A Problem with Rahner

March 31st, 2007

Karl Rahner is in many ways an extremely wonderful theologian. As I have been poking around in a compilation book, The Great Church Year, on several occasions I have wondered why it is that no contemporary Protestant theologians seem to be saying things so wonderful, or saying them so well, as this Jesuit. Yet Rahner is vitiated by his communion, as is demonstrated in the following quote:

Teresa has been declared a doctor of the church. This event naturally has some significance for the position and function of women in the church. The charism of teaching—and indeed of teaching directed to the church as such—is not merely a male prerogative. The idea of women being less gifted in an intellectual or religious sense is thus repudiated. It is thus expressly recognized that women may study theology, particularly since charism and the study of theology methodically accomplished cannot be regarded as opposites.

It should not be said that Teresa is an exception. For all doctors of the church, the men too among them, are exceptions. And the proclamation declaring her a doctor of the church makes it clear that women have not previously been given this title not because none of them was worthy of it, but because of reasons rooted in the cultural status of women at the time. This proclamation clearly shows that 1 Corinthians 14:34 is a time-conditioned norm (justified at the time) imposed by the apostle Paul.

pp.360,361 of the above-referenced book: “Teresa of Avila: Doctor of the Church” [From Opportunities for Faith, 123-26]


Rahner has to take the proclamation of the church that Teresa is a Doctor of the Church as a basic and essential datum. He is not free to ignore or contradict it. It must be made a part of his theological system. And the ultimate effect of this, is that Holy Scripture is denied: not in so many words, of course, but 1 Corinthians 14:34 definitely ceases to be a functional part of Rahner’s theological basis. In order to save the appearances and duly respect Paul VI, Paul the Apostle is relegated in that part of his writings to the status of an interesting but ultimately irrelevant dinosaur.

Here are some striking statements by Karl Rahner. They can be found in The Great Church Year, pp.204,205 or in The Eternal Year. There are some pretty dramatic problems with Rahner, some of which may be documented in time to come on this blog, but the critique of pantheism below is very good.

And so my faith and my consolation are centered on this: that he has taken with him everything that is ours. He has ascended and he sits at the right hand of the Father. “I see the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” The absolute Logos shall look at me in eternity with the face of a man. Those who theorize on the beatific vision forget this. As yet, I have read nothing about this in any modern tract in dogma. How strange! At this point pious ascetics read into the silence of the theologians some sentimental anthropomorphism about joy. And what is more they even dare—on their way to the beatific vision—to bypass the humanity of Jesus. As though we can do this so casually! Whoever “imagines” things this way obviously is not sufficiently aware that God’s revelation was a man.

Jesus has taken with him what he was, and what we are, to such an extent that he himself, Jesus of Nazareth, abides forever. We must be more important than we thought, of more permanent value and of more substance when we consider that this is feasible in spite of our foolish or despairing pride. One could reduce all Christianity to this one formula: it is the faith in which God so surpassed the pride of human beings that the person’s grossest imaginings of his own worth are degraded to sinful disbelief and almost brutish timidity.


Moreover when one indulges in pantheistic imaginings about God’s existence, on closer inspection one certainly does not make oneself into God, but rather God into oneself. Pantheism is no objection against what has been said above, for what does the incarnation, what does grace and glory mean except that the human person can endure in the midst of God, in the midst of this absolute fire, in the midst of this incomprehensibility. He or she can endure directly before one who is so exalted above everything that is outside of him that it is simply inexpressible. This is, nevertheless, the most unlikely truth. And it is celebrated in Christ’s ascension. For in his ascension this truth has been definitively realized.

In the first paragraph it seems very likely that Rahner was following Leo the Great.

The Unlikeliness of Truth

March 20th, 2007

From Karl Rahner.  I got it from a compilation book, The Great Church Year.  But it can be found also in The Eternal Year, 19-26.


If we should examine the birth of the child of today’s feast merely from our point of view, then we could say of him and of us, too, only what is written in the dismal, bitter text of Job 14:1-2: “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow, and continues not.” From our point of view, we could be no more than a tiny point of light in the unlimited dark, a point of light that can only make the darkness even more frightening. We would be no more than a sum that didn’t come out right. We seem cast off into time, which makes everything disappear, forced into existence without being asked, laden with wearisome toil and disappointment. Through our own fault we burden ourselves with pain and punishment. We begin to suffer death in the moment when we are born. We are insecure and driven to be childish about all that is illusory, all that is called the sunny side of life – which in reality should be only the refining means of ensuring that the martyrdom and torture of life do not end too quickly.

