Congar as Aquinas Writing to Rahner

Since I posted on Yves Congar, OP, on Saturday, I thought that I might point out that Congar once wrote a letter to Karl Rahner, SJ, posing as Thomas Aquinas. Perhaps you are already aware that it can be found in a German translation of the original French in Rahner, Welte, eds. Mut zur Tugend. Über die Fähigkeit, menschlicher zu leben (1979). I excerpt from Thomas O’Meara, OP’s English rendition from an old volume of Philosophy and Theology. You might be happy to know that Aquinas (writing with the assistance of his fellow friar Congar) does give examples of “questionable logical deduction” that he has found in Rahner’s theology, including Rahner’s view that the papal ministry could “under circumstances be exercised by a small group who would have that jurisdiction which the First Vatican Council recognized in the individual person of the pope.” You might be happier to know that Aquinas does this gently, recalling a line from Horace, “Quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus …” He ends by calling Rahner his brother and saying, “I embrace you.”

Here is a little more from Aquinas/Congar:

Enough about my life and your life. I like what J. B. Metz has said about you: you are a person “who—almost like Shakespeare— seems to have no biography except for the biography of his work.” Metz could have mentioned me along with Shakespeare, but admittedly my life was energized by many public disputes. Regardless, what is important: you exist in your work. You are like me. You have not permitted yourself any fantasizing, any pure curiosity; throughout your entire life, without wasting any time, you have tried to answer the questions of ordinary people. I have described the scholar, the “doctor,” by saying that he is “utilis.” You know what a rich significance this word “utilis” has in Christian Latin. In one of the rare places in my books where I speak in the first person, I let someone else speak for me, St. Hilary: “I am aware that I owe this to God as the chief duty of my life, that my every word and sense may speak of him.” He and I were cut from the same cloth.

Positis ponendis”—presuming what is to be presumed – you and I also are similar in terms of method and content. First, in terms of method, in the way and manner of approaching something. We both have loved openness toward every truth regardless of where it comes from. I read not only Aristotle but the Arabs. I always sought the truth, aimed at finding the truth even in formulations which I at times found lacking because they were inadequate or false. Today one would call this an ecumenical mentality. Nevertheless, I am not aware that my spirit would be included in the unfortunate meaning of the word “irenic.”

You have often criticized “Denzinger-Theology” or “School-Theology.” I never knew Denzinger. In my time popes did not write encyclicals, and one looked for support as one had in previous centuries in the Fathers of the church (I called them “Sancti”). Instead of Denzinger there was Gratian and his Decretum. Often I used that work in my fight for the apostolic form of life in the mendicant orders. (I never spoke of the “mixed form of life” as my friend Bonaventure sometimes did; what’s important is that one understands the reality in question.) Gratian certainly employed “authorities” in all directions. Ultimately, however, it is reason and intelligence that bring forth a convincing argument. This is simply to say that I listened constantly to the Fathers, but I never did a “Gratian-Theology.” A “School-Theology”? It would appear that for some time people have been sticking me in a drawer marked “scholasticism.” That doesn’t bother me. Like you, I have always thought that one must state the problems, move away from previous fixed formulas toward an understanding of the reality, and think for oneself about real issues. We’re on the same wavelength, right? I too wanted to get beyond the “dogmatic positivism” against which you have worked passionately, even if in my time the usual method (with “auctoritates”, “videtur quod non,” and “sed contra”) can give today the appearance of that kind of positivism.

(on Rahner’s idea of the “anonymous Christian”)

I must admit that I still have some unease and so a certain reserve about this. Is not what is positive and factual in revelation like grace and Incarnation a little bit forgotten? Are you not basing yourself upon a purely metaphysical analysis of the conditions of the spiritual activity of the human person, finding there that to which the theologian remains directed so that the initiatives of God correspond to the transcendental structure of the person? Doesn’t the criticism you give of a “biblical positivism” not injure the sovereign primacy of what is the positive Given to which Scripture bears witness. I feel myself a little included in this criticism, for every day—at the hour of Prime when attention is not quite awake—I composed a commentary on a biblical text …. On the other hand, I treated the natural desire to see God, and my treatment of that topic—you know all too well—was discussed and often incorrectly interpreted. Nature and the positive reality of the supernatural certainly came to be much too strongly separated. This natural desire, however, is undetermined, is an “ineffective” openness. Since reason cannot know the quid sit of its object, it is also incapable of expressing positively the possibility of such a vision. But I know that all these difficulties from one side or another have already been brought to your attention, and you have certainly not failed to give explanations and answers to them! I must say that I agree with your idea of grace as an “existential” of the concrete existing human person, because we do actually live in a supernatural order which encompasses the natural. Many modern theologians have spoken of an “objective redemption,” which means that human persons are really redeemed; they exist in a real order of salvation. Only if a person rejects this (corresponding to the conditions of their knowledge and their possibilities) do they fall away from the salvation of Jesus Christ. Certainly that seems to me to occur at a concrete, existential level. The questions emerge on the level of the analysis of the essential structures of this, on the level of that what you call transcendental anthropology.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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