Karl Rahner

Karl Rahner, S.J.


Karl Rahner was a German Jesuit priest and theologian who served as an advisor to the Bishops at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).  He was born in 1904 in Freiburg, in southwest Germany.  He joined the Society of Jesus at age eighteen.  He was ordained a priest in 1932.  He studied the philosophy of Belgian Jesuit Joseph Maréchal (1878-1944) who had written important interpretations of St Thomas Aquinas.  Rahner then worked in areas such as historical theology, and the history of penance, nad the theology of prayer.  Rahner studied under Martin Heidegger and wrote a doctoral thesis on Aquinas’ theory of knowledge.  This thesis failed as a doctorate, so Rahner took on the task of writing a second dissertation.  He submitted this work successfully to the faculty at Innsbruck in 1936, on the study of patristic theologies of Church and the Sacred Heart.

He then began to teach in Innsbruck and remained there until the Nazis closed the faculty in 1939.  During World War II, he lived in Vienna where he taught and gave lectures, often in secret.  He also worked as a parish priest for a year in Bavaria.

When the Second Vatican Council convened in 1962, Rahner was invited to attend as an advisor to Cardinal Franz König, archbishop of Vienna. Following the Council, Rahner lectured and traveled extensively promoting the writings of the Council and helping people understand the effects of the Council on the Church.  He published many essays and even a series of twenty-three volumes on his theology entitled (in English) Theological Investigations.

In 1964, he moved back to Germany where he taught and wrote until he retired in 1971.  He then embarked on a life of travel and lecturing around the world.  In 1981, he returned to Innsbruck where he later died in 1984.
(Source:  Karl Rahner: Spiritual Writings, editor P. Endean – see reference below)

“When I say that one can meet God immediately… I mean really God, the God past all grasp, the mystery beyond speech, the darkness that is light only to those who let themselves be swallowed by it unconditionally, the God who is now beyond all names… The God beyond speech speaks Himself to us; in this speaking of his unspeakableness we come to be, we live, we are loved, we are affirmed;  if we let ourselves be taken by God, we are not annihilated by God; rather, we receive our existence for the first time.  The empty creation become infinitely important, ineffably great and beautiful, because it is  gifted by God with God’s own self…”
- from Ignatius of Loyola Speaks to a Modern Jesuit in Ignatius of Loyola, trans. R. Ockenden (London: Collins, 1979)

Among his works translated into English:

Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity (published in English, 1976)
Theological Investigations (23 Volumes; published in English, 1961-1992)
Spiritual Exercises (1954-1955)
Is Christian Life Possible Today? Questions and Answers on the Fundamentals of Christian Life (published in English, 1984)


Further reading about Karl Rahner, S.J.:

Karl Rahner: Spiritual Writings, edited by Philip Endean, S.J. (Orbis: Maryknoll, NY, 2004)

Karl Rahner: Life in the Spirit, by John O’Donell, S.J. (Gregorian: Rome, 2004)