But if in faith we say, “It is Christmas” – in faith that is determined, sober, and above all else courageous – then we mean that an event came bursting into the world and into our life, an event that has changed all that we call the world and our life. This event alone has provided a goal and a purpose for everything. It has not only put an end to the saying of Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun, but also to the eternal return of modern philosophers; it is an even through which our night – the fearful, cold, bleak night where body and soul await death from exposure – has become Christmas, the holy night. For the Lord is there, the Lord of creatures and of my life. He no longer merely looks down from the endless “all in one and once for all” of his eternity upon my constantly changing life that glides by far below him. The eternal has become time, the Son has become man, the eternal purpose of the world, the all-embracing meaningfulness of all reality has become flesh.

Through this fact, that God has become man, time and human life are changed. Not to the extent that he has ceased to be himself, the eternal Word of God himself, with all his splendor and unimaginable bliss. But he has really become human. And now this world and its very destiny concern him. Now it is not only his work, but a part of his very self. Now he no longer watches its course a spectator; he himself is now within it. What is expected of us is now expected of him; our lot now falls upon him, our earthly joy as well as the wretchedness that is proper to us. Now we no longer need to seek him in the endlessness of heaven, where our spirit and our heart get lost. Now he himself on our very earth, where he is no better off than we and where he receives no special privilege, but our every fate: hunger, weariness, enmity, mortal terror and a wretched death. That the infinity of God should take upon itself human narrowness, that bliss should accept the mortal sorrow of the earth, that life should take on death – this is the most unlikely truth. But only this – the obscure light of faith – makes our nights bright, only this makes them holy.

God has come. He is there in the world. And therefore everything is different from what we imagine it to be. Time is transformed from its eternal onward flow into an event that with silent, clear resoluteness leads to a definitely determined goal wherein we and the world shall stand before the unveiled face of God. When we say, “It is Christmas,” we mean that God has spoken into the world his last, his deepest, his most beautiful word in the incarnate Word, a word that can no longer be revoked because it is God’s definite deed, because it is God himself in the world. And this word means: I love you, you, the world and human beings. This is a wholly unexpected word, a quite unlikely word. For how can this word be spoken when both the human person and the world are recognized as dreadful, empty abysses? But God knows them better than we. And yet he has spoken this word by being himself born as a creature. The very existence of this incarnate Word of love demands that it shall provide, eye to eye and heart to heart, an almost unbelievable fellowship, an astonishing communion between the eternal God and us. Indeed, it says that this communion is already there. This is the word that God has spoken in the birth of his Son.

The Purpose of Revelation

March 18th, 2007

Louis Berkhof, Introduction to Systematic Theology, pp.137,138

In speaking of the purpose of revelation we may distinguish between its final end and its proximate aim. The final end can only be found in God. God reveals Himself, in order to rejoice in the manifestation of His virtues, especially as these shine forth in the work of redemption and in redeemed humanity. The proximate aim of revelation, however, is found in the complete renewal of sinners, in order that they may mirror the virtues and perfections of God. If we bear in mind that revelation aims at the renewal of the entire man, we shall realize that it cannot seek the realization of its aim merely by teaching man and enlightening the understanding (Rationalism), or by prompting man to lead a virtuous life (Moralism), or by awakening the religious emotions of man (Mysticism). The purpose of revelation is far more comprehensive than any one of these, and even more inclusive than all of them taken together. It seeks to deliver from the power of sin, of the devil, and of death, the entire man, body and soul, with all his talents and powers, and to renew him spiritually, morally, and ultimately also physically, to the glory of God; and not only the individual man, but mankind as an organic whole; and mankind not apart from the rest of creation, but in connection with the whole creation, of which it forms an organic part.


This statement manifests rather nicely that a lack of recognition of the cosmic implications of God’s saving activity is not, after all, a characteristic of the mainstream, authoritative Reformed.

Something a Little Different

March 16th, 2007

Edmund Waller, Go Lovely Rose

Go, lovely rose

Tell her that wastes her time and me,

That now she knows,

When I resemble her to thee,

How sweet and fair she seems to be.

Tell her that’s young

And shuns to have her graces spied,

That hadst thou sprung

In deserts where no men abide,

Thou must have uncommended died.

Small is the worth

Of beauty from the light retired:

Bid her come forth,

Suffer herself to be desired,

And not blush so to be admired.

Then die that she

The common fate of all things rare

May read in thee;

How small a part of time they share

That are so wondrous sweet and fair!


Leo the Great, Letter to the Bishop of Aquileia

[Speaking of the confession of faith he wanted to be made at a provincial synod by some who had been re-admitted into fellowship with the Catholics after association with the Pelagians or Celestians, but had not been required to recant] Let nothing obscure, nothing ambiguous be found in their words. For we know that their cunning is such that they reckon that the meaning of any particular clause of their execrable doctrine can be defended if they only keep it distinct from the main body of their damnable views.


