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Chapter Twenty-Two


The other main novelty in Rahner's theology is his teaching about the relationship between the natural and the supernatural worlds, and between nature and grace. Most of the leading 20th century reformers were in some degree critical of the way the Church presented her teaching on this subject. Nearly all had proposals for improved or alternative explanations. Nor were their proposals just one item among others on their agenda. Recasting the way the relationship between natural and supernatural, nature and grace was conceived was the heart or nerve centre of the "new theology."

Their criticisms and proposals can be grouped as those of the moderate school led by de Lubac and those of the extreme school led by Rahner, and in order to show how Rahner's theology deviates from the traditional teaching and from the Council's new orientations, I will start with a look at what the Church his to say, and then at de Lubac's ideas and proposals.

One cannot understand Catholic Christianity without understanding its teaching about grace, to which one could add that if you don't understand its teaching about grace, you will find it harder to tell what is and is not Catholic Christianity. However, although what the Church has defined is clear enough, we are of course dealing with a mystery, and there are still unsettled questions and unresolved problems connected with her teaching.

The two sets of terms "natural and supernatural" and "nature and grace" are often used interchangeably as if they applied equally well to two different if related topics the relationship of God to the created universe, and the action of God in the human soul and this, for non-theologians, can often be the cause of not a little confusion. I will therefore use "natural and supernatural" for the former, and "nature and grace" for the latter.

The teaching about the relationship of the supernatural world (God, heaven, eternity) to the natural world raises relatively few problems. God brought the natural world into existence, holds it in being from moment to moment, and is "immanent" in it, or present by his power, everywhere. At the same time He transcends it in the sense that it is not part of Him. It is not an extension of His being or substance. This is the traditional teaching about the relationship of the natural and supernatural orders.

As for the word grace, down to about the fifth century it was loosely used for every kind of gift from God, natural and supernatural, material and spiritual, both for the benefits and wonders of the universe and equally for holy inspirations and endowments. However, in the Latin West, after the fifth century the word came to be reserved exclusively for God's supernatural spiritual gifts. Moreover as she reflected on the scriptures, the Fathers and her own sacramental practice over the centuries, the Church gradually came to distinguish between these different supernatural gifts with ever-increasing clarity (Meanwhile the looser use of the word by the Greek Fathers continued in the East and was reintroduced in the West by the movement for ressourcement associated with the new theology.)

In Western doctrine and theology, grace meant in the first place the life of God Himself (untreated grace) and then (the main subject of theological discussion) the "share" in that life which God imparts through His Holy Spirit to angels and men so that they can reach their final end, the beatific vision. Within the realm of created grace, a further distinction was made between actual grace and sanctifying grace. The term "actual grace" is used for separate acts of supernatural assistance which God gives to all men at different times as need arises or in answer to prayers. "Sanctifying grace" is the term for the enduring state of friendship or justification which men enter when they assent to God's offer of the gift of faith, receive baptism, and keep His commandments. It is customarily referred to as the "state of grace." The "state of grace" is what makes the soul worthy to be a "temple of the Holy Spirit." One must be in a state of grace when one dies if one is to achieve salvation. 222

This teaching about grace was given its earliest formal articulation by St Augustine, was further developed and clarified by St Thomas and the scholastics, and when challenged by the 16th century reformers led to disputes among the Catholic theologians who tried to answer their objections. The objections were mainly about the relationship of grace and free will. When the disputes began to threaten the peace of the Church, the pope of the time forbade further discussion, and for three centuries tranquillity reigned. But in the late 19th century, Blondel brought the relationship of natural to supernatural to the fore again in a philosophical form, whence, lifted to the theological plant, it became the heart of the conflict between de Lubac and the new theologians, and the neo-scholastics headed by Fr Garrigou-Lagrange.

The core of the teaching around which the 20th century controversies have gravitated, is the fact that grace and the promise of eternal life, which grace prepares for and helps to realise, are free gifts. They are "gratuitous." They do not belong to human nature as such. As creatures of the natural order, men have no right to them. Nor can they gain access to them by their own efforts. They can or cannot co-operate with grace once offered. They can pray for it. But they cannot even begin to want to pray without a grace to get them going.

This teaching about the "gratuity" of grace and eternal life was too well established for anyone to wish to challenge. But on one point all the new theologians were agreed. Whether dealing with God and the cosmos, or God's action on the individual soul, the reigning theology, by making too sharp the distinction between the two realms or orders natural and supernatural left the impression that God had not initially intended man for a supernatural destiny but had only added it as an afterthought. The reigning teaching was described, often mockingly, as the "two-floor" or "two-tier" theory. However there were differences of opinion about how the two tiers could be brought into closer proximity without colliding with defined doctrines or dogmas.

