What to think of Karl Rahner?

One of my good friends recently suggested that I read works by Karl Rahner. My friend is excited about what he has to say in his works. I know little to nothing about him, except that he cames from Germany, that he became a Jesuit, that he used Hegelian thought in his theology, that he was influential in Vatican II, and that many Protestants like what he said.

However, how orthodox is he in his beliefs? I have yet to read any of his works, but knowing that he makes use of Hegelian thought makes me somewhat wary, since Hegelian thought underpins Marxism and various other dialectic models, especially in regard to the earlier Church, which I think are a bit crazy.

So, what do people know of him?

He and de chardin heavily influenced South America and the liberation theology down there. Some of his books have been banned by the vatican. Stay away, he’s etremely liberal.

Interesting, what books written by Rahner were banned (source please). I don’t believe this is truly the case but am happy to be proven wrong. Pax.

The Vatican can ban books? What exactly does that entail? Can they make something a sin by saying its sinful?

For several centuries, the Church maintained the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books), which was designed to protect the faithful from immoral or heretical writings. It was never a particularly good list, and it was abolished around the time of Vatican II. So the responder’s statement is inaccurate - there are no books that are currently considered “banned” (although this has been the case in the past).

Kinda. Catholics make a promise to follow the precepts of the Church, whatever they may be. Maybe it’s abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent. Maybe it’s not reading books on the Index.

The act itself is not inherently sinful, but committing the act requires a Catholic to violate his promise of obedience. Willfully breaking a promise without just cause is always sinful, even if the matter of the promise itself is not.

If I promise to wash your car on Saturday, and I willfully disregard this promise without just cause, then I have sinned. I have no moral obligation to wash you car, but I have a moral obligation to uphold my promises, so if I promise to wash your car, it becomes a moral obligation.

With respect to chaser’s query: the Church’s… “…mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures, and she honors the sanctuary of conscience. To those whom for various reasons oppose missionary activity, the Church repeats: Open the doors to Christ!” (Redemptoris Missio 39).

With regards to the OP, Rahner was a brilliant theologian. His work is often highly complex, and takes a great deal of careful study to understand, but it is largely brilliant.

I agree. Foundations of Christian Faith contains one of the most elegant systematic theologies I have seen, and by far gives the most insight into the thinking of Vatican II than anything else I’ve read. That being said, Rahner is extraordinarily difficult to understand at times. I had to read two introductory works by other authors just to get an initial understanding of his terminology. Well worth it though.

He died in 1984. He was involved in Vat II council. He was not dependably faithful to Church teaching. .


Hmm. That’s not how I interpret the link, but the response is kind of weird. My experience is that liberal theologians have misquoted and misused Fr. Rahner’s material, as they have done with Vatican II.

I consider both Karl Rahner and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to be men ahead of their time - more importantly, they were both very loving human beings from what I have read of them and both were relatively free thinkers while still being loyal to the church in their conduct and loyalty to their priestly vows. Both in their own way broke free from the dominance of medieval and scholastic thinking and, like Pope John XXIII (himself a truly charitable person) helped bring the Church into the 20th century. And both, like John XXIII at a younger age, came under the baleful eye of the Roman Curia at times. As we all know, the Popes since Paul VI, while very good people, have tended to drag the Church into an older era of thinking - that of ecclesiastical scholasticism, instead of the original metaphorical, existential teachings expressed in the parables of Jesus (who was killed himself because he went beyond the conventional teaching of his own day, which scared the ecclesiastical authorities of his day). Not that the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin were intrinsically “bad” people, they were no more or less “bad” or “good” than the clerical authorities of any era. Who among us can claim to be free of some degree of spiritual ignorance and thus become enraged at unorthodox thought at times because we are afraid? But this, too, will pass as mankind continues to grow in spiritual maturity and thus love. It was the genius of these three men to be able to see a more holistic vision coming from Jesus, one which encompassed all of the Creation, even though their writings scared the Curia at times, just as the teachings of Jesus had scared some in the Sanhedrin.

Pax Vobiscum!

He wasn’t always faithful to Church teaching. That’s documented

He is considered one of the greatest Catholic theologians of the 20th century.
Here is a bibliography link if you r interested on his works.


Fr. Rahner’s faithfulness is not for you or I to judge. You cannot see into his soul. You can criticize what he wrote (and there is a lot of it) as not being a faithful representation of the Church’s teaching. This is the risk that all theologians in the area of speculative theology run. From reading his systematic theology, I could not find any conclusion that contradicted established Church dogma. I do disagree with some of his conclusions though.

