Karl Rahner's Ecclessiology

In an article in the March 2009 issue of New Black Friars Karen Kilby explores Rahner’s ecclessiology and argues that his methodology, rather than explicitly his content, is germane for theology today. This she takes to be in Karen Kilbyopposition to current theology trends that bracket Rahner out of the picture because he is now retrospectively viewed as having accommodated too much of the culture and ideas of his times. Rahner recognized during his lifetime that the church was in a state of transition and beset by much confusion. The impact he made in this transition Kilby notes was so successful that his ideas are now considered insipid and redundant (e.g., the ‘anonymous Christian’). In examining the relationship between the church and society Rahner recognized the fall of Christendom; the world was no longer allied with church in the same manner it was previously. In this situation Rahner predicted Christian faith would steadily become more inward and private. In other words, more individualistic. On this matter, Rahner was rather optimistic, albeit uncertain. This pithy overview of Rahner already anticipates why he is increasingly dismissed by theology students. But Kilby makes this interesting remark,

Something that again and again comes through in Rahner’s writings on Church and world is not so much that the world is such a wonderful place that the Church ought to embrace it, as that the Church in fact, whatever it might suppose to the contrary, has no option about engagement with the world… The Church is always already there, always already worldly, always in the midst of things, and only deceives itself if it thinks otherwise. The choice, then, is not over whether or not to engage with the world, but over whether to take cognizance and some measure of responsibility for the engagement, indeed the embeddeness, that is inevitably already a reality

Our situatedness in the modern world is inevitable. To think we have an option about engaging the world is a misconceived start. We are worldly beings by birth. “So we can criticise particular things in our world, but we cannot step outside our world so as to be able to criticise it all at once.” At least coming to terms with this will help us avoid living schizophrenic or double-lives. While Kilby does not offer any practical directions from this platform, she does take a quick jab at some of the ‘new traditionalists’ who are united in their antagonism towards liberalism and come across as sectarian. Revealing in her vagueness Kilby penultimately closes with this,

We do have to decide some things; at particular points and in particular ways we need to be subversive, to be different, to resist, to live otherwise. Yet this will always be against a background of being inescapably worldly, and in many more and subtler ways than we can consciously grasp

Kudos to Karen Kilby for offering a healthy and sustainable way to engage the world.


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