Tag Archives: Karl Rahner

June 22: What is Theology Saying? X: Papal Infallibility II.

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So, what about Humanae Vitae? The German bishops, advised by Rahner, issued a statement telling the people the importance of the encyclical and its primary aim to protect the person and the sanctity of marriage. They also pointed out that the encyclical did not take from them their ultimate, personal decision of conscience in the matter of birth control. Some asked how this could be when the Pope had given his judgement on the matter and the Pope is infallible.

Rahner addressed this with a simple and clear explanation. The infallibility of the Pope as recognised by Vatican I applies only to solemn statements – ex cathedra – in which the Pope explicitly claims infallibility. And he can only claim it when it is clear that he is giving expression to the faith of the whole Church, when he is speaking for the whole assembly of the faithful. Pope Paul did not claim infallibility in this statement, but simply gave his personal judgement. He could not have claimed infallibility because his commission, which had studied the tradition from the past and the evidence of the world community of the faithful, had advised him to the contrary of his own judgement.

Some have argued that even when the Pope did not explicitly claim infallibility, the faithful should consider his words infallible and end all discussion. Rahner replied: while Catholics should always listen to the teaching of the Pope with respect, they would not be obeying Christ or the Church if they made no distinction between infallible and non-infallible teachings. They would be refusing to play their own role in the development of doctrine by leaving all the responsibility, unthinkingly, to one man.

This man does not have the experience of married people and cannot even put their questions to theologians unless married people describe to him their experience and the questions arising out of this. Nor does he have the expertise and time for research that theologians have. If the whole Church waits for him to ask the right questions and find the right answers, many will be shirking their own responsibility – and perhaps would deserve to wait indefinitely for answers.

We must be sure to understand papal infallibility correctly. An easy but erroneous analogy – the Pope has a private hot-line to heaven, and when he is stuck he gets a revelation to solve the problem. The communication is not drawn from heaven but from the tradition of believers down through the ages. They were taught that public revelation ceased with the death of the apostles, in the sense that the Church would not be given special answers from heaven to new problems; there will always be the need to search the Scriptures and tradition.

AMcC

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8 May: What is Theology saying? III: A new way of being human

The Church teaches the same doctrine, but continues to make explicit what is implicit. An example: Peter preached God raised Jesus from the dead. What is implicit is that Jesus died, which the Creed makes explicit: was crucified, died and was buried…

However, Rahner insists there has been much development of doctrine that cannot be explained only by showing what was contained in words of previous formulations. What is handed down in the Christian tradition is much more than words; it is a new way of being human. The more we live it, the more we understand and try to express in words what is involved. Doctrine helps not only when we study words already written, but in trying to reflect on further implications through reflecting on the daily experiences of living this new way.

An example: the love between man and woman, parent and child. Certainly poetry and art forms have helped us see this wonderful gift in deeper ways, as indeed has scientific research. But common sense tells us the most realistic way to know is to experience it. The written word can only tell us about it. Experience lets us know it ever more deeply. The Church has developed a theology of prayer – but this is valuable, not because of study, argument or research, but through the real presence of praying people. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray – the way they had seen him at prayer – he simply sat down within who he was, the beloved of Abba, and let this wash over and through him, and produce its own response.

Newman and Rahner, among others, tell us that from the apostolic times through till now there have been three necessary elements for the development of doctrine: all the faithful, trying to live the Gospel – theologians trying to make this understandable – Church authority intervening occasionally to select an official explanation. Notice the right ordering of these three. Doctrine develops first at the level of ordinary human experience. Each generation has its own catechesis of the faith they cherish. This stage is obviously influenced by the contemporary understanding of the universe, of humankind, social relationships within time and space as then understood.

As new things are learned and uncovered about all of these, there is the ongoing need for renewal and review, realising from time to time that there is something in the current formulation of faith that doesn’t seem to fit, in terms of their experience of life. All through the ages this has been voiced, and it is this that has provided the agenda for theological research. Take for example the way Genesis says in the beginning – speaking as if God physically shaped clay with his hands, and spoke the words. The Church was already aware that God doesn’t have hands or voice, and that this Genesis account is poetic not intended to be taken literally.

AMcC

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7 May: What is theology saying today? II: Earthquakes and thunderbolts.

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Before we understood what caused thunder, and earthquakes we were inclined to see God’s presence – as if God in anger sent thunderbolts; and could switch-on rain or sunshine. To understand the laws governing atmospheric conditions does not mean losing faith in God’s providence, but needs to express it differently. Just so, a more traditional believer might think we are becoming godless because we no longer make the sign of the cross when there is lightning, or say god-willing when speaking of future plans. In fact there might well be truer understanding and greater faith than before.

Newman’s criteria, discussed yesterday, are difficult to apply, but others have worked on them since he wrote. He, himself, showed insight gleaned from his own knowledge of the history of ideas within Christianity – pointing out that in the past, at the time of the great heresies, faith always emerged again from deep within the heart of the Christian community, who were not acquainted with theological subtleties.

Karl Rahner, an Austrian Jesuit, began with the fact that we know now what it was in the past that led to present orthodox teaching of the Church. Whatever development was needed to bring us to where we are now, is a lawful development and very likely to be necessary again. He takes the development of doctrine we can see within the New Testament as the model of what development of doctrine should be; because the New Testament is given to us to show what Christian life is and should be. The development is more than a question of logic; the Church teaches the same doctrine, but continues to make explicit what is implicit.

