Novak (novak) wrote,

Theological Notebook: O'Meara on Rahner

was pleased just now, reading a bit before bed after an evening out with Sr. Terri to see The Adjustment Bureau (more on that and the theology of grace later), with the concise elegance of Tom O'Meara's summary of his time studying with Karl Rahner in Munich in the 1960s, as he relates it in A Theologian's Journey. Rahner, for those who don't know why I'd be interested, has been the most influential theologian of at least the latter part of the 20th century, although his Wikipedia article can't easily convey why (which shows the shortcomings of Wikipedia in contemporary theology about as well as anything could). Rahner grew and grew in importance for me as a guide, after finding him almost incomprehensible as a beginning Master's student to gaining the ability to read him profitably with David Coffey at Marquette (who had also studied with him at the same time as O'Meara), and to reading him on my own during my dissertation work as I discerned his influence on Francis A. Sullivan. Now, in this book, after some personal anecdotes that convey something of Rahner's humble, serving character, O'Meara gives this quick summary of Rahner's thought that so resonates with my own experience of how important Rahner is:
Later, it would be clear that in the 1960s Rahner was passing quietly into the third stage of his theology. First, there had been the analysis of the believer in light of modern philosophies; then came the theology of God's self-communication present existentially to each man and woman in various modes beyond the electric company of laws and forces.... History now held an important role: the history of salvation beginning for tens of millions of people long before Abraham, of human religions, the history that held a climax in Christ, of the church's forms and ideas. Rahner's theology was moving beyond ecclesiastical difficulties to Christian dialogue with European atheism and Marxism, and then to an even wider "ecumenical" horizon of the world religions, the great issue of the coming centuries. "Contemporary theology must be theology of a world-church.... The plausibility of Christianity for other cultures can no longer be grounded in the superiority of Europe and the West. We must come to a Christianity that has genuinely achieved an inner and essential synthesis with other cultures. There are signs that this is beginning to happen."

Rahner helped me see that the challenges facing Catholicism were much greater than simply absorbing some insights of the Protestant reformers or understanding the trendy terminologies of Tillich or Bultmann. Catholicism had its own history, very broad and very old, and those riches repressed should emerge. The challenge was no longer Protestantism but modernity, and its opportunity lay not in Aristotle's metaphysics and neo-Gothic buildings but in science, person, and worldwide humanity struggling to become aware and free. Above all, he showed how the salvation of a generous God found a positive, visible climax in Jesus, but was not withheld from the hundreds of millions who existed before Plato and Isaiah, or who prayed at a Muslim or Hindu shrine.

In Munich, I did not think about whether Rahner was influencing me (in 1965, in Munich, there were doctoral students who had no interest in Rahner). A great thinker does not have an endless string of new ideas but only a few insights, insights, however, appearing in a kind of code. If the thinker is great, if the ideas are rich and liberating, the teacher's words illumine life. Rahner's lectures and publications held no radical statements about Jesus or the papacy; they were inevitably about something beneath the many things and ideas of Christianity, something implicit, elusive, and luminous, something about the real presence of God in history.
– Thomas F. O'Meara, O.P., A Theologian's Journey, pp. 244-45.
Tags: books, catholicism, christianity, quotations, rahner, teachers, teaching, theological notebook

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