For Rahner aficionados who have not had the opportunity to personally know or study under Rahner (like myself), this book is a treasure and a blessing. It is a collection of 28 interviews conducted by the two editors. For many years Michalski, currently vice-rector of Saint Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, was the convener of the Karl Rahner Society in the Catholic Theological Society of America and the editor of the Karl Rahner Society Newsletter. The Jesuit Balogg wrote his doctoral dissertation on Rahner and is one of the editors of Rahner’s “Collected Works.” In 2001 Michalski traveled to Germany and Austria to interview 25 of those who knew Rahner personally, as fellow Jesuits, collaborators, students, relatives, and friends. His plan to publish these interviews in 2004 to mark Rahner’s 100th birthday and the 20th anniversary of his death did not materialize. The delay allowed the addition of three more interviews. In 2005 Michalski interviewed Rahner’s closest collaborator, Herbert Vorgrimmler, and Barlogg interviewed Walter Stolz and Irmgard Bsteh.
The 28 interviews were divided into five categories: (1) Rahner as researcher and educator; (2) Rahner as seen by his assistants and collaborators; (3) Rahner as Jesuit; (4) Rahner as private person; (5) Rahner as teacher and writer. Of the first group, particularly interesting are the memories of Cardinal König (whose theological “expertus” Rahner was) and Otto Muck; of the second, those of Cardinal Lehmann, Johannes Baptist Metz, and Herbert Vorgrimmler; of the third, that of Emerich Coreth; of the fourth, those of Elisabeth Cremer (Rahner’s younger sister) and Franz Johna; of the fifth, those of Peter Knauer and Jósef Niewiadomski.
Theologically, this volume is very helpful in highlighting those aspects of Rahner’s theology that appear to be most important to those who knew him personally, namely, its spirituality and pastoral relevance. To his sister, Rahner’s statement that a “future Christian must be a mystic” is the most memorable (p. 231). But the highest and unique contribution of these interviews no doubt lies in their portrait of Rahner as a truly human, down-to-earth, like-you-and-me being.
To those who know Rahner only through his writings and tend to idolize him, it is refreshing to learn from Emerich Coreth that Rahner was not easily approachable as a friend (p. 182) and that compared with his brother Hugo who was a “spritzig und glänzender Redner,”“humorvoll” and “geistvoll,” Karl was more “der düsterer Bohrer und ein Problematiker” (p. 178).
Also, for those who marvel at Rahner’s prodigious output, it is reassuring to know from Vorgrimmler that it came partly from his discipline and working habits: he went to bed early, did not work at night, rose at four or four thirty, said his Mass, had a quick breakfast, and then worked at his typewriter (no computer in those days!) through noon! It is also interesting to know that Rahner was not much distracted by what we are bombarded with today: he did not go to the theater or the concert, did not listen to the radio or watch television, and when asked what his hobby was, replied curtly “Lesen” (p.161).
Finally, for those overwhelmed by the profundity of Rahner’s theology, it is good to learn from Niewiadomski that when he first saw Rahner in 1970, who was giving a lecture at the Catholic University of Lublin, his “Aha-Erlebnis” was seeing Rahner in necktie (while his 150 fellow seminarians were in cassocks)! For him, the shock (and a scandal for his superiors) was here Rahner, “der grosse Jesuitenprofessor” wearing a necktie, and the seminarians their cassocks (p. 306)!
Though the German of this book is relatively easy, it would be very helpful to have the book translated into English and made more widely available. In addition to bringing Rahner down to earth as it were, it makes fascinating reading, especially for those interested in Rahner’s theology and in the post-Vatican II Church. I strongly urge the editors to consider this possibility very seriously. And to publishers I say: the book will sell.