Which is a sound piece of advice. Whole systems must be considered, and heretics must not be allowed wiggle room.

Here is a little review of Albert Schweitzer’s Paul and His Interpreters. I don’t have the book (I borrowed it from the library) so I can’t put in page numbers, etc. It was interesting to read.

Scwheitzer is not really attempting to deal with Paul –that is reserved for The Mysticism of Paul. Here he is simply reviewing the differing approaches to Paul. It is obvious that none of them wholly commend themselves to him, though Grotius, Baur & Lipsius seem like the most worthwhile so far. The difficulty seems to revolve primarily around the understanding of Paul with regard to justification and sanctification. Paul seems to have a juridical aspect and a physico-ethical or mystico-ethical aspect, but how do they combine? Complicating the issue are subsidiary questions such as Paul’s relation to the other apostles, the Old Testament, Jesus Himself and then the relationship of later theology to Paul. Schweitzer is obviously against the Reformation, as he thinks their exegesis twisted Scripture. But in an interesting passage he confesses if not his own at least the liberal scholars lack of understanding of Paul:

The odd thing is that they write as if they understood what they were writing about. They do not feel compelled to admit that Paul’s statements taken by themselves are unintelligible, consist of pure paradoxes, and that the point that calls for examination is how far they are thought of by their author as having a real meaning, and could be understood in this light by his readers. They never call attention to the fact that the Apostle always becomes unintelligible just at the moment when he begins to explain something; never give a hint that while we hear the sound of his words the tune of his logic escapes us. What is his meaning when he asserts that the law is abolished by the death of Jesus—according to other passages, by His resurrection? How does he represent to himself the process by which, through union with the death and resurrection of the Lord a new creaturehood is produced in a man, in virtue of which he is released from the conditions of fleshly existence, from sin and death? How far is a union possible between the natural man, alive in this present world, and the glorified Christ who dwells in heaven; and one, moreover, of such a kind that it has a retrospective reference to His death? The authors we have named [Reuss, Weiss, Pfleiderer, Holsten, Renan, Sabatier, Ménégoz, Weizsäcker] do not raise questions of this kind. They feel no need to trace out the realities which lie behind these paradoxical assertions. They take it for granted that Paul himself has explained has himself explained his statements up to a certain point—so far, in fact, as this is possible in the world of feeling to which religion belongs. This self-deception is made the more easy for them by the fact that they are accustomed to clothe their own religious views in Pauline phraseology, and consequently they come to treat as the authentic logic of Paul, arguments which they have unconsciously imported into their account of his teaching. They fail to reckon with the possibility that the original significance of his utterances may rest on presuppositions which are not present to their apprehension and conception. For the same reason they all more or less hold the opinion that what they have to do with is mainly a psychological problem. They assume that the Pauline system has arisen out of a series of reflexions and conclusions, and would be as a whole clear and intelligible to any one who could succeed in really thinking himself into the psychology of the rabbinic zealot who was overpowered by the vision of Christ on the road to Damascus.

While the point about not understanding Paul precisely because of the custom of using Paul’s language was keen, and while one does not doubt that his general criticism of the authors in question is correct, it does rather tend to cross the mind that perhaps Paul is not so opaque to everyone as he is to Schweitzer. He remarks of these same works, “The welcome which these authors’ works received from their contemporaries shows that the latter saw in them an advance in the knowledge of Paulinism. They felt them to be satisfactory. That only means that the readers’ presuppositions and requirements lay within the same limitations as those of the authors.” Again a keen general point; yet it is also possible that either in those work, or those (more likely in my estimation) from a Reformed perspective some real knowledge is gained of Paulinism, which Schweitzer does not appreciate precisely because he lacks the correct presuppositions.

He grumbles about the lack of attention paid to Pauline parallels in Enoch, Apocalypse of Baruch, Apocalypse of Ezra and to a lesser extent in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. A summarizing criticism of the Pauline studies from Baur to Holtzmann is that the “claims of Late Judaism on Paul were therefore taken to be discharged when his Rabbinic dialectic and exegesis, and to a certain extent his eschatology also has been ascribed to it.”

It is interesting that he and other scholars are constrained to admit Paul’s genius, while still reflecting on the “verbal comparison and contrast of passages which he practises, and the illogical and fantastic reasoning which appears in his arguments” as always having been “distasteful to theological science.”

