Hearer of the Word is Rahner's second book. Published in 1941 and based on lectures originally given in 1937, it is in some ways the companion piece to Spirit in the World. The supernatural existential is an idea Rahner famously introduced into a debate about nouvelle theologie in 1950; 1 it recurred in subsequent years and came to play a central role in many parts of his theology. The book and the idea are both important. Anyone who wants seriously to grapple with Rahner needs to come to terms with both. I bring the two together in a single chapter, however, so that the question of their relationship can also be considered. And this is a complicated relationship. There are important similarities between what Rahner was trying to do in Hearer of the Word and what he did with the notion of the supernatural existential, and between the patterns of thought at work in both. On the other hand I shall be arguing that the two are actually incompatible: both the project of Hearer of the Word and the conception of revelation upon which it is based are at odds with at least Rahner's stronger versions of the supernatural existential.
Though both sides of this complex relationship are important, in this chapter the accent will fall on establishing that there are discontinuities, real elements of incompatibility. The reason for this is not that the discontinuities are more important than the similarities-the reverse is probably true-but that there is such a preponderance of commentators who read Rahner's corpus as a single, unified whole, who work on the assumption that in some way or other it all fits together, that the balance needs to be restored.
The tendency to take Rahner as a unified whole is at least as widespread as the tendency to use the language of foundations mentioned in the first chapter. This is perhaps in part because the variety in Rahner's thought is so close to the surface. It is not at all hard to see that he wrote many, many essays on many, many topics, and so it is generally assumed to be the role of the commentator to show how everything fits together. Even scholars who note variation in Rahner's positions often write in terms of a smooth development, of the working out of ideas only latent in earlier texts, or at most of alteration in point of view and emphasis. Anne Carr, for instance,