Academic journal article Cithara

Karl Rahner's Theological Aesthetics

Academic journal article Cithara

Karl Rahner's Theological Aesthetics

Article excerpt

Karl Rahner's Theological Aesthetics. By Peter Joseph Fritz. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2014. Pp. xviii, 286. $49.95.

This book belongs to a number of recent studies in theology that have the term "aesthetics" in its title but that are not really on aesthetics or not entirely on aesthetics. A mere perusal of the table of contents (the titles of only two chapters explicitly suggest aesthetics), convinces the reader that the main thrust of the book is the relationship between Rahner's thought and Fleidegger, with only some aesthetic elements. This initial impression is reinforced by further reading. It seems that the original project was the relation between the thought of Rahner and Heidegger, not aesthetics, and that it was rebadged as "theological aesthetics" later.

The introduction states that the study intends to revisit the RahnerHeidegger relation (5), "reveal Rahner's postmodern potential" similar to that of Heidegger, examine "the complexity of Rahner's appropriation of Heidegger" (7) and so forth. The author's focus lies in constructing a Heideggerian "counterpoint" to reading Rahner as turning to the subject (11011). By Chapter 3 (127ff) the book basically turns into an exercise of comparing and contrasting Rahner and Heidegger, instead of discussing aesthetics (cf. 128, "although Rahner and Heidegger converge in ..., they diverge, also..."). The author is interested in Heideggerian influences on Rahner (142) or in convergences and divergences between the two (194). On several occasions the author points out that there are sharp differences and few similarities between Rahner and Heidegger (on the question of the sublime, 89; on angels, 127), which means that the only reason to contrast the two was that this was the main point of the study. The discussion is designed to "defeat" Heidegger's project by using Rahner's (206). The author openly admits that this has been a "book-length treatment of Rahner's dual resistance of modem subjectivism and Heidegger" (207). The goal of the book seems to be Rahner's "encounter with Heidegger" and his parallel way of thinking (223). In the final chapter the author attempts to "set up a final conflict between Rahner and Heidegger" (237). Generally, the difference between the two is played out simply, in terms of finitude vs. infinity or no God vs. God, but the similarity between the two thinkers is pointed out in a more sophisticated way in the conclusion, in that the followers of either of the two could not follow them to the end (255).

Generally, the study attempts to correct the traditional perception of Rahner's thought as "transcendental Thomism" that is mostly indebted to Neokantianism. Rahner's supposed Neokantianism drew severe criticism of the theologian from von Balthasar-unjustified, according to some scholars- who often ascribes Rahner to the despised ranks of the "Kantians." (According to von Balthasar, a Kantian-style system simply cannot result in a theological aesthetics.) Fritz's study, on the contrary, seems to show that while Rahner never leaves his Thomistic foundations, his variety of Thomism shares at least some features with what could be called "Heideggerian Thomism," of the type to which Siewerth and even partly von Balthasar himself belonged, and which replaces Aquinas's original schema of "pure act of being"/"being of beings" / "beings" with the more Heideggerian-sounding "ground of Being" / "Being"/"beings" (God in the latter system is the "sustaining Ground" [50]; now such a system, according to von Balthasar, would allow for theological aesthetics, but whether the case is convincingly made remains to be seen).

This in itself is a significant achievement. In addition, the book is very clearly written, and even the thought of Heidegger is presented in a very accessible way. There are many sharp observations about the parallels between Rahner and Heidegger. For example, the author points out the similarities between Rahner's interpretation of Aquinas and Heidegger's interpretation of Kant, not as an epistemologist but as a metaphysician who deals with being; both Heidegger's interpretation of Kant and Rahner's interpretation of Aquinas are aestheticized (39-41). …

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