Chapter Six: Jesus Christ

Part 1: Christology Within an Evolutionary View of the World.

Introduction to Part 1

In the introduction to this chapter (p. 176), Rahner presents his doctrine of the “anonymous Christian.” The Hindu, Buddhist, or Moslem may well accept what Christianity wants to convey, Rahner suggests, without that Hindu, Buddhist, or Moslem professing a Christian faith. Whenever a person accepts God’s call to transcendence and responds to it, one becomes a Christian, even without knowing the name of Christ.

Still, one is only a Christian in the full sense of the word by means of Baptism and explicitly Christian faith. Rahner calls this “the historical and reflexive dimension of God’s transcendental self-communication” (176). It is “historical” because Christianity is not just an idea but has manifested itself in history. It is “reflexive” because that transcendental self-communication of God, offered to everyone in an interior way, is reflected in the life of Jesus. Without the history of Jesus, says Rahner, transcendental theology would be not be recognized for what it is.

This chapter on Jesus Christ brings two elements together: transcendental and historical theology. The point of departure is the encounter with Jesus in history. The chapter then explicates what Rahner means by an “ascending Christology” or “Christology from below.” This theology begins with the man, Jesus of Nazareth, who showed himself to be the one whose life and words were affirmed and validated by God. The “ascending Christology” then connects this man with the eternal Word by whom God intended from all eternity to reconcile us to God’s own self.

We recognize in the man, Jesus, the fullest expression of a transcendental encounter with God, an encounter in comparison to which our own experiences seem incomplete. The experience of the man Jesus enables us to ascend to a recognition in him of the divine Logos. To be sure, the classical “descending Christology,” which begins with the idea of God entering human history, is also important. But the human, rather than the divine, is Rahner’s starting point.

Part 1:

Christology Within an Evolutionary View of the World.

(VI.1, p. 178). The “evolutionary view” about which Rahner speaks does not refer mainly to an evolution on the part of Jesus Christ. Rather, it has to do with our own evolution and with the self-transcendence to which we are called (A). Transcending ourselves by responding to God’s call is a kind of evolution. We evolve by opening ourselves to the God who unites all creation (B). Rahner calls this “active self-transcendence.” He means that we transcend the merely material by knowing it for what it is, namely, the vehicle of spirit (C). Our proper end, the end of both matter and spirit, is to lead the material world into a consciousness of its spiritual vocation (D). Humanity is thus the shepherd of the cosmos, drawing it to God as its own innermost life and destiny (E). In this “evolutionary view,” Christ is God’s offer of self-communication. When we accept the offer, we enjoy membership in the very life of God (F). Christ is the “absolute saviour,” embodying God’s offer and manifesting in himself the definitive acceptance of that offer by human beings (G). As divine Word, Christ established the world as the reality wherein the divine would show itself. As human being, he achieved a “hypostatic” union with God (H). This hypostatic union, accomplished definitively in Jesus alone, is part of a transcendence taking place in all human creatures (I).

A. Explanation and Clarification of the Topic (VI.1.A, p. 178). Our question about Jesus proceeds from an evolutionary view of the world. Rahner intends to avoid the theories of Teilhard de Chardin, thereby presupposing (rather than presenting) the nature of evolution. An evolutionary starting point does not mean that we are trying to view the incarnation as a consequence of evolution (as in the heretical “consciousness Christology” of the early twentieth century). Nor are we trying to say that the incarnation is incompatible with evolution (and thus embracing a intellect-denying fideism). Rather, we seek a correlation of the two, namely evolution and faith.

Evolution is the view of the contemporary person, the person in a pluralistic world. Such a person sees the diversity of religions and asks what is specific to the Christian religion. His or her question is not, “What is the message of Christ?” but rather, “How is it possible to take the question of a God-Man seriously?”

Rahner’s method of procedure is straightforward. He poses questions about the unity of spirit and matter. He asks what is the nature of this unity from the standpoint of an evolutionary view. Further, he asks about the relation between the history of nature and that of the human being. His goal is to show that, in human beings, matter “discovers itself” in spirit. The human being is the one who transcends matter. The ultimate transcendence has already begun in the “hypostatic union” of two natures in Christ. In this incarnation is the beginning, Rahner says, of the divinization of the world.

B. The Unity of All Created Things (VI.1.B, p. 181). Matter and spirit do not exist “alongside” each other, unmixed and separate. Christianity presumes that they have much in common. It teaches the union of spirit and matter in the person. The Christian believes that the fulfillment of the human spirit is not an individual achievement. It must be understood as part of the fulfillment of the cosmos.

Natural science knows "about" matter, but "it cannot know matter itself " (182). Why not? Because natural science abstracts form the person and seeks impersonal knowledge. Impersonal knowledge enables the scientist to calculate. But it does not enable the person to see the interrelationships between matter and the person. Rahner believes that we can only know matter in relation to the human being. Even the scientist cannot know the human being, not even in a "medical" and "physiological" way, as matter alone. To be sure, the person is not a "platonic spirit" either. But knowledge of the person must be spiritual as well as material.

Rahner offers the following thesis: "Spirit is the single person insofar as he becomes conscious of himself in an absolute presence to himself" (183). The human being is open to all of reality. He or she is oriented to the ground of reality, i.e., God. This openness is not a possession but has the character of "being taken possession of." God draws us into mystery. We are "taken possession of" when we accept the mystery of God. So when we become conscious of ourselves as the presence of God's absolute call and mystery, we "become" spirit.

