This chapter has two parts. In the first, Rahner describes the general features of Christian life. It is not one aspect of human life in general, says Rahner, but human life as it really is--open to the fullness of reality, including the reality of God. To be sure, Christians have a "pessimistic realism," for the Christian recognizes the inevitability of death and the final meaning of the individual's life. But Christians ultimately put their hope in God, confident that they have a share in God's future.
In the second part of this chapter, Rahner presents a basic catechesis on the seven sacraments. He does so in light of the basic sacrament which is Church.
In sacraments the Church manifests itself as God's saving will throughout history in a tangible, official, and unsurpassable way.
Cover photo scanned from Robert Kress, A Rahner Handbook (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982).
The sacraments are God's offer of salvation in the Church. When Christians receive the sacraments, they are responding to the offer that God has made. The Christian life is not a special kind of life but rather life as it really is, the life that God has given.
In this section, Rahner describes the relationship between the life of inner freedom and adherence to Christian moral norms. Accepting reality is the basis of freedom. When we accept reality, we freely accept its burdens and responsibilities as a gift from God (A). Hence our realism is pessimistic. It acknowledges death, not just as the passage to eternal life, but also as a harsh fate that we all must endure (B). On the other side of death, however, is God's future. It belongs to every Christian who regards the future as God's gift to humanity (C). Life is a plurality, but it is God's plurality, and its unity and purpose lie with God (D). Christians recognize the difference between what they are and what they are called to be. For that reason, their acceptance of reality is not passive resignation but active obedience to God. We distinguish between this obedience to God and obedience to concrete moral norms. The moral norms are conditioned by time and they express (but are no substitute for) a transcendental encounter with God. Although they are secondary expressions, moral norms accord with an existential knowledge of God (E).
A. The Freedom of Christians (p. 402).
The "basic and ultimate thrust" of Christian life is not that the Christian is a special instance of humanity. Rather, Christian life is human life as it really is. Christian life accepts reality in its fullness. The Christian, even the anonymous Christian, "accepts without reservation the whole of concrete human life" (402). Non-Christians lack this acceptance. They want to escape burdens and responsibilities of life that they claim to have been unjustly imposed on humanity. The Christian sees these burdens and responsibilities as part of humanity's common task.
Christian life is the life of freedom, says Rahner, freedom as openness to the whole of reality, including God. The person without freedom is not open. He or she wants to avoid reality, to escape the forces that determine our existence. To be sure, part of our task is to struggle to free humanity from forces that oppress us. God has given us gifts and abilities, and we use them well when we put them at the service of human liberation. But it is impossible to be free of all burdens and responsibilities. True freedom lies in the gift of God's own self, says Rahner, "throughout all the imprisonments of existence" (403).
B. The Realism of Christians (p. 403).
Christian life is characterized by what Rahner calls "pessimistic realism." It is realism in its openness to the whole of reality. It is pessimistic because it sees existence "as dark and bitter and hard," that is, a "risk" that leads to death. The Christian is an existentialist in that he or she makes a decision about existence--a decision to accept reality. Reality includes the hope that God will triumph over the risks of this world with divine love.
The Christian realist knows that human existence has "to pass through death" (404). Facing death means acknowledging the hardness and darkness of death. It means recognizing that death "is the only passage to the life which really does not die" (404). Our pessimistic realism consists in accepting death and renouncing everything that would distract us from reality, or substitute for it.
C. The Hope of Christians (p. 404).
Christian hope consists in the realistic belief that God's future--"the absolute and infinite future"--belongs to every Christian. It belongs to him or her in the sense that God offers that future as a grace and a gift. The Christian, Rahner says, "hopes for the infinite and therefore confronts the finite calmly" (405). He or she is free of the illusion that the present is the whole of reality. The present is "encompassed by the holy mystery of eternal love."
D. Christianity and the Pluralism of Human Existence (p. 405).
The Christian is open to the pluralism of reality for two reasons. First, the Christian knows that pluralism is itself the creation of God. Second, the Christian knows that God is different from pluralism. Because reality belongs to God, one can open oneself to it "in real trust and without reservation." But because the pluralism of reality is not God, not the divine itself, the Christian knows that its unity and purpose lie "beyond the realm of his [God's] tangible reality." The pluralism of reality is not a system that humanity can control. Why should one give oneself up to such a pluralism, surrendering in trust and without reservation? Because in this pluralism, God communicates the divine self. To be sure, this communication is mediated. But it is nonetheless a true communication.
E. The Responsibility of Christians (p. 407).
One might protest against this line of thought. One might say that, if the basic thrust of Christian life is to accept human life as it is, then one denies the need for moral striving. Acceptance, one might say, is passivity. If this world is the best of all possible words, and if "whatever is, is right," then why try to improve oneself? Rahner answers that self-acceptance means accepting oneself as a moral being. To be human is to recognize the difference between what we are and what we ought to be. Only by accepting this aspect of being human does one become a Christian.