Everling’s exposition of the Pauline doctrine of angels and demons is thought-provoking. Schweitzer gives it in these words:

In the result it appears that the Pauline statements about angelology and demonology have not sprung from his own imagination, but all have their earlier analogues in the Late-Jewish theology, or at any rate can be understood as inferences from the conceptions there laid down It further appears that his statements stand in systematic connexion and mutually supplement one another. In its main lines the Pauline doctrine of the angels shows us the following picture. Spiritual beings who, in accordance with the hierarchic arrangement adopted in Late-Jewish theology, are divided into various classes, played a prominent part at the giving of the law. From that time forward they acted as overseers of the chosen people, and also as the real powers behind the gods of the heathen. By the death and resurrection of Christ their power has been in principle abolished, although it continued to be still in some way exercised upon those who offer sacrifices to idols or submit themselves to the law. Believers in Christ, however, stand over against them as a class of men who are liberated from their sway, and who possess a wisdom which understands better than their own the great events in which the history of the world is about to close. These angelic existences feel that their domination is threatened, and fight with all the weapons at their command. It is at their instigation that the attempt is made to corrupt the Gospel by legalism; all the difficulties which the Apostle encounters, all the corporeal sufferings which he has to bear, are to be attributed to them. It is on their account that women must be veiled when attending the services of the Church, since otherwise they run the risk of becoming the victims of their lust, as of old their mother Eve was seduced by the devil. Most dangerous of all is their skill in deception: Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light.

Schweitzer then proceeds to expand on the importance of these views for Paul’s theology:

Everling had shown that angelology and demonology were, as a matter of fact, component parts of Paul’s cosmology. That they consequently also entered into his fundamental conception of redemption was a point which he had not especially emphasized. But the fact was written in giant characters across his work. From the moment when Paul’s statements regarding God, the devil, the angels, and the world are apprehended in their organic connexion, it becomes abundantly evident that for him redemption, in its primary and fundamental sense, consists in a deliverance from the powers which have their abode between heaven and earth. It is therefore essentially a future good, dependent on a cosmic event of universal scope.

Then comes an analysis of Kabisch’s work:

‘Salvation,’ so runs his argument, is thought of by Paul as ‘deliverance’ from judgment and destruction. ‘Justification’ and ‘reconciliation’ are subservient to this deliverance and do not describe a state of salvation independent from it. The spiritual goods which are characterized by many theologians as the object of the Apostle’s wrestling and striving are in reality only the anticipatory first-fruits of the blessedness which the future has in store. This blessedness consists in the believer’s being freed at the parousia from the fleshly body in order to put on the heavenly robe of glory. Thus eschatology is the foundation both of the dogmatics and ethics of the Apostle.

Kabisch, however, makes Paul’s doctrine of the Spirit to be this:

A super-earthly substance enters into the corporeity of those who in virtue of the unio mystica with Christ have entered into the experience of His death and resurrection. It produces in them a new being, and gives them a claim to the future perfected glory, and this while their fleshly existence still continues to the outward eye unaltered.

In Schweitzer’s opinion, Kabisch is the first to clearly point out and describe Paul’s great paradoxes.
Some shorter things worth remembering:

“It has, indeed, always been weakness (sic) of theological scholarship to talk much about method and possess little of it.”

Of modern dogmatics, “As the Pauline theology has, if possible, less affinity with the latter [modern dogmatics] than with the Reformation theology….”

He gives some examples of scholarly stupidity. Kabisch, for instance, after studying Paul’s eschatology comes to the conclusion that there is only a resurrection of the righteous; therefore the righteous enter the kingdom without experiencing judgment; therefore the judgment always refers to the destruction of the wicked at the Parousia. Schweitzer comments aptly: “That is to make the Apostle contradict not only Jewish apocalyptic, but his own utterances.”

There are some interesting, if not trust-inspiring statistics on Paul’s use of the LXX drawn from Kautzsch. “Out of eighty-four quotations which occur in the epistles thirty-four agree exactly with the Septuagint, thirty-six show small deviations, and ten depart from it more widely. Two others show a considerable difference,without however, throwing doubt upon the author’s acquaintance with the wording of the ordinary translation; two other, again, from Job, differ from it entirely,” A little later Schweitzer concludes (though whether as his opinion or that of Vollmer is not clear) that “It is in any case certain that the Apostle always makes use of Greek translations; and it is further certain that he argues from peculiarities in their wording which for one who knew Hebrew, as he also certainly did, must have been recognizable as mistranslations. He therefore goes so far as to ignore the original. (…) In all historical cases of theological bilingualism the same fact is to be observed. Scripture is never ‘personally’ translated, but always cited in accordance with a recognized version.”

Aquinas and Authority

March 3rd, 2007

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica P(1)-Q(1)-A(8)-(RO)2


Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1): “Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning.”

Which ought to make it rather clear that Aquinas may have been quite uncomfortable at Vatican I.