Chapter Six: Jesus Christ

Part 8: On the Question of New Approaches to Orthodox Christology

(VI.8, p. 293). In this part, Rahner aims to expand what he said in Chapter VI, Part 3, on transcendental Christology. In the first subdivision, he begins by showing that the insight of fundamental theology--namely, that every person of good will is moving within God's grace--has consequences for dogmatic theology. The "grace of God" by which one responds to God's invitation is none other than the grace of Christ. Then, in the second subdivision, Rahner shows what his "Christology from below" or "ascending Christology" entails. It portrays the man, Jesus, as the one in whom God intended from all eternity to reconcile human beings. Their free and responsible acceptance of God's invitation to respond to life's possibilities is made in the hope that God will affirm them as God affirmed Jesus. And in the third subdivision, Rahner treats some of the difficulties of his ascending Christology, such as the consciousness of Jesus regarding his identity, the pre-existence of the Word in Jesus, and propriety of speaking of the death of God.

(a) The Need for Closer Unity Between Fundamental Theology and Dogmatic Theology in Christology

(VI.8.a, p. 294). The first rule of Rahner's "new approach" to orthodox Christology is to acknowledge that every person of "morally good will" is living by grace. Even if the faith of baptized Christians is not a refined faith, still is a faith to which they are (at least implicitly) committed (A). Every person who seeks, in transcendental grace, to realize the possibilities which God has given, is living out a "searching" Christology (B). God is making an appeal: an appeal, first of all, through the experience of love of neighbor, a love which expresses an implicit of Christ (C). God also appeals to human beings when they are faced with death, and so confronted with the ground of existence (D). Finally, God makes an appeal through our hope, a hope for a future which transcends our present (E).

A. Priority of the Lived Actualization of Existence to Reflection Upon It (VI.8.a.A, p. 294). As a first step in establishing closer relations between fundamental and dogmatic theology, Rahner acknowledges their fundamental assumptions. Both fundamental and dogmatic theology assume, whenever they try to give an account of the faith to non-Christians, that the non-Christian is a person of morally good will. Such a person of good will exists “in the interior grace of God and in Christ,” says Rahner (294). The grace of God expresses itself in the person’s natural goodness, and the word of God that the morally good person hears is none other than the Word made flesh.

Christians may and must accept the Christology they are already living out, even if it is not a very refined faith, for it is the Christology to which they are implicitly committed. The Christian may understand faith as no more than "one abstract and conceivable possibility among others," but that is (in Rahner's view) enough. Even with that minimal understanding, the Christian is still grasped by the claim of Jesus. The Christian has been grasped in faith. Such a grasp is more important, says Rahner, than a merely scientific reflection.

B. Appeals in a "Searching Christology" (VI.8.a.B, p. 295). Fundamental theology appeals to a global understanding of existence that is “Christian” because of an “antecedent grace.” Rahner asserts that every person is living out at least a “searching Christology” if that person accepts his or her existence “resolutely.” This means that the person is seeking, in a transcendental hope, for the possibilities that God has offered. These are the possibilities that the Christian recognizes in Jesus of Nazareth. There are three “ways” or “appeals” which God makes to human beings. Rahner describes them under the next three headings.

C. The Appeal to an Absolute Love of Neighbor (VI.8.a.C, p. 295). The statement of Jesus, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, so you do to me,” must be rightly interpreted. “An absolute love which gives itself radically and unconditionally to another person,” says Rahner, “affirms Christ implicitly in faith and love” (296). Whenever we truly love another, we are in a situation of faith. But does this mean that any given human love can be called “absolute”? Of course not. Love of neighbor, even the love of neighbor demanded by God’s law, differs from love of God.

In the love of neighbor, God makes a transcendental appeal. God is inviting the human being to seek someone who can be loved with absoluteness, the absoluteness with which the Christian loves God. So fundamental theology tries to show that our love for another human being expresses an implicit love and faith in Christ. Human love expresses a response to God's invitation, the invitation to realize the possibilities which God has given. God invites us to enter into a relationship of love with God's own self. By doing so, we realize the possibility of becoming one with God.

D. The Appeal to Readiness for Death (VI.8.a.D, p. 296). The way the average sermon treats Christ’s death is inadequate, says Rahner. It usually regards the crucifixion “as an external and meritorious cause of redemption.” By contrast, Rahner proposes a theology of death. This theology of death connects the death of Jesus to human existence. It acknowledges that, in death, we are radically powerless. By acknowledging this powerlessness, we also acknowledge the ground of all reality, namely, the Holy Mystery of God. God both gives the possibility of transcendence and invites us to surrender ourselves to the divine self. When we surrender ourselves to the divine self in death, we surrender ourselves to the ground of our being. In the fact of death, God appeals to us to acknowledge our source and our goal.

E. The Appeal to Hope in the Future (VI.8.a.E, p. 297). Genuine hope is not the longing for an eternally distant and sought-after (but unrealizable) goal. It is not, Rahner seems to suggest, the longing for a mythical heaven that is merely the prolongation of our earthly life. Nor is it the longing for something that has not yet come. The goal of Christian life is not one that abolishes us and absorbs us into God’s absoluteness.

Hope is rather the desire for an attainable goal. It is a longing for something which, while the goal itself is in progress, has already left its mark on history. The goal of human life can be seen in our history, says Rahner, a history already moving within its goal. So whenever we hope in the future, God is appealing to us. God invites us to see in our future a life which transcends our present life, a life to which there is already a reliable testimony.

