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Fi News – Karl Rahner Conference, Summary

By December 24, 2007Fi News, Fr. Peter Fehlner

Ave Maria!?

KARL RAHNER: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS. A Symposium on the theological figure, work and reception of the late German Jesuit, Karl Rahner (1904-1984)

This was the title of a Symposium organized by the Theological Seminary Immaculate Mediatrix (STIM) of the Franciscans of the Immaculate in Italy, held Nov. 22-23, 2007, in the famous Ghirlandaio Refectory (where Ghirlandaio’s Last Supper can be seen) in the Monastery attached to the magnificent Church of All Saints in Florence, Italy, now serviced by the Franciscans of the Immaculate.


Eleven experts in theology and philosophy, from Europe and America, discussed in depth various aspects of this very influential theologian, who is often described as architect of the new, post-conciliar theology, and whose Grundkurs des Glaubens (Foundations of Christian Faith) is by many considered the definitive replacement for the Summa of St. Thomas.Fashionable currents of thought among Catholics today, e.g., liberation theology, patripassionism, feminist theology, claim Rahner as their foundation. Rahner’s system is most often described as “transcendental Thomism??, an attempt to use, via Heidegger, Kant’s transcendentalism and Hegel’s evolutionism in Catholic thought as St. Thomas used Aristotle in his day. The consequence has been that in Rahner theology as a title for study of the one and triune God is replaced by transcendental Christology. Rahner has called this revolutionary change the “anthropological shift?? postulated by the triumph of subjectivity: no longer a theology from above or beginning from God, but one from below, beginning with man.


A Full House

Among the specific points examined during the two day affair were nature and grace (Msgr. B. Gherardini, emeritus Professon at the Lateran, Rome); theology from above and from below, or Rahner as seen by J. Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) and H. Urs von Balthasar (Rev. Dr. H. C. Schmidbauer of the Theological Faculty of Lugano); Masonic themes present in the thought of Rahner (Rev. Paolo M. Siano, F.I., STIM); anonymous Christians (Fr. G. Cavalcoli, O.P., Dominican Study Centre, Bologna); Rahner as critiqued by the late Cardinal Leo Scheffczyk (Rev. Dr. Manfred Hauke, Theological Faculty of Lugano); Mary’s place in the theology of Rahner (Fr. Alessandro Apollonio, FI, STIM); Thomism versus Kantian transcendentalism of Rahner (Msgr. A. Livi, Dean, Faculty of Philosophy, Lateran, Rome); Mystery of Trinity in Rahner (Fr. Peter M. Fehlner, FI, STIM); Rahner’s transcendental shift and the autonomy of conscience (Rev. Dr. A. M. Jerumanis (Theological Faculty of Lugano); Hegel-Heidegger as philosophical models of Rahner (Rev. Dr. I. Andereggen, Professor of Philosophy, Gregorian University, Rome); Rahner’s Christology and eschatology (Rev. Dr. J. Ferrer-Arellano, emeritus Professor, University of Navarre).



The final round table discussion of the speakers, some more thomistic, some more scotistic in orientation, revealed their unanimity in regarding Rahner, not as a theologian in the traditional sense, but as primarily a philosopher seeking to introduce into Catholic thought a version of Kant-Hegel filtered through Heidegger. All of them regarded this as a failed attempt, but one particularly dangerous to the faithful and to the Church because of the prestige of Rahner and the esteem in which he is held especially in Catholic theological academies.



The full texts of the conferences (in their original languages) will be published next year. Shorter versions in Italian as given at the Symposium will appear in the first issue of Fides Catholica (a periodical published by the Franciscans of the Immaculate in Florence) for 2008. [Address: Frati Francescani dell??Immacolata, Borgo Ognissanti 42, 50123 Firenze, Italy; E-mail: fifirenze@davide.it

Fr. Peter Fehlner, FI


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  • Laudetur Iesus Christus!

    Thank you for this writeup, Father Peter Mary. It is encouraging to see so many accomplished and respected scholars coming to a unanimity on the danger Rahner’s theology poses to the Church. These names — especially Livi and Gherardini — should be better known in the English-speaking world.

    Please, PLEASE, for the sake of your anglophone readership, make available the complete text of the papers presented in English. This could do a world of good. God bless your wonderful work for our Lady and the Church!

  • James Likoudis says:

    Dear Fr. Fehlner, FI,
    Delighted to learn of the Rahner Conference. It would indeed be most helpful in the Anglophone world to have the Conferences published in English ! Rahner’s influence has been a deleterious one in the U.S. and Canada and has fueled Dissent against Catholic teachings.
    My prayers for the continued intellectual efforts of the Friars of the Immaculate to defend Catholic truth.

