James J. BACIK. Humble Confidence: Spiritual and Pastoral Guidance from Karl Rahner. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Prss, 2014. pp. 185. $19.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8316-3. Reviewed by Jill RAITT, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211.
James Bacik’s book is a lucid and appreciative presentation of Karl Rahner’s theology followed by Bacik’s reflections on the ways that Rahner has influenced his more than fifty-year ministry in the diocese of Toledo, Ohio.
Chapter 1, “Christian Anthropology: Cultivating Dialectical Virtues,” speaks briefly about the formative influences on Rahner’s developing philosophy and theology. Although Rahner never wrote a comprehensive Christian anthropology, Bacik says that “Many of Rahner’s spiritual insights are rooted in his theological anthropology.” Bacik then draws on his knowledge of Rahner’s works, especially Foundations of Christian Faith, to lay out Rahner’s anthropological principles in fourteen points each of which is briefly elaborated: Humans are: 1. persons and unique subjects, 2. self-transcendent beings, 3. knowers with an unlimited drive to understand but with finite capabilities, 4. called to live in a responsible freedom, 5. historical, 6. radically threatened by guilt and sin, 7. communal and social, 8. creatures who move inevitably toward death, 9. whose personal existence survives biological death, 10. sexual beings, 11. dependent on the past, both as members of the human race and as individuals, 12. responsible for creating our own future, 13. beings who, in order to fulfill ourselves must go out of ourselves, 14. beings who, in order to achieve genuine fulfillment, must return to ourselves (pp. 8-13). Bacik then relates these points dialectically into seven pairs that he briefly explains and that seem to me quite convincing. From this arrangement, Bacik works out a basis for a spiritual life that “fits the experience of persons in the contemporary world.” (p.16) Bacik concludes that “Rahner’s Christian anthropology, which highlights our orientation to mystery and our essential interdependence, will continue to provide spiritual searchers in the twenty-first century with a valuable alternative to the self-contained humanism and the excessive individualism so prevalent in our culture.” (p.19)
Chapter 2, “Doctrine of God: Deepening Our Prayer Life,” continues Bacik’s dialectical analysis, this time applied to reason and faith. Reason must “recognize its limitations before the mystery of being” and faith is a “conviction that must vindicate itself as genuine knowledge through a process of critical reflection.” (pp. 21-22) Bacik then spells out how this theological analysis provides a foundation for Christian prayer through another set of dialectical pairs that are explained and then expressed in brief prayers.
Chapter 3: “Christology: Betting Our Lives on Jesus” discusses the problems of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith and the Christology from above based on John’s gospel to the theology from below rooted in the synoptic gospels. He acknowledges the value of both, but thinks that the recurring tendency toward Docetism makes a Christology rooted in the man Jesus is needed today if it includes a strong emphasis on “paschal piety” that includes the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection.
Chapter 4: “Church: Renewing Ecclesial Life” addresses current pastoral problems: people who claim to be spiritual but not religious, the exodus of Catholics, the competing interpretations of Vatican II, and the need to renew parish life. This last section briefly discusses the history of parishes in the United States, parish life today and the need to reach out to the unchurched. Bacik then takes up the more controversial of Rahner’s positions with regard to a healthy pluralism within each parish and the need to declericalize parishes so that the talents and energies of the laity can be utilized. Other topics are the parish and social justice, parish spirituality, ecumenical concerns and the parish as a voluntary association that fosters creative leadership.
Chapter 5, ”Personal Reflections: Exemplifying Rahner’s Pastoral Influence” is quite long, pp. 93-163. It consists of short reflections of the most practical and engaging sort, for example this sketch of Rahner as Bacik came to know him during a visit to Munich. “He was a humble man, not really comfortable being the center of attention. . . .” He was a man of volatile emotions, deeply compassionate, anxious about death, interested in the ordinary things of life, realistic about the human condition, and convinced that we are all immersed in the grace of the Holy Mystery. “From others, I learned of his admirable acts of private charity to the needy. Young Jesuits told me that when they drove him places, he would often urge them to go faster.” (p.112) In an Epilogue, Bacik defends Rahner against his critics: neoconservatives like George Weigel and the journal First Things, those who champion Hans Urs von Balthasar, and liberation theologians. Bacik answers them with a brief summary of the elements of Rahner’s theology that create a new paradigm that will continue his influence through many decades ahead.I concur with the back-cover blurb by Elizabeth Johnson: “Elegantly simple and profoundly pastoral, this is a beautiful, soul-satisfying book.”