Re-examining Karl Rahner's Legacy

Congress Marks the Centenary of Theologian's Birth

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ROME, MARCH 7, 2004 (Zenit.org).- One hundred years after his birth, and 20 after his death, scholars gathered in Rome to remember Karl Rahner, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century.



Thursday and Friday, an international congress at the Lateran University undertook a "re-reading of Karl Rahner's thought." The event was to honor his memory and also engage in a "critical reading of his theology to determine the timeliness of his thought," the organizers explained.

Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, participated in the event.

Karl Heinz Neufeld of Innsbruck University explained to ZENIT that one of Rahner's great contributions was his appreciation of how theology can serve life.

"Rahner's contribution is related to life," Neufeld said. "It is a service and help to the masses that lose their relation with the Church because they do not see how it relates to life. In him we see how dogmatic theology and spirituality are linked."

Monsignor Ignazio Sanna, pro-rector of the Lateran and organizer of the congress, emphasized the importance of the Trinity in the thought of the German Jesuit.

"It frees the believer from attitudes of exclusion of the other and opens him to a spirituality of communion," Monsignor Sanna said.

With his "original and controversial" formulations on man as "Hearer of the Word" (title of a famous 1941 work) and "anonymous Christian," Rahner tried to "enlarge the paths of salvation," ideas that would be taken up by the Second Vatican Council, in which the theologian participated as an expert.

Other innovative elements mentioned by Monsignor Sanna are the application of the anthropological dimension to Christology and the "courage to pose theological questions to science and scientific queries to theology."

Some of Rahner's intuitions have entered the ordinary life of the Church, to the point that today it is difficult to understand their importance and the difficulties they caused the author.

For example, Monsignor Sanna mentioned concelebrated Masses (now a normal event) and the criticism of the clericalization of the laity.

For Monsignor Sanna, an aspect of Rahner's thought that has been surpassed is "the transcendental method." "Today more attention is paid to Scripture and history; they are the starting point," he said.

Cardinal Karl Lehmann, bishop of Mainz and president of the German episcopal conference, wrote the introduction to the book "Karl Rahner: Timeliness of His Thought," published in Spain by Herder. In it, he writes that in Rahner, "biography and theological work are indissoluble." He adds that Rahner "loved the Church profoundly."

For Rosino Gibellini, theologian and author of "History of 20th Century Theology," Rahner's view on "the a priori, on transcendentalism," an approach influenced by Kant, is now "out of date."

Yet, Gibellini said, Rahner was the 20th-century theologian "who most incarnated the alliance between reason and faith."