Karl Rahner is one of the best recognized names in modern theological circles concerning the Vatican II age. Although some of his work may be worth reading, and some theologians like Pope Benedict XVI see some value in some of his theological opinions; we have to ask, is reading his material worth the time and efforts of the ordinary laymen? My answer in short would be no, there are many other better theologians to read rather than run the risk of being sidetracked into a theological abyss of which Rahner is well known for. Even the great theologians have had a hard time trying to decipher some his cryptic writings, and what was clear was not very solid theological material.
For instance the great late theologian, Fr. John Hardon, S.J. writes the following about his work concerning the Eucharist. "Rahner’s language, not always so clear, I chose the clearest part that I could find." Yet it is not the hard to understand language that is the most dangerous, it is the redefining of transubstantiation that should alarm us.
Fr. Hardon writes, "
From Crisis of Faith and the Eucharist
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
"What I will do now is identify the two principal leaders of this devastating Eucharistic error. The error of transignification. This is the view that Christ’s presence in the Eucharist means when the consecration at Mass is performed only a change of meaning or significance of the bread and wine takes place. Their substance do not change only a change of meaning or significance of the bread and wine takes place their substance does not change. The consecrated elements are said to signify all that Christians associate with the Last Supper. The bread and wine acquire a higher meaning than merely food for the body. But they remain bread and wine.
We get some idea of how deeply this error has penetrated Catholic thought, when we read what Karl Rahner writes about the Eucharistic consecration. Rahner therefore is the first of the two master teachers of profound error on the Real Presence. I will quote now from Rahner’s language, not always so clear, I chose the clearest part that I could find. Quote Karl Rahner, “the more recent approaches suggest the following considerations, one has to remember that the words of institution indicate a change. But not give any guiding line for the interpretation of the actual process. As regarding transubstantiation it may be said, the substance, essence, meaning and purpose of the bread are identical but the meaning of a thing can be changed without changing the matter. The meaning of the bread has been changed through the consecration something which served profane use now becomes the dwelling place and the symbol of Christ who is present and gives Himself to His own.” unquote Karl Rahner. From the Encyclopedia of Theology edited by Rahner and defining the meaning of transubstantiation. What takes place through the Eucharistic consecration the significance the meaning attached to the bread changes but the bread remains bread. Rahner’s ideas are permeating the Eucharistic theology of whole nations."
"Now transfinalization, this identifies two principal errors that are threatening the faith of believing Catholics in Christ’s Real Presence in the blessed Sacrament. Transignification which we have just briefly described is very closely allied to transfinalization. In fact these two are almost synonymous but not quite.
Now transfinalization. This is a view of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist as the purpose or finality of the bread and wine is changed. Changed by the words of consecration but what remains after the consecration is still bread and wine, in other words, the bread and wine are now serving new function as sacred elements that arouse the faith of the people in Christ’s redemptive love.
We might say that transfinalization is another name for transignification. In both cases the substance of bread and wine, I repeat and I wish to emphasize, remain. There is no change in their being bread and wine – merely take on a new meaning. Transignification, or new purpose, transfinalization.
If Karl Rahner is the best-known advocate of transignification, Edward Schillebeeckx is the most famous proponent of transfinalization. Once again it is worth quoting at some length but this time from Schillebeeckx. His language is very subtle in context – he uses the words real presence. But tells us that the purpose of the Eucharistic elements is simply to make Christ’s presence more intimate. He was present before the consecration and is still present after the consecration - nothing happened to the bread. Nothing happened to the wine we read from Schillebeeckx. Anyone who denies what I just said is bound to misunderstand transubstantiation and make it objective."
Fr. Hardon's assessment of Rahner's theological ideas should give us cause to be careful in reading any of his works, for we do not know what other theological inventions he may have come up with. For example Fr. Hardon points out another error by Rahner concerning Process Theology.
Fr. Hardon writes,
From Devotion to the Sacred Heart and Modern Christology
IIHJ Conference given by
Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J.
"On these premises, Christ and Christology and the hypostatic union take on a very different meaning than the one taught by the Nicene Creed.
Karl Rahner is not commonly placed among Process Christologists, but I believe he can be best understood in this way.
Rahner’s notion of evolution rises through much of his writing. It is deeply influenced by Hegel. Matter and spirit, Rahner believes, are essentially related to each other. They derive from the same creative act of God, and they have a single goal or purpose in the fullness of the Kingdom preached by Christ. The world and its history are moving ever forward. They are in constant process of development, toward a unity of spirit and matter. Rahner, like Hegel, sees this as a becoming higher. He calls this capacity for becoming something higher as the power of “self-transcendence.”
How does Christ fit into this predetermined process of evolution. Says Rahner, “The permanent beginning and the absolute guarantee that this ultimate self-transcendence, which is fundamentally unsurpassable, will succeed and has already begun, is what we call the “hypostatic union,” (Foundations of Christian Faith, p. 181).
In other words, the Incarnation was not so much God becoming Man, as the universe, including man, becoming slowly but inevitably divinized. Jesus Christ, Rahner insists, cannot be properly understood except from this evolutionary process."
It is for these reasons alone that I think we should have pause to spend any amount of time reading Karl Rahner for our spiritual or theological benefit. We could spend a lifetime of reading solid theologians like Fr. Hardon, Fr. Lagrange, etc. Why waste your efforts on Rahner? I won't waste any of my time unless it is for learning how the modernist theologians come to their erroneous theological conclusions. Finally, I would like to point out some of Rahner's own words concerning classic Thomism and traditional Catholic theology. The quotes below should remove any doubt at to what his theological motives as a whole were. These are my reasons for putting Karl Rahner on my do not read list.
Quotes below from an interview with Karl Rahner.
"I also believe that one can say that neo-scholastic philosophy and theology, for all their accomplishments, are quite passé today."8
"Between the two world wars there was, perhaps, no major breakthrough towards a truly new and modern theology. But there was a very fundamental breakthrough to a more open Catholic, and thoroughly Catholic way of thinking, which departed from traditional neo-scholasticism, but still was part of the Church’s patrimony."
"Its pioneers like Blondel and Marechal "agree that we must be receptive to modern philosophy without considering it absurd or something to be opposed and criticized. What is needed is a trusting colloquium between traditional scholastic philosophy and modern philosophy. This is necessary if, on the one hand, we are to be of our time..."
"When the Vatican declaration against the ordination of women came out a few years back, I published an article saying that it failed to convince me."
""… I have through Maréchal, Kant and German idealism, studied - let’s be content to formulate it negatively - a "transcendentally," philosophical Thomism."