  • bill bannon says:

    I would invite readers to note that a man has been maligned here with not one quote from the man himself….which is very typical of internet Rahner moments. Always ask Rahner critics why Rahner was never brought to ecclesiatical trial for heresy. If he was so dangerous, why didn’t John Paul II silence him. Now either John Paul was grossly negligent or Rahner was orthodox as Archbishop Amato of the CDF commented that he was to John Allen at the Rahner Conference at the Lateran in 2004. Which is it? Rahner was dangerous and John Paul was negligent…or….John Paul was not negligent in the matter because Rahner was orthodox as Archbishop Amato had stated.

  • Fr Angelo says:

    Archbishop Amato: “Notwithstanding some ambiguous formulae, Rahner was an orthodox Catholic theologian.”

    Ambiguous formula, e.g.: “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??? (Encyclopedia of Theology).

    (Ambiguous because Rahner proposes this as “more recent approaches” not his own opinion, but nowhere does he identify transignification or transfinalization as patent denials of the doctrine of transubstantiation.)

    This is just one instance. Rahner maligned? He was perhaps the most well known Catholic theologian of the 20th century. His works are open to public scrutiny by qualified theologians.

    All of them regarded this as a failed attempt, but one particularly dangerous to the faithful and to the Church because of the prestige of Rahner and the esteem in which he is held especially in Catholic theological academies.


    Rahner’s influence has been a deleterious one in the U.S. and Canada and has fueled Dissent against Catholic teachings.

    These are maligning statements?

  • bill bannon says:

    Fr. Angelo
    They certainly do malign him. We would never say that the saints were “dangerous..to the faithful”….saints who said things equally problematic like Aquinas and Augustine as in the following cases as to their seeing men as more helpful to men even in companionship than women are…. except that women can bear children…so that in these paragraphs, women come off as breeders and physical only and as they who are not as good companions as men are otherwise:

    “ I don’t see what sort of help woman was created to provide man with, if one excludes the purpose of procreation. If woman is not given to man for help in bearing children, for what help could she be? To till the earth together? If help were needed for that, man would have been a better help for man. The same goes for comfort in solitude. How much pleasure is it for life and conversation when two friends live together than when a man and woman cohabitate.??? De Genesi ad litteram 9,5-9 Augustine.

    Aquinas, ST, Pt. I. Q.98, art.2
    Moreover, we are told that woman was made to be a help to man. But she was not fitted to be a help to man except in generation, because another man would have proved a more effective help in anything else. (On the contrary..section).

    Now I’m sure Augustine and Aquinas said saner things about women at other moments in their lives. I have a book of sane Rahner quotes here that could supply the same balance to Rahner.

    And you avoided commenting on how it was that Pope John Paul II did not see him as dangerous yet Rahner hunting is habitual on the internet. Which is it? Rahner was dangerous and Pope John Paul II did nothing about that danger….or…..Pope John Paul II did nothing because Rahner was not dangerous. It has to be one or the other. The CDF did not prosecute him either as a heretic. Were they also negligent? If you really think they were all negligent concerning Rahner then state it openly.
    Imagine a distant intelligent potential convert reading the internet version of Catholicism. He reads that the foremost Catholic theologian of the 20th century was dangerous to faith in the eyes of various internet religious and he reads nothing of the entire magisterium doing anything about it. Yet he never sees the critical religious draw the logical conclusion: that they have seen a danger that no magisterial ruler saw or did anything about.
    Will that potential convert proceed closer to the Church or will he draw back until such contradictions within the clergy are solved.

  • Fr Angelo says:


    Rahner is open to criticism, and theologians are free to assess the relative importance or danger of any particular theological opinions, especially one’s that are inherently controversial. Rahner has not been canonized or made a doctor of the Church, nor has there been any official pronouncement on the orthodoxy of his writings.

    Neither John Paul II or Pope Benedict have discouraged theological pluralism on matters such as the value of theologians who have toyed with ideas like transignification. The Church is not a police state, as I am sure you would agree.

    Your comparison between doctors of the Church on matters of the relationship of the sexes, and Rahner challenging long held beliefs is apples and oranges.

    I think converts who are interested in the Church are looking for clarity of doctrine and are not looking for an explanation on why one who toyed with new fangled interpretations of doctrine is to be considered orthodox.

    You are free to engage in apologetics in whatever way you see fit. As I have mentioned to you before, I think it is you who have the penchant for pointing out discontinuity of doctrine and tradition in the Church.

  • bill bannon says:

    So then….Rahner was dangerous to faith and if the Pope or the CDF had disciplined him….the Church would be a police state???
    Then why did the Vatican charge a good number of men with heresy throughout those very decades….and succeed in their charges. It was not a police state when it did so and yet it would have been a police state had they protected faith in the Rahner case. Your schema is missing a few explanations for phenomena.