De Lubac's criticisms focused in the first place on the neo-scholastics' teaching about man's' final end.

Man has, in fact, only one final end the beatific vision in a transfigured universe when the natural order will be assumed into the supernatural. The scholastics on the other hand, St Thomas included, had talked about man's two ends: one natural, the other supernatural. Their purpose was twofold: firstly, to bring out the difference between what men can do in this world by their natural powers alone, and the things for which they are dependent on grace; secondly, to show that God was in no sense bound to reward us with eternal life in heaven. The question could be put this way: God made us with a need for food, we can therefore count on Him to provide it. You could almost say goodness constrains him to provide it. But there is nothing in our nature as such that absolutely "requires" Him either to give us either grace or a heavenly reward in the way his goodness "constrains" Him to give us food. An eternity of natural happiness would be a fair and sufficient reward for us (what traditional theology called the "limbo" of the just). Grace and heaven are unmerited gifts, apart from and on top of natural existence.

The importance of this teaching is best seen in the spiritual climate its omission generates. Where it is not explained, Christians easily come to think not only that it is jolly good of them to give God some of their time and attention, but that they have a right to heaven. Anything less would be scandalously unjust. They cease to understand their own insignificance or  the immensity of God's generosity.

The scholastics did not of course mean that men's service of God in this world with their natural faculties and capacities (their natural end) was on the same level as their supernatural end, or that the latter could be won without the help of grace. They saw the pursuit of these two ends as interwoven and running concurrently.

However, to clarify the issue still further, their 16th century successors introduced into the debate the concept of "pure nature:" The state of pure nature was an hypothesis about what an ideal natural man would have been like if God had made him for life in this world alone and without the need for grace. The purpose was to protect the "gratuity" of the supernatural." 223

The "state of pure nature" was de Lubac's second target. Since, he maintained, God did not in fact create us for a purely natural existence or purely natural happiness, but (provided that we co-operated) destined us for the beatific vision from the beginning, discussion about "pure nature" could only be misleading.

The neo-scholastic justification for the hypothesis was a principle borrowed from Aristotle: every created being must have within it the power to achieve the purpose for which it was created. If, therefore, men are incapable of reaching their supernatural end by their own powers, they must have an identifiable natural end which is within their natural capacities.224

Nonsense, replied de Lubac. Man is not like the rest of nature. As a spirit, with reason and free will, he is an exception in nature. It was a good point, which would have been even stronger if he had added that each spirit, being made directly by God, comes from outside nature.

However, he kept the bulk of his fire for what he saw as the consequences of the neo-scholastic treatment of the two orders. By over-stressing their difference, he insists again and again, the 16th century scholastics had prepared  the way for 18th century deism and modern atheism. They had provided atheists with a largely self-explanatory natural order from which God could easily be removed without doing it any observable damage. An over­emphasis on God's transcendence had had similar consequences. For this over emphasis, de Lubac invented the term "extrinsicism." By "extrinsicism." he meant thinking of God as largely external to His creation, and he suggested that, from time to time no doubt he was being deliberately provocative that "extrinsicism" could be a heresy as dangerous as modernism. The remedy was to give more place in theology to God's immanence and all-pervading activity within the cosmos.

De Lubac's other main criticisms had to do with the way the scholastics handled the relationship between nature and grace in the individual soul. Any effective teaching about man must somehow show that "the natural presupposes the supernatural." This, as we have seen, was the starting point of Blondel's philosophical apologetic, which de Lubac was to some extent simply developing. This, he believed, was the only way to answer scientistic atheism.

Up to a point, de Lubac already had St Paul on his side: "The whole creation groans, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God." And St Augustine: "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."And, though he may not have known it, Chesterton in The Everlasting Man: "Nature is ... looking for something; Nature is always looking for the supernatural." But this only suggests that Nature senses a lack, an absence, and, in the case of men, all that the current teaching allowed was that they have an obedientia potentialis, a capacity to receive grace when it is offered. However, de Lubac wanted something more and believed he had found it in the passages where St Thomas speaks of men having a "natural desire" to see God. "Every intellect naturally desires the vision of the divine substance," St Thomas says in the Summa contra Gentiles, Bk 3, ch. 57. 225

Unfortunately, there seems to be no general agreement about what St Thomas meant by this "natural desire." He returns to the idea more than once, and the passages where he speaks of it are not easy to harmonise. The difficulty is that if you interpret the "desire," as De Lubac initially seemed to do, as some kind of natural movement towards God embedded in the human soul from the outset, you come into conflict with the teaching that "without God's grace (man) cannot of his own free will move himself towards justice in God's sight." (CCC 1993, citing Council of Trent.) It also  makes heaven something seemingly "owing" to human nature, something God is "bound" to give us, like food.

