its very nature the foundational course must necessarily be a quite specific unity of fundamental theology and dogmatic theology."


[7] Foundations, p. 12. "In unserem theologischen Grundkurs kommt es gerade darauf an, dem Menschen auch aus der Inhaltlichkeit des christlichen Dogmas selbst heraus das Vertrauen zu geben, dass er in intellektueller Redlichkeit glauben kann." Grundkurs, p. 23.


[8] This paragraph and the next three quote from pp. 10-12 of the Foundations.


[9] Even Rahner concedes that there are "theological data which possibly cannot be reached by a secular philosophy as such" (Foundations, p. 11). For an understanding philosophy and theology in the curriculum of today's Catholic seminary, see the National Conference of [United States] Catholic Bishops, Norms for Priestly Formation: A Compendium of Official Documents on Training Candidates for the Priesthood, Compiled for Publication by the Bishops' Committee on Priestly Formation (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1982). This compendium of Norms includes the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education's 1970 document The Basic Plan for Priestly Formation, where we read that a chronological progression from philosophy to theology is not strictly required but is the first of three options, the third of which is the option of studying philosophy and theology together (par. 60, p. 39). The same compendium also includes the congregation's 1972 document The Study of Philosophy in Seminaries. Here we read that philosophy is a prelude to theological reflection, because "an exclusive recourse to the light of revelation" -- though superior to philosophy -- "is not even possible" (Chap. II, par. 3, p. 103). In this same vein, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Program of Priestly Formation, Fourth Edition (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1993), teaches that philosophy promotes reflection on the relation "between the human spirit and truth, that truth which is revealed to us fully in Jesus Christ" (par. 167, p. 35). All of this is summed up well in the Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II, On the Relationship between Faith and Reason: Fides et Ratio, Vatican City, Sept. 14, 1998 (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1998, text and format from Libreria Editrice Vaticana). Although the Holy Father insists upon the "profound unity" of faith and philosophy (par. 48), nevertheless he concludes that revelation endows philosophical truths "with their fullest meaning" (par. 67).


[10] Paul D. Molnar, "Can We Know God Directly? Rahner's Solution from Experience," Theological Studies 46:2 (1985): 228-261; and Molnar, "Is God Essentially Different from His Creatures? Rahner's Explanation from Revelation," The Thomist 51:4 (October, 1987): 575-631.


[11] Molnar, "Can We Know God Directly," passim, esp. pp. 236-7.


[12] Molnar, "Is God Essentially Different," p. 596.


[13] Ibid. For Molnar's treatment of scriptural faith, see pp. 577, 597. On deducing the meaning of grace, see p. 596. On the contradictions between natural and revealed knowledge, see fn. 67, p. 593.


[14] Rahner, Foundations, p. 52.


[15] David Coffey, "The Whole Rahner on the Supernatural Existential," Theological Studies 65 (2004): 95-118.


[16] Foundations, p. 127.


[17] Molnar, "Can We Know God," p. 239.


[18] Rahner, Foundations, p. 129. The quotation in the next paragraph is from p. 128.


[19] Leo J. O'Donovan, "A Journey into Time: The Legacy of Karl Rahner's Last Years," Theological Studies 46 (1985): 621-646. O'Donovan devotes a lengthy footnote (no. 24, p. 625) to a critique of Molnar's "Can We Know God." Molnar replies to O'Donovan in his own lengthy footnote in "Is God Essentially Different," footnote 3, pp. 578-9.


[20] Foundations, p. 12. "Wirklich absolute Mysterien gibt es eigentlich nur in der Selbstmitteilung Gottes in der Tiefe der Existenz -- Gnade genannt -- und in der Geschichte -- Jesus Christus genannt --, womit auch schon das Geheimnis der heilsökonomischen und immanenten Trinität gegeben ist." Grundkurs, p. 24.


[21] Foundations, p. 155. "Allerdings ist diese Art von Offenbarungsgeschichte nur eine Spezies, ein Sektor der allgemeinen kategorialen Offenbarungsgeschichte, der geglückteste Fall der notwendigen Selbstauslegung der transzendentalen Offenbarung oder -- besser gesagt -- der volle Wesensvollzug der beiden Offenbarungen und ihrer einen Geschichte -- der transzendentalen und kategorialen -- in Wesenseinheit und -reinheit." Grundkurs, p. 159. At the same time, the English translation of Foundations speaks of Christianity as successful (p. 140), absolute (p. 162) and unsurpassed (p. 174).


