Papers 2018

Karl Rahner Consultation

Jessica Coblentz will moderate the 2018 Karl Rahner consultation.

Jessica Coblentz moderated the 2018 consultation.

The Karl Rahner Society met at the seventy-third annual convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America, held at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown in Indianapolis, Indiana, from June 7-10, 2018.   The theme was “Grace at Work in the World.”  Michael Canaris (Loyola University Chicago) convened the Karl Rahner Consultation on June 9, and Jessica Coblentz (St. Mary’s College of California) moderated it. The first presentation, entitled “Karl Rahner’s Theology of Neighbor Love in Dialogue with Social Psychology and Neuroscience,” was offered by Sarah Thomas (Boston College).  She  raised a question: If Christian discipleship is defined by the commandment to “love one’s neighbor,” how does embodiment enhance or diminish our freedom to do so?

Sarah Thomas will discuss Rahner's theology of neighbor love.

Sarah Thomas discussed the theology of neighbor love.

Thomas’ paper showed how Rahner’s theology of neighbor love accounts for the way freedom to love depends upon prior experience of grace and the human capacity to attend to the “other.”  The experience of grace, she said, includes that of God’s love as mediated through interhuman love.  “Otherness” or human distinctiveness underlies our capacity to relate to one another.  Thomas brought Rahner’s conception of neighbor love into dialogue with a description of embodiment provided by social psychology and neuroscience. The interlocutors for Thomas’ paper included C. Daniel Batson, who first proposed the empathy-altruism hypothesis.  The hypothesis states that empathic concern produces altruistic motivation.  Thomas suggested that Rahner indirectly offers a supplement to the theory of empathy-induced altruism.  The theory should not focus exclusively on the obligation to heal, but also on the desire to heal.

Brandon Peterson will focus on soteriology.

Brandon Peterson focused on Rahnerian soteriology.

The second paper was by Brandon Reed Peterson (University of Utah), who in 2017 published Being Salvation: Atonement and Soteriology in the Theology of Karl Rahner.  His contribution to the session was entitled “Grace in Our Place? Rahner’s Understanding of Christ as a Representative.”  In the paper, Peterson asked, “How does Jesus work in the world to redeem humans?”  Throughout Rahner’s career, said Peterson, he expressed deep suspicion of answers that had Christ “standing in” for humans [Stellvertretung], performing a great redemptive act in their stead. For Rahner, grace does not substitute or replace; it transforms and capacitates.

Annie Selak will respond to the presenters.

Annie Selak responded to the presenters.

Such an answer provoked great protest from Hans Urs von Balthasar, for whom Stellvertretung was indispensable. Peterson’s presentation traced the exchange between the two theologians, considering Rahner’s closely related distinction between mere “signs” (Vertretungssymbole) and real symbols.  It also analyzed Rahner’s favored alternative for Stellvertretung, the notion of Repräsentation, which he adopted from his early patristic studies. Annie Selak (Boston College) responded to both the Thomas and Peterson papers.  Peterson (she said) emphasizes that Jesus “is” salvation because he expressed God’s Word in the world.  His paper makes the point that in Jesus, God is not simply doing what other human beings could not do.  Peterson’s paper shows that Jesus is also opening up possibilities for what human beings can and should do. To Thomas, Selak noted that people often feel empathy for those who are like them.  Thomas’ paper (Selak said) calls attention to an important distinction made by Rahner.  He said that helping neighbors means helping them as God sees them, including those who are quite different.


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