Karl Rahner was a German philosopher and theologian who greatly contributed to Catholic theology during the late 1900s. His impact on theology was felt through his many books and publications as well as his attendance at the Second Vatican Council.
Rahner was born on March 5, 1904, in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, to very pious and religious parents, which had a tremendous influence on young Karl. After graduating from the local school at age 18, he decided to join the Society of Jesus. He enrolled in the North German Province of the Jesuits and began his novitiate training. The spirituality of Ignatius of Loyola had a great effect on Rahner and he incorporated Ignatius' teachings into his theory of finding God in all things. Rahner continued his studies of Catholic theology and was greatly influenced by its works, but to the greatest extent by Ignatian spirituality. During his studies he had the opportunity to meet and study under Immanuel Kant, Belgian Jesuit Joseph Marechal and the French Jesuit Pierre Rousselot.
To fulfill the training requirement in practical work, Rahner went in 1927 to teach Latin in a school at Feldkirch. He became increasingly interested in theology, especially in spiritual theology and mysticism. He went to study these theological themes at the Jesuit school in Valkenburh, Holland, and was ordained as a priest on July 26, 1932. He devoted his last year of theological training to praying and gaining pastoral experience. He completed his training for the ministry at St. Andra in Austria, where he also spent a silent year.
In 1934, Rahner returned to his home town of Freiburg to study toward his doctorate in philosophy. He studied in the prestigious theological seminary the Catholic Heidegger School, which was headed by Martin Heidegger. Rahner's doctoral dissertation was an interpretation of Aquinas' epistemology, the philosophy that examines and interprets the nature and methods of human knowledge. His thesis was dismissed by many because it did not reflect Catholic neo-scholastic thinking. It was not until 34 years later, in 1973, that the Philosophical Faculty of Innsbruck University bestowed on Rahner an honorary doctorate for his contribution to philosophy and his theory that man's search for meaning was a result of man experiencing God in everything in the world.
In 1939, the Nazis took over the university in Freiburg where Rahner was studying and teaching and he was forced to leave and re-locate. He was invited to the Pastoral Institute in Vienna, where he taught theology and worked as a pastor until the war ended in 1945.
Rahner's outspokenness and different approach to various theological teachings, which challenged the accepted and traditional interpretations of theology of the Catholic Church, caused him difficulties with the authorities in Rome. Their main difference with Rahner centered on the issue of the unchangeable teachings of the Church. He was notified, in early 1962, that he was being placed under Roman pre-censorship and was banned from publishing any books or articles as well as from teaching without permission. The Church felt that his teachings of the Eucharist (elements of the holy communion) and Mariology (opinions concerning the Virgin Mary) went against its doctrines. Suddenly, in November 1962, Pope John XXIII rescinded the pre-censorship and appointed Rahner as an advisor to the Second Vatican Council, which meant that he was free to express himself and share his thoughts. He was chosen as one of the theologians who were to develop the Lumen Gentium, an explanation of the Church doctrine.
In 1964, Rahner accepted the Chair for Christianity and the Philosophy of Religion at the University of Munich, and immediately began lecturing. His lectures had a profound impact on his students and were the basis for his famous publication Foundations of Christian Faith (1976). He retired in 1971 after having served as Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Munster.
Rahner moved to Munich and eventually to Innsbruck where he remained an active pastor, lecturer and writer. He published 23 volumes of his collected essays and edited a theological dictionary. On March 30, 1984, at the age of 80, Karl Rahner died.