[22] Humanity's "orientation towards the abiding mystery whom we call God" (p. 217) reaches its climax "when this nature of man as so understood so gives itself to the mystery of fullness and so empties itself that it becomes the nature of God himself," Foundations, p. 218. "Dieses geschieht in einem unüberbietbaren Mass in radikalster Strenge, wenn diese so verstandene Natur des Menschen, so sich weggebend an das Geheimnis der Fülle, sich so enteignet, dass sie Gottes selbst wird," Grundkurs, p. 216. The quotation about humanity as "the utterance in which God could empty himself" occurs in the Foundations, p. 224. Rahner's description of the resurrection (quoted in the next paragraph) as "the permanent, redeemed, final and definitive validity of the single and unique life of Jesus" occurs in the Foundations at p. 266.


[23] "Rahner invokes the permissible aspect of demythologization and usually starts with an unrelenting attack on the common mythological idea of what belief in Christ entails." Walter Kasper, Jesus the Christ, trans. by V. Green (Kent, England: Burns and Oates Limited; and Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1976), p. 48.


[24] Roger Haight questions Rahner's assertion (Foundations, p. 174) that the incarnation of the Logos is the "unsurpassable high point" of God's self-communication. "A consciousness of historicity," writes Haight, makes the thesis of a single incarnation of God "difficult to hold." Roger Haight, Jesus Symbol of God (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1999), p. 433. Haight (pp. 432-34) makes a number of other thought-provoking criticisms of Rahner, all within a general context of appreciation for and appropriation of Rahner's theology of the symbol and Christology from below.


[25] Foundations, p. 136. Catherine Mowry LaCugna states that "There is wide agreement in Catholic and Protestant theology with Rahner's principle" of the equivalence of the immanent and economic Trinity. See God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), p. 211. She quibbles, however, with the phrase "economic Trinity," explaining that "There are not three but only two missions in the economy of salvation: the sending of the Son (Incarnation) and the sending of the Spirit (grace)," footnote 7, p. 234.


[26] "The real doctrine of the Trinity is presented in Christology and pneumatology." These words are on the last page of Rahner's book The Trinity (which was originally vol. 2, chapter 5 of the 1967 series Mysterium Salutis), trans. by Joseph Donceel (New York: Seabury Press, 1969), p. 120.


[27] The first of these passages occurs in the Foundations on pp. 83-84, where we read that God communicates "his very own being" in "the immediate vision of God as the fulfillment of the finite spirit in grace." The second passage occurs at p. 124. "God's self-communication to the human being, says Rahner, means "that in him as in a temple dwells the very spirit of God as a really divine gift." The third passage, about Holy Spirit as "the salvation that divinizes us," occurs at p. 136.


[28] Foundations, p. 139. "Wenn Gott sich in seinem heiligen Pneuma als er selbst schon immer und überall jedem Menschen -- ob er will oder nicht, ob er es reflektiert oder nicht, ob er es annimmt oder nicht -- als die innerste Mitte seiner Existenz mitgeteilt hat, wenn alle Schöpfungsgegeschichte schon getragen ist von einer Selbstmitteilung Gottes eben in der Schöpfung, dann scheint ja von Gott her gar nichts mehr geschehen zu können." Grundkurs, p. 144.

[29] Foundations, p. 169. This quotation, as well as the quotation in the next paragraph about the God-Man, are taken from the following passage: "In dieser Zäsur kommt die Menschheit nach einem fast unübersehbaren Verharren in einem fast naturalen Dasein zu sich selbst und nicht nur in introvertierter Reflexion, Kunst, Philosophie, sondern auch in einer in ihre Umwelt hinein extrovertierten Art und Reflexion, und in diese Periode hinein kommt gleichzeitig diese Menschheitsgeschichte zum Gottmenschen, zu der absoluten geschichtlichen Objektivation ihres transzendentalen Gottesverständnisses." Grundkurs, p. 172.


[30] Foundations, pp. 143-44, contains the passage about the "two moments" of acceptance or rejection of God's self-communication. Rahner discusses "the obedient acceptance of man's supernaturally elevated self-transcendence" at p. 152. Rahner's assertion about the person who "actualizes himself in freedom" occurs at p. 147.


[31] Foundations, p. 169. "In dieser Objektivation werden der sich mitteilende Gott und der dies Selbstmitteilung Gottes annehmende Mensch (eben in Jesus Christus) unwiderruflich einer, und die Offenbarungs- und Heilsgeschichte der gesamten Menschheit -- unbeschadet der individuellen Heilsfrage -- kommt an ihr Ziel." Grundkurs, p. 172.


[32] Foundations, p. 12. The quotations in the next paragraph are also from p. 12.

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