(b) The Task of a "Christology from Below"

(VI.8.b, p. 298). Christology from below, Rahner's so-called "ascending Christology," is the topic of this subdivision. Rahner starts with the concept of the "supernatural existential." It expresses the capacity of every human to hear God's invitation, and so to hope for a future in God's Word, in the "absolute saviour" (A). The event of the absolute saviour becomes an "eschatological event" for us when we accept God's offer to respond freely and responsibly to life (B). A Christology from below must show how, in the incarnation, God has committed the divine self to a definite and historical Word; humanity finds in Jesus the one by whom God intended from all eternity to reconcile us to the divine self (C). This theology is perfectly compatible, Rahner says, with a theology of eternal, divine Sonship. Human beings find in the man, Jesus, the self-expression of God in its eternal possibility (D).

A. Man as a Being Oriented Towards Immediacy to God (VI.8.b.A, p. 298). The human being has a “natural” desire for the beatific vision. Rahner explains this by referring to his discussion of the “supernatural existential” (pp. 126 ff.). The supernatural existential is a grace or gift of God, and so is supernatural. But it is also an existential, meaning that it belongs to the basic ontological constitution of every person. The basic orientation toward God manifests itself in everyday life, in the realm of what Rahner calls history. It does so in our free choice to respond or not respond to God’s Word. And so Rahner says that God “actualizes” the human being’s basic orientation toward God.

B. The Unity Between Eschatological Event of Salvation and the Absolute Saviour (VI.8.b.B, p. 298). The human being experiences himself or herself as a person oriented to God in an event. It is the absolute event of salvation, none other than the event of what Rahner calls the “absolute saviour.” It is the event of God’s self-communication. In this event, we see ourselves affirmed by God, affirmed in God’s offer to us of the divine self, an offer we accept. It is a “historical” event, and distinct from the mere offer of transcendence. Why? Because the mere offer of transcendence, Rahner says, cannot be of final validity. The eschatological event of salvation is made effective when God’s offer is accepted.

The event is not the fulfillment of the human race in the immediacy of the beatific vision. That comes much later, at the "end of time." If the event of salvation were the immediacy of the beatific vision, it would mean the end of history, and it is not that. The event of salvation takes place in time. But this process, says Rahner, is irreversible. God has offered the divine self and that offer cannot be retracted. To be sure, the future of each individual remains open. Individuals can reject God's offer. But the offer has begun a dynamism in history which is God's own.

When Rahner asserts that humanity experiences its basic orientation to God in the event of salvation, he refers specifically to Jesus Christ. The assertion presupposes something about Jesus himself. It presupposes that Jesus understood himself as the "absolute saviour." Further, it presupposes that Jesus did in fact reach "historical fulfillment" as the mediator of salvation. Under the next heading, Rahner explores what these presuppositions mean.

C. The Connection Between this Reflection and the Church's Doctrine of Incarnation (VI.8.b.C, p. 299). Rahner begins by explaining the two terms, “absolute event of salvation” and “absolute mediation of salvation by a man.” He says that these two terms mean what the Church expresses in the doctrines of Incarnation and hypostatic union. The “absolute event” is the incarnation. The “absolute mediation” is the hypostatic union. The term “absolute” means complete and unsurpassable.

Rahner then goes on to say what he means by revelation. It is a free act of God--any act of God. By this, Rahner suggests that revelation is more than the "facts of revelation" conveyed in the Bible. Revelation exists, he says, within an infinite realm of possibilities. Therefore every revelatory event "is always surpassable and conditional, and exists with the qualification that something new might happen" (300). In other words, what the Church acknowledges as revelation is not the sum of revelation. Within God's providence, there is the possibility of something more.

But the incarnation, Rahner says, is not a surpassable event. Although the history of salvation is by no means finished, the event of Jesus Christ is absolute and eschatological. About the incarnation, Rahner says, "God must live out its history as his own history and retain it permanently" (301). The incarnation has "determined" God once and for all.

From a human point of view, the incarnation means salvation. It means that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, who preached the kingdom and died in obedience to God's will, showed himself to be the one whose life and words were affirmed by God. When we encounter this man, we realize that the transcendental offer of God was, at least in Jesus, fully accepted. Further, we realize that we can also hear God's offer and respond to it as Jesus did. This "Christology from below," says Rahner, is one with the classical Christology of the Church. The man Jesus is none other than the one by whom God intended from all eternity to reconcile us to the divine self.

D. On the Relationship Between Ascending Christology and the Question of Eternal, Divine Sonship (VI.8.b.D, p. 301). Rahner tells us that his “ascending Christology” is able to reach a Christology of eternal and divine Sonship. In other words, there is no contradiction between the two Christologies. Rahnerian ascending Christology begins with the humanity of Jesus. In the man, Jesus of Nazareth, God affirmed the complete and unsurpassable response to the divine self-communication. Jesus, who enjoyed a hypostatic union with the divine Word, mediates salvation in a complete and unsurpassable way.

How is the high Christology of eternal Sonship contained in what has been said about Jesus of Nazareth? Because we experience the self-expression of God, says Rahner, in history. We experience it in a human being, in Jesus. But once we experience it in a concrete human being, we also experience the self-expression of God in its eternal possibility. We can suppose that a Son- and Logos-Christology are implied in the notion of an absolute saviour. They are not added as something extra. If in the man, Jesus of Nazareth, we meet one whose life and death were affirmed by God, then we can suppose that this man's life and history were intended by God from all eternity. Further, we can suppose that we, like Jesus, can also respond to God's offer.

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