"The nature of the problem," writes the Anglican Thomist, Eric Mascall, "is impressively shown by the difficulty, which has exercised generations of Thomist scholars, of reconciling St Thomas's repeated assertions that the end of man the purpose for which he is made is the supernatural vision of God, with his no less emphatic insistence that man has neither the right to grace and the supernatural nor any powers of his own to attain them" (The Openness of Being, p. 152). 226

It was De Lubac's efforts to solve the problem in his two books, Surnaturel (1946) and Le mystère du surnaturel (1965), that got him into trouble with Rome in the 1940s and '50s.227 The second was intended to clarify his position in the light of the objections to the first. Later he wrote a more popular book on the subject, A Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace (Ignatius, 1984, French original, 1980), in which, faced with the devastation wrought by Rahner's speculations, he re-emphasised the distinction between natural and supernatural.

That de Lubac had a case against the way the scholastics presented their teaching about man's two ends and the "state of pure nature," that there could be dangers in over-stressing the distinction between natural and supernatural, we have already seen in Maritain's handling of the question in Integral Humanism. 228 On the other hand, the new theology's attempts to reduce the gap by emphasising God's immanence would, with Teilhard and Rahner, as we have seen, lead in the direction of pantheism. So the debate between the neo­scholastics and the new theology was not academic hair-splitting. It would  affect the faithful's whole way of perceiving the most fundamental realities. 229

How the Church will eventually resolve this question we do not know. The only point that needs making here is that, both with regard to God and the cosmos and God and the individual soul, de Lubac was endeavouring to correct what he saw as, and what seems to have been, a genuine theological imbalance, and to resolve a genuine theological problem.

Rahner, on the other hand, whatever his original intentions, in effect abolished the problem by substituting an altogether different teaching. We have looked at his theories about the relationship of God to the cosmos; the natural and supernatural worlds are two aspects of a single Hegelian divine becoming. With his theology of nature and grace in the individual, we move from the world of Hegel into the world of Heidegger.

First of all, Rahner widens the meaning of grace to include any kind of divine gift. The distinctions between created and uncreated grace and between actual and sanctifying grace to all intents and purposes disappear, or if mentioned become irrelevant. For the most part, Rahner uses the word "grace" for God's gift or communication of Himself (untreated grace) without further distinctions. Since God is everywhere, this allows Rahner to say that grace is everywhere. "Now God and the grace of Christ are present as the secret essence of every reality we can choose" (F.C.F., p. 228). Or to sum up Rahner's view critically: "God and the grace of Christ are in everything as the secret essence of all changeable reality" (von Balthasar, Moment of Christian Witness, p. 102, citing Schrift, 4, p.153). Grace permeates the whole of nature like water in a sponge.

Paradoxically, the idea that grace is everywhere led to grace becoming a word scarcely heard in Catholic teaching after the Council until it was brought to the fore again by the CCC in the 1990s. The gift was identified with the Giver and many of the faithful started talking as if their actions were all done under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

What about the recipient of the gift? When and how is grace received? At this point the problem of the non-Christian's salvation begins to impinge on Rahner's thinking. He is anxious one does not blame him for that to open the net of salvation as widely as possible, and in the philosophy of Heidegger and his own new loosely defined conception of grace, he believes he has found the means.

In Heidegger, as we already know, men no longer have a human nature. There is only human existence or experience, or "human reality" as Rahner likes to call it. Every individual experiences life differently. However, there are a few basic experiences common to us all which Heidegger calls "existentials," and to these Rahner adds a "supernatural" one. What does it mean? "The self-communication of God," Rahner explains, "is present in man as an existential" (F.C.F., p. 146). Elsewhere he calls it part of "the transcendental constitution of man." To which his pupil, Fr Dych, has added "God's self communication is an existential which pervades all history" (Dych, p. 72). It is not, in Rahner's words, "a-cosmic, directed only to an isolated and individualised subjectivity" (F.C.F., p. 193). 230

But how can the idea that the self-communication of God is part of men's "constitution" be reconciled with the Church's constant teaching that grace is not part of nature? A common interpretation has been that, just as, according to Rahner, every man has a semiconscious if unarticulated knowledge of God, each of us also enjoys the kind of in-dwelling presence of God which the Church has always taught is possessed only by those who have received baptism by water, blood or desire. 231

One of the conclusions drawn from this teaching is the now widely held idea that the sacraments do not communicate grace but merely "celebrate" the presence of what is already there.