Run away.

Well put, tdg esq (are you an attorney?). You and I as individuals may agree or disagree with Karl Rahner in part, but like him we must do so with humility. Actually, the same thing must be said IMHO of “established Church dogma.” History shows that it, too, evolves over the centuries - and that is to me a good thing. Church dogma is a “finger pointing to the moon” by definition. It is not the moon itself. The Moon Itself is beyond words and concepts; it is Love, which is all encompassing and in an ultimate sense has no opposites (although our egos often say otherwise, to our detriment and to everyone’s detriment in time). To paraphrase a paradigmatic, wondrous Jewish enlightened human being of 2,000 years ago, “Let he/she who has no ego-based failings cast the first stone.” Thus love and forgiveness must have no bounds. Having said that, there is much to be done by ALL human beings of ALL faiths and of NO faith, that we may learn to live together in peace and in justice. “May Your Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven”…i.e., living together in Oneness and in Love. To me, there is nothing else to aim our whole lives at. That is different than my saying that I “never miss the mark.” We all do at times. The nature of the Father is forgiveness and that must become our true nature while we all live in various states of spiritual ignorance. See Mt 5:43-48, not to mention the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Blessed Be.

You might find this helpful:


The Century after Rahner
by G. Weigel



Non-Infallibility: The Papacy And Rahner
by Rev. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap.


i think he is a heretic.

Thank you, Mimi - I found those articles quite interesting, although not compelling. But they were thoughtful, informed and worth reading and I appreciate your posting them.

Unlike the authors (whom I must respect, certainly), I don’t have the blind faith in papal infallibility. As you would know, that wasn’t even a formal church doctrine until around 1870, shortly after the Papacy lost its worldly power (i.e., army and territory outside of the Vatican itself) due to the revolution in Italy and the rise of of the Italian monarchy.

I note that your good posting was followed by another posting offering a short statement of opinion - that Karl Rahner was “a heretic,” implying that Fr. Rahner is to be dismissed as someone to learn from. I would remind the people of this thread that Jesus of Nazareth was himself executed due to the judgment of the majority of the Jewish Sanhedrin that he was a “heretic.” In hindsight, the majority of the members of the Sanhedrin were defending orthodoxy and could not accept the revolutionary message of Jesus, himself a Jewish man. I.e., he scared them (not by intent but by effect). The same thing could be said at times of the Church, when it executed “heretics” over the centuries (not that all the “heretics” offered holistic teachings, but some did). Please don’t misunderstand me - I have great respect for the Church as it struggles to carry out its mission. But my point is that, like the Sanhedrin, the Church is a very human institution - one entrusted with conveying the teachings and life example of Jesus to the world. As Mary Baker Eddy referred to Jesus as the “wayshower” (shower of the way), the Church, with its human strengths and frailty both, is charged with “showing the way.” The “way” offers the keys to the Kingdom, as Jesus revealed. And Jesus himself said the “Kingdom is within/among you,” a place of utter inner and thus outer transformation of a human being into a Loving, healing person - as Jesus exemplified.

Thanks again for your well thought out choice of articles to share.

Isn’t THAT what I said?

Originally Posted by steve b forums.catholic.com/images/buttons_khaki/viewpost.gif
He wasn’t always faithful to Church teaching. That’s documented

I didn’t censure him, the Church did.

Rahner was a brilliant theologian of the last century and his contributions are many. For a time he was heavily scrutinized by the local authorities, but after Germany lost WWII he was able to come back home from his exile in Austria. The Church kept their eyes on him too, unsure of what to make of him, but I think he has shown his worth as a faithful Catholic.

He remained a trancendental Thomist when most of the left was moving further off into La La Land. In his later years he complained of the liberals of that time (Kung?) calling him a conservative, which Rahner would never have considered himself to be. He was left of center in the Church, but did not go overboard as much as the liberals did after Vatican II. By the time of his death in 1984 he was still left-leaning but almost in the center on the sliding scale of Church politics.

Rahner is a very tough read. His brother, who was also a priest, joked that he had to read his works in English because the native German was just too difficult to comprehend. I think that if you have the time to devout to reading him you could learn a lot from a brilliant man.

Bottom line: he was liberal, but still within the confines of what we would call orthodox and not heretical. And unlike others on the left, Rahner has never celebrated the sacrifice of the mass with a watermelon on the altar.

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.