Accepting our humanity always means accepting it in what Rahner calls an "upward direction." We see the difference between what we are and what we should be, and we attempt to overcome the difference. Overcoming the difference means rising in response to God's Word. The decision for or against God is primary.
We must distinguish, as does Catholic moral theology, between objective moral norms and our subjective obligation to heed the word of God. The objective norm is binding, but it is historically conditioned. More important is the recognition of the difference between what one is and what one should be. Obedience to God in faithfulness is our primary obligation. Catholic theology recognizes that some individual moral norms "belong to a concrete reality which is different from God" (408). These moral norms have only a relative value.
To be sure, one cannot disdain moral norms. To do so would be to make one's own judgment absolute. Such a judgment would then become a godless ideology. The Christian rejects such solipsism. But we must recall that God's word speaks to the human subject immediately. Hearing that word is essential to being human. Hence our subjective obligation of faithfulness to God is primary. Adherence to moral norms is secondary.
Ultimately, however, there is an "intrinsic unity between morality and religion" (410). Although love for one's neighbor always transcends an ethic of laws, nevertheless those laws express that love. Rahner says that love is "the absolute sum of all moral obligations" (410). To be sure, love for one's neighbor may be expressed today in different ways from those of the past. Those new expressions represent an authentically prophetic impulse, critical of the past and constructive of the future. But if love is the genuine love of true religion, then its expression is genuinely moral, and cannot be opposed to moral norms.
Our Christian responsibility is to see reality for what it is. We are to acknowledge ourselves as God's creatures. We are sinful and weak, yes, but capable of confessing that sinfulness and of making the choices offered by God. That is what it means to say that we are simultaneously justified and sinners.
In this section, Rahner presents a basic catechesis on the seven sacraments in the context of the basic sacrament, the Church. He begins with what is basic about the Church: it is the salvation history of human life made finally manifest, explicit, and irreversible. Within the Church, the sign of God's efficacious word, God's gracious self-communication becomes tangible (A). Jesus instituted them in a way analogous to his founding of the Church: he intended a Church in which God's grace is tangibly sacramental (B). The public and ecclesial dimension of the sacraments--the opus operatus--are efficacious when they become the opus operantis, encountering humanity's openness and freedom (C). Baptism incorporates the believer into the Church, initiating him or her into the death of Christ. Confirmation is the sign of the full maturation of Christian gifts for the Church's mission (D). Holy Orders and Matrimony are signs of faithful people realizing their identity in the Church, in one case by means of the love of the married couple and, in another case, by the service of the ordained minister (E). Penance is God's offer of forgiveness by means of the explicit reconciliation of the Church. Anointing of the Sick is the Church's holy word to the person in danger of death (F). Eucharist is a meal of thanksgiving and a continuation of the one sacrifice of Christ: we give thanks for what God has done by incorporating us into the life of the Son (G). Although each sacrament is different, together they offer God's word to humanity, relate the believer to the Church, help to realize the believer's role in the Church, and unite us to God (H). The sacraments are God's offer of salvation in the Church, and the reception of the sacraments is the response to the offer empowered by God (I). The Christian life is not a special kind of life but rather life as it really is, the life God has given, and the Christian reflects on it in an explicit way (J).
A. The Church as Basic Sacrament and the Seven Sacraments (p. 411).
The transcendental relation between humanity and divinity is the right context for understanding the sacraments. It is not right to say that the seven sacraments are the only gifts of God, outside of which there is no grace. On the contrary, says Rahner, "The history of salvation and grace has its roots in the essence of man which has been divinized by God's self-communication" (411). This is the proper context for understanding the sacraments. They are part of what Rahner calls "the process in which there becomes explicit and historically tangible the history of salvation" (411). The history of salvation, we will recall, is coextensive with history as a whole (see p. 142). In the Judaeo-Christian history of revelation, the salvation that began with human history has become manifest. Sacraments and the entirety of the Church "are only especially prominent, historically manifest and clearly tangible events in a history of salvation which is identical with the life of man as a whole" (412). In the Church, the process of salvation has become manfest.
Salvation history entered into "its final, eschatological and irreversible phase" (412) with Christ, the Church, and its sacraments. In this history, God's triumph is implicit, and the triumph cannot be undone by human beings. The sacraments signify the triumph of God. A Christian sacrament takes place "wherever the finality and invincibility of God's offer of himself becomes manifest in the concrete life of an individual through the church which is the basic sacrament" (412). The church is a sign of salvation, but is not salvation itself.
If the Church and the sacraments signify (but may not be simply identified with) salvation, then are they "efficacious"? Rahner says that they are. They are efficacious because God is efficacious. "God's act of grace . . . continues to be definitively bound up with the acceptance of this offer" of grace (412). The sacraments are efficacious because they manifest what God has done and continues to do--namely, to offer to human beings God's own life. In the seven sacraments, the Church involves human beings with the seven and with itself as the basic sacrament.
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