Reading Rahner, and reading about Rahner, one is sure to come across the term transcendental, and in many guises. Rahner is described as a transcendental Thomist and as a proponent of transcendental theology. He discusses the nature of a transcendental method. He speaks of transcendental experience, transcendental revelation, human transcendance or transcendentality, of transcendental investigations, and of transcendental anthropology. To understand the meaning of these words and phrases, and indeed the relationships in which they stand to one another, it is necessary to keep in mind two distinctions. The first is a distinction between two ways in which Rahner himself uses the word transcendental-a distinction which is all the more important to note since Rahner himself does not. And second, there is the distinction between the ways Rahner uses the word and the way in which others use it of him.
To transcend means to surpass, to go beyond or above, and one might expect “transcendental” to have something to do with that which goes beyond or rises above something. Immanuel Kant, however, introduced a distinctive and influential sense of the word which in fact has very little to do with this: he would call knowledge transcendental, he wrote, “which is occupied not so much with objects as with the mode of our knowledge of objects insofar as this mode of knowledge is to be possible a priori.” 1 Transcendental for Kant, then, refers to a type of investigation, an investigation where one studies not the things that we know, nor something which might be beyond what we know, but rather that which is in some sense before what we know-the constitution of the subject, of the one who does the knowing, insofar as this is a determining element in that which is known. Transcendental, then, is a description of a certain kind of rather inward-looking philosophical investigation. In a second and closely related sense, furthermore, Kant transfers the term to those things which are discovered in such an investigation-the a priori conditions of the possibility of experience which the Kantian transcendental procedure unearths are in turn known as transcendental conditions of the possibility of experience. So