Nancy Dallavalle writes in her chapter on Feminist Theologies, “At the outset, then, we must state clearly that Karl Rahner was not a feminist (indeed, not even an “anonymous” one)” (p. 264). In the conclusion of that same chapter she remarks, “Feminist theologians… have every reason to turn more deeply toward his work for the needs of a world Church that will be liberating for both women and men” (p. 276). Dallavalle’s observations express the general tenor of this helpful text for understanding the major themes and the ongoing significance of Rahner’s theology.
The editors bring together some of the best current theological minds to explain Rahner’s thought, his philosophical presuppositions and engage his Twentieth Century mind in Twenty-First Century concerns. In “retrospect and prospect” the text raises the question of a future for Rahnerian theology and concludes with the Jesuit’s near final reflections with “Experiences of a Catholic Theologian.”
Marmion and Hines introduce the volume by locating Rahner as a “Modern” theologian whose works must now be examined in a “Post-Modern” light. A brief sketch of his life and the emphasis on the Jesuit Rahner help the reader appreciate the theologian’s self-understanding as “pastoral theologian.” As in Marmion’s text A Spirituality of Everyday Faith the reader comes to appreciate the influence of Ignatius on Rahner’s life and thought. The editors write, “The Spiritual Exercises begin with the subjectivity of the human person and it can be argued that this theological insight is at least as important to Rahner’s starting point as is the influence of the German philosophers” (p. 5).
The text unfolds nicely exploring the graced nature of human existence reflected in the interplay between theology and spirituality. The “theological investigations” include well written considerations on method, Trinity, Christology and other important themes. Each author and chapter assesses the particular strengths and limitations of Rahner’s perspective. This section of the text could offer a sound introduction to the major themes of Foundations of Christian Faith. Various selective quotations from Rahner might remind the reader why they were attracted to his theology in the first place. Writing on “Ecclesiology and Ecumenism” Richard Lennan takes a quotation for Theological Investigations where Rahner describes the Church as a “spacious house with large windows from which one looks out on all spheres of humanity, all of which are encompassed by the creative power of God” (p. 141).
Maintaining a balance with the above section, the editors offer six articles as “Conversations Ongoing.” While four of the chapters would readily engage any reader that has made it thus far through the text, the first two in this section present a real challenge. One could say that Michael Purcell’s chapter on modernity and post-modernity is “difficult at best.” While the author evidences a solid handle on the philosophical and theological issues the reader may find him or herself in deeper than what they anticipated. Nicholas Adams' exploration of Rahner and Twentieth Century Protestant theology could perhaps offer a wider perspective. While the reader can appreciate the appropriateness of his focus on George Lindbeck’s reading of Rahner one can rightly suspect that something more could be said. The other chapters in this section read well and help the reader appreciate the cultural context of Rahner’s work along with the limitations of every moment in history.
When the editors write that they hope “to introduce Karl Rahner to students of theology for whom he has not been a formative influence” (p. 1) one might rightly wonder, “who?” Evident throughout this text is Rahner’s both very explicit as well as anonymously implicit influence in both appropriation and critique for past and future decades. Just as Rahner brought Ignatius to bear on a “Jesuit today” so every student of Catholic theology, as well as other traditions, will have to wonder what Rahner might say to a theologian of their day.