Rahner and the Supernatural Existential

Throughout history there are have been many ideas about grace that have been put forth.  From the early church writers, St. Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and in the modern era with Henri De Lubac and Karl Rahner offer various theories regarding grace and the nature of man have been put forth.  From a Neo-Thomist perspective, the one that is most problematic are the theories put forth by Fr. Karl Rahner.

Rahner was taking further a few steps put forth by Henri De Lubac and Cardinal Cajetan who himself was commenting on Aquinas’s work in the Summa.  For Rahner there is the nature of man, the supernatural existential, and grace (Lecture Notes).  These terms are a sharp divergence from the terms employed by St. Thomas Aquinas.  What exactly is the supernatural existential?  The term puts forth that the very nature of man is grace itself.  Truly we are made in the image of God, but we are in a fallen nature prior to grace, so surely that existence is not part of grace itself.    In Rahner’s view, especially with the supernatural existential mixed in, nature and grace are further separated.  Not only are they further separated, but at the same time they are mixed together in such a way to make the two almost indistinguishable.  This mixture of nature and grace which really cannot be distinguished, arguably, is the source of all the modern problems in theology.

This also leads to a type of moral Pelagianism that is not what Henri De Lubac nor St. Thomas Aquinas held to.  Lubac held that the end vocation of man was supernatural, but that it in no way result from pure human effort (Lubac 65).  For Aquinas man has two natures.  The first is nature before the fall in which he was created in a state of grace, and the other is after the fall in which nature was corrupt.  Aquinas is very clear when he states, “And hence it is that no created natureis a sufficient principle of an act meritorious of eternal life, unless there is added a supernatural gift, which we call grace” (STII, Q114, A2).

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981.  Accessed September 9, 2018.

Lubac, Henri De.  A Brief Catechesis on Nature & Grace.  San Francisco, CA:  Ignatius Press, 1984.

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2 thoughts on “Rahner and the Supernatural Existential

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  1. I’m not anything resembling a theologian but I have found some theorems that ring true for me in reading Rahner’s works. I think what is at odds with Church orthodoxy is perhaps something in his teachings that was, if you will, a popular output of the “post modern” times in which they were written (1960s-70s). I look at the existentialism as more of an innate ability to accept the gift of grace and not a human-built grace. At the same time, I understand the philosophy may well go deeper than my base understanding.
    There is a heavy influence of the teachings of Ignatian Spirituality within his writings (which makes sense, of course). Particularly the sense of Holy Indifference. All of it stems from the incarnation and what that means to life here on earth and I believe, from what I have read from others, that is still accepted and acceptable in Rahner’s writing. All things have been created by God for us to use toward our common goal of reaching holiness and being with Him in his heavenly kingdom. We are here to love, serve, and reverence God and inasmuch as all things that have been created by God are here for our use, we are to use them. But if they hinder or block us from our goal, we let them go. Our letting them go is not a judgment on God’s creation of it, but a judgment on what we ourselves can use effectively to achieve our goal. It is important to note that in no way does this lead to relativism regarding the teachings of the Church. We are not led to a theology in which we can “pick and choose” which teachings we want to follow. That would be a gross misuse of the teaching and understanding of the theory of Holy Indifference.
    Again, I’m a pretty simple guy so my understanding is not complete. But in all I have read (and it is not exhaustive by any means), Rahner does seem to focus solidly on the Sacraments and on Marian theological teachings. And again, much of it has helped me in my own faith.

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    1. Thanks for your awesome comment. There is much of Rahner that I love and has helped me as well. Also by no means have a read everything that he wrote. As with any author we have to discern what is church teaching and what is not. Again, I love your comment. Thank you.

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