  • Fr Angelo says:


    You misconstrue me entirely. MY quote exactly:

    Neither John Paul II or Pope Benedict have discouraged theological pluralism on matters such as the value of theologians who have toyed with ideas like transignification. The Church is not a police state, as I am sure you would agree.

    Catholics may dissent from a theologian’s opinion and criticize him for publishing such opinions when that opinion, such as transfiguration, even ambiguously held, is at odds with Church doctrine. Rahner is not a saint or a doctor, or a bishop or in any other way a representative of the magisterium. The Church is not a police state because it does not force us to accept or leave without criticism men’s opinions that are clearly debatable.

    Neither is the Church a police state when it disciplines one who has been given a mandate and responsibility to teach in its name, when that person incorrigibly holds doctrines that are contrary to divinely revealed truths.

    Bill, with all due respect, I think you are just plain argumentative. 🙂

  • bill bannon says:

    With all due respect, growth comes partly from conflict not from yes men…… according to Christ in the sword of division passage and according to Augustine in “Rebuke and Grace” and …..according to Arnold Toynbee, the mega historian who in “A Study of History” liked the Catholic Church but found in Her elements of an arrested culture….and we all found out aspects of that arrested culture in recent sad and well known events. Toynbee warned of a creative minority becoming simply a dominating minority in an arrested culture which was quite the case in Boston as court records revealed.

    The fact remains that Rome does and should bring heresy charges when de fide dogmas are at stake or infallible statements are at stake that pass muster under canon 749-3….. and yet for 40 years, Rome has not done so against Rahner and yet lower level clergy and Catholic self defined staunch laity have called him dangerous and seem to have a habit of not quoting Rahner himself who wrote in German and whose writing style makes lengthy quotes necessary in many cases so as to see the qualifications that he himself is making on what he states. He is verbose and intricate and prolix …such that short quotes often are an editing of his total statement. But one reads critical articles of him that do not even cite short quotes let alone the length that should be quoted for a self qualifying prolix author.

  • Fr Angelo says:


    “Arrested culture”? Perhaps a depraved culture assimilated by churchmen instead of evangelized by the them.

    There is more to the question of dissent than canon 749-3 as we have discussed before.

    Perhaps you will take the time to read the prolix analyses of Rahner’s prolixity when the book is released, then, I am sure you will have much more fun, parsing much longer passages.

  • Fr Angelo says:

    I must clarify:

    “Arrested culture???? Perhaps a depraved culture assimilated by churchmen instead of evangelized by the them.

    My point is that the child abuse scandal was the result of clerical culture going the way of the world, not of the culture of the Catholic priest being something archaic or arrested.

    When clerical culture turns into a boys club culture, and then, when it is further polluted by the culture of pornography and indulgence, instead of being uplifted by the culture of prayer and penance, celibacy for the sake of the kingdom cannot stand.

  • bill bannon says:

    I was not thinking of the actual pervs who abused when I referred to an arrested culture. They were less than an arrested culture; they were no culture at all.

    There were two tragedies in this matter…the pervs and the facilitators ie clerical management which was the arrested culture I was referring to …monsignors-auxiliary Bishops-Bishops and Cardinals.
    Indeed Boston Diocesan correspondence with the Vatican showed at court that the Vatican knew of and had an audio tape of Fr. Shanley in 1979 (he spoke in praise of man-boy relations at the “Man Boy Love Association??? inter alia) and the Vatican wrote Boston as to what they were doing about him. The Diocesan office wrote back that in general they were taking care of such matters. In 1984 or 85, five years after the Vatican had the audio tape of Shanley and wrote Boston….Shanley was promoted to pastor and placed near children. All of which means we need a consultancy firm to do an overhaul of our whole management culture which in this case had no follow up by the Vatican and promiscuous permissiveness by Boston Diocese who later tried sending Shanley to two other Dioceses while lying about his being trouble free. San Bernadino Diocese fell for the lie and Manhattan (NY Diocese) did not. Disability checks were sent from the Boston Diocese to Shanley in San Bernadino where he and another gay priest bought a notorious gay hotel. So Boston Catholic laity were paying for this monster’s lifestyle thanks to the Boston Diocese.

  • Fr Angelo says:

    All of which means we need a consultancy firm to do an overhaul of our whole management culture . . .

    I think our disagreements stem from your ongoing critique of Catholic tradition. I would agree that an the clerical culture has a problem, but I do not believe that a corporate model is the answer.

    That is the model currently in use anyway and our chanceries have become in many ways bureaucratic in the worst sense of the word. The best kind of accountability is paternal. That is what the priesthood is. There is no way around it. Conversion is in order.

  • bill bannon says:


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