Even better known is the conclusion drawn by Rahner himself, namely that the world is full of "anonymous Christianity" and "anonymous Christians." "Anyone?' he says, "who ... accepts his existence in patient silence (or better still in faith, hope and love) ... is saying Yes to Christ even if he does not know it," just as "anyone who accepts ... the humanity of others, has accepted the Son of Man because in Him God has accepted man" (FCF, p. 228). "The Christian is not so much an exception among men as simply man as he is" (quoted by Ratzinger in Principles of Catholic Theology, p. 166).

On the contrary, replies Ratzinger. "Is it not the faith ... of both Testaments that man is what he ought to be only by conversion, that is, when he ceases to be what he is? ... Spiritually," Ratzinger concludes, "this intermingling of being a Christian and being 'man as he is,' amounts to man's self-affirmation" (ibid.).

That God is always and everywhere giving actual graces to Christians  and non-Christians alike is not in doubt. But after that we know little if anything about how He distributes spiritual gifts outside the Church. As far as I know, there is nothing in Scripture or Tradition to indicate precisely when, if they persevere in good living and good works, non-Christians receive baptism of desire, which is the only thing that can make them Christians. From The Acts of the Apostles we know that anyone who fears God and does what is right, like the centurion Cornelius, is pleasing to Him. But, mysterious though it is, the New Testament also teaches us that even the holiest people of the Old Testament enjoyed a "status" or "condition" in some way inferior to the least of the children of the New Covenant. St John the Baptist was the greatest of the sons of women; he was sanctified in his mother's womb. But the least member of the kingdom of heaven, the Redeemer tells us, is in some indecipherable fashion "greater" than he was during his earthly existence. St Peter certainly did not baptise Cornelius just to celebrate an indwelling of God or an adopted sonship already present in him. He baptised him in order to bring it about (see von Balthasar, Cordula, p. 120, and CCC 1987-2029).

As von Balthasar writes: "Anyone who speaks of' 'anonymous Christians' cannot avoid the conclusion that there is ultimately no difference between Christians who are such by name and Christians who are not. Hence despite all subsequent protests it cannot matter whether one professes the Christian name or not" (M.C.W, p. 120).

He also takes issue with Rahner's handling of the two "greatest commandments." Since Rahner's God is an "Absolute Mystery" about whom next to nothing really definite can be said, love of God can only be truly expressed in love of neighbour. This means that strictly religious acts are inferior to good works. Of this von Balthasar says: "anyone who presents ... the love of one's neighbour as the primary meaning of the love of God must not be surprised ... if it becomes a matter of indifference whether he professes to believe in God or not. The main thing is that he has love." And he concludes with the comment: "a theology that develops from catchword principles is always a theology that ... finally liquidates and sells out. Whether it wants to or not, it asymptotically approaches atheism. 232

It is true that Rahner allows room for men to say "No" to God's universal and continuous self-communication. But saying "Yes" involves so little positive belief or conscious knowledge that it is difficult to envisage what  saying "No" would consist in. Here we have the roots of the theory of the fundamental option in moral theology. Provided you have said this obscure "Yes" to God in the depths of your psyche, even without knowing it, and do not act unkindly to your neighbour, nothing you do can seriously offend Him.

As for revelation, the evangelist or missionary who preaches the Gospel message "has not really produced the understanding ... (he) has only brought it to the level of objective conceptualisation ... which is offered to the listener as the interpretation of his already presupposed understanding of faith." "An understanding which is offered to the freedom of faith is already present at the centre of the listener's being" (F.C.F., p. 233).

