Wednesday 31 May 2006

Humanity as the mystery of God

“We could now define humanity ... as that which ensues when God’s self-utterance, his Word, is given out lovingly into the void of god-less nothing.... And if God himself is human and remains so forever; if all theology is therefore eternally an anthropology; if the human is forbidden to belittle himself, because to do so would be to belittle God; and if this God remains the insoluble mystery—then humanity is forever the articulate mystery of God.”

—Karl Rahner, “On the Theology of the Incarnation,” in Theological Investigations IV (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1974), p. 116.


Cynthia R. Nielsen said...


Nice quote. When Rahner suggests that "God remains the insoluble mystery" does he mean that God in himself and to Himself is a mystery, or that God is a mystery for us? If the former, then in what way does he mean this and how does that harmonize with God's omniscience?

Warm regards,

David W. Congdon said...

"if all theology is therefore eternally an anthropology..."

Rahner, it seems, has been reading too much Feuerbach. I take his point that the incarnation affirms the "humanity of God," as Barth put it. But he misses the point by thinking theology is therefore anthropology. No! What we need to do is realize that theology, by remaining fixed on God as the Subject who is also object, encompasses the anthropology. The God who becomes human in Jesus Christ is still God, and thus study of this God in revelation is theology. God takes up humanity without simply becoming human. God remains God in the act of being-in-becoming in which God enters into the conflict with nothingness, into the veil of human flesh, pro nobis.

Anonymous said...

I agree with D.W. Perhaps we should say, not that theology is eternally an anthropology, but just the reverse: that anthropology is eternally a theology? Certainly any anthropology that does not issue from a christology is a dog's breakfast. And certainly the distinction (or, speaking of Marion, the "distance") betweeen God and humanity must be maintained lest we fall into idolatry. Isn't that the real point of the extra Calvinisticum?

byron smith said...

I agree with D.W. too.
But furthermore, if Rahner thinks that when God’s self-utterance, his Word, is given out lovingly into the void of god-less nothing that which ensues is humanity, what has happened to the rest of creation? Is this anthropocentric, not only at the expense of God (as mentioned in comments above), but also at the expense of the non-human world? We find an Other not only above us, not only in our neighbour, but also (though perhaps in a different and qualified sense) beneath and around us. The Spirit of Life breathes in more than human lungs.

Ben Myers said...

Yes, these are very good questions. Of course, Barth himself suggested that it would be better to call theology "theoanthropology", since God is eternally the human God -- but he added that this must never be confused with "anthropotheology". At times I think Rahner is really aiming at the former -- but on the whole, perhaps what he really wants is a kind of "anthropotheology".

In any case, it seems like a risky business to speak of humanity as "the mystery of God" (rather than God as the mystery of humanity!).

Anonymous said...

In defence of Rahner.
1) Barth's quote on Tillich should be equally applied to Rahner. Both lovers of Barth and von Balthasar seem to quickly and glibly dismiss Rahner and his vast insights.
2) I think Rahner would affirm much of DW's comments. God remains God. Rahner states that God remains in fact immutable (see Rahner's critique of Moltmann in the History of the Triune God) Although, the end sounds far too protestant for Rahner.
3) Rahner's famous axiom on the economic and immanent trinity if read within Rahner's own theology does much to affirm the sameness of God for us and God in God's self.
4)Surely, Rahner begins with anthropology, but honestly where else is there to begin? God's self-revelation occurs to human beings. We have no access to God outside of God's economic activity. So I think that Rahner is really after what Ben/Barth calls theoanthropology, even if he slips at times into the later.
5) point well taken on christology and anthropology. Rahner does not go in that direction. Although, he does affirm that humanity is the gratitious gift of God's self-communication. He just happens to emphasis that communication in creation, rather than in Christology. Pneumotology figures prominently. Ok, you hit my Rahner nerve, time to stop

David W. Congdon said...

I definitely respect Rahner, and I think your counter-arguments are, for the most part, right on. But his rambling prolixity often ends up with ambiguous statements like this one which (probably) have the right content but the wrong form. It's too bad he is not more careful. I entirely agree with Rahner's trinitarian axiom, but theologians would do well not to collapse God into the immanent Trinity -- as much contemporary theology is prone to do. Rahner of course would never want this to happen, but quotes like this one make his position rather unclear.

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