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Debating Karl Rahner and Hans urs Von Balthasar

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07/02/2010 08:12 PM
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Debating Karl Rahner and Hans urs Von Balthasar
[link to www.nationalcatholicreporter.org]

Debating Karl Rahner and Hans urs Von Balthasar

In Philosophy 101 one learns that all of Western thought, in a certain sense, can be divided into followers of Plato and of Aristotle. Likewise, the basic options in Roman Catholic theology after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) can be expressed in terms of a choice between two German-speaking sons of Ignatius Loyola: Karl Rahner and Hans urs Von Balthasar.

If the Rahnerians held the upper hand for the first 20 years, the Balthasarians dominate today, at least in terms of official Church teaching and policy.

Rome in the last month has offered unmistakable evidence of the point, from a consistory in which two more disciples of von Balthasar entered the College of Cardinals, to a conference at the Lateran University where von Balthasar’s influence on a slew of high-profile prelates and theologians was palpable.

Expressing the difference between Rahner and von Balthasar is not easy, but one way to do so is in terms of attitudes towards “the world.” Rahner stressed the presence of grace at the deepest level of every human being — the so-called “supernatural existential.” Von Balthasar saw an “analogy of being” between God and humanity, which placed more distance between the two and thus left room, he felt, for greater realism about sin. Rahner was a basic optimist about culture, so much so that von Balthasar once accused him of negating the necessity of the crucifixion. Rahnerians tend to take Gaudium et Spes as their charter, while Balthasarians often see that text, and especially subsequent interpretations of it, as dangerously naïve.

The Balthasarian ascendance was clear at the Oct. 21 consistory, when cardinals Angelo Scola of Venice and Marc Ouellet of Quebec got their red hats. Scola, 62, is a leading Italian interpreter of von Balthasar, and once produced a book-length interview with him. Ouellet, 59, did his graduate work at the Gregorian University in the 1970s on von Balthasar, and kept up a personal correspondence with the Swiss theologian. In a recent interview in 30 Giorni, Ouellet said von Balthasar “illuminated my mind and my heart.”

Likewise, the Nov. 20-22 Lateran conference, marking the 10th anniversary of John Paul’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, highlighted von Balthasar’s vogue. In addition to Scola, several speakers, including powerful cardinals Joseph Ratzinger and Camillo Ruini, indirectly paid tribute to von Balthasar and the journal he founded, Communio. The John Paul II Institute on Marriage and the Family at the Lateran, which sponsored the conference, draws heavily on von Balthasar’s thought.

Such favor runs to the top. Pope John Paul II designated von Balthasar a cardinal in 1988, though he died two days before the consistory. At his funeral, Ratzinger said the nomination was a seal of approval.

“What the pope intended to express by this mark of distinction, and of honor, remains valid,” Ratzinger said. “No longer only private individuals but the Church itself, in its official responsibility, tells us that he is right in what he teaches of the faith.”

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Old MacDonald had a farm, ee-i-ee-i-o.
And on that farm he had a cow, ee-i-ee-i-o.
With a moo moo here and a moo moo there
Here a moo, there a moo, everywhere a moo moo
Old MacDonald had a farm, ee-i-ee-i-o.