An example: Peter preached God raised Jesus from the dead. What is implicit is that Jesus died, which the Creed makes explicit: was crucified, died and was buried…

AMcC

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February 16: the New Creation

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The way we overcome fears is not by coldly reasoning out an alternative. It is by accepting the gift of Christ’s new heaven and new earth, given to us as love. Mary received that gift on our behalf, a vision of new stars and a new sun, the sun of righteousness and integrity. Joy is an aspect of wonder in the Christian outlook of hope, because we look forward to transforming love as a community of joy. We cherish this authentic vision of love in all the layers of our personality.

As Karl Rahner expresses it:

“An authentic vision can probably be explained as a purely spiritual touch of God, affecting the innermost centre of a man, and spreading from there to all of his faculties, his thought and imagination, which transform this touch. Hence, when a ‘vision’ reaches the consciousness of a visionary, it has already passed through the medium of his subjectivity, and therefore also bears his individual characteristics as regards language, interests, theological presuppositions and so forth.”

Does this make our distinct cultures into barriers? Not so.

“The grace of which the Church is the enduring sign is victoriously offered by God even to those who have not yet found the visible Church and who nevertheless already, without realizing it, live by its Spirit, the Holy Spirit in the love and mercy of God.” “Some who would never dream of telling themselves… that they have already received ‘the baptism of the Spirit’ of the radical freedom of love… nevertheless live in a community secretly liberated by God’s grace in the deepest core of their existence.”

ChrisD.

January 2017.

 

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July 25, John Cassian IX: The Power of God’s Word

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As I write I am painfully aware of a friend who has confided in me about struggles she has in the workplace with employers and colleagues.  She faces injustice daily, and only by dint of dedication to her profession and commitment to those who work under her does she remain in her present situation.

I dare say she, and many others, could read what I have written about “owning” our problems and say, “I wish my boss or my colleague would do that!”  There are many such situations in our world where the Christian must somehow negotiate webs of deceit and structures of sin.  How does John Cassian’s teaching apply to such situation?

It is important to note that Cassian’s teaching is not geared to the political and social sphere but to the personal and spiritual sphere.  And so, I think we find the answer to this question in Cassian’s sense of the power of God’s Word, and his repeated urgings to us to “remember the cross.”   He says, “Thus at every moment we should cultivate the earth of our heart with the gospel plough – that is, with the continual remembering of the Lord’s cross”.

Cassian has changed the metaphor for the heart here from that of the vessel to that of a field.  The gospel works on this field like a powerful plough.  The continual remembrance of the Lord’s cross is the essence of the gospel, and is the power that eventually transforms us like a plough transforms a field.

It is worth lingering here a moment.  Imagine the field, the great lumps and clods of dark earth, and the plough’s work of digging and turning the earth, back and forth, over and over.  It is an image for the spiritual life that I have returned to many times over the years, whenever I feel that my inner “field” is being ploughed over once again.  I find it very easy to relate to this, and when I remember the cross and the gospel plough I feel the return of hope amid an experience that might otherwise feel as though anything good I had done was being destroyed.

For Cassian, the Word of God – epitomized by the remembrance of the cross – is alive.  It has its own intrinsic power to work within and strengthen our hearts if only we give ourselves over to it.  I cannot change others. I cannot do away with structures of sin in the world.  I can only change myself, but by doing this, I do make an effective contribution to the process of dismantling sin’s structures in the world. Through the continual remembrance of the Lord’s cross, personal change becomes possible.  Then, it becomes possible, too, to experience the truth of the words of Karl Rahner, with which we began our reflections, “The Christian faith professes that God is not merely the God far off….  God wills to be, in self-communication, the ‘content’ and future of man.”

SJC

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July 17: John Cassian and Interiority: I

 

Karl Rahner wrote, “The Christian faith professes that God is not merely the God far off….  God wills to be, in self-communication, the ‘content’ and future of man.”  I would like to explore how this may be realised in us, with the assistance of John Cassian.

This might strike some as an unlikely pairing.  Rahner is modern, and John Cassian was born around 360. His birthplace was Dacia (present-day Romania).  How can someone who lived so long ago, and in such a far-away land, possibly help us to understand Karl Rahner’s insight?  Before we begin to answer this question, a bit of background about John Cassian.

Only a few facts about John Cassian have survived time’s ravages.  He was from a well-off family and was well-educated.  In his twenties, he entered a monastery in Bethlehem, and several years later he embarked on a pilgrimage to the then-famous monasteries of Egypt.  He spent perhaps ten years there, learning about the spiritual life from the great Egyptian monastic fathers.

After this long period of training in monastic wisdom, Cassian was ordained to the priesthood.  Finally, he ended up in Marseilles.  There, he founded two monasteries and wrote The Institutes and its companion work, The Conferences.  These are the writings I would like to refer to in the next several posts, for they speak about what, for Cassian, was the only thing that mattered: life with God.

One of the most intriguing terms Cassian uses to describe our inner self is that of the “vessel”.  Cassian first uses the term in his book’s dedication.  Addressed to one Bishop Castor, who himself had founded a monastery and had asked Cassian to write about what he had learned of monasticism in Egypt, Cassian says to the Bishop:

You are setting out to construct a true and spiritual temple for God…out of a community of holy men; and you also desire to consecrate very precious vessels to the Lord out of holy souls that bear within themselves the indwelling of Christ the king (emphasis mine).

 

Here, Cassian is saying that we are created as “containers” – that’s just how we are.  And so we are meant to have something inside.  Rahner says that God wants to be that “something.”  So does Cassian.  For both Cassian and Rahner, what makes us precious is not a thing, but a person: God.  Christ himself.  If we bear Christ within, we shine with his goodness.  How?  That is something that we will explore.

SJC.

Dear Friends,

This post somehow got out of sequence. My apologies! It will reappear on July 17th as advertised, to be followed by the rest of Sister Johanna’s reflections. WT.

If we bear Christ within, we shine with his goodness. St Maurice, Switzerland, MMB.

 

 

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