Karl Rahner: Theology and Philosophy

By Karen Kilby | Go to book overview
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The relation of philosophy to theology

A nonfoundationalist reading

We come now to the center of our argument: the contention of this chapter will be that Rahner's theology can be read-and indeed, that it is best read-nonfoundationally. That is to say, first, that his theology is best understood as logically independent of his philosophy, and second, that experience, which has such a significant role in Rahner's thought, is best construed not as the starting point of his theology, but as its conclusion.

It is important to be clear that what is at issue is the logical independence, and not the chronological independence, of Rahner's theology from his philosophy. There can be no doubt that there is a significant material overlap between his theology and his early philosophical works: ideas developed and defended in the philosophy play extremely imporant roles in the theology. The Vorgriff auf esse, which if I am right is unsuccessfully defended in Spirit in the World, is a clear example: the language of Vorgriff appears in many of Rahner's theological writings, and even more frequently the idea of it-that an absolute openness to, and reaching out towards, all of being takes place in every human act of knowing or willing. As we mentioned in chapter 2, Rahner's talk of human transcendence, of the human being as spirit, of the supernatural existential, and of prethematic revelation all make use of or require something like this concept of the Vorgriff. Similarly, one might point to Rahner's reflections on the nature of the symbol, which play a role in a number of areas of his theology and which are to some degree anticipated in Spirit in the World. 1

If one were to strip Rahner's theology of all material that had roots of one kind or another in his philosophical writings, it would lose much of its richness and interest-and indeed substance. It is important to be clear that what is being proposed with the notion of a nonfoundationalist reading is not any such stripping. It is rather that this same material, when it appears in Rahner's theological writings, should be viewed as genuinely theological material, and not as dependent on previous philosophical demonstration. The same propositions, in other words, function differently in different contexts.

The arguments of the previous three chapters have set the scene for this


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