Other religions are less successful interpretations of this "understanding" said to be at "the centre" of everyone's being. They are vehicles of revelation and salvation nonetheless. "The history of salvation and revelation is co­existent with the whole history of the human race" (F.C.F., p.142). Christianity is "only a species, a segment of the universal categorical history of revelation" (F.C.F.,p. 155). Or as Dych puts it, "revelation is the presence of the very reality of the Trinity itself, not the communication of an idea about it" (op cit, p. 157). "As a whole, the morality of a people and an age is the legitimate and concrete form of the divine law" Because of this, "in preaching Christianity to non-Christians, the future missionary will not so much start with the idea that he is aiming at turning them into what they are not." 233

As for the reasons why Christians believe, Rahner starts by saying that they believe on the basis of evidence (the miracles, the Resurrection, etc.), but then claims that they only accept the evidence because they already believe. "The relationship between historical events which ground faith and faith itself comes into existence within faith" (F.C.F, p. 241). One could hardly think of a more typical example of what Cardinal Siri calls Rahner's "interminable linguistic acrobatics" The acrobatics were unavoidable as his theology increasingly became an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. He indulges in them here, partly, because he does not accept the objective reality of the Gospel accounts, partly because he does not want to be accused of promoting an extreme Protestant conception of faith (faith as a leap in the dark), and partly because he refuses to recognise any distinctions between  the different ways in which God "communicates" himself to us. Yes, we cannot come to the fullness of belief without the help of grace. But grace takes different forms. As all converts know, what they initially receive as they inquire into the grounds for believing are "actual" graces, not the "gift" or "supernatural virtue of faith" possessed by the full believer. Actual graces set them going and keep them going. But until convinced, with God's help, of the truth of the evidence, they are still unbelievers. The "gift of faith" only comes at the end of the process, when they say Yes to what is proposed.

Rahner, quite as much as Barth, has been responsible for the spread of "fideism" among Catholics, a fact lamented by Paul VI.

With his growing agnosticism about the possibility of saying anything definite about the nature and attributes of God, it is also not surprising to find Rahner's later theology acquiring a marked socio-political dimension. He finds it necessary "to elaborate the principles of 'a political theology' ... only thus will the individualist reduction of revelation to the salvation of every man be surpassed" (Siri, op. cit., p. 173). This could have been expected. If there is very little we can say with certainty about God, and the Church is not, in any recognisable way, ultimately necessary to men's salvation, it is difficult to see what purpose other than improving society the Church can have. But in this area Rahner was tagging along behind his disciples Frs Schillebeeckx and Johann Baptist Metz. Although he had prepared the ground, he was here a follower rather than a leader. 234

Rahner also seems to have been touched by the "religionless Christianity," of Bonhoeffer and the death-of-God theologians. "With the advance of the history of grace, the world becomes ever more independent, mature, profane..." This "growing 'mundanity' of the world in spite of blameworthy ambiguities and deformations ... is not a misfortune which obstinately opposes grace and the Church, but on the contrary is the way that grace is realised little by little in the creation..." (quoted by Siri, op. cit., p. 172).

These, presumably, were the "dangerous things" Rahner said he was planning to write in his letter to his friend Vorgrimler in 1963. But why would a Catholic theologian want to write "dangerous things"? One can imagine Abélard or Luther saying it. But St Irenaeus, St Augustine, St Thomas, St Bonaventure, St Francis de Sales, St Alphoruus Liguori?


222. See CCC. articles 1987-2029.

223. Without an adequate distinction between man's natural and supernatural ends, Vatican II's teaching about the "autonomy of the secular" becomes unintelligible. If the natural order could not be studied by reason independently of revelation, or were dependent on grace for its day-to-day functioning in the sense the word "grace" has had for 1500 years scientists would have to call on theologians to help them understand what is going on in the laboratory. The fact that the "autonomy of the secular" does not sit easily with the complementary idea of bringing the natural and supernatural orders closer together, gives an idea, I think, of the complexity of the crosscurrents affecting the composition of some of the conciliar text.

224. I have put the neo-scholastic position more or less as de Lubac presents it in Mystery of the Supernatural. The way he saw it was what he was arguing against.

225. Similar texts can be found on pp. 21.22, and 75 of Mystery of the Supernatural (Eng. trans., 1967).

226. Dc Lubac himself admits that the existence of this "natural desire.' cannot be demonstrated from experience, while Professor Alice von Hildebrand in an address at Oxford in the 1990s. spoke of men only too often manifesting "a natural aversion to the supernatural."

227. His friendship with and defence of Teilhard would have been another factor. It was de Lubac's Achilles' heel. There is an interesting parallel with Theodoret of Cyrrhus and Nestorius in the 5th century. Although Theodoret was approved by the Council of Chalcedon, he would, out of loyalty to his one-time friend and fellow student Nestorius, never say a critical word against him in public. Tixeront, vol. II.