No doubt we experience ourselves and others as "matter." But we are deceived if we believe that matter is all that there is. Were we to view people as purely matter, then we might regard them as mere instruments at our disposal. But they are not, and matter is only a starting point. From matter we realize that there is a reality, an otherness, in which we live and with which we can communicate. In that communication, we realize that the "other" is more than matter. He or she is rather a finite spirit, like ourselves, communicating in mutual knowledge and love. And in mutual knowledge and love all things are united, linked in freedom by the bonds of spirit.

C. The Notion of "Active Self-Transcendence" (VI.1.C, p. 183). The fact that we are both matter and spirit can be misunderstood. We can misunderstand ourselves statically, as if the relation of matter and spirit in us never changes. And we can misunderstand ourselves as the mere containers of the two, matter and spirit, as if they were irreconcilable opposites.

A truer understanding of the relation between matter and spirit must see, as Rahner says, "that it is of the intrinsic nature of matter to develop toward spirit" (184). In time, the person changes. He or she develops. In this development, the person transcends his or her former self. Indeed, one surpasses oneself, and actually "increases" one's own being. This is "active self-transcendence." One transcends oneself, not just by passively accepting what God causes, but also by means of "the power of the absolute fullness of being" (185).

For example, parents create their child, a new person, in an act which is (in the first instance) "merely" biological. Ultimately, however, that merely biological act is of great spiritual consequence. And in the theory of natural selection, matter appears to develop, once again, toward more successful life, and even toward the evolution of the human being. All of these are examples of active self-transcendence. Matter is developing toward spirit.

The highest dimensions of life and of spirit are variations of what existed previously. To be sure, new species evolve, and these are a development and a progression. But from Rahner's viewpoint, they are expressions of an underlying form or idea. The form or idea seeks to manifest itself. It has a telos or goal. And human beings not only possess themselves in that way, but can be conscious of the form or idea that underlies them.

D. The Finality of the History of Nature and Spirit (VI.1.D, 187). Human beings and nature have a single, common goal. The history of nature reaches its goal in the history of the human spirit. The goal of humanity is to continue the history of nature. It continues it by transforming the material world. Another way of expressing this idea is to say that nature culminates in spirit. Spirit, for its part, aims at the transformation of nature.

The goal of humanity, says Rahner, "consists in the infinite fullness of God" (188). The person, Rahner suggests, must simply accept God's hidden and seemingly distant dynamism as providence. This seems to be an argument for fatalism or resignation. But it is not. Rahner states that there is reason for hope: that reason is the history of freedom, a history "encompassed" by God's grace and will.

E. Man's Place in the Cosmos (VI.1.E., p. 188). Under the influence of science, we commonly think of humanity as the product of chance whose destiny is extinction. That is the despair of our age. The Christian thinker, however, insists upon the dignity and abiding value of the person.

Is there any support for human dignity in a scientific world view? Yes, says Rahner, it is the idea of the human person as the one who can now "direct" the very progression of culture and even of nature. This human person can hardly be a mere caprice or product of chance. He or she has the dignity of being a caretaker or shepherd of human destiny, and not just a mere product of chance. We must see, Rahner says, that a supposedly "brute nature" actually discovers its own goal in the human being. With that insight, we can avoid falling into the "platonic dualism" which regards spirit as the enemy of matter.

If nature's goal is spirit, then the cosmos is related to its ground or source. The ground of being then becomes not a logical presupposition (e.g., an original "creative impulse") but rather a goal. The ground of being becomes the one toward whom the person strives. It is a magnet which draws us to transcend what we were and to become what we are called to be. It is, in short, God's spirit. Persons are not just a product of the cosmos, but their union with God is the very goal of the cosmos. In the human being, the cosmos presses forward, reaching toward its own "self-presence in spirit" (190).

Hence we human beings are able to anticipate our goal. It is nothing less than the goal of the cosmos. Our goal is the unity of a spirit which knows itself. Christianity calls it salvation, immortality of the soul, resurrection of the flesh. These terms "mean" the fulfillment of the cosmos. The cosmos "desires" to receive God, described by Rahner as "the immediate self-communication of its own ground" (190). It desires this goal in and through its highest creatures, human beings.

What will it mean for the cosmos to achieve its goal? It will mean that the world will receive God in such a way that God becomes the world's innermost life. And this goal is already present, at least in anticipation. We see the world's goal in our own life-long struggle for existence and dignity, whereby we "act out of a formal anticipation of the whole" (191). A person may claim to be uninterested in God. Such may claim to rely, not on God, but on "science." But Rahner says that we are, by our nature, spiritual beings. We live in the midst of a mystery, a question about our goal and purpose. And this mystery and question remains, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

F. The Place of Christ in an Evolutionary View of the World (VI.1.F, p. 192). The goal of the world, then, is to find itself in an encounter with God. We creatures of the world find ourselves in the manner or way that God has given to us. This is the way of self-transcendence. And since this is the way that God has given, then it is a fundamental clue to the nature of Christology.

God has created human beings in such a way that we can freely respond to God. We are spiritual beings, and when we respond to God, then we are communion with God. When God offered to humanity the divine self in Jesus Christ, we were invited to accept that offer. The acceptance of the offer "justified" us in St. Paul's sense of the word. It united us with Christ, made us members of his body, and so his justice before God became our own justice. To reject that offer is disbelief and sin.


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