Rahner's theory of the anonymous Christian - Thoughts?

I had never heard of Rahner’s theory of the anonymous Christian but it came us in another thread and my curiosity was peaked so I took a look at THIS. Though I’m sure this is in no way a comprehensive summary - and also that it is written by a non-Catholic, I found the theory and ideas to be most interesting. I’ve had been thinking along similar lines myself over the years.

I’m no theologian - or philosopher. I like to keep things very simple. Yet, in discussions with those of other faiths and those of no professed faith - and seeing the lives lived (fruit borne) by many different people, I have to say that I believe there is a root truth in what Rahner put’s forth…

Anyway - in order to stimulate my thinking further on this - I thought I’d post this thread and ask others to comment on the article, or on the theory in general…

Usual rules apply - - be nice - - :smiley:


The trouble with the theory is that it really is just a theory built largely on a man’s notion of justice and what he thinks he would do if he was God. In this case the document is a theory based on another man’s theory. However man’s sense of justice is imperfect and no one knows the mind of God. There is no doubt that we cannot know perfectly how the mercy and justice of God will work but we do know that it is and will be perfect.

hmmm…I wonder if the fact that something is “just a theory” can rightly be said to the “the trouble with said theory”. All theories would share this same flaw…If they don’t it would be because they are no longer be “just a theory” - right?

That said - I agree with what you share here. Yet - I think that there is much good in the idea.


Interesting. I had not heard the phrase before, but it does seem to be echoed in passages from Vatican II and the Catechism such as:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation. (LG 16; cf. CCC 847)

I googled it and came across this interesting article by George Weigel about Rahner which talks brielfy about his idea of anonymous Christians:

**The Century after Rahner **

Thanks for the link. Interesting background.


I do wonder what others here think about the premise…

Is it possible for someone to be an “anonymous christian” - that is - a Christian without knowing it?



An extremely interesting article, that is for sure. Although I took issue with how Rahner seemed to describe conscious, I think the substance of his theory is correct. It does logically follow that there must be an “anonymous Christianity” of some sort if Salvation is concretely made available to all people.

It is definitely true that the Second Vatican Council Adopted a lot of the substance of the idea. A place where you can really see it, however, is in Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Redemptoris missio, where the Holy Father says:

"The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.

For this reason the Council, after affirming the centrality of the Paschal Mystery, went on to declare that “this applies not only to Christians but to all people of good will in whose hearts grace is secretly at work. Since Christ died for everyone, and since the ultimate calling of each of us comes from God and is therefore a universal one, we are obliged to hold that the Holy Spirit offers everyone the possibility of sharing in this Paschal Mystery in a manner known to God.”

I for one do certainly hope that this is so. There are so many obstacles to faith in our lives: our upbringing and our social situation; the very circumstances of our lives. In our digital age, it is increasingly easy to “stick with our own kind,” be it with believers or atheists or whatever.

I hope that that the desire for truth and goodness, the “God-shaped hole in our hearts,” that so many of us experience regardless of our professed faith or lack thereof, is indeed what Rahner was referring to with the notion of the “anonymous Christian.” And at some point, of course, I hope we all come to know the fullness of faith.

Rahner can be dangerous.

Factually, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took issue with Rahner’s views about priestly ordination, contraception and his doctrine of the “anonymous Christian”.

Answer by Colin B. Donovan, STL (EWTN) on Sep-28-2000:
However, his [Rahner’s] interpretations of the Council and his ideas on salvation and ecumenism (the “anonymous Christian” concept) were considered dangerous by orthodox theologians, and were censured informally by the Holy See. This occurred after his death when the Vatican’s newspaper condemned a book published posthumously on salvation outside the Church. If the Church has had to correct many false ideas in this regard, by documents such as the recent Dominus Jesus on the uniqueness of Christ and the Catholic Church, it has Fr. Rahner to thank, in part.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.