228. Integral Humanism in effect removed social and political life from any direct influence by the Church. This may not have been a matter of concern to de Lubac. But it explains why we find Cardinal Siri criticising Maritain, the leading luminary of neo-scholasticism, along with de Lubac and Rahner, who stood on the opposite side of the great philosophical divide. For the historical background to the debate between the neo-scholastics and the new theologians, see Appendix III.

229. Ratainger sees another and more recondite motivation underlying Rahner's doctrine of grace. Since the 18th century, the world of German academic theology (Protestant to start with, but more recently Catholic as well) has been agitated by an objection to Christianity first raised by the playwright and critic Lessing. No particular historical event, Lazing asserted, can ever have universal significance. By a particular historical event he meant, of course. the life and death of Christ. The simple answer seems to be, Why not? If the earth collided with another planet, the explosion would have "universal" significance at least for the human race. In spite of this, Lessing's objection has continued to be regarded by certain German Christian academics as a stumbling block that must at all costs be removed. The problem is described in Ratzinger's Principles of Catholic Theology, (pp. 153-190) along with Rahner's solution and its implications. Ratzinger, while up to a point admiring  Rahner's "ingenuity." compares his undertaking with trying to "square the circle." If I have understood Ratzinger's account rightly, the solution, in spite of its ingenuity, ends in dissolving the particular in the universal to the point where the particular all but disappears. Christianity is reduced to a set of commonplaces about man as an historical self-transcendent being which any modem pagan could assent to. As Ratzinger puts it, for Rahner, Christianity is just "a particularly successful apprehension of what is always more or las consciously acknowledged," or in Rahner's own words "The Christian and the Church do not say something that can be opposed. Rather they say that the Unutterable ... that reveals itself ... is Nearness. To this Ratzinger replies that "Christians say much that is particular. Otherwise how could they be a 'sign that is rejected.'" (op cit., pp. 164, 165, 166.) The only specifically Christian feature Ratzinger can find in the theology of Rahner's Foundations is the "person of Jesus," and the only thing that makes Jesus special is the fact that He is the most successful form of human self-transcendence" the first member of the evolving human species to achieve complete "openness to God." This is surely a high price to pay to satisfy Lessing.

230. Holy Scripture takes a different view. Although God wills the salvation of all men, the New Testament tells us that in past times He left the nations in a state of "ignorance," and "allowed them to walk in their own ways." Nor was this ignorance altogether blameless. They could have at least known of His existence and something about His nature from the signs of them stamped on His creation. Thus far they were "without excuse" (Acts 14:16 & 17:30).These strictures of St Paul do not contradict what St Justin said about the "seeds of the Word" to be found in other religions, which have recently been emphasised by the magisterium. But they describe a state of affairs hardly compatible with Rahner's continuous, all-pervasive, undifferentiated "divine Self-communication."

231. According to a report in The Wanderer (29 May. 1999), Fr Richard McBrien claims that the Sri Lankan theologian. Fr Tissa Balasuriya, like "Karl Rahner and a growing number of other Catholic theologians, is contending that we are all born in a state of grace." As far as Rahner is concerned, Fr McBrien could be mistaken. Rahner may have meant no more than that God is continually offering everyone grace; this continuing offer is one of the basic conditions of human existence. Unfortunately, for existentialists like Rahner, the conditions of our existence constitute our existence. We are their product. From there it is easy to infer that grace itself, not just the offer of grace, is part of our existence. It is also worth noting that while, in 1953. Rahner was upholding the doctrines of original sin and the Immaculate Conception, by 1968 he was maintaining that the Immaculate Conception "does not mean ... that the birth of a being is accompanied by something contaminating, by a stain and that in order to avoid it Mary must have had a privilege." (quoted in Siri, op cit ., pp. 87-88). It simply means that "from the beginning of her existence" she was "enveloped" in grace like the rest of us. His theology of omnipresent grace has apparently led him to upgrade us while simultaneously down-grading Our Lady.

232. Asymptote a curve approaching a straight line and running as close as possible to it for a time without ever quite touching it.

233. Van Straelen, op. cit., pp. 105 & 29. The second quotation is from an address to German students. Fr. van Straelen speaks of the "crippling effect" of statements like these on missionary efforts, and Rahner's ignorance both of Asian religions and the actual state of affairs in the East.

234. In his Principles, pp. 167-8, Ratzinger sees a direct connection between the banality of Rahner's later "Christianity" and the Marxist-inspired theologies of the next generation of theologians.

Copyright © Philip Trower 2006, 2011, 2018

Version:   16th February 2021


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